Hi all -
I know it has been a really long time since my last post. I guess it can only be a testament to the time I am having… I just haven’t found the time or had it in me to write. I will do my best to catch up on much of what has occurred since I last wrote.
Kozhikode ended up being quite the experience. There were university examinations happening the weekend I was there, and almost every hotel in town was completely booked. After walking in the rain for a few hours, I finally found a suitable place that I enjoyed very much. Unfortunately, I had an outdated calendar of Amma’s schedule saved in my phone, and the schedule had changed on me without knowing it. I spent my first day in Kozhikode drinking coffee, walking around talking to people, and getting a hair cut (Indian hair cuts are very funny as they go really short on the sides and leave it long on top). I thought based on my out dated schedule, that Ammas 2 day program started the following day – however this was all occurring during day one of the program. It was quite the surprise the next morning to find out that I had missed day 1!
Day 2 of the program was incredible, and the venue was amazing. Think lush green forest, covered in tarps for shade, with multiple levels of seating areas and stages, all connected with wooden ramps. I felt like I was in Neverland from the movie Hook. What irony! My most favorite Amma venue ever is the one I got to spend the least amount of time in. I did however get to wander through a wholesale fruit market on day 1 of the program, and it was unbelievable. The smells… indescribable. This happened at 5 am, in the dark, while looking for my hotel… I have never seen anything like it.
I had a 4 am wake up to catch a train for Mangalore the next day, which was where I had a layover on my way to Gokarna to meet up with my three new friends Jelka, Ida, and Ditte (from Holland and Denmark). Flash flood rains hit again while on board the train, and since all the windows were open the train quickly flooded. None of the Indians seemed to care, but I thought it was hilarious. If the train turned left or right, water would come gushing at your feet. If the tracks inclined or declined, water would come rushing up or down the aisle. It was wild. I met four friendly Indians on the train who called my Indian cell phone company and straightened out some stuff for me on my account… every time I called on my own I would get hung up on immediately (I think they got nervous that I only spoke English).
I next caught a train to Gokarna, and arrived at night by myself. Gokarna has a 10-15 minute hike in on the beach, which was a little nerve racking alone but so unbelievably beautiful. Even at night I could see the outlines of incredible hillsides, palm trees, small jutting islands and warm ocean waves. The morning confirmed for me that I had arrived at a place, untouched and gorgeous… a beach paradise oasis. Think of the movie “The Beach” and you will have an idea. Private rooms about 40 feet from the ocean are less than 5$ a night. I unfortunately only got one night in Gokarna here as the girls were leaving in the morning for Hampi and I was along for the ride. I had just enough time for an evening bonfire that reminded me of my college years in Santa Cruz, some really good food (with the occasional cow running through the restaurant), and a small sunburn.
SLEEP IS FOR THE UNINSPIRED. This was my big realization on the bus ride to Hampi while everyone was conked out. I had been running on fumes for over a week but my gas tank felt full. The travelling life can be so amazing when you tap in and let it flow, and sleep is something you feel you can catch up on later, at some other time… maybe once you land back home. The bus to Hampi was incredibly cramped, and one I will hope to never have to endure again
Hampi. Oh my god Hampi. Hampi is the Flinstones in real life. Untouched mountains of boulders stacked on top of each other, with enormous temples hand carved out of stone everywhere you look. I could argue that it should be one of the 7 wonders of the world. The government of India protects Hampi, so it is clean.. pure.. amazing. We only planned to stay in Hampi 2 nights, but loved it so much I ended up staying 6. Everyday we would rent scooters and zoom all over this land of mountains and boulders… swimming in lakes, hiking 1000 foot steps to monkey temples for sunsets, and just riding to feel the wind smack your face. I totally understand the motorcycle fetish now. It is freaking fun. You spend so much time in the sun all day that you are really tired at night. Our hotel which served incredible food, played a movie each night during dinner. I never thought I would want to watch movies in India, but it is a nice reprieve to cure some home sickness. We watched Slumdog Millionaire, American Beauty, Into the Wild, Blow, and Locked Stocked and 2 Smoking Barrels. (One movie each night).
Hampi also came with my first sickness of India… Ida and Ditte both got sick about a day or two before me, and then I got hit with the same symptoms. We all think it was the Tuna Salad. Delhi Belly… yep. And here I had been so proud that after six weeks in India I emanated nothing but health. Somehow the energy of Hampi kept me going, regardless of my fever and diahhrea. I even woke at 5 am for the 1000 step hike for sunrise at Monkey temple on my last day… drank Chai with the swamis at the top and got a banana stolen from me by the alpha male monkey. The monkeys I found out are much nastier when hungry, and seem to be at their worst in the AM.
Saying goodbyes. I ended up having an unbelievably good time with Jelka Ditte and Ida. We spent almost 2 weeks traveling together in total, and I really grew to truly love them all. Saying goodbye sucked, but I know now that I have future travel engagements to Holland and Denmark. It was time for me to get back to Ammas.
Hampi is in the middle of no where, so I had to take a bus back to Gokarna, just to get on a train to Mangalore and then Kayankullam (closest train station to the ashram). I loaded up on Imodium prior to the bus, and crossed my fingers. This time I spent the extra cash for a bed on the bus and was actually extremely comfortable.
