Tuesday, 1 June 2010

The Final Episode.....for now!

What will I do in my next life? Who will I become? How will I behave? You may think these musings are the result of 9 months in India. And if you think that you may well be right ……… but at the immediate level these musings were inspired by the closing remarks of a conversation about music that I was having with my step dad just the other day, following a tasty lunch of yummy sandwiches made with honey roast ham and mature cheddar cheese on multi-grain with a bit of salad thrown in for good measure (while the details of lunch may seem highly useless and irrelevant to you the reader I simply had to include them, since after 9 months of samosas or dosas for lunch you wouldn’t believe how freakin good a ham sandwich is, never mind a crisp green leaf of lettuce!!). As fellow musicians we were chatting about the merits of various music learning techniques and the draw backs of being classically trained……we were both wishing we had the ability to just sit down and play without reading the notes!! And when you stop and think about it, music is a bit like life that way. There are some people that learn the rules and always play by those rules. And can only function with a full set of instructions and guidelines. And then there are those that seem to somehow manage to just make it up as they go along, either by imitation or pure creativity and seem to have so much more fun in the process. In life I think I actually sit somewhere on the fence, vacillating between one lifestyle and the other – but in music I’m definitely a play by the rules kinda gal. And so – in wishing that I were able to play jazz, to improvise and play by ear I concluded with the thought that maybe in my next life I’d be a better jazz musician. And that’s when it occurred to me that its funny how in conversation we constantly make throw away remarks like ‘in my next life’, without thinking about what it really means and whether or not we actually believe that there might possibly be a next life. However, in India, a statement like that holds so much more gravity.

After my final 6 weeks in India, absorbed in the teachings of Yoga I’m still not certain how I feel about all that (and when I say ‘all that’ I am, of course referring to the possibility of reincarnation, after-life and re-birth in to a new form and shape) because somewhere along the line I do have a feeling that our DNA carries with it some of the lessons we learn in life and passes those lessons on to the next generation (even if our souls don’t literally find a new home in another body – if there even is such a thing as a soul, beyond a series of neural networks with custom designed firing patterns unique to our own brains that allow us to recognize a continuum of thought that established us as us) but I do now feel certain that in this one life that we are currently inhabiting there is untold potential to be and achieve whatever one might chose – but the key to attainment is that to attain one must first chose! There is nothing that a person cannot do if they just put their mind to it. And after choosing they must then remain acutely aware of those choices, commit a certain level of responsibility towards actions that will lead towards those goals and ultimately remain mindful of the fact that those goals can only be achieved and enjoyed if they are admirable goals that cause no harm to anyone and at least some benefit to someone.

So – what does it mean to me to be back in England? I thought that I would be culture shocked by my arrival back to the ‘real’ world, on departing the mayhem of India – but it seems that I am simply so habituated to being on the move, that no alteration of circumstances, no matter how extreme: from hanging with shallow, sallow sadhu’s begging beside bovine bathrooms to sitting in the clinical chaos of Heathrow airport for hours on end to finally be falling into a deep and silent slumber amongst duck down duvets, can rattle my cultural cage! I just roll effortless from one set of circumstances to the next without the bat of an eyelid these days. And I realized that I don’t think the ‘shock’ will actually set in until about 3 months after we arrive in Vancouver when we’ve had a house warming party in our new place and I finally realize that I’m not going ANYWHERE for at least the next 12 months. Perhaps at that point I will start beating my head against a wall and screaming for a way out – lamenting my lost freedom and new found imprisonment (I’ve been warned by many that this may be the case) – but my instinct is that rather than lamenting it – I will in fact be embracing the comfort of routine, the warmth of a home and the love that comes from a family of friends that are constantly at hand just around the corner or at the most a short bus ride away! I think it is safe to say that I have done my fair share of exploring the globe and I’m quite ready for a different kind of exploration that will lead me in to a new world and a new depth of connection with the people that I love and choose to surround myself with.

