Sunday, May 6, 2012

Nepali Influences

Now two weeks into India and our yoga adventure, I've had time to reflect upon our time and backpack/trek through the Himalayas. Nepal scenery flashes before my mind's eye during daily meditation and I fall more in love with the experience every time.

The trek was different than any other backpacking we've done before because you don't have to worry about carrying your tent, stove or food. Everything in the way of food and accommodation is available. That's not to say it isn't challenging because hiking for 19 days and 130+ miles pushed us physically and mentally. The elevation gain from 2,700 ft to over 17,700 ft definitely stretched us and hardened our boot-derived calluses. But wonderful and enchanting it was.

Beyond the magical scenery that unfolded as the mist and rain cleared, the people were a true delight. The Nepali people were all extremely nice and very accommodating. As we climbed higher into the mountains, the Tibetan influence became stronger and it was here that Amalia & I fell in love with the Tibetan people. Genuine souls whose friendliness and welcoming nature seem unbounded. 

It's funny but when you are in the midst of an experience some of the beauty and subtlety is lost to your grossest senses, but later on with time to reflect, missed sublime impressions slowly wash over you in waves of enlightenment. It's as if your in-the-moment consciousness allows only the most "pertinent" details to occupy your mind and lets the other impressions sift into your memory for later review and computation. If you take the time post-experience to let these memories re-emerge, deeper lessons and intuitions-missed will integrate into your full, overarching consciousness. For that reason, many experiences are lost to time because we are generally too busy to be in the moment and too busy to sit back and let the memories unfold their most profound lessons. And strangely only years later do we realize the importance of those moments lost, often to the detriment of relationships and our personal growth.

So for now, I am blessed to have both the wonderful experiences and the time after to discover and savor the truest "marrow from the bone." One piece of wisdom thus learned is to never let the true moments of friendship or beauty be washed over by details or perceived duties.

In our philosophy class yesterday, we asked the eternal question, why are we here?

We are here to hear one another.

There is no greater task or accomplishment we must reach other than to connect and truly understand our fellow human beings. All things material and immaterial can and will fall away, leaving only our relationships with any lasting meaning.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

On Top of the World #1

Our recent 19-day trek in Nepal is definitely in the top ten most amazing experiences of our lives. There is just no place like it on the planet. The trek began trudging through terraced rice paddies in jungle-like heat, bamboozled by waterfalls and attacked by leeches. There were so many waterfalls we just stopped counting after a while. Amalia had an interesting encounter with a waterfall...

From Amalia: It was the rainy season in Nepal and there was water gushing everywhere. On day 3 (of 19) we had to cross a rushing cascade to stay on the trail. I took off my boots, donned my crocs and made it about half way across when I got scared and wanted to use my hands to help me get the rest of the way. It was in that moment that I made a grievous error. I aimed to throw my boots across the rest of the cascade onto a pile of leaves. While my first boot was in midair, Patrick, not conscious of my plan, turned his body toward my oncoming boot. My boot bounced off his leg and down the cascade. The cascade fed into a 500 ft. waterfall that dumped into the white water rapids of the river below. I flew into a panicked hysteria I never would have thought myself capable of. I was screaming so loudly several Nepali men ran to my rescue, perhaps thinking I had fallen down the waterfall. Patrick heroically climbed up underneath the cascade twice just in case my boot had caught on something, but to no avail. The boot was gone. We were both crying at this point and I sadly put on my crocs and hiked to the next town. The story does have a happy ending. Amazingly, I was able to procure cheap running shoes, which I hiked in for 2 days, at which point I was actually able to buy another pair of boots! We were very fortunate to be on a trek that had so many supplies available and I was able to finish the trek. Lonely Planet tells you the most important gear item to bring from home is a good pair of boots. Retaining control of them is equally as important.

As we gradually rose in elevation the culture got more and more Tibetan. We began to pass "mani walls" which are short stand alone walls with dozens of prayer wheels on either side - you spin them as you go past. The wheels themselves have prayers written on them, but inside they also have hundreds of prayers written out so when you spin them you are supposedly sending them up to heaven.

