Hardly a bump to our landing in Morocco — from the sunset touch down at the Aeroport Mohammed V in Casablanca through our first day exploring the medieval Fez medina — it has been as a model touchdown into a marvelously foreign land.
"Distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has changed, and that changes everything," writes neuro-scientist Jonah Lehrer in his new book, "Imagine: How Creativity Works.
" Milton Glaser
, designer of the "I love New York" icon, now 83-years old and still a running his design firm, attributes much of his legendary reputation as a creative font to his travels. "You can't very well go to Barcelona and see Gaudi and come back unchanged...these things change you, your nervous system. I would say in that way travel penetrates your consciousness."
Whether we travel to another country or simply venture into a new class, a novel activity, or different point of view, the result is the same - we expand our sense of the world and ourselves. There is an exhilaration, a freedom, a freshness to moving beyond familiarity, whether it be into our first backbend or a new culture.
It's Friday and I am preparing for to leave on Tuesday to travel with nine other bhaktas to the Fez Sacred World Music Festival in Morocco. The trip has motivated me to officially re-ignite this blog so I can share our adventure with you. I will also be answering some of the questions that came up with previous resopnses to the blog, including "what is the big picture" when it comes to yoga, and how did I personally arrive where I am at in yoga. Stay posted!
Since I returned from India last March my blogging stream has devolved from a stream to a riverlet, to sadly, a dry bed. But my recent plans to take a personal retreat at the Haramara Retreat Center
August 16-23 have re-inspired me to resume my regular online musings for whatever worth they hold to all of you. What shall we talk about? Yoga asana? Philosophy? Sound/music? Life? Let me know what would make this blog something you look forward to reading.
The pond and the river Have become oneIn the spring rain.- Yosa Buson, (1716 ~ 1783)
Winter to spring is wet. Ice melts. Streams stream. Noses run. As the weather warms, winter's icy resolve gives way to a fluid flow that cleanses and clears. Spilling over familiar boundaries, the current of spring redefines the contours of reality.
Messy, but transformational.
At the moment, winter has us by the hand, begging us to come back to bed, while Spring is tugging at the other pleading "let's go!"
It may be raining cats and dogs
, but it's still time to get out of bed and jump into the shower. April showers do, indeed, lead to the blossoming of beautiful possibilities. Four ways you can "go with the flow":1. Visit the Farmer's Market.
Lighten and brighten your diet with foods now coming into season, like asparagus, spring peas, leeks and oranges. The body is primed to lose the extra weight of winter — give it what it's asking for! farmer's market.
2. Get a Massage. Help clear the winter sludge from your energetic "streams," or nadis, with a stimulating massage or acupuncture treatment. Ayurvedic warm oil massage (abhyanga)
an especially appealing treatment for the rainy season. book appointment now 2. Fire up Your Practice.
Come to yoga classes and workshops where we will be be supporting Nature's desire to unfold through opening of the shoulders, hips and spine in gentle, supported backbending postures. class schedule
4. Breath. Kapala bhati--
also known as “skull shining”—is a form of pranayama that helps to reduce weight gain, bring heat to the chest, and to promote strong agni
and mental alertness.
I'm on Singapore Airlines FL#972, heading home from my self-defined “sojourn for inspiration” in India. I left January 31 with high hopes and big promises to go, seek, and return with inspired insights culled on my journey into ayurveda and yoga in Kerala. And I am returning quite inspired, indeed.
Trips are great for inspiration because inspiration speak up in the quiet gaps, in the “in between” spaces, which we seldom notice at home bur have half a chance of perceiving when we go away and slow down a bit. Inspiration does not rest in any one thing, but in the spaces between two things. It’s relational. Inspiration is found between the lines of poetry, between the notes of a melody, between form and ground. It’s the space between the chant and return to silence, in doing the asana and coming out of it.
