Ancient Egyptians believed that upon death they would be asked two questions and their answers would determine whether they could continue their journey in the afterlife.  
The first question was, "Did you bring joy?"  
The second was, "Did you find joy?"

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Going Off Course

Today is my last day in Fort Cochin.  Tonight I will stay in the big city of Ernakulum at the Ramada with Gary and tomorrow we will go to Alleppey and take a houseboat for two days and nights through the backwaters of Kerala.  This is one of the must see parts of my India trip.  We will glide through small town India, stopping along the way to visit villages and see how life happens away from the tourist towns.  I can't wait.  I'll just tell you now, that I won't have wi-fi, so don't expect another posting till next week.

Which begs the question, "What's next?"  Several people have asked me privately what is on the agenda and I've been hesitant to commit.  Part of my reluctance stems from the fact that things are always always always changing here in India.  It's just what happens.  But I've pretty much settled on the next two stops after Alleppey.

First, I will venture up into the mountains to a town called Periyar.  I'm splurging on a small homestay run by a man named Matthew who, according to his website, roamed the world and found his spot in India to be the place he wanted to settle.

When I was in Cornwall I met another man who had worked in the hospitality industry, traveling the planet for years and years, and he told me the same thing about his part of the world, a place called St. Nectin's Glen.  I wanted to see a place that would capture his heart so completely.  It was truly one of the most mystical places I've ever been.  Set deep in a forested area, a small stream rambles toward a water fall. Lining the walk, stones have been arranged by pilgrims into shapes of any totem you can imagine.  Standing in the stream felt like standing in a holy well.  It radiated sacredness in a way no building has ever spoken to me.

When I was freaking out last week, I googled retreat and Kerala and found Mathew's homestay and was immediately drawn to his similar story of finding his true home after years of wandering and to the fact that he teaches yoga to his guests, his rooms look out of the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, and there are many wild birds and animals to be found right outside the doorstep.  It is a great adventure to see if his favorite spot might speak to me as well as it does to him.  I will be there till the 11th.

After that I will do something I swore I wasn't gonna do when I set off on my trip.

I am going to an ashram.


It's true.

I realized I had to go to an ashram when I discovered that Amma is going to be in Amritapuri which is right down the road, until the 12th of February.  She is hardly ever there because she travels so much.   As I wrote before, she is known as the hugging saint because she can sit for hours, days even, simply hugging her devotees one at a time.  She demonstrates universal compassion.  She embraces the rich, the poor, the healthy, the sick, the Brahmins, the untouchables.  A poor Indian woman, she has managed to build hospitals and schools all around India for people who might not otherwise seek care or education.  She exudes peace.  So, I figure, if I'm gonna experience an ashram, her ashram is the place to go.

It also helps that Nicole was already planning to be there, so I will know someone else.

We have no idea what to expect.  Since Amma is there and the ashram can house thousands of people, I figure it will be a zoo.  There is a chance it is also a silent ashram, I can't quite figure that out.  So, thousands of people waiting for hugs, meditating, living and working together in silence.  Should be something.  I will be there for four days.

After that it looks like I might completely go off course from my original plan of sticking to Kerala and Rajasthan.  I've been given the opportunity to go to a town in Bengal and volunteer at a school in the same place where Tagore lived.  This town is apparently famous as an arts and literature center for people from all over the world.  The best storytellers in the country study and work here and that influence permeates even into the children's school I might get to go to: the Antaranga School.  I'm really hoping this works out, so please keep your fingers crossed.

Going "off course" seems to be a part of Indian life.  At least for this traveler.  I find I have to give into the wayward sway of India.  I have to trust that the answers to "What will I do next?" and "Where will I go?" can't be rushed.  I tried last week, when I was in such a panic, to pin down the entire rest of my itinerary.  I wrote to places around the country trying to get a place to volunteer for the duration of my stay, but answers take so long here.

Then, out of the blue, someone at breakfast will ask you what you want to do (volunteer at a school), and what you do back home, (I'm an actor and a writer.  So, a story teller, really) and suddenly you know where you want to go next when they say, "Oh, you must come with us.  I raise money for a small school in Bengal that is famous for storytelling.  Here's who you call."

Bengal was so off my radar that I don't have a guidebook for it.  I couldn't have even told you what part of India it lives in (North-easterly).  But life is like that, I'm finding more and more every day here that there's no way to stick to the guidebook, not if I really listen to the signals in my gut and in my heart.  It simply wasn't enough to just get up the nerve to come to India, I must summon the strength to let go of the map I had in my head of where I thought I was going once I got here.

I'm making peace with the constant shedding, the inner evolution that palpably progresses apace.  I don't understand it intellectually, but if I take deep breaths I find that I can sit more easily with it.

So, till Monday.......or so.......


auntiemao said...

Wow! The mystery deepens! Our radar will still be trained on you wherever you wander. Ergo, be well; be safe; be peaceful; breathe. We cannot wait to read about this part of the pilgrimage.....xo

Christopher said...

Yep, you're definitely heading down the "road less traveled" - even by your own unique standards. Serendipity prevails!

Deborah said...

so beautifully lived and expressed. love you so much.

Kirstin said...

I'll be thinking of you, your houseboat, the ashram and Matthew's place. Anxious for you to reach the school and tell some stories but not so anxious to hear that I'd rush your next week. Enjoy my dear and PS, while you're at the Ramada, order room service and a drink. No shame. xoxo