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Varanasi

VARANASI, I N D I A

What an ancient beauty this city is

The light and the dark so tightly woven together

Where the scent of incense and burning bodies drift through the air side-by-side

Where the old and the young and the music and the smoke play together beside the holy river

These temples and castles have seen it all –

The opulence and the poverty

The songs and the prayers

The gypsies and the Gods

Flowers and burning candles float down the river towards dancing deities

Promising answers

Promising strength

Promising wishes fulfilled

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Now

VARANASI, I N D I A

The sun greets us for another day
We sing these songs in praise
We pray
For illumination that is already here
before our eyes
And yet we set our sights out yonder
Beyond the horizon we cannot see.
Oh light of Surya beaming down on jewels right before our feet
But we prefer to wonder out on a distant street
Where once we were lost
And one day might find.
Look down right where you stand
A rich and uncultivated land
Untouched, disregarded, forgotten
The blooms trampled
The mood dampened
Ungrateful for the rain
That nourishes those plants you seeded once
It is all happening now and now and now
Get out your plow
And excavate this land right beneath your feet

Fairytales

RISHIKESH, I N D I A

Slow working Ayurvedic medicine

Mantras resounding across the river

Fortune tellers who want to tell me who I’ll marry

Anxiety that hasn’t left me for days

Love affairs that end before they begin

An aching deep down that’s been with me for eons

An innocent belief in true love and fairytales

An intent that’s still fresh and pure

A realization that fear sometimes rises over gratitude and grace

A recognition of my deepest heart

The gentle sound of cleansing waters

An acceptance of the peace of this place

A passion that has yet to be unleashed

Puzzle pieces showing the way

A knowing that it is all inside

A faith that grows with a love

for the essence of me.

Thoroughly Alive

RISHIKESH, I N D I A

There’s no method to this madness
Just a wild and courageous heart
I want life to squeeze me out – to use me
So by the end of my days, I can say that I’ve stretched – to the north and the south, the east, and the west 
So that the jewels within are polished and bright, and the lines on my face have stories to tell.

There is no method to this madness just a calling to the truth
An unveiling of the love that I am
A pull to be thoroughly satisfied
To hold the hands of those who want the same
To touch the hearts of those who need it most
To give it all
The depths, the heights, the grand, the small
To dance through lands and touch the sands
To feel it all
The sun, the rain
The pleasure the pain 
To arrive completely used
Thoroughly alive. 

Burning Into Peace

TIRUVANNAMALAI, TAMIL NADU, I N D I A

My bare feet walk upon cool marble floors.; making circles around the altar. It is 6:30am. I walk and ardently await the singing. Men and boys chanting in devotion. Ancient Sanskrit sweetness.

The moment they begin there is a stirring in my heart. Tears flow. They flow in remembrance. They flow in recognition of the Union of the divine masculine and feminine that I hear coming through their voices, their souls. Reverence, purity. The essence of the mother. Of the father; before the forgetting, before the upsetting of truth. Before the confusion. Before the misperceptions. Before time and space. From the emptiness. It is the frequency that births creation. The seed of love that blooms eternally. The holiest of hallowed sounds. 

I stop walking and stand at the southwest corner of the altar, facing their backs. A wave of heat washes over me. The fire of truth. Burning away old layers of everything that is not pure. I feel like a pillar that could shapeshift into arms cradling these men. I embrace my namesake. The divine mother overcoming darkness with light, death with love. Remembering the essence of my soul. The masculine in me. Acknowledging the feminine that has over-given, over compensated, turned away from myself. Dismissed the truth. Can I reclaim all the pieces of myself that I have thrown out of reach? I know they are not lost completely because I feel their essence, like fireflies flickering in the dark. 

There are moments when I feel I may never leave here; this town, this mountain. The sweet smiles of knowing. The tug of war inside myself – justifying staying, justifying leaving, in those moments when I can’t stand the stench of the drains, the cow shit, the sewage on the sidewalk, the noise, the neglected animals, the poverty. But then I get swept into a charming interaction with a sweet soul with light shining out of their eyes who can see who I truly am without me uttering a word or I’m lured in by the impeccably kept temple which is so peaceful and alive with prayers and offerings of love, or the old lady on the corner selling fragrant flowers. She spends hours and hours meticulously stringing them up only to sell them for 50 rupees; happily, religiously, every day. And all of this is life, revealed in everything, externally, internally.