The sparks of inspiration I have experienced on this trip are not manifesting in a bubbling over with things to share sort of thing. Not yet, at least. More like being dumbstruck — my mind’s capacities for rational thought have frozen like a computer screen with too many programs open. Usually this experience passes and eventually articulates into thoughts, then words, and even conversations — and sometimes it never does. But one’s perspective changes, nonetheless.
What I feel at the moment is a sort of a shifting of the foundational plates as they make room for something new and big to fit into the landscape I’ve known as reality. I can tell you there are two sources of rumblings beneath the surface. The first has something to do with the profound power and place of human touch and attention (having just had 16 consecutive days of daily ayurvedic treatments with the same two practitioners). And the other has to do with the quest to return to our essence — whether that be the immateriality of our spiritual origins (as in yoga) or our unique individual natures apparent at birth (as in ayurveda.). I’ll keep you posted. And see you in class!
Q: What do you hope to take away from this retreat?
I was impressed by the earnest answers to this question I had included on the “yoga intake” questionnaire distributed the first day of our retreat. People wrote of a desire to find balance, pursue health, seek God. I, too, was inspired to take this opportunity to go deeper into my practice, and myself. And while it’s true we did do a lot of asana and meditation, and had some enervating discussions on the soteriology of yoga, can I just say that while a balanced equilibrium, healthy constitution and Self realization are super, it appears that nothing whips up the tapas like the promise of a bargain in a foreign country?
Aspirations of Self realization be damned, our most fervent, focused and energetic afternoon to date is the one we took off from class. Instead, we went sightseeing and shopping in Trivandrum, culminating in a trip to the sacred spot for shoppers, Fab India.
Fab India is a super hip chain of boutiques that sells fashionable Indian clothing and household goods at a fraction of American prices. Leaving the best for last, we arrived at Fab India with 90 minutes to get in and get out before we had to head home for our ayurvedic therapy appointments. It must have been all the previous days' treatments and yoga that accounted for the fact that within 2-3 minutes inside Fab India’s doors the group slipped en masse into an extended state of consciousness, one in which time and space collapsed. There was no other place than Here, no other time than Now.
With a single-mindedness that would have made Patanjali proud, our women practiced a fierce, one-pointed dharana as they ran through shelf upon shelf of multi-colored kurtis – long sleeved, short sleeved, 3/4 sleeved and sleeveless, short length, long length, silk, cotton, linen, for friends, for daughters, for nieces, for themselves. And then, the scarves. And pants. Exhibiting extraordinary mental endurance, the group masterfully held their focus continuously for 10, 30, up 60 minutes, then imperceptively slid into an even deeper sustained state of unfaltering dhyana. At this point some of the women began to exhibit siddhis, the magic powers reputed to ensnare yogis and drag them off their path, including the ability to mentally divide by increments of 45 as they effortlessly calculated rupees to dollars in an instant. Others experienced prapti, disappearing from the women’s wear department only to reappear slightly disoriented in the bedding and drapery section clutching matching pillowcases and handprinted cocktail napkins.
It wasn’t long before the samyoga was complete and the group was floating in a ground of pure, luminous samadhi, tasting the amrita of the supreme purchase. Who knows how long this might have gone on were it not for the sudden jolt back into everyday awareness brought on by the taxi driver arrival with the announcement that we had 10 minutes to have our sales rung up and get in the van. The group slowly returned to everyday consciousness and to the check out counter, taking several long, deep breaths as the clerk rang up their sales. One by one we departed out Fab India's door with our shopping bags brimming and minds blown..
Srikalan (l.) and Mridula(r.) in our Treatment Room
I carry what are now my life’s most precious items in a small muslin bag with the Somatheeram logo silkscreened on it. Inside is my personalized ayurvedic “marmalade” (which tastes surprisingly goood, given what it looks like), a bottle of medicinal tonic (which I take after each meal), the big brass key to my cottage, and the key to my destiny, a little mint green “Treatment Program Card” which outlines my day-to-day prescribed ayurvedic treatments.
