The River Speaks

Amidst chaotic city street sanity-tearing intensity, I knew I needed some solitude in nature. Astonishingly, an ashram was awaiting for me in Rishikesh. Possessing the power to trek 20 hours via train, I endured the elements of ‘sleeper class’ and passed a multitude of villages along an endless day. I arrived with a chai in search for Sadhvi, an American who’s been living and giving lectures in Rishikesh for the past 16 years! I was welcomed into the ashram community but things were not aligned with my chi. I attended a few classes, but couldn’t grasp any sense of pleasure. Downing chai after chai, I wondered why I wasnt digging this scene. An intensive yoga mentality surrounded constantly by Indian tourists forced me into a serious grind. My mind ached as I sank into the dark void of my soul. An existential crisis ensued, and I nearly bought a plane ticket home.

Spilling my sorrows all over her office, I sowed negativity sincerely on Sadhvi’s shanti. She helped me by calling a friend uptown, or rather upriver, and delivered me to her doorstep. I confessed my chaotic mental state to Pharavati, a wise world-traveler whose been there and done that. She said quite flat that I needed to find a waterfall and meditate, get the hell out of the ashram and come stay by her organic cafe/orphanage for a few days. I did just that.

Since I moved upriver past Lachsman Jhula, I have been following omens that have brought amazing moments: from peeling hundreds of pears with 4 Indian women to meditating on a rock in the middle of the Ganges; from unwinding with westerners at the Freedom Cafe to conversing with sadhus – I see Rishikesh with freshness.  It’s funny how living in one area of a town can truly bring you down, but right up the road is a whole new state of mind waiting to be discovered.

There is no hurry. There is only the wind that moves us where we are meant to be.

Train from Varanasi

Shanti

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Varanasi

Ashes of the eternal flame of Shiva

Are pressed upon my third eye

To my side

Heads of families’

Heads are shaved

 

I climb the stairs and stare

These eyes watch bodies burn

My mind melts with eight corpses

While black smoke fills my lungs

 

Fire and tears

Life and death

A circle cycle spinning

With no end nor beginning

 

Death is life in Varanasi. There is nothing to hide here. For thousands and thousands of years, the fire at the Manikarnika Ghat has never stopped burning – an ancient ritual ongoing. Families carry families through winding blue alleyways. Corpses covered in silk and orange flowers. Singing. Shouting. Burning.

Nothing is permanent. Everything ends. Or rather changes into something new. If I have learned anything from this, it is to live. Live with truth. Live with your heart. Live with love. Karma Consciousness Reincarnation.

Sleep is a short death, and death is a long sleep.

Today I returned and saw a cow standing on a scorching pile of embers.

This… is India.

Welcome to India

Sweat pours down my face as I wander the nameless streets of South Delhi. It is my first day and I am completely lost. My plane landed on another planet. Here, cows eat plastic trash, old men bathe in the street, and swarms of transvestites beg for your rupees. The honking of cars, motorcycles, and rickshaws is so loud I feel I as if am trapped in the middle of a free jazz orchestral cacophony. As this continues, exhaust fumes permeate my nose where a blend of urine and incense has settled. My mind is on fire.

Welcome to India.

That was over a week ago. Still, these images reappear daily, but to more acceptance and enjoyment on my part. Besides, I have been quite busy to get caught up in it all. After a nightmarish arrival in Dehli, I made contact with Dil Se, an organization that shelters street kids throughout the city. They stationed me at Ummeed, a large refuge bordering the Qutub Minar complex – one of India’s most fascinating historic relics. I volunteered at Ummeed for eight full days teaching English, playing games, and giving endless love to nearly one hundred 6-16 year-old boys. These children come from extremely harsh backgrounds: from homelessness, begging, and drugs to psychical abuse and parents in distressed conditions. Others ran away from home. As awful as this may seem, the kids are now in a much better environment where they receive food, shelter, and an education daily. They have huge hearts and are incredibly intelligent. Some of them had only spoken English for 6 months but were able to converse with me almost perfectly. As curious as I was about their culture and language, they balanced my curiosity with countless questions about life in The States.  I loved volunteering at Ummed. I was constantly teaching while constantly learning.

My sleeping situation was a clear view of reality in South Delhi. I slept on the floor of a two-bedroom apartment with fourteen other people. Running water was inconsistent, electrical problems constant, and mosquitoes galore. But, my experience there was great because the people were amazing – a hilarious group of 17-20 year old’s who made me feel part of a family. We played music, danced, laughed and ate together all while I constantly corrected their English and gave personal attention to each of their studies. I will never forget my time there. I am forever grateful.

Saying goodbye to the Dil Se group was bittersweet, but I felt I needed a change. And what I got was a complete 180. I am currently staying with a family friend who teaches at an international school and lives in the American embassy! This place has the whole western works: hot showers, powerful AC, drinkable tap water, a maid, a cook, beer, even toilet paper! I arrived here in complete culture-shock, even greater than the feeling when I arrived in Delhi. It was as if I was thrown in an emotional ice bath – my brain constantly doing back flips. Since then, I have eased into the perks of this living situation and am absorbing all of its western benefits.

This experience has really opened my eyes to how blessed I am. Sometimes I feel I don’t deserve the life I was given. And the only way I can feel justified is by being a good person and helping others – like I did at Dil Se. Whenever I feel sad or down, I know there is someone else out there that is going through a much harder time than me. And that’s the truth.

Ummeed

Boys at Ummeed

Dinner

Me and some of the older boys