Our favorite treat was "Tibetan bread" which is basically doughnut-like fry bread slathered in honey. Very greasy and I'm sure the calorie content was in the quadruple digits, but when you're hiking for 8 hours a day you can pretty much eat as often and as much as you want. We usually had our Tibetan bread with "Dood Chia" or milk tea (in India they call it "chai")

We met a lot of really fun fellow travellers from all over the world. Most of them were Israeli, but we also met some Germans, Canadians, French, Polish, Dutch and Australians (amazingly, no other Americans!) We became especially tight with an Australian mother and son, Jessica and Chris. Chris is currently on an 8-year cycling tour around the world to raise money for Oxfam (website: We now have places to stay all over the world!

The locals were some of the friendliest and most polite folks we've ever met. The women, no matter how poor, dressed in these lovely wrap skirts with big gathered belts. Most of the guys wore western clothes. We met one guy, Arjun, a 19-year old from Kathmandu, who spoke near perfect English and had big dreams for himself. He was the cook/slave boy for one of the hotels we stayed at. He and his side-kick, Mongole (17), sat us down in the kitchen and made us what they envisioned a "pizza" to be. Arjun was so overjoyed to have someone to talk to and share his hopes, dreams and philosophies on life, that it took him almost 2 hours. What came out was a steamed flat-bread topped with yak-cheese and every vegetable in the kitchen (including cabbage and carrots), but what really made the dish were the locally harvested wild mushrooms piled on top. Intermittently their boss or his wife would come in and yell at the boys and then smile at us as if because we didn't speak Nepali, we didn't know they were jerks. Mongole's story is really sad. His parents were killed by Maoists and he was raised by his sister. Then his sister's husband left and never came back home, so he's on his own. These boys for for 3,000 rupees a month which is around $40. They share a twin bed in the kitchen and slave away for people who abuse them. But these two peas in a pod are so positive about life and optimistic for the future - inspiring really.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

On Top of the World #2


The next part of our journey involved a several day long ascent which would culminate in crossing a mountain pass.
The pass, called Thorung La, was a whopping 17,872 feet (5416 meters for all you Canadians out there…which brings up another point…why aren’t we on the metric system?) Anyway, the reason its important to go up slowly is that there is a real danger of altitude sickness – fluid leaking from the blood vessles into the brain and lungs which causes you to “drown” in a matter of hours. This is very easily preventable by taking it slow so we took our time meandering through medieval looking stone villages.
Most villages had a local temple, a “gompa”, which was filled spectacular frescoes, artwork and musical instruments. They were technically Buddhist, but one could tell from the artwork that there was a lot of Hindu influence.
The village of Manang, the biggest town on this side of the pass. According to Lonely Planet “Manang knows what trekkers dream about in their sleeping bags at night and they have it all”. They weren’t kidding. The first thing to greet our weary eyes was a shop window stuffed with all kinds of fresh pasteries. We were in heaven. We were also happily reunited with our friends Chris and Jessica who we had lost shortly after my boots.
There are two kinds of trekkers on the trail, those who have porters and those who don’t (a porter is someone who carries all your stuff for you). We were in the latter category, but we were astonished to come across a troupe from the British army who had 1 porter for every 2 men. Glad they’re not defending my country! They kind of became the running joke of the trail since all they seemed to have brought was booze and cricket equipment.
As we ascended it got colder and colder and we were thankful that we had invested in down jackets and sleeping bags even though it seemed silly at the time in blistering hot Kathmandu. It was all fog and rain and we held out crossing the pass for a few days in hopes of getting some sun so we could see those amazing views. Alas it was not to be and so when we couldn’t wait any longer, we crossed the pass in the snow.
The most difficult part was not actually crossing the pass, it was going down the other side, 5100 ft., 3 hours, straight down. We ended up in the town of Muktinath where there was a fabulous hotel that served pizza! Muktinath is one of the holiest cities in Nepal and pilgrims come from all over to visit and bathe in the 108 cow head water spouts. I collected some “holy water” in my water bottle and asked Patrick “if I purify this water is it still holy?” There is also an interesting phenomenon in that area which is a perpetual flame that burns off of natural gas.
This side of the pass was very different than the other side because it had a road. Although it was much more convenient and you didn’t have to hire people to carry supplies in, it lost something of the personal feel. We were also constantly being pushed off the trail by jeeps and we resented that.
There were a few rewards on this side: one was a town called Tatopani which had a major hotsprings, another was a pack of Langur monkeys and the best was a place called Poon Hill. To get to Poon Hill you had to make the biggest climb of the whole trek – 5600 ft. – but we finally had sun! We got an amazing panorama of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges. We were so happy that we had finally gotten to see our mountains that we decided to end on a high note and make that our last day.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Voices from the cave

So yes, the rumors are true, I spent a week in a cave. :)

I had warned Amalia before we began this journey that at some point I might want to escape for a personal spiritual adventure of sorts.

