adventures of a fearless (mostly) globe trotting seeker...
wondering, wandering, barefoot, nomadess

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Guruji's answer about my fear

last night i wrote an email to my guruji when i learned a western women had been murdered in the same village i am teaching yoga at just 2 months ago:

dear guruji,

i am not usually afraid, but it is scary to think about possible backlash for women's empowerment. i wanted to do abishekam with these women too.



i recieved an answer from him this morning:

My dear Psalm,

You write so well !

When you go to a village to work with locals, it is wise to go with someone who has worked with them, and who won the confidence of the people whom you are trying to help. The social concepts of right and wrong are very strong in villages; your fears are genuine. Even if some one does puja at home, people think they want to harm others, and brand them wicked.

Actually the word wicked comes from the wiccans, who used to have meetings, where they "wicked", that is, practiced. They never meant harm; the motto of wiccans is do what you will, as long as it hurts none. We have moved far from the days of burning witches on the stake. But the mob mentality still persists.

Skills of social anthropology (observing without judgement or trying to change) help in rural development. You are much safer in slums in urban areas I think. Because they accept change easier and faster.

How can "we" decide in how much time '"they" should change?" Change comes from awareness, interest, desire and action. It takes time. We can sow the seeds and water the roots. You can't speed up the growth by pulling on the plant.

Probably, you do your thing; let people observe and join if they wish to. Go slow; villages are vey sleepy places, steeped in age old beliefs and not easy to change. You are much better off in areas where some social imrovement groups are actually working successfully.

You are not alone. We have to be together. Then only an impact can be made.

" Fools tread where angels fear to go"

Love, guruji

stalking myself

feb 24, 1pm

sarnath, india

i woke up this morning and looked in the mirror. there are new lines in my face. i am in india living my dream. is this the point of it all? i age, my body decays and yet i feel more comfortable in my skin. i feel a bit weary. it feels grounding.

india strips away my layers of comfort and coping like layers of an onion. i spend my life stalking myself, india is an excellent place to stalk myself. the travel, trains, the filth, the constant confrontation of the highs and lows deconstruct my identity and leave me raw. bruised and mosquito bitten. tenderized like a piece of meat. i am the hunter and the prey.

i asked my teacher this trip, "why am i attracted to Kali, the black goddess?". he said because i am not afraid of the dark things, the emotions. i bring them to the front for healing. three years ago when i asked him the same question, he said, "kali is power. you are attracted to what you don't have". i was puzzled by his answer then. perhaps now his different answer reflects some change in myself. this trip he told me that i have moved from being a bliss junkie to a healing junkie. he told me that have healed myself. that is hard for me to grock because i am always thinking about how i can change. but maybe i am more healed than i think i am. or maybe healing is different than i think it is. maybe my endless quest to live in the perfection of a spotless mind is the very thing that blocks me from feeling healed.

my teachers answers are often contradictory, spontaneous and puzzling. they change according to the person asking or the time of the asking. days when i feel low, he says things that lift me up. days i feel full of myself, he says things that knock me down from the pedastal i have placed myself on. he says the gurus job is to break the disciple's ego. so the disciple is not happy when they are with their teacher, but they are also not happy when they are away from their teacher. a catch 22, but isn't all of life about making peace with living contradiction? the opposites of pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow.

my neck was locked with pain this morning when i woke up. i feel how the poverty in this village triggers my own pain. i said i came here to teach these women, to try to change the world, but i am really here to change myself. to see the ways i hide from myself. my coping mechanisms that isolate me from life and other people. it is my own pain that has brought me here to try to empower others.

i am riding in a rickshaw on the way to teach in the village. i am sitting beside my friend rohan. i rest my head on his shoulder and hold his hand, his dark fingers interlaced with my lighter ones. i begin to cry. not a pretty crying. the muscles of my face ache from the crying. it is a release. this is releasing what is locked in my neck.

yes, i am here because my own pain drives me to try to create the kind of world i want to live in, the kind of world i can feel safe in. i look inside. but then i get lost in my own self. my own pain is as seductive as a sirens song, it is easy to drown in the deep waters of it's dark, thick sweetness.

the rickshaw pulls up outside the school. i get out to teach. i feel as weak as water, my joints feel fluid not strong. i want to hide in the rickshaw and go back to my hotel and hide in bed. i don't know how i will find the energy to teach right now. i take a deep breath. i walk toward the school. i decide to look at what is around me instead of drowning in myself. i see their faces, i relax. i don't have to be perfect, i just have to be here. the first few days i put up a wall to cope, then i dropped the wall and felt my own pain deeply. this is the first time i feel relaxed and present, able to actually see and here the women around me.