My days are dictated by the Treatment Program Card. I wake up each morning and consult The Card to see which sensuous treats with sing-songy names I will be getting that day: abhyanaga, shirodara, dhanyamladara, shirovasti. Some I recognize, most I don't. I present The Card each day at the clniic to Dr. Shirley who signs off on the day's projected treatment once she confirms I'm on track by checking my blood pressure and consulting my pulse for any movement in my doshas. I then take The Card to my daily practitioner, Srikala -- a smart, saucy slip of young woman in her twenties given to pinching my cheek and slapping my rear -- who reviews my daily prescription while I sit naked on a little wooden stool nearby, awaiting my future.
I have spent the past four afternoons (once I get off the stool) lounging on a wooden ayurvdic treatment table rubbed smooth with age while Srikala and another young, bright-eyed woman who giggles a lot pour hot herbed water out of spiggoted brass pots over my body in choreographed unison. Front, side, other side, back, front again. I’m entranced by the sound of softly whooshing water and whispered Malayalam. I gaze languidly out the open shuttered window at the Keralan thatched roof of the clinic and the palm trees swaying nearby until my hour long bath comes to an end, only to be followed by a 45 minute treatment of shirodara, an ayurvedic technique that involves having warm sesame oil rhythmically poured across the forehead until every rational thought has been eroded.
It's now become apparent to me that this is all a grand scheme. These women have spent eight days soothing, stroking, and lulling me into a state of compliance so that I am sure to agree to today’s line item: purgation. Far from the luscious treatments with beautiful names of the past, this no nonsense therapy involves my swallowing some vile brew that is guaranteed to have me spending the night pounding a path between my mosquito-netted bed and the bathroom, only to wearily wake to a new dawn with empty, pristine intestines.
So, rendered utterly helpless, I have haplessly obeyed. Concoction chugged as ordered. And now, I wait.
For the last week we have been eavesdropping on the Shivaratri activities going on at the nearby temple. Loudspeakers line the main road to broadcast the activities taking place on the temple grounds, just in case some don't make it down the long dirt path to the beach cliff where the temple is located. That, and the zeal for amplification in this part of the world.
For days we’ve been listening to orations, chants, kirtans and at one point what sounded like Malayalam talk radio, presumably all in praise of Tryambhakam himself. Tempted as we were to go take part in the festivities (a wonderful opportunity, as this is one of the few Hindu temples here that allows access to non-Hindus), we’ve been too busy with oil and yoga to venture outside the facility’s gates. So it wasn’t until last night, the culminating night of the ten-day Shivaratri celebration, that we joined the party, in what turned out to be a huge orgiastic release of pure bhakti that shuddered the streets of our little community.
Just after sundown our little group of yogis walked the dirt path that snakes from the retreat center through the palm jungle to the main road, not really knowing what to expect. As we groped through the dark, dodging the occasional put-put, we could hear the sound of devotion swelling before us. Turning the corner from the end of our path onto the main street we saw a river of Saivaites surging toward us, a fluid current of ecstatic dancing, drumming, and genuflecting in honor of the God my recent acquaintance Ian Whicher refers to as simply “The Refresher.”
Wave upon wave of full-tilt Saivite boogie washed over us as we squeezed onto the sidewalk along with the local residents dressed in their best saris and clean shirts, holding their adorned children by the hand or in their arms. Batteries of South Indian drummers marched down the street shirtless, save their white mundus (sarongs) and smiles to match, thrashing out a swinging, South Indian groove. Following right behind were huge mechanized floats with enormous animated figures mouthing blaring, pre-recorded soundtracks as they re-enacted scenes from stories of Durga, Vishnu, Ram and Sita, and of course, Siva himself. Rows of pious women and children holding parasols and candles somberly followed the mechanical mayhem, while brass vestiges of the colonial past marching in quasi unison took up the rear.
