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After months of a general deprivation as a result of our vegan diet, in McLeod Ganj we finally ran into some really healthy and delicious food, particularly at a Santa Fe style community café called Khana Nirvana. Though soy milk was still nowhere in sight, we were able to eat actual tofu and pinto beans, and the food was most excellent!

chocolatecakeOne night, after seeing so many pastry shops around, Loveleen and I became particularly keen on finding dessert. We searched high and low and could find no dairyless, eggless treats.

Being vegan can often be a challenge in today’s world, particularly when you are dependent on eating out at restaurants. Before becoming vegan, I used to associate vegans with emaciation. I later learned that this correlation is not because of the diet itself; there are tons of amazing foods and even world champion weightlifters are vegan. Oftentimes, emaciation comes only because vegans too often have to skip meals due to lack of available options.

At the moment when we finally had to conclude that out of a whole town full of delicious options, there was nothing we would be able to eat, I said to Loveleen that it’s particularly important at times like these to connect with the reason why we have chosen to be vegan.

It’s easy to make a choice and then just follow it brainlessly, but there is actually a real reason behind our decision. Obviously, cows are born either male or female. Since nowadays, there is no real use for the males, they are all killed – either instantly or else after being cruelly turned into veal. This fact alone is a really powerful one. If your motivation for being vegetarian is compassion for other beings, or if it is to reduce violence, then the use of dairy is basically the same as eating meat – just with half of the harmful effect. The same is true with eating eggs.

lovecalfThere are many other reasons as well, such as the way the cows are mistreated, the way they are killed early, after their production goes down, etc. Even in India, where the cow is considered sacred, many of these abusive and violent conditions are the norm.

Loveleen and I, Mark, and many others, choose a world of compassion and love. We do not want our money to be supporting an industry designed around violence, and we don’t want to be consuming things that were taken in this way.

Both Loveleen and I love dairy. Butter, milk, ice cream, cheese, ghee, I mean come on! These are some of the greatest things on Earth. And all the things you make with dairy – chocolate, and chai, cakes and pizza. Who on Earth would be willing to stop eating all this? We did because the power of love by far trumps the sensory pleasures, no contest.

But at moments of acute sacrifice, it is important to reflect. With awareness, the intensity of the loss or sacrifice converts itself into fuel for an even stronger compassion, instead of adding sorrow to the saddened self.

In my life, I’ve very rarely preached to anyone about anything. I have developed my understandings, formulated my choices, and done my best to live true.

Recently, I had a second thought about this. I was walking on the street with a group of people. I was working carefully to avoid stepping on the ants. It occurred to me that although my two legs were working hard, the other 28 legs were aimlessly crushing ants at random. I thought about how my separation from others is really just a state of mind. At the core, we are all just one and with this perspective, all 30 legs are really my own. If I can communicate with others, then perhaps we can all grow together in empathy, and perhaps more effectively protect the ants.

My feelings about veganism are similar. Although I work hard to avoid ingesting anything with dairy or eggs, to be honest, I don’t really care. To me, milk is holy because it is food from a mother for its baby. I truly feel that it is sacred and it’s a privilege to ingest it. My true interest in avoiding animal products is in putting an end to the mistreatment of animals. What you put into your mouth has just as much of an impact as what I put into my mouth. Therefore, my real hope would be to share this feeling of empathy with others and have them work together with me to bring loving change.

bananaslug_1Tonight, Loveleen and I headed up to the Tushita meditation center to hear a translation of the Dalai Lama’s discourse. On our way up, we had to walk carefully because the ground was covered with large banana slugs after a recent downpour. After the discourse, the teacher said that it was time for one last question. Loveleen leaned over to me and said that we should leave because it was getting dark and it would be hard to see the slugs. I knew she was right, but also knew that a couple minutes wasn’t going to make much of a difference. I looked around the room and saw 80 or so people who would all soon be leaving – most of whom were interested in compassion, and who probably wouldn’t be looking downward.

I realized that a more effective way to protect the slugs would be to speak out, and in a rare move, I raised my hand and asked everyone to please be careful of the slugs as it was getting dark. People appreciated it and I got the feelings that the ripples would keep going. This was a highly valuable lesson for me.

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mcleodganjThese streets tell it all. Situated in the Himalayan foothills, McLeod Ganj is the converging together of vastly different cultures. Streams of monks in their maroon and saffron robes pass by streams of Western tourists. This place is filled with some of the wisest people on Earth, some in robes and others not. It is also filled with everyday people, some in robes and some not. The local Indian population, Indian tourists, beggars, and a community of Tibetans all add to this unusual tapestry.

The Tibetan monks are my peeps. I’ve been seeing the color red and red triangles all over the place (more on that later). The maroon and saffron speak a language that I understand fluently and it is nice to be able to finally witness it. True or not, I have no idea, but I get the strongest feeling that the Tibetans are somehow linked to the Native Americans ancestrally. At least in spirit, I feel a similar depth and brand of wisdom.

What happened in Tibet is one of the greatest tragedies the world has ever seen – like what happened to the Native Americans. These foreign cultural influences are strong and it will be a real challenge for the highly evolved Tibetan Buddhism to hold together in such a cosmopolitan space. If the Dalai Lama is any indication, however, everything will be just fine.