the class goes well, i am laughing as i teach. yoga really works.

sustaining the gaze

february 24, 11am

sarnath village, india

i woke up this morning with my neck paralysed. it was locked in place and when i tried to move off the pillow it felt like a knifing pain. ah, here it is. it always goes back to this, where do i hold my pain? here it is showing itself to me in my body. no matter how much i have meditated, done yoga, prayed, whirled, chanted and gone to sweat lodges, i still have pain. my body does not lie.

yesterday in the village and the day before i had so much tension. anka made me watch myself from the camer's naked eye. it was difficult to watch myself on film. walking around, looking glamorous and out of place in the village. avoiding conversation and contact even that's what i came here for. i see how i create a wall as a coping mechanism for myself. it is so hard to look into the face of poverty, to look into these big brown eyes all around me. so hard. life is not fair. i have much more than these women and children. i have more opportunity. the fact that i can choose to sit here with them is a choice. i have the money, the means. the women in that room cannot choose to go to America and do service work. it is not fair. yet it is the bare truth. i want to be able to take away their pain and poverty, but i cannot. i must accept my own role. i am also aware that i am projecting how much i think they are suffering, i don't know their lives that well yet.

what am i able to do? what am i not able to do? i see my own choices. i choose to be here halfway around the world telling these women about empowerment. why? because in them i see myself. in their struggle i see my own struggles. i did not grow up in india. but i did have a baby when i was 18 and struggled against seemingly insurmountable social judgements and material difficulties. i know what it is to look at my child and feel naseious with the fear of not knowing where i will get him food, or where we will sleep tonight. and yet somehow that changed for me. i feel i live a life with choices now whereas before i felt like a choiceless victim. i cannot explain exactly how that change happened for me, but it had to do with yoga. something deep inside me changed how i saw myself, god, the world. and then my circumstances began to change too. so i offer yoga back to the world, to these women. i struggle less with life not being fair. i am able to stand in the yard where the school is and look into the faces. here there is no social taboo against staring. stares are long and lingering and intimate. it is as if in the gaze i travel through their eyes to the center of their soul, and they stare back, travelling through my eyes to the center of my soul. we exchange energy. i see suffering and i sustain the gaze as best i can. but still i woke up with paralysing pain in my neck this morning. i am still keeping up a wall to cope with my own pain that is being triggered now. in the past i used to retreat into debilitating depressions, now i am able to withstand more without running away.

i don't have all the answers. i am not a perfect yoga guru who has figured it all out. the pain in my body is from tension i am holding now, today. my body keeps me honest. my body makes me face my pain and where i am holding it. what is at the root of all this desire to change the world? why am i here? i am driven by pain. they say pain is a great teacher. without pain we would be satisfied and not strive to grow and change and sacrifice. and yet, is what is driving me onwards the same thing i am running away from? loss and grief. how much of my life have i spent in grief? for the lost dream of my childhood. for the parents i wish i had. i am here speaking to women in india and yet i have not spoken to my own mother in 10 years. she was a very angry person. she was abused as child. her pain made her abusive to me physically and verbally. i used to think i was doing all this spiritual practice so that i could be some kind of saint. so that if i got the chance to talk to my mother again i would be loving no matter what she said. that even if she said i was a terrible daughter who ruined her life, i would be able to smile and not feel hurt. and not feel emotionally affected at all.

now i think all my spiritual work will just help me to sustain the gaze. to accept what i cannot change. to love even through pain. to not judge myself for being human. these might not be the right enlightened answers, but they feel true to me now. in that acceptance, i feel my world open up. i feel very real and alive, awake and present.

A western woman was murdered in the village

i just found out that a western woman was murdered two months ago in the rural village where i am teaching. my friend rohan, who is indian, has travelled with me in india many times before. we have been to many dark and questionable places and he was never worried for me before. today he was very concerned about my safety.

i am shaken by the news of this murder. much more shaken than i was about the terrorist bombing that killed westerners at the german bakery in pune a week ago. somehow, that felt more removed and random from what i am doing. but another western woman being killed in this same small village i am going to, and only two months ago feels very close to home for me. i wonder about this woman. who was she? where was she from? what was she doing in this remote village?

in the village there is a beauty, an sweetness in the women i am working with. it is wonderful to see how they are becoming warmer with me and each other after the yoga. that's why i teach yoga, because it works. but as i walk through the dusty street in the village, i see a lot of pain and sadness in the eyes. i am told there is a big problem with alchoholism with men there. isn't that always true in ghettos? i have been told that it would be dangerous to be in the village during holi, a holiday coming up in a few days. i am told the men drink alot on that day, and it would not be safe for me to be outside. i shudder to think about how things can turn on a dime.

