Date: Fri, 25 Mar 2005 03:24:33 -0800 (PST)
From: Send an Instant Message "Michael Tselman"
Subject: Note 11 - India - Rishikesh

Dear friends,

It's been almost a month since I arrived to the town of Rishikesh and I have not travelled since then. This is a place, were instead of exploring the worlds of people and nature, one explores the other worlds, those of the body, the mind and the soul. I know that to many of you these words may seem unnatural and they would sound unnatural and superficial to me as well, had I not been here, in India, in Rishikesh doing just that. As the people here say half-jokingly: "In India, anything is possible, sir" and shake their head from side to side in a very indian way.

When one lives in a place for a long enough time, one develops a routine. That happened to me as well. I wake up and go to the nearby dhaba (a cheap local eatery) to get my "masala chai" (tea with milk, sugar and a lot of spices), and a "parantha" - like a pita bread with some soft cheese or vegetables baked inside.

I watch the Ganges river from the rooftop of the dhaba and do nothing for a while or, if it's early - go to sit right at the river. Then I walk about 2 kilometers to the other part of the town called Ram Jhula and cross the bridge (the Jhula) over the Ganges to get to the "Welcome Center" where I have a 2 hour long sretching class. It is led by a Dutch guy (Pala) who's been living here for over 15 years. Pala knows a lot about human body and was a student of one of the founders of main school of stretching in Europe some years ago. He since merged the techniques of the european school with some of the yoga techniques and that created a great mix which produces visible results in a reasonably short time. It is so interesting to learn about the abilities and feelings of your own body. That is what he does. He helps you not to simply stretch, but to feel and sence the body and let go of the fear of pain and of fear that your body cannot do something and then slowly you learn to let go and relax and move a millimeter further and feel a little bit more.

Once the stretching is over, it's time for a really good ayurvedic food cooked by Karuna. Her food is always amazingly fresh and tasty. She makes everything from scratch and with a lot of love towards cooking and people she cooks for. A bit later, after some reading or discussion or just plain relaxation I head back over the bridge to the main part of Ram Jhula. Sometimes I make the trip back to Laxman Jhula - the place where I stay and then a bit up the river to the beach or the rocks overlooking the river. The rocks are great for some solitude and the beach is great to take a dip in the river, chat with some people. The river itself has some meditative quality and it feels great to watching the river flow by. In the evening around 6pm the yoga class starts for which I make another trip to Ram Jhula, but to a different place. The yoga teacher is one of the best for Hatha Yoga - people try different ones and then come back to this one. After 2.5 hours of yoga I emerge both tired and refreshed. It's time to meet some friends and have some food and light conversation. There are not too many streets and places where people can go, so usually you meet the same people without ever arranging for a meeting. And in fact, in India, "arranging for a meeting" is as absurd as "maiking plans". One just lets things go their way, as otherwise dissapointments are imminent. Which does not mean one should not plan at all. It's more of "having the plans", but not minding them too much and not attaching emotions to them. The philosophy is simple - one may have the needs and one may work on satisfying the needs, but that should never be the ruling factor in life whatever the needs are. I'm trying to avoid here the high words like "meaning of life" and various spiritual expressions as they have such a different stereotypes in everyone's head that you never know if you succeeded in passing the meaning that you attach to these words.

But I was talking about my routine. Starting yesterday I added another item to my agenda. I now also attend some lectures every morning given by one of the prominent swamis. He speeks perfect English in a very ddep voice. His whole body project calmness, peace and a feeling of well being. He can be very serious, but he makes jokes on the spot and makes everyone laugh, no matter what the subject is. The lectures are about life and death, about "I", about acceptance, about material things and spiritual matters, about sex and about tantra, about the individual and the union. There is a discussion following and it is interesting to hear people of very different (but mostly western) cultures and backgrounds voicing similar concerns. It is also sometimes very reassuring to hear in his lectures confirmation of some of my own thoughts.

I'm very happy that life brought me to this wonderful place. Once the pace of the external movement slowed down and the mind stopped working on plans or controlling the surroundings, I finally can let the thought process to be on its own.

Here are just a few things I want to share with you.

1. On the "why" question.
Children often ask the "why?" question about almost everything. "Why this?" and "Why that?", and then, when given an answer which seems complete to us, they find in our answer the next target for the next "why?". This somteimes may seem very annoying to us, but it only shows that where we see only one obvious answer (which is based on our image of the world), they expext that there is a multitude of possibilities. Their minds are open to many paths and we should as well constantly that "why?" question alive. We are bound by stereotipical images which only keep one path open - some answers are becoming so engraved that we no longer think when we answer the question. This is especially so when we read something, listen to someone or see someone act. It is natural for us to judge, or explain other's words or actions in our own terms. We "think" that we put ourselves in this person's place, but instead all we do is put his words into our stereotipical image of the other person and then we make some conclusion which is often wrong. It is really difficult to give up the trained thought process and put ourselves in the other person's place. I believe it is the question "why?", that can help us. When asked sincerely it really opens up those multitudes of possibilities that the engraved paths of our minds learned to ignore. "Why does he REALLY thinks that?", "Why is he REALLY acting that way?". Think not of yourselve in this place. Try to come up with at least a few different answers. The right one is not necessarily the one that seems most obvious or most natural to you. This leads me into thinking about "obvious answers" and "simplicity". It is so often that you hear something like: "Do not try to come up with some complicated answer where there is a simple one right on the surface." But unless you are in the exact scientific field, how do you judge simplicity? Whithout knowing "everything", there is no means of selecting the true simple answer. It is the stereotipical answer that seems "simple" most of the time.