Loveleen and I have made a short getaway in the direction of Punjab and Haryana to visit family. Since it’s quite a distance from Ahmedabad, we thought it would make sense to combine the visits with a little something else. There are so many enticing places to visit in that general vicinity.

Loveleen has taken a tough road in choosing to be with me. I would so much love to show her the world. There are so many fun things I’d like to do with her. We’ve had many special adventures, but more often than not, I spend most my time working around the clock, usually doing unpaid service work. Because of this, we’re almost always on a short leash and on a tight budget. We manage to love our lives a lot, but there are real sacrifices. This time as well, I’m not here on vacation, but this excursion seemed like a great opportunity to squeeze in just a little extra something.

We decided to go to McLeod Ganj, near Dharamsala, the home of the Tibetan government in exile. This is a place we’ve both always wanted to see and the Dalai Lama is in town, giving some talks.

Since we began focusing our attention in Ahmedabad, Mark and I have talked about our various choices on many occasions. At the moment, life has granted us some incredible freedom and rare opportunities. We could be exploring the Mediterranean, hammocking on Bora Bora, or even traversing the great Himalayas, where our spirits could soar and the water and air are still relatively pure. Heck, we could even be walking it in the countryside with Guri and Nipun. As special as it is and as well as it has treated us, we can think of thousands of places we would probably rather be than in the hot, polluted city of Ahmedabad. Why we have committed ourselves to working there is an interesting topic, but we have.

indiapollutionThe Gandhi Ashram is a symbolic place because it represents many of the best hopes for India and the world that Gandhiji embodied. If you go to the Gandhi Ashram today, behind it, you will find the Sabarmati River, now famed to be one of the most polluted rivers in all of India; in front of it, you will see the Ramapir No Tekra, which is known to be the largest slum in Gujarat; and if you take a deep breath there, you will inhale the worst air pollution in all of India. The riots that took place in this city recently also make it one of the most politically volatile areas of India. Simply put, this is a highly symbolic and appropriate place to set up shop.

It’s also a place in transition with great possibilities. Right within the Gandhi Ashram, Manav Sadhna runs a beautiful-spirited nonprofit, working mostly with the children and women of the slums. And to its right, is the Environmental Sanitation Institute, offering low-cost solutions to the sanitation problems in India and other developing regions. Ahmedabad is full of heroes and forward thinking people working to make a difference.

Ever since we’ve been there, Mark and I have been battling the pollution. Being vegan can be one of the healthiest of decision, but here, we’ve had a hard time finding the healthy foods and dietary alternatives to stay strong and vital. We’ve both lost a lot of weight and struggle daily to stay well. I think it’s very likely that the pollution will continue to take a lasting toll on our health, likely removing real time off of both of our lives.

So why exactly are we staying?

tekra01_1We are there precisely because of the pollution and poverty, and because of the various other areas calling out for attention. We could ignore them and go away to our cushy homes or to Bora Bora, or we can take it as a challenge to rise up and try to find the Bora Bora within and present it as an offering. Whether or not we have much of an effect will remain to be seen, but this is an intentional exercise in developing our own capacities to play with the world around us.

Ultimately, we are here to give. In the end, service is a choice that one makes because it is more gratifying to give of oneself than it is to be seeking and taking. As pleasant in comparison as Bora Bora might sound, that choice for us lacks depth and would ultimately come up short, failing to answer a deeper call within – to address the cries of the world and give in a way that matters.

I am truly grateful to have this opportunity to serve, and I’m also grateful for a little breather. Mark knows himself well enough and decided not to come with us, largely because he knows that once he leaves and gets a taste of what else is out there, there is no way he will come back. I know I can drag myself back at will and will likely return a bit stronger having ventured away for perspective, better food, and for some slightly cleaner air. But just slightly.

Continued from Into the Light – Part I

My commitment was pure. The first night in Rishikesh, I meditated for hours in the cold by the river. Any sight of light became intoxicating, particularly the morning shimmers on the surface of the pristine Ganga.

sriramakrishnaI had been reading The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, and he said to avoid “women” and “gold.” I was less interested in what to avoid and more interested in positively identifying life’s genuine treasures. I concluded that both innocence and love were two of these treasures. Intuitively, I also began to feel that ananda, or pure spiritual bliss, was a third, and that I had been so used to suffering in my life that I had to prepare myself to allow this happiness to enter.

diwaliI left Rishikesh for Benares as I had decided I wanted to be in Benaras for Diwali, and was a little disappointed to find that all the candles and diyas that I imagined would be lighting up all the homes were now replaced by electric lights and unsubtle fireworks.

Benaras, or Varanasi, was a special place to me – a place I had visited on my first trip to India at age 18 – a place so diverse with spiritual devotion that it made me stop and stay. This time, I sat on the ghats in meditation and prayer. I didn’t know much about meditation, but quickly and intuitively developed a process.

I came to India to get rid of the old me. And so I worked on letting go of the old with force and deliberation. I tried to gather myself and exhale it all away. Conceptually, I was able to give up most everything, but hesitated giving up my care for other beings and my responsibilities to Loveleen.