as a foreigner, i only see the poverty. i do not know if one area is more dangerous than another. it is like a very dangerous area in america, where there are gangs and homicides as well as the underlying poverty. i have been told that this is a slum area, i am not sure what that means.

i was warned that the men might not respond well to what i am teaching the women, their wives and daughters. in class today, i asked the woman what their dreams were. we went around in a circle sharing. one of the young woman whose toddlers wander in and out of the classes said she couldn't think of anything. the other women encouraged and cajoled her to try to think of something. she said she wanted to be a good daughter in law. i told her that was for someone else, what did she want for herself. she said that she had wanted to be a teacher, but her parents made her get married instead. i told her that if she starts sharing the yoga, then she will be a teacher. because a teacher is someone who shares knowledge they think is important. during the class, her mother in law came and watched by sitting in the open doorway. afterwards, they were standing in the yard and i told her what the younger woman said about wanting to be a good daughter in law, and that she could do that by teaching her mother in law yoga. i felt very good about the exchange. but now i wonder if that woman went home and told her family that i asked her to want something for herself besides being a good daughter in law, it might not be that well received. there could even be a backlash.

i am afraid. i live a life where i stalk myself, i stalk my fears. i am only so fearless because i am afraid of everything. the suffering and cruelty of the world have always made me afraid of this place, where man can be so inhuman to man.

the first time i left my teacher after meeting him and being initiated, he said, "take care, the world can be cruel". and it can.

the last time i saw him we talked about what makes people to things like genocide. what about leaders like hitler? what makes a group mind harmonize and lead to divine levels of love and compassion versus a group mind sinking to demonic levels of violence and retribution?

hopefully, it is the practices i am trying to share that helps make that difference. the world is sometimes very scary. we do not treat ourselves and each other well.

when will we stop making martyrs in this world? not until we stop loving being martyrs ourselves. i do not want to be a martyr in this lifetime. i have had visions of being burned as a witch in a village before. today, when i was most afraid, my mind flashed a picture of being dragged out of the classroom and beaten in the square. i do not think this is likely, but i saw the fear in my own mind. what is a witch? a woman who owns her power. in taking responsibility for your own power you confront fear. the fear of not being accepted and loved. and the very real fear of being punished, sometimes brutally.

in the end, i do help create the world with my own thoughts, so my negative fears are more likely to magnetize negative experiences. but i am not the only one creating this world with my thoughts, we are creating this world together.

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things that I can;
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Monday, February 22, 2010

suicide in the village

a woman's body was found in the river today. she committed suicide after her husband beat her. she ran from her home and jumped into the river. it made my heart heavy to hear the news. and yet it is what i am here for. or, to be clear, what the yoga is here for. to give these women a sense of goodness and connection to strength in themselves that can with stand the difficult storms.

life can be cruel. spread a little kindness. forgive someone who hurt you in the past. the wheel of dharma and human drama moves on.

i am in a village near benaras shooting the documentary about teaching yoga to lower caste women and children. it is all exactly as i could hope, and so it is terrifying. why is it terrifying when your dreams are coming true? i guess thats why its easier to play small and keep nursing the old wounds. this is like stepping off the edge of a cliff, what is possible, nobody knows. the faces of the children are so strong, the black eyes rimmed in khajol (black eyeliner). i sustain the gaze. even when i am afraid. even when it is all so much bigger than me.

i sat at the communal water pump today in this rural ghetto. the women and childeren are still so beautiful. even with dirty clothes and snotty noses.what constitutes poverty? lack of money and food? how many of us live in poverty of the heart and soul, isolated from what we love most. connection to beauty, to goodness. to a basic feeling that life is good.

i am frightened by the immensity of it. everywhere, the big eyes watching. doesn't it feel as if someone is always watching us? some call this god.

the little girls follow me through the streets calling me "didi", a hindi term of respect and endearment that means big sister. i have family everywhere in the world.

i pray for strength, peace of mind and courage, to look into the soul of the human condition which stirs things up in myself.

and so it is.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

everywhere i go

he says, "your home is the world or the world is your home. choose one."

is this your dream i am dreaming?
i am drunk on nothing
i follow a path leading to nowhere
i fall asleep on the temple steps
i dream of burning
prophets wandering from the wilderness speaking in tongues
we live on locusts, milk and honey
it has been many days since we brushed our hair

still, everywhere i go i think of you
the skin of my lips so tender
to the smallest breeze
even the wind has fingers,
i keep my secret smile for myself
who gave me this lovers mouth?
she is hungry

he sleeps next to me, my friend
he is dark as cedar
skin shining and smooth
long and thin of body
and still, i think of you
i blink, another friend,
i blink, another friend
lovers come and go like waves
sometimes smooth and sometimes tsunami
will i be forgotten?
i do not like to be forgotten.

