Friday, December 31, 2010

Happiness in ordinary moments

Happiness is when I can hit the pause button and appreciate
the little

1. falling snow on my face
2. watching the sun rise, colors bursting from the sky over the mountains
3. hot, sweet masala chai
4. taking my shoes off
5. when urdhva dhanurasana, 3 times feels easy, freeing and opens my heart 
6. hand stands, staring contests & thumb wrestling with the boys
7. when nana can remember where and when she met my dad: on a plane, I was 9 or 10
8. my precocious son pretending to listen to Kings Of Leon on unplugged headphones... the music is in his head, he said
9. when I can hear music in my head and it's not too off key and I can remember the lyrics
10. a friend calls for no reason at all but to say how much they appreciate you
11. (because 10 is too few and 12 is too many) giving without expectations... it's rare but when I manage it... bliss

nathan & i -- balloon ride
I've been told I have the right to "the pursuit of happiness". But true joy requires me to distinguish between real happiness and the imaginary kind. "Having it all" doesn't equate to finding it. Even striving for equanimity and the action of trying so hard to be unattached to a desired outcome (happiness)... seeking illusive perfection... won't bring lasting joy.  Happiness comes in small moments while pursuing the big stuff. After a while, the small moments become the point.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

India: Nandini

Nandini, a dignified, youthful 40-something Indian woman clad in frumpy mom-jeans rolled up enough to reveal suede turquoise high-top sneakers boldly asked me if she could sit at my table in the Delhi airport and wait with me. After just a few short minutes, she shyly confessed how fearful she was of going out alone at night. (Is it that dangerous? I didn't think so but perhaps if you go where you shouldn't...) I benefited from her desire to wait til the sun would rise, and we talked for at least 4 hours while sipping coffee to stay awake. 
Originally from Calcutta, she now lives in Scotland with a partner. She was married off young (pre-arranged by her parents) and divorced just a few years ago. I felt there is more to her story than she was willing to share, but from what I gathered, the essence is that her husband did not want her to have the higher education she desired, so they parted. Currently getting her PHD in sociology, she seemed heartbroken that she no longer has any communication with her 15 year old son since he chose to live with his father in India. Separation and divorce in India has quite a stigma which is certainly not a surprise. Nandini's mum had an arranged marriage and to this day, she attributes her mum's sudden death of a brain aneurysm at age 47 to a love-less marriage, full of sacrifice.  

graffiti mural along the road in Rishikesh

"As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world, 
as in being able to remake ourselves." --Gandhi

While India is a world different from Texas culturally, I see more and more how we are all just people looking for contentment and balance. Our lengthy talk about working mums verses stay at home mums could be summed up by our need to do something that would create our own world and fulfill a longing for a sense of purpose in our lives. Her own mum, surrendered a career twice to the needs of her family. Starting over each time, she felt her mum lost a part of herself and became a little more detached from herself- her True self. 
The intension of Nandini's heart was displayed not by what she said but how she said it-- through her eyes. Her eyes revealed a person who's soul was healing. Conversing with this woman, I could clearly see our similarities... as mothers, as women, as a person seeking more.  Two strangers, linked by a common desire to embrace the life we envision for ourselves-- rather than run from it.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Remembering at Christmas

Sri Lanka

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so?  It came without ribbons.  It came without tags.  It came without packages, boxes or bags.  And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore.  Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before.  What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store.  What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.  ~Dr Seuss
Galle, Sri Lanka 

At Christmas, it's difficult not to think about all my growing up years climbing into my mom's pink Mary Kay car, playing backgammon with my brother for the 4 hour drive north to my grandmother's home. Usually, at Thanksgiving, Grandma had my brother dig up a pine tree from the back acreage on her rural Oklahoma farm which we would keep potted and replant some time before we left to return to school in January. My job was to decorate it with all the glass ornaments collected through the years and with the silver tensile she would carefully save and reuse each year (since 1960's). Each year we would give Grandma a special ornament with the year engraved on it. I inherited the precious ornaments from my Grandma Walker when she passed in 2000. It feels so long ago. I miss her chocolate pies and candied sweet potoatoes. I miss Wheel of Fortune and Jepardy game shows playing in the background. I miss sleeping under the living and dining room tables because the house was so overflowing with children and relatives that we were allowed to make a special fort under them. I miss getting apples, oranges and chocolates in my stocking on Christmas morning. 
The photo by the sea reminds me of her, not because she liked the ocean. In fact, I don't know that she ever visited a beach in her lifetime. But, because her eyes were the color of the sky, so clear, light blue. Today I am missing her very much, mainly because in her own cantankerous way, we knew she loved us more than she knew how to say. 

"Christmas - that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance.  It may weave a spell of nostalgia.  Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance - a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved." ~Augusta E. Rundel

Thursday, December 16, 2010

India, Haridwar

At this rate, I might finish my 14 days in India in about 6 months of blog postings. Taking my time with to savor the beauty of it for as long as my selective memory can. A friend said to me yesterday, that India will stay with me for a very long time. I certainly hope so... India seems to be polarizing. I come across people who either love it or hate it, people who dream of going like I did or people who would never in a million years want to go.