In trying to gather all of me, I quickly found myself in touch with my body and all the knots and blockages that I had within. I felt as though it was necessary to clear away all of these impurities and so went at it with a vengeance. This whole process was highly intuitive, but I felt as if my lowest chakra was completely clogged up. I psychically worked to break through these blockages with concentrated attention, love, and through the use of reiki. I imagined this space to be like a tunnel that traveled down for a long distance and then out of the body into infinite space. Once the blockage was unclogged, this tunnel then seemed to be covered with filth and neglect. I spent a lot of time working to clean this whole passage and after much work, the vision had changed into a pristine tunnel lined with candles.

Traveling through this tunnel enabled me to connect with my own innocence. I consciously worked to regress further and further to a point of purer and purer states of me. Anytime I felt any trace of identity, it meant that I hadn’t gone far enough. I was looking for the me that exists without me – that existed before I was born – the me without any ego whatsoever.

Finding this was hard, but eventually I tapped into a very pure state of being.

At the same time, my love and compassion for all living beings in the universe was extraordinary. In all honesty, the real motivation for my trip was to surrender myself for the good of all. I prayed for all forms of life, whether near or far, past, present, or future, and wished great happiness and enlightenment for us all.

sarnath02One morning, I went to the ghats and prayed. This prayer was deeply sincere and I was able to connect with an extreme purity within. Later that day, I took a bus to Sarnath nearby, where the Buddha gave his first teaching after attaining enlightenment. Though I had been there before, this time I was very moved by the solidness of the monument that had been built for him. It was as if the massiveness of his teachings could be felt by the weight of this structure. There was a tree nearby and I felt that this was my time to sit and awaken.

I smiled at the children nearby for a while and then closed my eyes and went inward. A fly landed right on my “third eye” chakra and stayed there. I tapped into the innocence within. I then connected with my love and felt that the pathway from the lowest chakra to my heart was fully opened. I worked on clearing the energy through my neck and up in my head. I remembered a prayer from Meister Eckhart that said:

“If the only prayer you say in your whole life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”

With the same focus I had placed on breaking up the blockages in my lower chakra, I worked on clearing the channels to allow the ananda to flow from Above, through my head, through my neck, to my heart, and through the rest of my body. I prayed for all living beings and concentrated.

I could feel the light start to enter and I repeated to myself: “Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.” The purity and intensity started to build up and in an unexpected moment, a complete calm took over. Everything came into complete alignment as the Ananda, the heart, and the innocence all merged together as one. People often think of Enlightenment as a great thing, and that is the great mistake. It is a very humble thing.

buddha02_2I sat in a space of profound truth and sincerity, where the “I” had now been successfully let go and all that was left was something universal and perfect. After just a few moments with everything in perfect alignment, something happened. Somehow I saw a white light spirit figure leave my body and unlock each chakra one by one. I felt my crown chakra open and felt a wide ring encircle the top of my head like a halo. An enormous flow of light, the size of a great and powerful waterfall, poured from the Heavens through a now fully opened crown chakra, through my whole body and out into the infinite. I knew that my prayers for everyone were being answered.

Later, as I walked away from that spot, I knew that something extraordinary had just happened.  I left behind an earring I had found that looked like a perfect gem on top of a leaf along with a flower. Before this day, I never really knew whether the Dalai Lama was indeed an Ocean of Wisdom or just a figurehead. For some reason, at this moment, I was left with the specific and powerful impression that ‘now I know what it’s like to be the Dalai Lama.’

Here in Ahmedabad, Loveleen was recently initiated into Reiki. Several years ago, I too was initiated into Reiki, and it helped jolt my life in radical ways.

Before that point, I had spent years in a general mystical state of being, continually deepening my understanding of myself. I always called this process religious and not spiritual, even though it was never associated with any religion, probably because it took place in the realm of the sacred and symbolic. I was cultivating the ground of my being, tilling the soil. It was heavy work; spirituality seemed light.

Eventually, I reached a point where I was ready for the light. I knew it intuitively, but was not sure how to get started. As far as I was aware, there were all kinds of spiritually-based worlds ready to explore: Reiki, rolfing, meditation, acupuncture, etc. I had very little understanding of any of them. My mother had been initiated into Reiki and raved about it, so it seemed like a good enough place to begin.

reikiAs was recommended to me, I received four treatments myself before my initiation. During the treatments, the sparks of spiritual fascination began to shoot all around.

Several days after my initiation, some people were over at my house. I smoked a little pot with them, which was fairly unusual for me. Then I was left home alone, which was also fairly unusual. I walked into the bathroom, and looked in the mirror and had a powerful vision. Fierce beams of light were shooting either out of or into my outstretched palms. I could see a light calling me from Benaras in India. I knew without question that I was being called and that I had to leave immediately.

Before this, I had been struggling for a long time trying to push forward with some web-based charitable solutions that I really believed could help bring incredible changes to the world. I had been pushing so hard and realized that as extraordinary and genuine as my efforts were, the pushing was grounded in ego, and I had to learn to let things flow on their own with love. I had to develop a “third-eye” awareness – an ability to see myself with wisdom and not get so attached to everything I was doing.

This insight hit me like a ton of bricks because it made me doubt everything I had been working so hard on.