We had finished our six week yoga teacher training program and had followed it with a two week intensive into more subtle kriya yoga practices. Amalia said she felt amazing and was more at peace than ever before. She was digging the vibe of the ashram where we were staying and the next course they were offering was a in-depth look at the Bhagavad Gita and Yog Sutras, perfect for her to expand her philosophy of these two crucial texts. Between that and the fact that I found a peaceful spot along the holy river Ganga, not far from a resident Swami I had befriended, it seemed the perfect time for my retreat. I can't say Amalia felt the same way, but we'll get into that later :) to the cave!

Why you ask did I go to a cave and what did I do there?

Well honestly, it was a personal journey and it doesn't serve either of us to divulge everything, but because questions have arisen, I feel compelled to provide insights.

In yogic philosophy there is the concept called sadhana. In simple terms, a sadhana is dedicated spiritual practice usually setup for a given amount of time. For some it is to bath in the holy Ganga everyday come rain, shine or snow. For others it is to not lie for an entire year. In essence anything that requires you to focus on higher principles can be crafted into a sadhana. For me, there was a certain set of detailed and time-intensive yogic practices that I wanted to take on, so the cave served that purpose.

I now know why yogis of the ancient tradition lived in caves. Beyond the need for basic shelter they provide an environment removed from all distractions. There is nothing but yourself to face in that cave. While I can't imagine the ancient yogis had nearly as many temptations vying for their attention, I know that in the modern world humans are drowning in distractions. Facing only yourself so intimately is damn-near impossible in the melee of modern society. The cave gave me that space.

Beyond the actual practices, I'd say I came face to face with my holdings, my attachments.

Attachments are the foundation of your world. Attachments are held perceptions that create your brand of reality. The beliefs I hold have created the way I perceive and interact with the world. Some of these attachments were created culturally some were built personally.

Without expounding on the topic ad nauseum, what I found was that every one of the things, either material, mental or emotional, that I'm attached to take up space in my being; and every attachment is inter-connected.

What that means is that even the most simple material attachment (re: that which you own) not only takes up precious space in your mind but also changes your perception of the world at large. The concept seems deceptively simple but its implications touch every area of our lives. Our attachments not only clutter our mental and physical landscapes but lock us into patterns of thought. When change is the only constant, locking ourselves into certain perceptions is dangerous, plus we then have to store or haul all the acquired acoutrements into the next (read: changed) phase of our lives.

We must recognize that we choose either actively or passively what brand of reality we create, so I offer voices from the caves. Ancient voices that urge us to consider our attachments and their effects in and on every fiber of our beings.

While I haven't conquered all my holdings, with my sadhana I delivered a significant blow to the power that upholds them. In addition to that, my friend Swami Chidanand Puri made me realize that a sadhana shouldn't be confined to a week in a far away land apart from all I know. A true sadhana never ends and I'm obliged to integrate the lessons and practices into my everday existence. At any rate, Mollie is glad I'm back from the cave. ;)

Rishikesh, India

Here are some random images from our stay in the original home of the ancient rishis of India. We have not found any rishis yet, but there are a lot things to do, places to see and plenty to learn.

We are not wasting our time, as our days are filled with yoga and meditation by Mother Ganga, flute lessons, massage courses, wildlife viewing and lots of reading. Going much deeper into the science, philosophy and practices of yoga. :)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Yoga Teacher Training - Graduation Day - Pat's essay final

The Essence of the Story - Rishikesh Yog Peeth, October-November 2010

Yoga is the story of union between the observed, observer and the source.

At one moment yoga is the science of your body's alignment within its frame and at the next it is the art of dancing with your breath. Yoga is a personal journey between states of distraction, focus, and release.

Genetically no two humans toolsets are the same and thus yoga is innately devoid of competition.

Most of the time we fail to realize we are the perfect tool for every situation we face. Life's greatest challenge may be learning to accept and work with the toolset you are given.

The essence of my story is transformation without end.

Having chosen to take this spiritual journey, I find that after six intensive weeks it's as if I am standing on the edge of a vast ocean and only my toes have gotten wet. Beyond me lies an unfathomable expanse where time and dimensions unfold mysteriously.

I now know fully that yoga is a path of spiritual science, a journey with and into the divine. It is the journey I was meant to take, within its realm lies my destiny, my dharma.

