Something else that has punctuated our time here thus far is the confirmation that we have amoebas living in our tumtums - to be in India for three months especially during the monsoon season and hope not to get sick would just be foolhardy so in a way we are feeling like it is a badge of merit. Perhaps this is my opinion as such because I, unlike the lady I share a room with, did not spend multiple days more or less sleeping in a squat toilet outhouse. I recently read that a person should not make her life an open book, so suffice it to say that Jess' symptoms ranged from those of Giardia to Dysentry over the past few days and webMD can provide further elaboration.
While Jess was slimming down, I was taking steps towards spiritual enlightenment, or so I'm told. Our yoga instructor, Shivam, invited a group of us to come celebrate 'Guru purnuma' at his guru's ashram - it is a yearly celebration in India during which devotees visit their gurus and give thanks. As the full moon auspiciously rose in the sky we made our way through a small town of terraced farms. We reached the ashram with our hands filled with Indian sweets and flowers as a gift and were met with a surprisingly casual scene. We walked into a room where a few people were sitting on the floor chatting with a very tall, very thin bearded man cloaked in orange robes and with a pile of dreadlocks wrapped on the top of his head. I understand the inherent skepticism that some may feel when they hear the term 'guru' - new wave cults and quack financial advisors. In Hindi, 'gu' means dark and 'ru' light so a guru is anyone who turns darkness into light for you through his teachings (I think it also helps to be able to sit in double lotus pose - Jess says that if my hips get a little looser and I can get into that position, she will name me her guru. The only setback with this might be the whole discrimination of women as impure and lesser beings detail...). Regardless, this man had the kindest eyes and warmest demeanor so I can see how people would be drawn to him. We spent the night listening to his followers sing devotional music with the accompaniment of a harmonium, drums, and bells and being mildly embarrassed by Shivam who has this habit of flailing his body and head around while singing out of tune during meditation. We slept on the roof of the meditation hall and were woken up early by chanting so I made my way to a grassy knoll to read a book while waiting for whatever it was that was going to happen to unfold. The guru walked over to me and asked what I was reading - I told him it is about the Yoga Sutra and he was delighted to hear that I practice yoga and says he does also. He then asks me if I understand everything about yoga and I say certainly not and ask him if he had any advice for me to improve my meditation. He replies that he will think about it and tell me when it is quieter. Later when more and more of his devotees are coming to give him and us some not so delicious buttery sweets that we are unable to refuse, he points to me while speaking to Shivam in Hindi and beckons me to his side to ask my question again. As you may imagine, the already inclined to staring Indians are really taking in this white girl and her interactions with guruji. While kneeling next to him, he orders Shivam to do something and I am told to follow. I am ordered to stand next to the puja, a religious firepit, and throw ashes into the flame five times while repeating the chant of a group of religious men in robes that have surrounded me and then genuflect with my hands in namaste (prayer) at the base of the altar. Yes, a little strange and idol worship-y, I then returned to the side of the guru and was told to place the red vermillion paste on his toe and third eye while he gave me a blessing. This was all a mystery to me until Shivam very excitedly explained it all to me afterwards. He said that it was a big deal that guruji would actually answer my question, not just let me ask it, and this was because the guru and Shivam both sensed that my energy was 'pure' and 'joyful' (you may recall the conch shell lady in Varanasi saying Jess was the one with the good aura and I was too much of a thinker, but different strokes for different folks/spiritual guides I suppose). Moral of the story, the mantra I chanted is now my 'guru mantra' as it was given to me by one and I should use that in my practice.
Once returned from the ashram, I was met by a very pale, pitiful Jessica and must have been overcome with sympathy pains as we both walked down the mountain early the next morning to make our way to the hospital. I'm not quite sure one could say she has really lived if she hasn't walked down hundreds of stone steps in the early dawn hours with a stool sample in a used coffee can/gherkins jar to a medical clinic overseen by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.
In between feeling exhausted and trying to improve our health through a combination of antibiotics, raw garlic, grapefruit seed extract, black salt water, and aloe vera juice (one or a combination of which may possibly be making us manic as we spend hours in fits of uncontrollable, idiotic laughter which is balanced by short bursts of intense agitation - any thoughts medical personnel?), we have enjoyed not planning our next move, practicing a whole lot of yoga, and getting to know those around us. One of our favorites is Sunil, our resident Sanskrit scholar, who is teaching us Vedic mantras as part of our training. He has minimal confidence in his English, but it is easy enough to figure him out through his impassioned singing and his expressive moves as he has been joining us in class. Yesterday he convinced Muriel, a woman in our course, to be tied up with the straps we use in class so that he could put the straps in his mouth and lift her body with his teeth alone. A most interesting mating technique.
An odd note to end on, yes, but the thick fog encompassing the mountain right now that makes us feel like we are on a platform detached from Earth is having a similar affect on my mind.
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