my surrealistic version of Eat Pray Love

I’ve always received messages in my meditations.  Some might call them visions although that is too strong a word for me because I certainly don’t consider myself any type of psychic.  I do get flashes of peoples’ lives when I do energy healing — I usually don’t tell them what I see but when I do it is always confirmed.  But for the longest time a picture came into my head of an older me, with long gray curly hair, wearing orange robes and sitting with my eyes closed on a ghat somewhere in India.  I don’t know if it is a picture of the future or from the past.  When I first started to receive these images I did not know what a ghat was and India was not even a thought in my mind.

After five years of going to India this was my first trip to north India, to the Ganges.  When I walked onto our hotel terrace overlooking the river in Haridwar it took my breath away.  I stood there amazed because I instantly knew I had been there before.  I have written before about how for the past two years I knew in my bones I had to be at THIS Kumbh Mela at THIS time in my life.  Nothing was going to stop me.

I stood there for a long time taking everything in and it was such a deep, visceral knowing that I could only compare it to when my feet first hit the ground in Chennai five years ago, the feeling that I had come home.  Everything that was in my view I had already seen and known.  There was no mistake about it, I had already been here, in this spot.  It was the week of Mahashivaratri and the orange robes of the sadhus across the river looked so familiar to me on a level that was very different from seeing them in photographs.

Before the Mela we had been in Kolkata where we went to Kalighat. When I walked into that temple I received such a blast of shakti that I had to sit down before I fell down.  When we were in the inner chamber itself my friend told me that my eyes were so dilated that I looked like I had dropped a hit of acid.  The cockroaches crawling all over the metal grill surrounding the murthi of Kali Ma sparkled so brightly that they looked like crawling jewels.  I mentioned them to my friend but she could not see what I saw.

After we made our offering and the priests thumped our foreheads we walked around and came to the area where the goats are sacrificed. The idea of an animal or a human dying for the Divine is abhorrent to me but I take many things in stride in India.  If the thought of legless and deformed beggars or slum children pulling on your sleeve for a rupee is too much, then India is not the place for you.

I watched a woman butchering the meat as stray dogs gathered waiting for a morsel of goat to drop.  Goat heads with blank staring eyes lined the edge of the sacrificial platform and I looked at the dogs.  In my shakti induced high their panting mouths seemed to be smiling. Kalighat is next door to where Mother Theresa tended to the dying whether they were Christian, Hindu, or Muslim, and instead of feelings of revulsion about the decapitated goats, I took in the entire scene and all I felt was pure love.  In the Bengali tradition, the goal of the Kali devotee is to become reconciled with death and to learn acceptance of the way that things are.  The love that I felt was raw and primal and my heart space filled with the fire of bhakti.  I felt as if I were on fire.  I felt extraordinarily alive.

All the people who had died next door, all the goats who had given their lives for the Mother, all those dogs who were going to eat.  It was my own surrealistic version of Eat Pray Love.  And I was filled with joy.

On Mahashivaratri we watched the procession of the naga babas to the Ganges and I knew that I had never been to such a joyful event in my life.

devotees of a swami

Our hotel in Haridwar had its own ghat and after the naga babas took their bath on Mahashivaratri I walked down the steps into the Ganges and dunked myself three times.   We had already been in Haridwar for five days but I wanted to wait until the day that Shiva married Parvati to really feel the river.   I had immediately felt the energy of the river just standing on the terrace on the first day so I knew it would be even more energized after the holy men bathed.

I was right. During my third dunk I stayed underwater a bit longer and I felt electric.  I came out and sat on the steps with my feet in the water.  Bathing in the river is thought to wash away one’s sins, a death, so to speak (“you will die in India” I had been told.)  The waters of the Ganges are called amrita, the “nectar of immortality”.  Hindus believe that there is nothing as cleansing as the living waters of Ganga Ma.  I wanted to sit there all day with the water on my skin.  Something was coursing through me and once again all I felt was joy.  Our true nature.

As it turned out it was an auspicious day for me because that night I met a swami of the highest order, a man who is the Acharya Mahamandaleshwar of the Juna Akhara.

That morning he had thrown a rose to me from the procession — he stopped his chariot, looked right at me, threw the flower and smiled, and then moved on.  At that time I did not know that in the afternoon I would be invited to a special puja that night at his ashram, the oldest one in Haridwar.   A mantra teacher friend from Mumbai sent me a text telling me he was staying at an ashram and would I like to come for a special Mahashivaratri puja.  He said he would be chanting during the ceremony and maybe I would be interested in attending.  I had no idea that he was staying in the ashram of the rose throwing swami, I did not even know the swami’s name.  Before I left my friend said, “what if it’s the swami from this morning?”   I told her that would be too much of a coincidence — but there are no coincidences, all things happen for a reason.

When the rickshaw arrived at the ashram and I saw the swami’s picture on a billboard outside the ashram, I froze in my seat.   I couldn’t believe it.  Once again that shakti blast pieced the coconut and all I could do was stare at the billboard with his picture.  I sat there for so long that some of the devotees asked me if I was alright.  I walked into the ashram grounds and eventually was taken back into the swami’s compound before the start of the puja.  Nothing was planned, everything just happened, merely the flow of the experience, the essence of allowing things to unfold.  I was told that night that it was my good karma to be there, that I was meant to be there from the moment I caught that rose. I returned every day to the ashram before we left Haridwar.

For whatever reason, maybe it was my jump into the Ganges, but my personal practice and my yoga teaching have changed.  I really can’t describe it, but the energetics have changed, even my students say so. I’ve read that when shifts of consciousness occur it changes your DNA.

The new message I received during my recent meditations was that the day I stop teaching here will be the beginning of my Indian life.  But not yet.  I still have some cooking to do, it will take a few more years.  I’m coming to end of my marinating and it’s nice to begin to see what the feast is going to look like.  Or not.  That’s OK, too.  Kali is said to not give what is expected.  It is said that perhaps it is her refusal to do so that enables her devotees to reflect on dimensions of themselves and of reality that go beyond the material world.

Everything with a grain of salt. All things happen when they are ready to happen. They always have.