I knew I needed to gain this wisdom. I wouldn’t be able to continue working until I gained it, and my work was my life. I was stopped, and it became clear to me that I had to find the wisdom at any cost – at all costs.

As I planned my trip to India, I knew inside that I would not come back without finding what I was looking for and that I would either find it quickly or die trying, as I was putting my whole life on the line. Loveleen found the perfect jacket for me at an amazing price, but I told her not to buy it. Though I didn’t say it directly, I was not planning on returning. I had single point focus on the work I had in front of me. It was all or nothing.

I told no one but Loveleen that I was leaving. The call was too soft and gentle. Words would disrupt it. I left a letter to Loveleen which I filed away, as an attempt to enable her financially in the case that I died.

Within five days after the vision, I was in India, and headed straight to Rishikesh, where I received a level II Reiki initiation.

Continue to “Into the Light – Part II”

ecstasy_1The topic of drugs is a sensitive one – one that is likely to get me in a little trouble – but that’s life.

I was raised with a very cautious and conservative view of drugs. I think my parents did a phenomenal job. My father used to smoke cigarettes and eventually quit cold turkey. Realizing how harmful they were, he did not want us to take the same road he did. He offered my sisters and I each $500 if we did not smoke cigarettes up to the age of 18. His logic was that up until this age was the time of peer pressure, and if we could make it past this, then we could make a more mature decision about whether or not to smoke.

Somehow, this strategy worked wonders, as I developed an aversion to the idea of smoking that was strong and lasting. My parents never really mentioned drugs, but somehow this same attitude covered the entire span of drugs as well, alcohol excluded.

marijuanaleaf-21In school, I hung out with the trouble-makers, and I was a strong one myself. Pretty much every one of my friends in high school smoked pot, but I never did. I was around just about everyone the first time they ever tried it, but not me. My ear was pierced, my hair was long-ish, I was mellow, and hung with the partying crowd. When I told people that I had never tried pot, no one believed me. It just didn’t seem possible to anyone, but it was true.

Eventually, when I was out of high school and a little older, I went on to experiment with various drugs.

Obviously, drugs can be addictive and very dangerous, some more than others. That being said, I have experienced the miraculous wisdom they have to offer, and am a strong advocate of their place and value in our society.

I feel that drugs like LSD, marijuana, mushrooms, and MDMA can help open windows into the possibilities that life has to offer. Some of these possibilities are beautiful and extraordinary, and too many people make the mistake of attributing these states to the drugs, and rely on the drugs to get back to these states. Knowing that these states exist, however, can provide the needed insight to help one break out of the spiritually deadening social constructs that we have been expected to adopt.

This is the spirit in which I have used drugs. I glean from the experience what I may, and then realize that to get from where I am to this heightened state just takes a tremendous amount of hard work – striving to connect with myself in deeper and truer ways, and working to overcome my developed limitations. This process is no day at the beach. It is the hardest of work to cultivate your own being to where you are able to experience these highs as your natural state, but it is possible.

magicmushroomI think that in a society with more spiritual wisdom, there would be guidance present to help people develop into their own true potential. In such a society, there is no real need for drugs as the tendency to cultivate is already present. But in a society that lacks wisdom, I feel that drugs can offer a gateway into what is possible. Although they can be used as an escape – and too often are – they can also provide a key to unlock the gems within. And for this, I feel they are a precious, priceless, and invaluable tool.

Please don’t ever mistake what I say as an endorsement for anyone to try drugs, and please don’t mistakenly think of me as one who uses them often. I have used them cautiously and carefully and my motivation has only been to grow in wisdom and compassion and love for all. To me, drugs are clearly both dangerous and sacred.

Our society, I feel, lacks a balanced view of drugs. This lack of balance is part of our problem. I do not endorse drugs, I endorse spirit. Drugs have played a critical role in my own spiritual development and the development of many spiritual people that I know. For this I must stand up and offer a cautious but genuine voice of gratitude.

As soon as Loveleen came to town, either all the wounded dogs came out of hiding, or else through her lenses, they all became so much more apparent. It’s almost like when riding in a new vehicle, you tend to spot that same vehicle everywhere you go, where it didn’t seem quite so omni-present beforehand.

dogcrying_1Over the last week or two, we had already committed to helping several wounded dogs. As we were walking down the street, we heard the wailing cries of another. At first we thought it was just a little puppy and that it was crying for its mother, but on closer inspection, we saw that she looked to be close to starvation and her back legs seemed to be seriously injured. Mark thought that he saw a leg bone sticking way out where it wasn’t supposed to.

Most dogs are somewhat afraid of people in India, but she was very afraid, as I’m sure her very survival was at stake. We got her some water and a sandwich, and were happy to see her drink the water. Hearing her further deep cries of pain as she lied down, Loveleen and I were both committed to helping her at any cost.

After seeing so many wounded and sick dogs all over, the thought of providing help is a hard one as it seems so much like a losing battle. Do you care for the injured dogs one by one, Mother Theresa style? Or do you look at the bigger picture – working to spay and neuter, provide vaccinations, examine the vehicle-animal dynamics? Perhaps the answer is both, but in her case, those cries left no doubts – rational or not, we had to help.