All these souls; they come here to be with the mountain. To be with Shiva. To burn in the fire of truth. To burn through the layers of resistance to everything that is not love. To see clearly. To sink into the knowing of self.

There is a decidedly calmer energy within the walls of the ashram. I notice myself taking a breath as I walk through the gates. Taking my shoes off and feeling the sand under my feet feels good. My feet are always dirty here but I love being barefoot most of the day. Here you even take your shoes off before walking into the supermarket. 

After the puja, I walk barefoot up the mountain, despite having a couple of blisters. I need the rocks and the sand beneath my feet. I need to feel the earth, the mountain. I am later than I want to be walking up but I decided to be kind to myself and have a good breakfast first. I have a feeling my journey will take a while. Thankfully it is slightly cooler today and I am grateful to have eaten. The humidity is still stifling but I praise the clouds for covering the sun at least for a few minutes. Halfway up I run into Ananda – a beautiful, spiritual man, all dressed in white. He knows who I am – an ancient recognition. Of course, I realize at this moment that I am not late. This is divine timing. We exchange a few words, embrace and are on our way. He reminds me to be thankful for all the blessings in my life so that more will be bestowed.

Two minutes later, as I am contemplating my blessings, I run into a friend who I haven’t seen in 12 years. We met in Canada right after a decidedly deplorable time in my life. He tells me he is moving here and suggests that maybe we should meet later. He says it would be good to chat and that maybe he could make up for his terrible behavior twelve years ago. I draw a blank. I don’t even remember what happened between us. He seems relieved. We make no plan and leave it open to synchronicity.

As I continue walking, a memory of our time together is triggered and I realize why I have bumped into him. It is yet another layer of pain burning away. His immaturity and emotionality, his jealous ex-girlfriend. That’s all I remember. I don’t need to recall the situation exactly. Only to know that the mountain is supporting the burning away of every situation like this that has occurred in this life and beyond. All the agony, all the layers of misunderstanding. Everything that has torn at my innocence, disappointed and created deep sadness in my heart. 

I continue walking up to the cave and decide only to go to the small cave. I am followed by one of the young cave dwellers who offers to take me to the feet of the dancing shiva higher up in the mountain. He possesses such sincerity and gentleness, a sweet smile and an open face, so I agree to follow him. Not realizing the walk is going to be a bit steep and challenging. Something I am not too prepared for. Something that in the past I would not have batted an eyelid at but as we go further I am unsure. I brace myself with my hand as I step over a rock and lose my balance and bend my finger back. It hurts. It reminds me of all the joint pain I’m working with; an outward manifestation of all the stored up aggravation and suffering. Tears well up. I try to explain to the boy what is happening. He is so kind and compassionate and immediately starts chanting Om Namah Shivaya and rubbing puja ash on the affected finger. He explains that if I stay on the Shiva mountain I will be healed and I will become stronger. He gifts me a large sacred rudraksha bead and tells me the mountain has gifted it to me. I am blessed. I continue crying. I take his hand for a moment and he smiles. It’s all I can do to thank him as I have no words. He takes out 2 small packages of ash, wrapped in newspaper. One white and one purple, representing Shiva and Shakti, which he rubs on my forehead. He holds my hand and accompanies me down to where we started.

We part ways and I continue down to a lower cave where Ramana Maharshi spent seventeen years. On the way down I meet a sādhu sitting on the path who notices my tears. He wipes my face with his rough hands as I bow down to greet him. I open my eyes and look into his – his long white beard and orange robe blurry with all the tears. He says a prayer for me and I continue on. Arriving at the cave brings more crying. A mixture of sweat and tears saturate my entire body and I sit in the cave steeped in the release of what is arising within me. It is burning, cleansing, necessary. I feel fragile but peaceful. In full acceptance and gratitude. 

Upon leaving I decide to return to town a different way. Unbeknownst to me, the path takes me through a hillside village, which is so fascinating and quaint. Every soul I encounter greets me in the sweetest way. Almost like they can see right through me and straight into my heart, knowing the softness and rawness inside. There are tiny puppies; so skinny, stumbling as they walk because they’re so weak; men playing a game on the crumbling sidewalk with stones; women drawing mandalas with chalk on the street outside their doors. I feel like I’m in another time, another life. Softly, quietly, respectfully walking. Greeting these beautiful souls without words. Absorbing this holy, tender moment.