Shout Out #27

Trip Start Jun 05, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of India  ,
Tuesday, November 6, 2007

    A man has a good job.  He comes from a loving family.  He was well provided for.  He has no wife or children; a clear choice about what is right for him.  This man always straddled two worlds- the intangible and the tangible, sacred and profane, the one within and the one without.  In both he's been successful.  In his youth he excelled in athletics and developed a strong discipline of fitness.  That energy fit well in the working world, and in a poor country he was never in financial need.  He was a man of two worlds though.  The physical aspects of the world without- a body, food, clothing, and shelter- are only a means for delving within.  His fitness was maintained for higher pursuit.  Physical, mental, and spiritual health are not independent.  Yoga was always his guiding practice- the exploration of both worlds.
    In the west some people wake up to something sometime in their (mid)life and wonder, 'What the hell have I been doing this whole time?  I have a house, a car, a family, a dog...and I'm miserable.'  As a remedy they often buy a Harley and leather chaps and take their two weeks cruising to Sturgis.  It can provide some insight too.
    These breakdowns may happen in the east as well.  People may find themselves in similar circumstances and decide to do something out of character.  There's another practice in the east though.  It's not usually the result of a breakdown, it's usually the next logical move.  This man decided to make such a move.  As a continuation of his pursuits in both worlds he simply left.  He left without saying goodbye to anyone.  There was a letter of resignation, a note about the vacant apartment, and nothing...he was gone.  For seven years he was gone, traveling around India...eating, sleeping, doing yoga, meditating, living.  He left in his 50's.  The practice is based on detachment- to detach from the tangible world (the world without).  They leave and let go of ego identity, family and friendship ties, creature comforts, and financial wealth- anything us humans cling to.  He left, and at a good age for retirement., he returned with a long beard and a lot less baggage.  He was ready to continue with his work.

    "Hey Elad, how are you doing?  What've you been up to?"  It was the first time Ash saw him in several days.
    "I've been going to a yoga class for about a week now.  The teacher is 72 years old with a long gray beard.  He has a class in the morning and one at night.  He also does breathing and meditation after the night class.  I just started going to that."
    "Really?  I've been bouncing around different classes.  I found a decent one but yours sounds interesting.  When and where is it?"
    "It's on the road to Swarg.  There's a sign by the police station saying Krishna Yoga.  Class is at 5:30 but go a little early to get a spot.  What have you been doing?"
    "Sarah came to town and I've spent the last few days with her.  She just left for Gangotri but she's coming back through town afterwards.  She told me to say hello."

"Om."  (Repeated by class in unison).
Again.  Om, Om, Jai, Jai, Shri, Shri, Krishna, Krishna.  And class has begun...
    Krishna Yoga is just south of Ramjhula on a dirt road behind the police station.  Blankets and pads were arranged on a rooftop terrace with great views of the surrounding mountains.  Few, if any, other classes took place outdoors.  Krishna is an impressively young man with many years under his belt.  Aside from the gray hair in his beard, nothing about him is elderly.  He walks strong, talks boldly (with much heart), and is more fit than anyone in his class regardless of age.  In his meditation room adjacent to the yoga terrace he has a drawing of Krishna playing the flute accompanied by Radha, a cow, and some other animals.  Every class began with the repetition of the phrase 'Om Jai Shri Krishna' and some  warm-up stretches.  Krishna always contributed stories and lessons between stretches or in moments of rest.
    "My dear good we will be doing some kundalini excercises...awaken the kundalini powers.  Many people are saying they are doing kundalini yoga or ashtanga yoga.  They are not knowing the true meaning of yoga.  There is only one yo-ga!  (Finger pointed in the air in emphasis).  They are doing the same thing with religion.  Religion is only to understand god, one religion, one caste, for everyone.  People are not understanding this."
    Ash went looking for tough-guy acrobatic postures but Krishna Yoga wasn't about brute force.  Originally he enjoyed the class because Krishna was such a kick.  He pushed everyone to improve flexibility with basic postures, but he pushed really hard and he made it humorous- oftentimes unintentionally.
    "When you are having no pain you are also having no gain.  It is the nature of nature.  There is no air conditioner enlightenment!"  (Another finger in the air for emphasis).
    Ash was constantly laughing to himself about these phrases.  Although they weren't said as a joke, it always felt like he was laughing with Krishna. 
The following morning, his second day in class, Krishna greeted him as he had the previous night, "Hey Architect!  How are you?"
    "My muscles are sore.  I didn't know stretching was so strenuous."
    "You are having blood in more parts of your muscles.  Don't run from the stiff, or the stiff will run to you.  Run to the stiff...and the stiff will run away. 
    Sarah returned from her trek hungry and recovering from being ill.  Three girls had helped her through the sickness in the mountains.  Over lunch she described the experience to Ash- the 12-hour bus ride tossing her side to side as it careened up the road, the cold air, beautiful hike, and the sparkling stream, Indian women being carried along the trail by teams of hired men, and the misery of stomach troubles and how exceptional the three girls were in helping her.