Our friend, Ashish-bhai, at Indicorps, made a few phone calls and found someone who could help us pick her up and drive her to a vet as we had no vehicle and weren’t sure the best way to grab her. Dr. Chaudry agreed to meet us.

We found her, called him, he came, and he quickly diagnosed the problem as a curable viral infection. There wasn’t a sever break in her leg afterall, just an old one that had healed, and so the steep expenses of surgery wouldn’t be necessary. With a few injections of anti-biotics and pain killers, she was quickly on her way to recovery. We would just have to ensure that we follow up for the next five days with oral anti-biotics.

Incredible!

dogdyingThat same morning, we had come across another dog in the Tekra that was on the verge of death. We asked if he could go to that dog as well; they were more than amenable, and off we went. The team was amazing. Dr. Chaudry was accompanied by a driver, who doubled as the dog grabber, and a 17-year old helper.  We drove in their jeep to the Tekra and walked through the poor area where the dog lay.

This dog was in terrible condition. He literally appeared to be at the verge of death, twitching like the first dog, and with ugly infected scabs and ants all over, eating him alive. The locals, in fact, said that he had actually seemed to die for two days and came back to life.  The doctor quickly diagnosed his condition as the same viral infection as the first dog. We were so happy to hear that it was recognizeable and easily treatable.  He gave him several injections as well. A few of his friends were also suffering from early stages of this condition and we were able to treat them too.

Again, we would need to follow up with these dogs for five days with oral anti-biotics, but like in the first case, the neighbors offered to do it. We would just supply the antibiotics and a little money for milk as this was a very poor area.

We couldn’t believe how well this was all going. In my experience here, I have learned that it can often be a very challenging and time-consuming effort to accomplish anything. Just picking up a dog and bringing him or her to the vet alone, could be an enormous undertaking, and here, thanks to Dr. Chaudry and crew, we had saved four dogs’ lives with such ease.

dogmangeI scanned my memory for other dogs we had seen in dire need. I remembered a dog with a severe condition of mange by Jayeshbhai’s house and so we all headed there next. We were able to find that dog and treat him and also two others with mange right nearby. It was so incredibly amazing how easy it all was.

We thought of another dog with severe mange in the back of the Tekra by Anandi’s house, and headed over there. That dog we were unable to catch, as the kids scared him away, but we were able to treat several others.

All in all, we probably brought life-changing relief to a dozen dogs and even one little kitten with a fever. Operating with such efficiency was like a dream come true.

Although this day was just a drop in a vast ocean of animal suffering that is pervasive around here, it was a real drop.

dogsloveleenWe found out that all the work we had done was absolutely free of charge as Dr. Chaudry’s work is funded by Gujarat Samachar, a Gujarati newspaper. The only charge was about $4.50 US for the anti-biotics and milk which were sponsored by one of our anonymous donors.

Loveleen was fully in her element and was as happy as can be afterwards. It is a shame that she is planning on going back in a month as her presence here could be so powerful. Loveleen is one of the most compassionate and strong heroes I have seen with animals, and when her day comes to help full time, the animal world will feel it far and wide.

If you’d like to be part of the dream, click here.

rajvir_1In a poorer section of town by our home, in full flow mode, I motioned to Mark in silence that a pile of broken bricks lay waiting by the side of the road and that we could begin constructing. He jumped in and we went to work. I’m not sure if either of us really had much of an idea of what we were building, but it started to take form. Crowds began to gather around us and some teenage boys asked if they could help. They joined in, passing us bricks, pipes, colored light bulbs, tires and all kinds of weird stuff. We worked in full silence and it was uncanny how, even though we were engaged in something so entirely spontaneous and non-sensical, that everyone present seemed to fully get it. As people passed us articles, our structure got more and more elaborate and weird. It got to the point that every time we found a place for a new object, the whole crowd erupted into cheerful applause. The last tire was placed atop a six-foot vertical pipe… and it was complete. We immediately sprinted off, leaving very little to grasp logically, but that seemed to be perfectly OK.

markdipika_1On our trip to the village near Kabirwad in early March, Mark befriended a girl named Dipika. We made priceless connections with lots of the kids there, but Dipika was the first kid to join in picking up trash. She showed a strong natural intelligence and had an unmistakable sparkle in her eyes.

There was a school across the river that she was able to go to, but we found out that she had stopped going because she had missed so much and was no longer at her grade level. She would have to be in classes with kids much younger than her and this was an embarrassment, so she stopped altogether.

Mark mentioned the possibility of her coming to Ahmedabad, living with and being educated by Manav Sadhna. Jayeshbhai and Anarbhen from Manav Sadhna both said that this was an option and much discussion took place. It was a scary thought for Dipika, leaving her family for greater opportunities, but she was ready. It was left that we would come back in June to pick her up, right before the new school year began.

fourinrickshaw_1And so Mark, Loveleen, our poor friend Rahul who was sick the whole time, and myself, got on a bus and headed back south to the village.

As we made our way to cross the river, we found several opportunities to help – unloading large bags of grain from trucks and unloading heavy, heavy bags of mangos from the boat and up a way too long stairway.

As we approached the village, we quickly came to find out that so much of the service efforts we had put into this community had unraveled as quickly as they came. For instance, on our first trip, there was a town drunkard. Jayesh-bhai had sat down with him, trying hard to reach him. As we drove up this time, he was one of the first people we saw – in full drunken force – trying to start a fight with someone.