But despite the lack of culture shock, the return to UK has at least been another step forward, one more step closer to my new life in Vancouver and a final chance for introspection and reflection on the journey, now completed. Amusingly there have already been several moments when I have been forced to wonder: ‘Have I learned nothing?’ For example: Only hours after leaving India, as I sat on a hard plastic chair in terminal 1 contemplating my thoughts during my fourth hour at Heathrow airport, waiting to board the stupid one hour flight north to Manchester after managing to get most of the way ‘home’; despite being curiously ‘unshocked’ I did find myself seriously battling with the urge to throw a major temper tantrum…….so much for maintaining my equilibrium! Let me explain a little: Thanks to the wonderful Icelandic volcano and an impending BA strike we were forced to re-jiggle and reschedule our return flights to reality a number of times prior to our final departure from India. When we finally arrived at Delhi international airport to take the plane away from the madness it appeared we would indeed land in Heathrow in time to make the 3pm BMI connecting flight to Manchester we were hoping to catch. The check-in girl assured us that we were booked on that flight and we would make it. Well – it turned out, after cutting several immigration and security check lines on arrival at Heathrow in an attempt to make the 3pm flight that actually ‘NO!’ our booking in the system was in actual fact for the 8:55pm flight – and there was no way that we could be transferred to the 3, or any earlier flight for that matter. So after hours and hours of transit around India in the last 9 months with very little to speak of in the way of delays, I found myself ‘stuck’ in London for the best part of 7 hours and not surprisingly I wasn’t actually feeling all that inspired to write this last installment of my crash course to insanity…..but what else was there to do with all that wasted time!!! Being stuck in transit is never fun – but when you know that if there’s one thing you should have learned in the last 9 months, it’s to ‘go with the flow’ and all you really want to do is scream at a BA representative it’s actually quite tough to get creative and use your time constructively. So there I was – back in the real world driving myself nuts with the thought that I should have already been on the plane, off the plane, on the train and only one hour from home – but instead I was sitting on an uncomfortable airport chair, trying to remain equanimous with the fact that my Cumberland sausage was still in the fridge and wouldn’t make it to my stomach this side of Wednesday! So much for my personal evolution (never mind my potential to reach enlightenment)! And on top of everything – my body was still tired and sore from 6 weeks of yoga (don’t forget my body clock was all out of whack …… did I mention that I’d been going to sleep at 10pm in preparation for the 5am wake-up) so I wasn’t exactly likely to be feeling on top of the world. But having said that, I was also suffering withdrawals after 3 full days without a single asana and I was itching to get in a good session on the matt. Ahhh Yoga.

For the final 6 weeks in India I was living in Rishikesh, India at the Shiva Resort/wannabe Ashram learning to be a yoga instructor and it was a wonderful journey. My poor old body had quite a rollercoaster ride of it (trying to remember what it felt like to be employed in movement outside the bounds of ‘normal’ motion for several hours a day), but my mind really enjoyed the discipline of a learning environment and the chance to get into a routine of sorts. And while learning the practical aspects of yoga I also had classes in philosophy, anatomy, meditation, and the yoga lifestyle.

My darling husband also came along for the ride, so we got the opportunity to share in the joys of yoga in 40 degree heat and challenge the concepts behind the practical application. Yoga in its physical form is simply marvelous. It has the potential to heal and promote health, and can be the basis for a calm and contented mind. After finishing Vipassana (10 day silent meditation retreat – for those of you who didn’t read that installment……fair enough really – it was 5000 words), I wasn’t sure whether my mission in India had all been a big fat hoax and the chances for me to find inner peace were all but dashed. But after a few days immersed in yoga I began to feel changes coming over me that I had been striving for, for years. I was beginning to sleep like a baby and my mind was becoming quieter and clearer than it had been in a very long time. Yes, yoga could well be what I have been looking for.

So what can I tell you about the course? Well – we had both Indian and western teachers, which allowed us to have the best of both worlds: The passion and the spiritualism of the East, along with the science and precision of the west. The philosophy and background from the Hindu tradition and the pragmatic, systematic approach to the art of teaching that gave me exactly what I needed to learn not just about yoga, but how to teach it with meaning and enthusiasm for it’s roots. Thanks to the graceful guidance of Kristen, our American teacher I found that I was able to gradually get my feet wet. Over the course of the final weeks she introduced us to teaching in baby steps so that by the time it came to lead a complete class I was confident and totally ready for the challenge. And in fact I now feel completely excited and pumped about the possibility of becoming a yoga instructor.