How does one discuss the infinte whispers of the beloved within the soul?

In the stillness of my meditation I can sense the eternal flame guiding me inwards to more profound understanding. My challenge is to continue practising (Abhyasa: constant and steady practise) without expectation (Niskama), no matter what life may brings my way.

Such a seemingly simple concept can emcompass and consume entire lifetimes; but there is no other way forward for me anymore.

I truly believe yoga is a crucial tool for human development and is needed to bring the world back into balance. If your most sacred space, the temple of your body, is out of balance how do you expect to maintain external balance?

This six weeks has been about opening for me. Opening the body, heart and mind to make way for greater spiritual inhabitance within my soul. To open youself is to let your holdings rise to the surface. Through awareness, careful examination and release, you empty yourself of past conditioning and make way for new choices. In the end all my explanations, philosophies and words shall pass away leaving only my actions to matter or remain.

I am truly thankful to be here studying in the mother land. To be taught and led by true seekers with open hearts is a blessing indeed. Throughout our course there was a palpable love for challenging us to seek that which is higher, deeper, and brighter within each of us.

Here I met many genuine souls seeking in earnest. In these short weeks we have made some lasting connections and I feel we might become the roots of a grand tree giving shade and shelter to many seeking hearts.

Early in the course, we approached the question of the meaning of life. For me, the primary reason for our existence is to learn to hear one another. Only through true hearing can we come to understand perspectives different from our own.

Learning to clear our personal and inter-personal lines of communication will allow us to grasp the infinite modes of perception symbolized in the thousand petaled lotus. We are here for one another and must learn to face ourselves honestly and without distraction; only then may we learn the meaning of grace.

This is just the beginning of my journey and all who I met here will remain precious to me. I bow to the divine spirit within all of you and within myself.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Holiest of Holies - Sikh Style

After finally uprooting ourselves from three months of intensive self-study in Rishikesh, we arrived via overnight express in the city of Amritsar in the Punjab.

Amritsar lies less than thirty miles from the border of Pakistan and is the home of the holiest site in Sikhism, the Golden Temple.

The city's name is derived from the pool of nectar (water) surrounding the temple, the amrit samovar.

Given the close ties between Sikhism and the kundalini yoga style we often practice, a visit to the temple was high on our list and it did not disappoint.

Never before have we encountered any people like the Sikhs. For the most part, they were overly gracious, helpful and not-too-pushy to sell you something (a novel concept in India). The facilities around the temple were amazing while the temple itself was spectacular.

A prominent feature of Sikhism is the welcoming of all peoples, from all backgrounds and all religions. The kitchen in the temple complex is open twenty-four hours a day, everyday, and feeds between 50-80,000 people per day for FREE. Those numbers are not a joke.

It is a wild experience because you just follow the lines where you are handed an aluminum plate, bowl and silverware, funnelled into large halls with long runners to sit on with a thousand plus other people, and fed by men who dish out all-you-can-eat dal, beans, rice porridge and chapati from large stainless steel buckets and wicker baskets. Afterwards you can help clean up in long dish cleaning stations or even help in the massive kitchens. How they fund or man such enormous operations is mind-boggling, but profoundly beautiful.

As for the temple, if ever I could imagine a building housing the divine in my soul, the Golden Temple would be it. Maybe it's the supposed 750kg of gold glimmering on the top, but somehow I couldn't help but sit mesmerized by its visage. I'm positive that the countless amicable pilgrims walking around it and bathing in the sacred waters generated ample good vibes, but just sitting there gazing on the temple brought spontaneous smiles to our faces.
Being back in a bustling large city was both exciting and challenging. In addition to the copious amount of turbans available, both meat and alcohol were back on the menus. We found ourselves being very timid with the ordering of either but were pleased at finding some lovely coffee houses to take brief respites from hustle.

While the temple was the highlight, we were awfully cold and ended up cutting short our trip through Rajastan by catching a flight out of Delhi to the south into the former Portugese colony of Goa. That move made Amalia, my little California girl, very, very happy. :)

While in Goa we'll be meditating on the golden temples in our hearts as we warm up laying in the sun and soaking in the Arabian Sea. And since we have opted to rent a small apartment just off the beach for a month, we'll have ample time to do just that.

We know, it's a rough life but someone's got to live it. ;)

PS, click on the last picture to open in a bigger window & tell us what's happening in the shot.