Entering the village, we recognized some familiar faces, but much had changed. Mark and I looked for the tire swing we had lovingly installed and there was no trace. Apparently it had been cut down the day after we had left and the rope was untwined and used in the fields. We quickly got word that the frisbees and balls we had left at one house as a local lending library for the village were not being shared with the others in the village because they weren’t being returned. The trash we had picked up had gathered up again, and the pit we had dug as an alternative to burning the plastic was still there, but filled only with ashes.

As disappointing as this all was, none of it came as much of a surprise. Our mission now was to pick up Dipika, and so we made our way to her home. We were told that she was nearby at Kabirwad, working at a stall with her older sister, and so we made our way over there. We walked a ways through banana orchards to Kabirwad, filled with banyan trees, massive bats, and crazy monkeys going up and down playground slides like kids. And there she was, with a big smile on her face and bright, sparkly eyes.

Dipika said that she was ready to go and her sister was ready as well. No one would feel the loss as much as her sister, who got all kinds of help from Dipika raising her own children and with her business selling lemon water, but she expressed a loss at not being able to go to school herself and wanted better for her sister.

oldvillagecoupleWe helped a bunch of men grunt large concrete benches over a stretch and onto a truck and then caught a ride back to the village with Dipika and her sister.

The only catch left was that her parents hadn’t been told. They lived several hours away, and a phone call would have to be made. We were able to call them, and within less than a minute over the phone, we got a clear and definitive “yes.” It would be OK for Dipika to come study at Manav Sadhna. We would leave in the morning!

We ate dinner, fell asleep under the stars, and woke up to find that once again, everything had unraveled. Likely it was a combination of her sister’s husband not wanting to lose a worker and possibly the hope that greater opportunities for the family could be scammed off of this opportunity, but we all got the impression that her sister’s husband was sabotaging the whole affair.

After talking in private with him, Dipika’s parents quickly changed their minds, saying they didn’t believe girls should be educated past the fifth grade. Dipika herself told her parents through teary eyes that she did not want to go. Why people were being manipulated, we will never fully know, but with as much persuasion as we could offer, their answer had suddenly changed, and we were left with little choice but to go back empty handed.

Life in the village has its clear limitations but is not so bad. Whether the personal growth and opportunities she would have gained would outweigh her simple life in the village, no one really knows for sure. The choice was given to her and the choice was taken away from her. We all feel sad about it. The possibility of hiring and sending a teacher to the village is still an option on the plate.

johncalf_1For me, the highlight of the trip was getting to bond with a male calf and gaining his trust. Although his owners said they will keep him, I suppose it is likely that he too will be killed not long after we depart. I guess the greatest lesson that this all teaches is that things blossom where your attention is placed. As we look away, things often go as they may. Perhaps the best that we can ever really do is love what is in front of us as fully as we can and do our best to allow it take root.

In the end, the Serenity Prayer, used often by Mother Theresa, perhaps sums it up best:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Mark-Dipika pic taken by Guri.

jung_color_vertI realize I haven’t been telling many stories of our adventures lately. I think a large reason is because I feel very similarly to Jung and how he mentions in his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections that even an external life marked with some of the most interesting events and meetings with extraordinary personalities just doesn’t compare to a rich internal life. For me, it’s the external stories that coincide with the internal growth that are of the only real interest in telling.

However, since this is all about sharing stories, I’ll work harder to keep them rolling. :)

Continued from Making of a Martyr – Part I

Something happened to me in high school.

It probably showed its first signs in jr. high as my crush on Tara M. was just way stronger and deeper than normal.

At a certain point, all the pain and isolation I had been feeling for so long began to blossom. Before this, I seemed like a pretty normal kid. I hung out mostly with the semi-jock, party crowd, and also with some of the Dead Heads and Metal Heads. My best friend during these years was a super amazing guitar player, Chaz Vegas/Chazaray. With Charlie, I was myself, but with most people, I just tried to pretend to belong without really belonging at all.

As I was busy passing away the time, something unexpected was born in me that was far different than anything I had known or anyone else that I knew.

I remember feeling it when I wrote my first poem at age 16. I tapped into a very deep dimension within myself. It was a place of Truth, of Inner Connection, of Infinite Freedom. I continued to write poetry and continued to develop my deeper sense of Self.

poeI began to love the color black – the pitcher the black the better, and also a deep, blood red. In school, we were studying Edgar Allen Poe, and my fascination with the romance of suffering began to erupt. I was in love with the idea of dying in a ditch or any form of martyrdom. The ultimate to me was in being true to oneself, one’s passion, one’s genius – and paying the ultimate price for it.

Other qualities of an expanding consciousness were also born at this time. In school we were studying wars, taking for granted their necessity. I popped my head out of the sand and saw that wars and countries were all illusions of the mind. I saw with crystal clarity how everyone around me was asleep, caught up in a collective dream. Everyone at the time was talking about which college they should go to. College, career, family, death. They were all just going through the motions and would probably live and die without ever even realizing there was something more.

In English class, we had to write short stories. My teacher helped empower my confidence as she became infatuated with a disturbing tale I had written of pyschologically twisted jealously, reading it aloud in amazement and sending it off on her own to New Yorker and other magazines.