I have learned that yoga is an age-old tradition that has it’s roots in the Hindu faith but is basically a system that can be applied to anybody’s life to improve well-being. There are many levels to yoga; from the most basic and practical to the most intangible and esoteric and all of them have a place in the world. I’m excited to develop my very own unique approach to yoga and share it with the world (or at least a few people in Vancouver) and hopefully enrich their lives with it. I’m not going to say too much at this point since I don’t want to give my secrets away – but let’s just say, I have some ideas that I think are pretty cool and hopefully I can start a yoga studio with a difference…….watch this space!

So – why exactly has it taken me so long to share these final reflections with you? Usually when I wrote my blog entries in India I would take a couple of days to edit and re-write the final version, but the initial writing phase would be done in just one or two sittings and come out in a smooth flowing jumble of inspiration. Not so on this occasion. Already almost 2 weeks back in the real world I have sat down numerous times hunting for the right words, the correct intention, the moment of inspiration to compel me to write but it just didn’t happened: Did I become lazy with my writing? Did my energies become so distracted with yoga that I just felt out of whack at a laptop, or deep down was I resisting the acknowledgement that this journey had to come to an end? I must accept that I have found my sanity and the crash course is now complete. It is time to press on with life and leave my ‘searching’ behind. In reality I don’t think that the search is ever really over. Every action I will ever take is part of the search. The search for meaning, the search for truth, the search for union with the greater forces of nature outside myself – the force that some describe as God. Well – for me, the last few weeks and in a larger frame of reference the last few months have really helped me to clarify these definitions and the subtle aspects of their meaning for me. I do indeed feel that this crash course to insanity has delivered me to exactly the place I wanted to be. I have a new level of acceptance about who I am, and the weird and wonderful way that I think. I can observe my mind from a new place and on a whole new level. I am at anxious peace with myself – if that at all makes sense? Let’s just say India didn’t change me so much – it just taught me to accept that which is for that which should be and stop worrying about what cannot be changed.

Staring up at the cool blue sky from the deck of my mother’s sail boat the other day it dawned on me that wherever you are in the world, when you tip your head back and look up towards space the view that greets you will be exactly the same. The same sky, give or take a few thunderclouds and droplets of rain here or there. Perhaps a ray or 2 more of sunshine on occasion – but ultimately the same – it’s only when your eyes are cast down that you realize your circumstances have changed and your environment is different. In the last 9 months those circumstances changed again and again and I saw many incredible things. I saw man made wonders of the world both on and off the ‘list’ of the greatest, like the Taj Mahal and the Temples of Hampi, I saw natural wonders of the world like the tallest mountain peak on the planet, Everest and many of her sisters……I even climbed one or 2 of them (let’s not forget I made it over 6000M by foot…….6153M to be precise). I went hunting for Tigers (and never found them). Went in search of wild elephants (and got chased away by them). Sat in silence for 10 days learning the ancient art of meditation and turned my world upside down to find a new perspective through yoga (literally – I can now do a headstand!) And of course I sampled every kind of vegetarian curry under the sun. Where am I going with all this? India was amazing…..certainly Incredible at times, and above all a world of many harsh extremes. India was the perfect landscape to help me recognize that the external world is just a mirror of what you can find inside yourself. If you keep your eyes down you can be distracted by the ever changing faces of ‘reality’, but if you look up to the sky there is an omniscient, constant truth that remains, no matter what storms may come……the blue sky is always there above, waiting to be revealed. I have been here all along. India has helped me find my blue sky above, the power to remember who I am and the wisdom to know it is time to leave India behind and embrace the world and the circumstances that I choose to live in. I loved every part of what I experienced in India, the good, the bad and the ugly, but did I want to remain there in that world of extremes? Absolutely not! As I leave the road behind I feel full of anticipation and excitement about the journey ahead. So to answer my query as to whether I am reluctant to acknowledge the journey is over……No! There are no regrets or doubts, I had no hesitation about pulling the final curtain on this crash course, I just couldn’t quite find the worlds to sum it up – because it is quite a lot to say after all, but if I must put it simply I suppose it would be this: Thank you India, I have loved you and hated you with equal parts and equal passion but now I must leave you because in you I finally found myself and myself doesn’t’ actually want to be in India anymore ……and beside which, life is calling!