maybe my teacher is mad. crazy.
of course, he says.
we are crazy weirdos, embrace the crazy ecstasy
in any case, it is too late to turn back now
if this road leads to heaven or hell

he says, "there are three fires in this life,
the fire of lust,
the fire of hunger,
the fire of death"

the Mother is laughing at me

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


varanasi, benaras, kashi, india
feb 9

it is raining in the oldest living city tonight. a city so old, it has three names. falling rain always makes me feel like curling up in bed. and so i am. my 2 roomates are out at dinner, they will have to walk back through the narrow, twisting alleys in the rain. but maybe it will have washed all the cow poop away...

walking through these alleys, you see so many seemingly broken people. literally. their limbs broken, handicapped and begging. so many that you have to stop seeing them. no matter how much yoga you do, how much meditation, it causes pain to see suffering.

today anka, the director of the documentary we are making about this trip, and i went to a village nearby varanasi to see about teaching yoga to some dalits. dalit is the untouchables of the class system. we were introduced to the director of the program by our friend appu, who is a brahmin, the highest of the caste system. he said that people are superstitious and say that if you touch an untouchable, your skin will burn.

these kids had very little, dirty clothes and snotty noses. but i did not feel sorry for them or depressed by spending time with them. it was as if we opened a can of joy. pure, unadulterated enthusiasm.

it was easy to look into their faces, to look at their eyes because we are sharing with each other. i am coming to teach yoga and they are open and excited to learn.

i think it comes down to is difficult to look at the people begging in the city because i feel overwhelmed, underequipped and guilty, and because i am ignoring them. and because we are separate from each other. it is easy to look at the dalit children in the village because i am parrticipating with them. so when we sustain the gaze, it is hope and friendliness passing between us.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

God standing right in front of you

Guruji asked me what i thought of one of the students in the yoga and tantra immersion. i shrugged, "what do you think?"

"At first i liked him. but he is not giving to the others. he thinks he is so close to being enlightened that he stands apart and cannot see that god is standing right in front of him."

i asked if it might help if i taught him tantra.

"Maybe he just needs to feel affection" true of us all..

Friday, February 5, 2010

the serpent

he said when we were naked it was as if a serpent lived in my spine. just under my skin it moved. he said when we were making love it was as if he was having a private conversation with it.

"it enjoys being enjoyed.
it makes no apology.
i am afraid the serpent may grow bored of me one day."

she does enjoy being enjoyed.
she does make no apologies.
she loves to love, for the sake of it.
she is awakened by touch.
she is merciful and merciless.

just under my skin is an ocean of electrical charge and surges. it dances the whole length of my body, but especially it is like a live wire in my spine, at the nape of my neck. when i am touched there, the serpent moves and my body shudders spontaneously, of it's own will.

i think this is how the nuns made love to their bridegroom, jesus. in ecstatic whole body orgasms.

Genesis 3:
"1Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

2And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:

3But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

4And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

5For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil."

imagine there is no original sin. let go of heaven and hell, reward and punishment. what if the world was created to be enjoyed? what if the meaning of life is creative expression?

intimacy with the naked reality of life.

tag. you're it.

Animal Sacrifice

i saw a goat sacrificed at the temple yesterday. a baby goat. it was at the kalighat temple in calcutta india. here the image of the divine is just a big oval black shape with three red eyes and a long tongue sticking out. it is confrontational, sensual and blood thirsty all at once. this god is female and she is heat. it feels like her three eyes are watching me, staring back and giving me energy. i am a long way from bible school. but not really.

this is biblical.

i used to read about sacrifices of animals in my cartoon bible. it was so much more interesting to read the old testament, where people were fighting and fornicating and sacrificing and warring and longing and loving. david desired bathsheeba so much he had her husband killed so he could know her carnally. appetites.

who has the largest appetite for blood sacrifice?

everywhere i look in the natural world, life is feeding on itself. i will be food someday. there is no denying that, uncomfortable thought that it is. i will be food someday, but not today. today i stand on the temple steps and look at the pit where they sacrifice the animals. pigeons and goats mostly. sometimes a bull, but that is unusual. the ground is sticky from dirt and what i can only assume is blood from other sacrifices. the altars stand ominous and empty, my mind wanders to thoughts of what execution must look like. the altars are stone blocks with a tall "V" shape to put the animals necks in. there are hundreds of burnt incense sticks on the altars and bright orange marigold flowers. i think of the guillotine and marie antoinette.