Still day 1, 36 hours into the journey...
Denise (my new friend and soon to be roommate from the train) and I caught a prepaid taxi from Haridwar to Rishikesh. We arrived on the night of the full moon ceremony (Purnima) at the Ganga- the one that occurs once a year on the eighth month of the Indian lunar calendar. You'll see people moving a small flame held in their right hand in a circular motion before the emmence Lord Shiva statue on a large platform just off the steps of Parmarth Ashram into the Ganga. Symbolizing that the source of all light comes from God. They also put their hands in the flames the oil lamps and in one motion, seem to wipe the energy of the flame onto their head and shoulders as a self blessing or cleansing of sorts.  Aarti is offered as a form of blessing from God to the devotees. Offering baskets of flowers given to the Ganga, and people bathe in the Ganga in the belief that this will grant them immortality in exchange for confession of sins. 

never made it back to Haridwar to explore, although I had heard that the aarti (fire ceremonies) at the Ganga River there are amongst the largest and most festive. The gentleman from Delhi, Prashant, whom I met on the plane on my return flight, had just lost his elderly grandmother a few days prior. She died one year to the day that her son (Prashant's father) died, as if she was just waiting for the right time to go. (Incidentally, his grandmother in India also died the same day as my sons' great grandfather in Texas).
Prashant shared when a Hindu passes in India, the funeral lasts 16 days or so. The body is cremated and the family gathers and gives Puja (usually food and money in exchange for prayers for the soul of the deceased) to the Brahman (priest). The immediate family then travels to the Ganga in Haridwar to release the ashes into the holy river. It must be a certain day, for if it's too early, the Brahman there will not allow it. In Prashant's case, they arrived too soon and sadly were unable to carry out the ceremony. His brother had to go back a few days later on his behalf. The river is considered among the holiest in India and those that worship her believe she will purify everything and anything. In the case of the dead, it's believed that it will bring peace to the departed soul. May his beloved grandmother rest in eternal peace.

Shiva, Parmarth Ashram, the Ganga

Sannyasa (Renunciates)
This put a whole new perspective on the Ganga for me. I went to aarti every night for the first 10 days, basking in the beautiful chanting.  Completely mesmerized by the faith and devotion displayed, I was also a bit annoyed, however, at paparatizi-like feel (the number of cameras, including my own!) and how there seemed to be "special people" who were invited to the fire by Swamiji who only seemed to appear when these unique guests were there. I also discovered by the end that there's a look-a-like Swamiji: one with greying hair (Swami Chidanand Saraswati) and one with full dark hair. All that non-sense aside, I enjoyed watching the boys clad in yellow who live in the ashram. Some really seem to be intoxicated with the music, singing and clapping and others seemed bored to tears. They're just kids, after all. All of them seemed quite happy with their spot in the limelight, though, and a few often lead the chanting (a bit off key) but it was charming.
Our Kriya teacher Indu believes that her dip in the Ganga is what cured her eyesight when she was a child. I don't know that I believe the river Ganga contains anything more than what the believers and devotees hold in their own hearts. The power of faith is either there or it's not. I've always been strong in the area of faith. And, indeed, felt the mystical lure of Rishikesh and the Ganga. Having said that, the most intimate I got with the Ganga was an occasional washing of my feet and sandals after stepping in cow dung. (This happened at least 4 or 5 times.) The water was ice-cold, clean and seemed to be in hurry to go somewhere else. Perhaps it was carrying a few souls and offerings along, including the cherished remains of Prashant's loved one.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Zoob Yogi

Son #1 made me a "zoob" yogi in padmasana (lotus pose) last night. Hard to tell from the photo... but made with love. (zoobs are these cool plastic pieces that connect so that you can build all kinds of things... Nathan usually makes swords or weapons of some kind. I told him I prefer the yoga poses. : ))

Life is full of beauty-- and love. We just have to notice it.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