I also began to sketch, developing my confidence as an artist.

starrynight_1Overall, a shift began to take place. The passion in me began to grow at an alarming rate. I was tapping into some serious shakti. To any observer, watching the outer me, very little was revealed, but within, I was entering another dimension of being.

I remember seeing a picture of Starry Night by Van Gogh on the wall in school and was startled to discover that there was actually someone else who must have seen the world like I did.

But these are all just the details surrounding a more profound set of high school experiences which would forever change my life.

This story continues with “Lina“…

My friend, Mark Jacobs, travels fairly often, and whenever he goes some place particularly interesting, I am sure to request something silly of him in the spirit of our original experiment. The last request was for him to hug a Japanese person when he and Yoo-Mi were in Japan, and of course he did it specifically for this purpose, which is why it is fun to ask him. :)

This time, it was his turn and he asked me to kiss a cow. I decided that I wanted to take a ‘snap’ of the event for him, which made the task many-fold more difficult. First of all, I hardly ever have a camera with me, so when I see a good opportunity, or a particularly attractive cow, I am not able to take full advantage of the moment. And when I do have a camera and see a good candidate, I am generally in a city and – this being India – there are almost always tons of people around. I’m sure I love cows as much as or more than your average Indian, and I think I’d be down with just going for it even with crowds around, but somehow I’m just not sure how well this particular assignment would be publicly received in the land of the Holy Cow.

The other day, however, it all finally came together as a very fine looking cow was walking by. My friend happened to have her camera. We were in the city, but there seemed to be a rare moment of calm. I puckered up. She puckered up. Anjali snapped the pic. And this, Mark, is all for you. :)

kissingcows

rickshaw01_1Thank you, Loveleen, for being the most understanding and selfless partner one can imagine. Loveleen is, literally, my dream girl come true. She is so caring and giving and genuine, so totally connected with the natural world around her, so fun and happy and funny and cool. So artistic and graceful and beautiful. My luck is pretty extreme to have found her and it is even more so now that she is finally here with me in India!!!

bushkalunaThank you, Babushka and Luna, for letting me go for so long. I love you two immensely.

Thank you, Mr. Yaniv for giving me this blog space that falls under its mother silentswan.blogs.com. If it weren’t for you, blogging wouldn’t be half as fun. Thank you also for helping to push me into a laptop before heading off and for doing all the many things you do to make life more consistently spectacular.

Thank you, Ashvin, for getting me to India. Ash is my soul mate in knowing life as a journey of deep ups and downs. Ash is an amazing poet and the breaking news here is that his book of poetry, The Seeker and the Sought, is currently being printed in Ahmedabad and will be available shortly!

Thank you, Aaron-bhai, not only for watching over our precious Babushka while we are away, but for letting us know without doubt that she is in extraordinary hands. Aaron may become part of the story here at some point.

ammachiThank you, Bhuvanesh. When the hugging saint Ammachi greets people, she gives them a hug, a little chant, and a piece of chocolate. When she saw Bhuvanesh, she was overjoyed at seeing such a spiritual cultivator that she reached into her bag and threw handfuls of chocolates out to the crowds. She later gave him his name which means Lord of the Universe. Now he is filling our home with his good blessings and taking care of our precious cat, Luna.

Thank you, Lalitha for setting us up with Annalakshmi in Singapore.  Thank you Sri Vathsan and Ganesh for hosting us so generously. Thank you, Nipun for setting us up in Bombay. And thank you Shilpa, Kokila, and Balakrishna for your incredibly generous hosting.

Thanks to my parents, Bev and LD, for being so extraordinarily understanding and caring and saintly. Thank you to Loveleen’s parents, Paramjit and Bhagwant, and whole family for being so understanding and accepting of our life choices that are probably very difficult to comprehend. And thank you, Nippy. You are solid and giving, and have been an awesome brother over the years.

The list of thank yous to people back in the US goes on and on. Thank you Shiva and Anamika for all that you do. Thank you Mark and Yoo-mi. Thanks to our good neighbor, Bill. Thank you, Viral and Guri. Thank you, Suman. I could literally go on and on. Thank you.

And I haven’t even touched on those here in Ahmedabad I am so deeply thankful to. If possible, I would like to just shout out here at the top of my lungs THANK YOU!!!!! And hope that it reaches out to everyone, and I’m sure that includes you.

Thank you.

Not sure exactly why, but lately I’ve been feeling downright Marm Positive – probably it’s because Loveleen is here. :)

marmpositive2

On my previous trip to India, in October of 2000, I was sitting at the airport in Tokyo, waiting to transfer planes. All of a sudden, I felt a very deep and what I thought to be dark change in the atmosphere around me. It was something I had never experienced before – a strikingly perceptible aura of power – and my first thought was ‘black magic.’ I quickly looked to the right to find the source of what I was feeling.

prayerbeadsAt that very instant, a Tibetan Buddhist monk was walking past me.  I saw people go up to him and bow reverently. He was with other monks, but was clearly the one most recognized and respected.

Only later would I begin to understand what I had felt. When you take a Vipassana course, you are first instructed to carefully observe your breath for an extended period in order to build concentration. Later, you are instructed to observe the sensations around the breath, and then eventually, your focus shifts to observing the sensations throughout the body.