they say the blood represents the moontime blood of the mother. well, most of mankind is quesy about that too.

i feel quesy, apprehensive as the sun beats down on me, i am wearing my indian clothes. modest for a woman here means shoulders and ankles are concealed. i am wearing my favorite bright red scarf to cover my contraband shoulders, blood red, kali red.

kali is called the laughing mother. the mothers love is unconditional. like the sun that shines on saint and sinner alike. this is not the love of the father that you earn by keeping commandments or following your cultural ethics and morals. it is everywhere for everyone. it is grace. it is redemption regardless of whether you deserve it. she is called the laughing mother because sometimes it feels she is having a joke on you, a little play with her veil of maya. it is up to you if you can laugh with the cosmic joke or not. or cry with it.

the priest leads in a baby goat, a black one. it looks startled. the priest looks like he does this everyday, which he does. my throat tightens. i want to look away, but i have committed myself to witnessing. why? that is a good question. to accept the suffering that is an intrinsic part of life without flinching or turning away. and for much less of a noble reason, i want to watch. i am intrigued like a scientist is intrigued.

i chant the same mantra i use when i am meditating, driving, having sex, going to the bathroom, mantra because it is all one. i would chant the same mantra watching a birth as i now chant watching a death.

the priest picks up the goat by the nape of it's neck. the baby goat cries. it looks frightened, but maybe it is just annoyed at the restriction of it's freedom. i focus on my chanting more. it becomes very intense, my breath very thick. the priest puts the goats neck inside the "V" on the altar. he lifts a curved sword. i want to look away but i keep my eyes open. they burn a little from the concentration.

i remember how my own mother used to kill animals on our farm when i was growing up. i never had the stomach for that. but my mother also used to stay up all night when the goats went into labor, to help the birthing process. i never liked the blood and guts. there were always things about my mother which disturbed me, which i was not able to accept. we have been estranged for many years. and here i have travelled all the way to india, to be a goddess worshipper, of the fiercest goddess, kali. it is always about our parents isn't it?

the priest lifts the blade and swiftly brings it down. the head is severed and rolls away immediately. the body is still twitching. there is blood on the ground. one of the priests put marks on our foreheads, tilaks, of the blood.

that same day the priests pulled me into the inner sanctum where the kali statue is, they put my hands on her and i felt her buzzing under my palms. there were the red eyes. watching.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Temple of the Mother's genitals

In the chinamasti temple in gowathi there is a depiction of devi, the goddess, with her head chopped off. she is holding the sword in one hand and her severed head in another. we are here on pilgrimage in the north of india, assam. our cell phones don't work because of terrorists attacks in this state and kashmir last year, now only local phones work. gowathi is a small town with 10 temples to the goddess in 10 fierce and benevolent forms. she is called the Mother.

maybe it is hard to imagine Mother and goddesses wielding swords and severed heads. but that is the Mother. the giver and taker of life. There are the parts of all our own mothers that are hard to accept. especially when we expect them to be passive and loving, protecting us from hurt or needing our protection.

The shadow of the mother is the witch. the witch first appears when the baby cries for milk and is denied. the mother to the baby is a god, the baby is completely dependent. we create the light and shadow of the feminine. the "good mother" is nurturing and self sacrificing, living for her mate and children. the "witch" is the woman who enjoys her power and pleasure for herself. society is threatened by her.

the biggest temple in this town is the kamakhya, yoni (genitals) of the Mother. we arrive at the gate and are told to wash our hands and feet. there is a long line that snakes through underground catecombs with sculptures carved into the walls and covered in bright red kumkum powder to give them shakti (life force). the deeper we go underground, the more dank the smell and claustrophobic the feeling. the priests wear all red and the indian women in line around us are singing. sometimes they put their index fingers in their mouth and wiggle them back and forth while they make a high pitched cry. it tingles the spine.

finally we reach a place where the steps in stone are so steep that only one person can descend at a time. there is a pit with the deity. but she has no form. just a dark pit with water. people have brought flowers and oil lamps are burning. the priest tells me to get on my knees. i bow to the shrine. he says a mantra which i repeat. he says, "touch the water". i touch the water, sprinkling it over my head like a baptism. then i climb back up and out into the fresh air. this temple is to the yoni itself, the female genitals, the Mother. and the temple was like a womb...descending deeper into the earth, getting darker, the smell stronger, until reaching the point of power which was formless and touching the water.

the mother creates life through the pleasure of the body. through the desire to create and be immortal by being reborn. she is the pressure of the volcano. to her pleasure is not good or bad, it just is. the driving force of life. like hunger.