Saturday, April 18, 2009
....and then Varanasi happened...
All i can say is thank God for the first half of my Varanasi getaway. At 7 am we arrived, collected our sleepy smelly selves and piled into a van waiting to take us to our lodging. We passed the business, the smog, the rickshaws, the dust blown up from the traffic...and drove up up up...to a small community a bit away for all the craziness. We turned into a gated compound with red dirt driveways and walkways. There were little homes with rooms, equipped with patio furniture, hanging potted plants, and people floating about in white long cotton kurtas -- their hands clasped behind them as they walked about in contemplation. Apparently I had come across the LOST Dharma Initiative of India--or at least that's what i thought it was, until I was informed this was a retreat for Krishnamurti followers. Followers of J. Krishnamurti believe Truth is a 'pathless land' that cannot be attained through any type of organization, creed, religion, etc; but instead through the intense study and observation of the self, through 'introspective dissection' as they say. The Krishnamurti foundation heads up a lot in the community, as well as run schools, hospitals, heads up community services -- all followers of Krishnamurti and his teachings. The retreat in particular is a place for anyone (travelers, locals, whoever) to come and study his teachings. Students from the school and from the retreat can study in silence, at their own pace, with no outside distractions. Its enveloped by a lushness of plants and energy, a place where dogs run up happy to see you (a rarity), and a sound of clean quiet i was in desperate need for. Birds chirped, there were butterflies, it was as good as an ashram as far as i was concerned.
Being a foreigner i was lucky to be able to stay at such an establishment, since normally one must be a student of Krishnamurthi's teachings to do so. Since the school we came to visit is run by the foundation, the plan was to stay at the retreat, and walk to the school located in another part of the community. It was a nice peaceful walk, a good 15 minutes down the road, over the bridge next to the boats, turn right at the bicycle fixing shack, up the hill, through the trees and fields of crops, passed the dairy farm. and you're there. It was nice to walk in a rural setting, the serene Ganges in the background. Somehow this location felt less dirty, there was less staring, more oxygen --well i don't know if that is true--but it sure as hell felt that way. It was as though for the first time in a month, i had absolute quiet and peace. I could finally hear my thoughts.
It's interesting, before I left home, people would ask me how I was preparing myself for this trip--if i was doing this or that-- and the truth was, i really didn't intend to prepare myself in any particular way. I mean, I did listen to hindi language discs (complete waste of time of course) for a good couple months, got the appropriate immunizations, brought my favorite toothpaste, but i actually tried not to form too many preconceived ideas of "what India will be like" and what i expected to get from it. I felt i did that a lot with Spain, and in a way it was a downfall for me. I wanted to just arrive, and accept my experiences for what they were, not how it didn't meet some preconcieved expectation. A couple of friends had talked to me about their time India and it pretty much boiled down to 'elizabeth, you are going to have an amazing time, india is an incredible place...." followed by a laugh and/or slight slow nod of the head from side to side as they stared off into space. As in, you aren't going to believe it until you do it, so its better to just do.
And you know what? So far I'm doing pretty well. I didn't get deathly sick off the bat, the food doesn't give me stomach problems, the dirt is manageable, somehow your body allows 112 degrees to be an acceptable temperature to live in, Anna hasn't figured out what a complete moron I am, I can get around knowing about 12 actual hindi words, 3 facial expressions and 2 hand gestures, and the really good news -- people don't flat out hate me. i am actually loving all of it. its perfection its its own right.
However, there is always that one thing you didn't think of, that one thing that wasn't supposed to be such a big deal, but somehow turns out to be THE big deal. THE thing that slams you upside the head and shines the light on those personality traits you thought were a little more buried. Well, you will be glad to know I figured one of those things out: THE NOISE (its actually more of a 'sensory overload', but for our purposes here we will define it as 'noise'). For me the noise in Lucknow is so altering, so inescapable, so difficult to deal with. me cuesta muchisimo. Mainly because it just isn't a couple noises, it is a whole symphony of sound at all hours of the day: cars, waste, trains, sirens, gov. propaganda announcements, trucks, people, cows, bicycles, trash, hindu temples, poop, brass bands....i think i already blogged about this. Mix constant background music with more or less 3 million people...all trying just be in the same city....i get a little clammy. So the escape to Krishmamurtiji's retreat......was......such......a...lovely beginning to a sweet remembrance.
So blown over by my newly found serenity, I woke up at 5:45am each morning just to sit along the wall, beneath the plush trees, and gaze out at the Ganges river with my new found family of dogs. I wrote in my journal, prayed, and sat in silence. It was the type of quiet, that if given a physical form, would have the consistency of slow churned vanilla bean ice cream...and i sat there inhaling spoonful after spoonful. A thick dense silence, charged with energy. Snack time was silence's best present, the clinking of spoons and coffee cups, the pouring of chai, slurping up my watermelon wedge. i could even hear the peeling of a banana if i paid close enough attention. Didn't want to take it for granted, it was far too precious.
Everything was so deliciously simple, right down to our beds. A white sheet and thin blanket, a clean bathroom, a floor cushion to use while those around you discussed inner and outer nature- truth- life-death, even the ants marched single file on their tippy toes. No cellphones, no Internet, no technology of any kind. You washed your own plates after each meal with diluted soap (got em even cleaner if you ask me), and I listened as guests sat around contemplating life's questions. A teacher, a doctor, a retired geologist, a mother, someone from england, a son...all just searching (and finding) answers--and very and content with their findings. no one seemed lost, they were satisfied with enough...which was nice to see for a change.
It was also nice to visit with these guys each day:)