Spending nine days in silence, in virtual isolation, provides a conducive space for self-observation. By applying consistent attention to the seemingly simple task of observing the sensations of the body, previously unknown doors of perception to our own inner reality can eventually become unlocked and opened, allowing us to enter and experience ourselves in a whole new way.

It’s like walking into a room that appears to be pitch black. One may sit and wait for a while and conclude that the room is just impenetrably dark. It’s at this point, where it might seem like there is no gain in staying any longer. For those patient enough, however, faint glimpses of light may soon begin to emerge. These glimpses eventually take some form, and with time one can make out a visual layout of the room that was before totally imperceptible.

It’s in this way that Vipassana works and it’s for this reason that the course is as long as it is – it simply takes time to shift our conscious orientation from outer to inner, from mental to somatic.

As one enters the field of heightened physical awareness, one may find bundles of pain, clumps of tension, and a ceaseless flow of both pleasant and unpleasant sensations. Normally in life, as we encounter these feelings, we react to them – with cravings for more of the positive and with aversions to the unwanted negatives. Unaware, our entire habit of living becomes a series of reactions, and instead of making the wiser choices that may bring us the greatest happiness, out of ignorance, we desire and suffer, desire and suffer, always wanting life to be different than what it is.

broomVipassana teaches us to observe instead of react and through this shift, we gain the ability to stop the endless chain of reaction, and this eventually results in the purification of the inner flow. Having observed my own inner flow of sensations in a less reactive way, I now recognize that this is what the Tibetan monk was doing – internal “sweeping”- the only difference is that he was clearly super accomplished at it, being able to maintain perfect self-awareness even in a non-monastic environment. The purity he generated was so strong that it affected me physically as he passed by.

What’s most amazing about this to me is that it clearly demonstrates that our internal states affect one another. Having observed some of the scar tissue within my own being, I know for certain that there are blemishes on my being which cause misery both to myself and to others, as my unhappiness is contagious. The opposite is also true – the purer and more full of love I become, the more the world around me smiles in accordance.

A Vipassana course can be a very difficult undertaking. For those up to the challenge – and those able to carve out the 10 days to experience it – it is a golden opportunity, to Know Thyself in a very real and perhaps wholly unexpected way. If you are interested in taking a course, feel free to ask me some questions and perhaps I can give you some tips.

telling_the_truth_1When the name of your blog is “To Be True”, then there is no escaping it – “truth” becomes an important element. I learned right from the start that truth, for me, is something that is very challenging to express in a blog. For one, a blog is an open forum, put out indiscriminately for any and all eyes to find. Some of the most essential thoughts and stories to me are ones that might be offensive or inappropriate to some, hurt other’s feelings, or cause later difficulties in my own life. To state the complete truth, as genuine as possible, without hiding or disguising certain critical elements is a really difficult and dangerous thing to do.

Secondly, a personal blog can be a blatant extension of ego. Everything that is written is processed and filtered through one’s own narrow and often self-serving perspective. The filters may vary, but there are almost certainly filters, and the truth when filtered is never really the truth.

I just recently got back from a Vipassana course. During this course, one observes oneself and attempts to be equanimous with the reality of nature as it is. There, I found that my equanimity was off. There was an intense passion brewing inside, and interestingly, it happened to be blog-centric. My ego was raging out of control. In my mind I was writing entry after entry of some pretty damned hot stuff, but it felt like it was something that, overall, made me look good and gave me power. Power is a very dangerous thing – something that eclipses love.

ego_1The most tricky element of all is when I talk about my own story. Like I mentioned before, this is a blatant act of ego. The ego is basically a bundle of desires, and unfulfilled desires are the things that tend to make us miserable. There are two ways to let go of desires: 1) by dropping them, and 2) by fulfilling them.

Most spiritual teachers will speak in favor of option 1. Trying to fulfill desires can easily lead down a seemingly never-ending path of seeking. In my life, I’ve generally favored option 2 and in many cases, I’ve found that it actually leads to letting go.

I’ve never been afraid of suffering. I’ve always generally felt that life is for living fully: take it to its sweetest, take it to its hardest, but live it fully. Gather experience. Feel like you have truly tasted all that life has to offer… and then you KNOW. You absolutely know from experience what is real and what’s false, what works and what doesn’t. There is no doubt. There is no lingering, unfulfilled itches or what-ifs. Perhaps it might take longer this way, but enjoy the ride. Enjoy the dream. In time, we will all wake up. But while the dream is alive, let it be a rich one and savor it.

So here I stand knowing that I have unfulfilled desires. I want to tell my story because I feel it is unusual and interesting and too good to keep inside. But in telling it, I have to tap into all sorts of passions and temptations that throw me off balance and have the tendency to steer me off track, eclipsing my love.

And furthermore, independent of their possible entertainment
value, I really don’t know if these stories offer anything valuable to the world, or might just possibly be forces that work to perpetuate ego, adding their little push toward throwing everyone off course. Is this stuff just plain bad and should I drop it, or should I work it in with care, trying to fulfill it, so ultimately I can let it go?

I don’t know. And that’s the truth. :)

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