2. On someone's death.
A friend of mine wrote to me about a kitten that she got and then a few days later the kitten has died. While I felt very sorry for my friend, I could not really feel sorry for the kitten itself. Rather it was a mental image of my friend missing that kitten that made me feel the grief. When someone close to us is ill, we feel compassion, co-suffering, co-feeling with this person. But when someone close to us dies or disappears, is it not the sorrow for missed togetherness that we mostly feel? People talk more about "loss", and it's not the loss of life, but the loss of the connection with the person or thing that disappeared. It's a loss of our idea, our image of other's life. I'm not saying there is no compassion there at all, but I do not think that compassion is the dominating feeling in this case. In fact, there is no way for the living being to experience a "co-feeling" with some one who has died. We just do not have that experience in our background.

3. On feeling shy or uncomfortable.
I know many people who often feel uncomfortable in sometimes very simple situations. I am a bit like that myself. At least I was. Here is an example. I was walking here with a friend of mine and she said she needs to go to the bathroom (here they use the word toilet). I suggested just asking at the roadside cafe we were passing by. "No", said my friend, I feel uncomfartable asking. Then I said, "Ok, I will go and ask". But even that she did not want me to do. She felt that "uncomfortable feeling" even when I was going and ask. So strong that feeling can be. I was the same way some years ago and can relate to it quite well. Some of you may have experienced the same. In any case, I went and asked and of course there was was no problem and my friend a bit reluctantly went and used the facilities. While I waited outside, I pondered on how to help that person be able to ask for herself next time she has such a trouble. So I asked her: "Imagine you are with your child, and he needed to use the bathroom. Would you still be uncomfortable to ask?" The answer was "No". I think in reality, she would still feel uncomfortable, but the need of a child would so much outweight all other feelings that she would just not notice that uncomfortable feeling. I do not want to go into analysing what makes us uncomfortable to ask for such simple things - let the psychologists deal with the theory. But I think I run into a good practical tool for such people. When you want to ask for something where you feel uncomfortable, just imagine a situation where you are asking or acting on behalf of your child or a close friend in need. Then that fear of rejection or fear of someone laughing at you or fear of looking stupid or whatever it is that makes you feel uncomfortable will fade away, as now you are doing it for someone else which is a "good deed" instead of "egoistic deed". I hope those who often feel uncomfortable in trivial life situations will find that little trick usefull.

4. On "letting go".
India teaches me to "let go". In a sense, this can be rephrased as acceptance. But I like the way that the verbs "to let" and "to go" play in the same expression. As it is exactly what's happening when we accept life as it is - we "let" it come and then it "goes" on its own. This happens on so many different levels. I already mentioned above the stretching class I have been attending every day. There I learn "letting go" on the physical level. You stretch and then you feel pain. But then you learn that pain is nothing but just another feeling. And if you keep breathing and relaxing the pain would go. It is hard to believe, but it really goes. Goes away. Then you stretch a bit more and there is pain again, but you go through it the same way. By accepting that this is just a feeling and keeping calm and mentally directing your calm breathing into it and it may be gone again. But then the fear comes and you cannot let go any more. So in the end it's the fight with your own fear. The breathing wins from fear little by little and that's how the progress is made. Letting go of your plans, letting go of your thoughts and of other pains is just the same process. The same breathing or some meditation, which is usually based on some repetition of the same mantra slowly let's your mind to relax and let go of the worries, of the pains of everything until the fear of unknown territory stops. And then you continue the next day and hopefully stretch and relax a bit more. It is amazing how many similarities there are at this level between the body and mind. They both have been subject of so many strains and pressures and awkward positions for so many years that letting go really involves a courageous effort and commitment. It is also about letting go of attachments in life. I read a wonderful phrase in one of the books I've been reading here: "Attachment is blinding; it lends an imaginary halo of attractiveness to the object of desire". How true.

5. I also wanted to write a bit about love, but what do I really know... :) Just two phrases from my notebook. It is often that people use "I love you" as a replacement for "I want you" (or "I need you"). But as "I want you" is egotistic, they subconsciouly replace it with a less egotistically sounding "I love you". I'm more and more opening for myself the other meaning - "I love you" as in "I see you", "I know you", "I understand and accept you".

My friends, this series of notes have started in a mode of a world traveller, describing experiences from countries around the world. Hopefully, once I start travelling again, I will continue with the descriptions of places I see and people I meet. But for now, please accept those excursions into my inner world. Hope this is entertaining for you.

With Love,