    "The naked babas sit in meditation by Ganga."  Pointing to his groin, "This is an illusion- they show it like hand.  They are connected to the true reality.  Not the smoking babas, the real babas."  Krishna's between-stretch dialogues touch on any number of ideas.  "I was by the Ganga.  Sometimes you are seeing dead bodies floating down the river.  People are putting dead relatives in the water.  Ganga is powerful.  I was seeing a body floating in the water, only it's buttox is sticking above.  That's where a crow stands- picking at the flesh.  (Finger in the air)  Doing god's work!  I will leave my body behind like old clothes.  (He gestures the removal of a jacket and storming off ).  Get out of my way so I can continue with what it is I have to do."
    His approach to life/yoga is what attracted or repelled many of the students.  His was unique among the various schools.  A small group of students- those who began attending every class for several weeks- created something of a family.  By attending morning and night a lifestyle is somewhat enforced.  Food is eaten at certain times to ensure an empty stomach for both classes.  Diet is also an important aspect of yoga.  Vegetarianism is universal among yogis.  People in the class typically ate similarly as a result.  It's a unifying situation.  Breakfast always followed the morning class and the family often lingered in a riverside restaurant until late in the morning.  Lunch came shortly afterwards to give the body time to digest before the night class.  The family mainly consisted of Ninie, Sebastian, Elad, Ash, and a few others who came and went throughout that time.  Ninie is Malaysian, Sebastian is German, and the two are traveling around the world together on a yoga-based trip.  Krishna especially liked Ninie.  She's a naturally sweet person with a great sense of humor.  He flirted with her frequently in class.  In response she once offered to set him up with her 72 year-old grandmother in Malaysia.
    "72?!  I make it 27.  Does she have any teeth?  She probably wants to take me into town.  (As something fun they could do together.)  What can I teach her?"
    His joking sometimes didn't work with other cultures.  People who stayed tended to understand his ways.  Those who left typically wanted something else or thought he was a crazy old man.  During one particularly strenuous toe touching exercise he encouraged an overweight Israeli girl to push farther.  "C'mon 75 kg's."  With shocked laughter she looked to her friend wondering if he had actually said that.  He realized it may not have been a good way to make his point and tried to smooth it over.  With a much softer voice, "How much do you weigh?  75 kilos?"  He wasn't getting anywhere.  Ash was cracking up in his corner of the terrace.  He meant no offense he just responds to what he sees.  When it comes to social or cultural niceties he's somewhat removed.  Neither of the two girls returned.
    " Stretchings and holdings systems...that is the method of yo-ga."  As well as breathing and meditation and talks about spiritual philosophy and ways of being.  "Yoga is not making bombs and killing people.  Yoga is love and happiness."  It is far beyond a simple workout regimen.  The yogi's live, sleep, morality, fitness (physical, mental, and spiritual).  It is life.  It is Krishna's life and he does his best to operate with 'unconditionable' love.