I planned on enjoying myself in Gokarna, but I just kept getting sicker and finally gave in to the pre-prescribed antibiotics Kaiser sent me to India with. I started feeling immediate relief, and after three days of dosages was almost 100% again. It felt like something was alive inside my stomach… never really felt anything like it before actually. Only India can do that.
Gokarna was mainly sleeping, and then napping on the beach. I could barely eat, and when I did it didn’t feel good. The dolphins came out swimming with us though a couple times, about 50 meters away, and they were doing enormous back flips just like the dolphins of Sea World. It was AWESOME. I also met two new friends Tanya and Greg from England who coaxed me into coming to town with them… we had a great time.
On my last day of Gokarna, I awoke realizing that the END OF PART 1 of my trip had occurred, and I was now starting part 2 of 3.
On the train to Mangalore at a 2 minute stop, I saw all these young Indian men running up the hill and greedily picking fruit from a tree. They looked so excited, and I had never seen the fruit before. After some inquiry, they shared with me a “Cashew nut fruit”. It is some sort of stone fruit… delicious… and definitely a new flavor indeed. Fruit is amazing… for most American adults I feel like it is the last untouched area of flavor exploration left on this planet.
I stayed in Mangalore one night to heal up before the 12 hour over night train back to Amma’s ashram… I even had time for a VIP screening of the “Silver Lining Playbook” which I adored.
I slept all night on the train to Ammas until 3 am or so when I felt a man fondling my bag (which I slept wrapped around my chest). This attempted thievery woke me up and I couldn’t sleep again. I realized though that I have become an Indian TrainmasterJi (in India you add Ji at the end of something respected). I have REALLY learned the Indian train system.
Here comes the amazing part….
I arrived at the train station at sun rise. After trying unsuccessfully to negotiate with the rickshaw drivers for a ride to the ashram, a car pulls up and offers me a ride for free. This saves me 200-250 rupees which isn’t chump change in India. Once I arrived at the ashram I booked a room, and they ended up giving me a room in these new circular buildings (a tad bit more expensive, but the bathroom are modern and clean and you don’t have to have room mates). It turned out my room is literally one of the closest in the Ashram to Amma’s house… I can see her bedroom window from my front door step. Between the taxi and my room placement, I was really buzzing as I felt in the flow. On Friday nights Amma gives a talk and meditation on the beach… I showed up early to get a good seat, but at the last second got pushed off to the side. Luckily for me, once everyone was sat, a swami wanted my seat, and told me to move right in front. All of a sudden, I had the best seat in the house, maybe 3 feet from Amma. Her lead disciple Big Swami was literally sitting on my meditation cushion. Because I was right behind him, Amma looked over his shoulder 5-6 times throughout the talk and made eye contact with me beaming huge smiles. It was wild. Next Amma started giving Darshan (hugs)… but she was only giving them to a very small number of people as there was very limited time. I wasn’t planning on going in for one, but as a huge surprise Amma out of nowhere pointed at me and motioned to “get over here”. In my seven years with Amma, this was the first time I had ever been “called in” for a darshan and I couldn’t believe it. When i came up for my hug, Amma looked at me and smacked her head twice and said, “Thinking.. Thinking..”. She gave me the darshan, and I went on my way a bit confused not understanding the experience, however completely full of bliss.
The next day I went on stage while Amma was giving real darshans (a 12+ hour session of hugs to thousands of people who came to be embraced from all over the world). After waiting about 3-4 hours I had the chance to pass her a note in her native tongue (Malayalam) which I had someone translate for me asking what she meant by “Thinking”.
Amma pinched my arm really hard while laughing for about 10-12 seconds, and then went into a beautiful 3-4 minute discourse with me, and for the first time offered me some personal advice based on my temperament on what I could do to grow spiritually… some changes I could make. Her advice was in line with a topic people close to me have been trying to get me to understand or change since I was a teenager. It was wild. She next inquired what I did for a living… And then she asked what I “could do”… and then she asked if I was a “teacher”. And then the interaction was over. A lot of times with Amma, you have to connect the puzzle pieces (if you are able to) on your own… she doesn’t just flat out say it. We will see what I come up with.
Regardless, it is freaking amazing to be sitting in her lap like this… so close to her. The ashram is absolutely pulsating right now with her here, and there isn’t anywhere on earth that I would rather be.
Yesterday I had my first Tabla Lesson (indian hand drums… Youtube “Zakhir Hussein” to see. I will be doing three lessons a week.
Today, I had my first private Malayalam lesson. I have decided I want to learn this language, and will be doing private lessons four days a week for 1.5 hours a pop. There are only 31.5 million people who speak it, and it is incredibly challenging to learn. There are 53 letters in the alphabet. I feel lucky though, having learned Hebrew as a kid… I have the confidence that I can learn a new alphabet.
Malayalam is spoken in Kerala… and I am just IN LOVE with this region of India. I see myself spending a lot of time here throughout my life in the future, and see no reason to not learn this language now.
So this is my life for the next long while… I have no intention of leaving the ashram any time soon. My days are completely full now with selfless service, tabla lessons, malayalam lessons, morning meditations, chanting, bhajans, eating food and conversing with some of the loveliest people alive.
May we all find bliss… I love you all.