India, Upon Arrival

I've had it on my heart to go to India since I was 18. I was living with my father in Hong Kong at the time and he had just returned from a trip to the Taj, and I was so envious. It was during the Gulf War, so we were not able to travel, or at least my father didn't feel like it was a good idea. Safety aside, I actually think he just didn't want to make the journey again. And, he certainly wouldn't allow me to travel on my own, and I never thought to ask. My father, step-mom and I did make it to Nepal, however, and after a trek up the foothills in Katmandu, I got the dreaded stomach virus (Dehli belly, all same, same), and consequently, spent the next several days after an elephant ride, going between the tent and the toliet. I still loved the adventure of it all and in the back of my mind, dreamed about going again. 
Almost 2 years ago, I signed up and paid in full to go to India with a group from an American yoga organization but then when the trip neared they suddenly claimed that they lost my paperwork and was not allowed to attend. This turned into the biggest blessing. After having been to India now on my own, I cannot fathom going with a group of Americans just like me and not getting to experience all the different classes, teachings and places I saw. The most incredible part of the journey was the day by day serendipitous crossing of paths with people from all over the world.
On the flight over, I sat between 2 Indian gentleman, one who lived in the US working for a large American corporation coming to Delhi to visit his mum and the other man, with limited English, worked for an Indian corporation and was proudly returning from his second trip abroad. Both took it upon themselves to scrutinize my itenerary and decided that my plan to get a train this late was not a good one. I mistakenly thought I could just buy a train ticket upon arrival (in the middle of the night?!). New plan: spend the night in the airport, get 4am prepaid taxi to the New Delhi station, train to Haridware, taxi to Rishikesh.
The Delhi airport is new and just completed this year, so the masses of people I was expecting was not there when I arrived at 10.30pm. Turns out you have to purchase a ticket to get into the arrival area of the airport, which keeps things quite peaceful. I met a lovely woman from Calcutta who joined me for a coffee (my last for the next 3 weeks), and we talked for hours about Indian social issues to stay awake.
4am: taxi to the train station where there were squatters everywhere. I didn't know where to go, so I headed straight for the Entry sign and was stopped and asked where my ticket was (funny he didn't stop anyone else)? He ushered me over to another man, "Babaji" on the other end of the station who then took me across the street to a place that simply said "office" and assured me I could get a ticket there (but only after he tried to put me into a taxi to another office!). I had an enourmous pepto-bismal pink backback strapped on and had to climb stairs that seemed to completely verticle in a dark hall with no railing. Reaching the dim lit office, there was a small man with wirey glasses who told me to take a seat, take a seat. Babaji disappeared while the small man called about a ticket for the train. No tickets. I said, please call again. After another unsuccessful call, he suggested a taxi to Haridwar at the cost of 9900RS! Crazy! I said no thanks and just at that moment a very, very large rat scurried over my foot. Small man didn't even blink. No problem, he said, as he wabbled his head. Finally realzing the scam, I head back across the street to the "Indian" ticket windows. (Why I didn't see this the first time, I don't know.) The woman behind the counter said, no tickets, I must go to the foriegn ticket office which opens at 8am. It's just 5am at this point. Trying not to panic, I go once again past the squatters and beggars and march up the stairs to the foreign office and determine to stand there by the door til 8am, which would mean missing my train (6.30am). Another man comes along with a key to open the foreign office, so I ask him to help me, he then ushers me down to another person... another scam. So, I approach the woman again at the ticket window, I plead that there must be some way. I believe there is a way. She says no, again. I walk back to a corner and survey the area... no way in hell, I decided, am I going to stand here all morning. I go back the woman, and plead again. She rolls her eyes and a man comes over to help. After about 15 minutes of not understanding, another passenger took pity on me and helped me understand that he wants to sell me a ticket to Meerut City which is just part way and that once on the train, I can ask for an extension to my destination. At this point, I didn't care if I got stranded in another city, I just wanted to get moving. He sold me a ticket in E class and off I went to find the platform, which incidently, was listed at 17 when there are only 16 platforms. A drunk Londoner took it upon themselves to help me find my way and the first photo at the top is a photo she insisted on taking of me while I waited for the train to finally arrive.
E class tured out to be "Executive" and all those images I had in my mind of masses of people crammed in with cows and such on a train were unfounded (unlike Slum Dog Millionaire). E class was nearly empty and the station master gladly took more money from me to extend my journey to my destination.
I spent the entire 5 hours taking photos from my view in E class to stay awake. (At this point I'd been awake more than 24 hours). The last thirty minutes of the ride, an beautiful American woman, approached me and asked where I was traveling to. Turns out, we were both going not only to Rishikesh, but to the same ashram.We navigated our way to a prepaid taxi with the help of 2 Austrailian women in their 70's headed to yet another ashram. It flashed in my mind, that I hope to god that I'm able to travel like these 2 ladies one day. (The last photo is of the train station in Haridware.) Another hour in a taxi "up the hill and down the hill", and we arrived at Parmarth Niketan Ashram, my home for the next 14 days.
I sounds like a lot of hassel, but I loved every second- perhaps next time, though, I'll prebook my train ticket.  

Friday, December 10, 2010


Look as long as you can
at the friend you love.
No matter whether that friend
is moving away from you
or coming back to you.

Kriya Yoga Class

Returning home from abroad is always an adjustment and often a shock to the system (a Visa fiasco that almost kept me in India, a funeral of a loved one upon arrival, jet lag, a strange allergy rash, and stomach sickness that I managed to avoid whilst there, got me in the end)...

India is oblivious to Christmas and yet in Sri Lanka, Santa is everywhere.... and home (Texas) is returning to Christmas over-board. And, of course, it's returning to loved ones. (I got the best hugs from the boys... then, "What did you bring me, Mom?" Nathan's favorite gift was the Rudrucksha Mala beads and "sacred and magical rocks from the Ganga River", and Drew's was a small notebook made from banana leaves which he promptly drew a picture of himself wearing a shirt with a large "A" on it, for Andrew.)

Drew asked me this morning, "Did the world change while you were away?"  I don't know about that, but I certainly have. It's impossible to experience another culture and not have those who crossed your path leave an imprint on you in some way.

Thanks to my teachers, Mataji and Indu and to all the wonderful new friends-- I am incredibly blessed.

It's safe to say that I'm in love with India and feel abundant gratitude for the serendipitous adventures.

Sunrise over the Himilayas