    Renting, a motorcycle, in India.  They are renting, a motorcycle, in India.  India.  Motorcycle.  Well, motorbike...the motorcycles were already gone.
    Through the Shiva circle, past music venders, crossing the bridge, weaving through people, other motorcycles, a cow.  Up a winding roadway/walkway thing, past shops, around the main arrival plaza, buses, tour groups, more shops.  Onto roads with other traffic, past businesses lining the road, and away.  They are not in Ramjhula anymore.  It's India now.
    The road going uphill, towards higher peaks.  The pilgrimage route.  Winding uphill, downhill, around a corner to the right, past the trailhead for the waterfalls, a corner to the left.  Hills and turns and views of the river and views of the mountains.  Sharp turn, traffic stacked, taxi brakes, Ash brakes, thinks of swerving- can't...hits the right rear of the taxi, almost tips into oncoming traffic.  (Is Sarah okay?  Yes.  (and being American) Damn, what's this going to cost?)  Taxi driver and passengers in rear seat look back, laugh, drive off.
    Back on the road.  Downhill, curve right across small bridge.  Uphill, curve left.  Road sign- "On the bends go slow my friend".  Climbing hills, higher, more bends.  Pull off and look over river.  Beautiful valley...river with rapids and rocks and slow water with beaches.  Tents and tables set up like resorts at several beaches.
    Continue.  Road gets rough.  Winding hills up and down.  Babas walking along roadway.  Past footbridge across river.  Luxury hotel.  Parking pull-off and a stop at a beach.  Indian man gets ferried by raft across the river to a group of white tents and tables sitting on the beach.  Swim in the cool water.  Relax on the warm sand.
    Onwards, further, upwards and downwards.  Small town and a small restaurant without a menu.  Dal makhani?  Roti?  Firsts and seconds on both.
    Return.  Past swimming spot.  Babas on road.  Stop and give tithing.  Winding downhill and uphill.  Road improves.  Curves.  Stop and take a picture at BRO sign (Bridges and Roads agency of sorts).  Cruising faster.  Little traffic.  More traffic.  Slower.  Bus brakes.  Ash brakes.  Skids, veers left, Ash goes over the handlebars, Sarah tips with the motorbike, Ash runs it off and almost goes over cliff.  (Is Sarah okay?  Yes.)
    "You almost went over the edge there."
    "We've been over the edge all day.  I've driven motorcycles in all the Asian countries I've been through and never had an accident.  Now, twice in one day?  I'm surprised you're willing to ride with me."
    Back on the road at a steady pace.  Around a few more turns.  Not far from the wreck a truckload of Indian men stopped along the road wave them down frantically.  They stop, curious about the commotion.  The men pull out cameras.  Ash laughs and poses- knowing his face probably didn't fit in the close-ups of Sarah...a foreign blonde on a motorbike.  Pulling away, Sarah tells Ash somewhat pointedly, "You're far more accommodating than I am."
    Rain drops and the road dampens.  Moving along at a slower clip.  Turn off the road and weave down into the arrival plaza.  Past shops and tour bus parking.  They move down the roadway/walkway thing, weaving through tourists, down to Ramjhula bridge.  It's more crowded than in the mid-morning.  Crossing the bridge takes more time and finesse.  People are shuffling along the bridge, motorbikes honk, they squeeze through.  Driving through the Shiva plaza, past the man dressed as Hanuman, past music venders, down the central road, past the taxi stand, Ash's hotel, and back to the rental spot.
    The boy looked over the motorbike.  It's solidly built.  Ash hadn't noticed the damage from hitting the taxi.  The boy saw it though.  He's an operator.  His movements say it.  His eyes say it.  His words make it clear.  The kid knows how to handle himself in business.  He sees the damage, points it out, but doesn't want any money for it.  The bike's solid and it's an easy repair.  Instead, when Ash leaves, he gets his buddy and a hose and siphons out the extra gas- easily worth a couple dollars; almost the equivalent of the rental fee.  He keeps a good reputation and pockets some money. 
    Sarah is leaving for Ladakh.  It's a remote area near Kashmir with a Buddhist population.  It's rural, rugged, and something she is excited and determined to see.  The road is closed until the summer gets that far north so she's flying- something not entirely within her travel ethics (both ecologically and adventurously).  Her and Ash sit for breakfast at Lucky, a riverside restaurant below the bridge, before she continues her journey.  Ash is sitting with his back to the water.  People sometimes speak of luck, or timing, or destiny.  Coincidence or fate?  A mystic may say the planets were aligned.  Agnostics may say it was random.  Both may point to Universal Coordinated Time (UTC) and say timing is everything.  Whatever the case, he turned his head and looked over the water precisely as a cow bounced down the steep banks on the opposite side of the river.  It was a tangled mass of legs, horns, ears, and udders flopping lopsidedly along.  "Holy shit!  Somebody just tossed a dead cow down the hill."  It barreled down the full 20 meters and splashed in a shallow patch of slow-moving water.  "That's crazy."  Then the cow moved and slowly stood up. "Oh my god!  It's alive!  No way!"  It looked around, stood in the water, and looked around some more.
    The cow fell with absolutely no resistance or tension.  Not one muscle appeared to flex or contract with any of the impacts along the voyage.  It fell like a rag doll.  After a few moments standing in the water, it walked over to the hill, chewed on some trash, and tried to walk back up.  After reaching a too-steep grade, it walked down for more trash.  It was trapped and it offered no resistance to the situation or the initial plummet. 
    Coincidence or fate?  Regardless of the label, timing like that often brings a message.  Ash saw it as a lesson in Maya- the Indian word for the illusory, tangible world.  The world without.  At a superficial level, Ash enjoyed Krishna's phrase about 'The Stiff'.  With the cow, it easily would've been injured had it tensed or stiffened during the fall.  At whatever level animals do, they know about Maya.  Krishna had been delivering the same message all along.  "Don't run from the stiff or the stiff will run to you.  Run to the stiff and the stiff will run away."  Ash always thought, "Sure, no problem.  I'll come back tomorrow even though my muscles are sore.  I'll come back even though my hamstring is somewhat pulled."  Krishna always spoke of 'happiness' during an exercise.  "Your muscles will be getting much happiness and you will be having many good feelings."  Aside from its use in a catchphrase, the word 'pain' wasn't in his vocabulary.  The truth of his words wasn't in the future or in repeated effort.  It was in the exact moment of doing a stretch. As Ash reached forward, trying to extend his hands beyond his feet, pushing his forehead down to his knees- don't run from the stiff, you will be getting much happiness.  Don't focus on pain.  Be loose, relax, breathe, and let your body do what your mind doesn't let it do.  Be of no mind and you will "awaken powers in the body".  His leg was injured because he tensed during a stretch, not because he tried to go too far.  That is the truth behind the illusion- the truth behind Maya- delivered by a falling cow with impeccable timing.  He was learning what yoga is actually about.
    Sarah felt some sympathy for the cow and he jokingly suggested she mount a rescue operation.  An hour later Ash was sitting in a travel agency, buying plane tickets for his return home in a month.  Sarah crossed the bridge on her way out of town and saw some men on a motorboat trying to coerce the cow into climbing aboard.  It was being rescued.  She sent Ash a text message letting him know the cow was going to be saved.  They had much happiness and many good feelings.
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