The most overtly religious aspect of the celebration were the impromptu alters that lined the street which had been set out by residents and business owners. Tables decorated with candles, flowers, incense, fruit and other offerings for Siva sat waiting for a visit by the local temple priest, a lion of a man with a thick black beard, roman nose and piercing black eyes, bare from the waist up with garlands of jasmines and marigolds strewn around his neck. The priest was followed by a cadre of swamis carrying a palanquin on which a silver model of Nandi (Siva's vehicle, the bull) rode. The temple posse stopped at each table, where the head priest would sprinkle holy water and toss flower blossoms at Nandi and his hosts. Just when things threatened to get a little serious, the procession ended at a flatbed rigged with a deejay who pumped out some localized rap to the resident teen-age boys who danced in the street, doing their best Michael Jackson moves for each other. From start to finish, pure joy, big fun.
"I see you have written 'neither' to being either positve or negative thinker" commented Dr. Shirley, after reading over my answers to the ayuredic intake survey she had just given me. "So... that makes you a Realist."
Ahh, 48 hrs since the last post and the romantic poetics have given way to sober prosaics. The monkeys are actually birds that chatter, call and cackle 24/7, the translucent Europeans have been spotted lighting up directly following their their ayurvedic breakfasts and "medicine water," and the Arabian sea, well, it's still roaring beautifully -- although I do have a funny story to share with you about that.
I woke up early to take a long sunrise walk down the beach this morning. The shore was other-worldly, lined with brightly painted fishing boats as far as the eye could see, teaming with ebony skinned fisherman in floral saris and bright, striped shirts. The fisherman work alongisde the boats in single file teams, occasionally breaking into work chants as they drag large nets of snapper, mackeral, roughy, anchovies, calamaris, and crab in from the sea. Some of the wives sit nearby visiting with each other, dressed in jewled-toned saris, or roaming the beach selling fruit. Breathtaking.
Just as I began to feel myself slipping into some kind of Rudyard Kipling novel, Divine Consciousness snatched the rose colored glasses right off my 21st century face. "Hey," she said. "Notice that dog poop you keep side-stepping? Look again." It was then I noticed the occasional fisherman squatting at the water's edge. Oh. I see. My Modern American repugnance around bodily functions sprang up in front of my face, blocking the bucolic view of only a moment before. The yoga challenge: Can I take it all in? Can I allow the sublime and and not-so-sublime to co-exist in one marvelous marsala of reality? Afterall, the fisherman are simply doing what any rational person would do given the setting, taking their morning business to the water's edge so that it will be carried away to sea -- as clean and tidy a system as one might come up with.
Yes, but, and, still...I think I might switch my daily walk on the beach to sunset.
(Note: This was actually written Feb 1. Due to computer difficulties I only just now was able to post it!)
We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has changed, and that changes everything.
—Jonah Lehrer, Neuroscientist and Author
As I sit here on Day 1 away from home, belly full of a breakfast of spicy sambar and fluffy idli, coconut chutney and Indian coffee, my laptop perched on a stone slab outside my little thatched bungalow, distance and difference are making themselves known. While the sights and smells are glorious, it’s the sounds that call me most insistently away from the familiar into this new world I am stepping into called Kerala.
I fell asleep last night to the sound of monkeys chattering in the trees, and woke this morning to the naada of the Arabian sea. At the moment I hear the swish of housekeepers sweeping the paths, the ubiquitous picks of workmen and calls of the crows, the groaning of a rope swing strung from the palms, the low voices of the French, Italian and German men and women who appear slightly translucent compared to me, having had weeks of cleansing treatments and paradise.
I look forward to having a chaser of the secret tonic of creativity alongside my ayurvedic treatments these next few weeks . Today I get my consultation, and will receive my prescribed course of diet, herbs and ayurvedic therapies. Thirty hours of travel time have carried me the distance so that I can now explore the difference. As T.S. Elliott put it "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."
Read Jonah Lehrer's Why We Travel:The Frontal Cortex at www.scienceblogs.com