Tag Archives: travel

An Update and a new beginning…

This is a new start. I left my flat in the beautiful Kew Gardens, my job after a successful year and finished a relationship which was at times wonderful but often tumultuous and energetically very draining for me.

I decided I needed a change. Some time out. A reset and also the opportunity to give back and offer my service.

So what have I been up to? Well, following on from The Hridaya TTC  I stayed in Mexico for a few months. We had the intention of starting something in the village of Tepoztlan. Things didn’t work out there and I returned to London virtually penniless and looking for a way to become unstuck.

The Hridaya teacher training course was an intensive 3 months of meditation, yoga, theory and community. I wrote about it on their blog here.

Passion, Power and Love

This change has been brewing within me for some time. Some inspiration arose in the Passion, Power and Love workshop I did over new year with Jan Day. The next year holds adventure, learning, sharing and practice.

The above picture is the vision board that I created during the Passion, Power and Love workshop. I created it as the climax of 3 days of deep connecting, both with others and with myself.  There is a lot of gratitude for the learning and dancing on the edge that happened at that time. I returned to work in London with a great deal of positivity and aliveness, even in the depths of winter.

The vision board allows me to look forwards and see great potential. Some of the exercises we did helped me to view memories with a fresh outlook.

 

Gong!

Having been inspired by receiving gong baths at various festivals over the last few years I decided to take a workshop to learn how to play. It was organised by Ali and led by Sheila Whittaker. The two days of training with around 15 gongs in a small space and 16 students created such a powerful energy and vibration. I had been suffering from recurring headaches for several weeks before and I noticed over the weekend the intensity getting stronger. At the end of the weekend we participated in an all-night gong puja. We settled ourselves in for the night and took turns playing the gongs for half an hour each from 9pm through to 7am. By the end of this night my headache was completely gone and didn’t come back even after returning to the office.

Glastonbury Retreat

I was delighted to share the experience of running a yoga retreat at the lovely ShekinAshram in Glastonbury with Ben.  We had eight students who came for two classes of yoga a day. We also had Kirtan with the amazing Tim Chalice, fire puja by the ashram staff and walks to Glastonbury Tor and Chalice Well.

Ben and I also experimented with a sound journey. Leading with the gong and incorporating harmonium, drums, rain stick and various other bits of percussion that were lying about we had a strong hour and a half of relaxation. I was completely gonged out by the end. I don’t know about the students. It’s something I’d like to do more of so will do more gong training work in the next year.

 

The Globe & Sangha

In a brief moment in London some of my Hridaya Sangha were going to Shakespeare’s Globe on the Southbank. I’m so glad I went along to an exuberant performance of Twelfth Night complete with bearded, sparkly, giant drag queens, “We are Family” and a lot of laughs.

Yoga show

I went to the yoga show a couple of times… I found an unfinished post about it so let me take you back there…

“This weekend I visited an exhibition in the beautiful surrounds of Alexandra Palace, perched atop a hill to the north of London and with a stunning vista around the capital.

The Yoga Show is kind of a strange event. The consumerisation of such an ancient art is always going to be slightly jarring. For a practice that is supposed to bring you deep inside to a place of stillness and connection with the universe, being around thousands of people, all pushing their own take on wellbeing, can be overwhelming.

I thoroughly enjoyed it though, from wandering through the stands trying organic chocolate, tasting teas and natural supplements to taking in workshops and chatting with vendors about yoga accessories.

I went partly due to being a member of Yoga Alliance, an organisation that attempts to provide a level of confidence among yogis that the schools they are studying with and the teachers that are spreading the word are of a certain standard. They had a large stall at the yoga show and Emma was helping them out with it during the day.

I went to a couple of their sessions for teachers – Refining Adjusting Skills (Part Three) with Brian Cooper and Master Class: Relax with Tara Stiles. Their classes were away from the main body of the yoga show in a separate room making for a more relaxing environment.

I’m not one for celeb yoga teachers but I had somehow heard of Tara. I wasn’t sure about walking into the hall with the Chemical Brothers booming from the stereo and Tara posing for selfies with the early birds but I was willing to see where she wanted to take us.

The class was towards the end of the day but I must admit I came out feeling thoroughly blissed out. She has obviously worked hard at delivering a sequence that is aligned with the music. (getting more “spiritual” as the class progressed). It was somewhat challenging without being pure gymnastics and we did a nice bit of alternate nostril breathing at the end. I did find she kind of mumbled through the instructions a bit. I felt she was trying to squeeze in more words than is really necessary. This lead to a few occasions where I was taken out of the flow by wondering – what was that? If the effect is all important though I came out on a different level so I take my hat off to her.

Brian has just released a book focusing on the anatomical side of yoga and his approach to alignment clearly comes from a deep understanding of the body and a training in Thai yoga massage.

This class was in much more of a workshop style with Brian and an assistant showing us a posture and a way to adjust before we paired up and tried the same on each other. There were some great ideas in here and although some of the suggestions were perhaps better suited to a “partner” style of class, since I think it would be difficult to go around the whole class applying some of the techniques It was good to learn from someone who clearly has a lot of knowledge and a very precise and focused teaching style, although with a sense of humour.”

 

Resonance Academy

I’ve been inspired by Nassim Haramein and his teachings of sacred geometry for some time and have mentioned it before. I signed up for the Resonance Academy delegate programme and have been studying off and on for the last year or so. I don’t always follow the science.  Quantum physics equations might as well be in Martian to me I’m afraid but it’s been interesting. I’m hoping to get through to Module 4 soon where apparently the juicy stuff resides!

 

Colourfest, sacred sound and volunteering

Colourfest continues to be one of my favourite festivals. I went there last year with some friends which was hugely enjoyable despite some stresses beforehand. This year I volunteered as a steward – the first of several yoga festivals I will be helping at this summer. (The next ones are the World Yoga Festival and Buddhafield) Volunteering was a different way to experience things and very enjoyable to be part of the team. By having a limited amount of time to enjoy what was on offer I actually made more of an effort to do things. Hanging out on the main gate and welcoming people was fun. We were on this gate the first morning before the gates officially opened and some people were really difficult.

“Sorry, we’re not open for another half an hour so you’ll just have to wait here for a few minutes”
“Well, why are there loads of cars and tents already in the field then?”
“… I mean, do you think the festival just appears by magic or what?”

My other interesting shift was on the Saturday night on Gate B. This was the tradesman’s entrance and exit from the festival. I was here alone and other than one person setting up lighting I had to redirect everybody back to the main entrance. It was quite peaceful. Then it got dark and I was lit by just three candles in the forest. Thankfully I had the site security guard coming to see how I was every so often. Ben and Jonathan took pity and joined to keep me company for half an hour as well.

Highlights of the festival itself were yoga classes with Swami Asokananda, one of which I followed with a shamanic journey and then a gong bath for the ultimate in chill. Kirtan with Sivani Mata, Elahn and Radhe and plenty others were also great. There were dance collaborations and some tantra workshops although I pretty much stuck with the sacred sound.

Krishna Das

Speaking of sacred sound I saw the amazing Krishna Das at the Union Chapel and it was one of the most incredible heart opening Kirtans. It is always a joy to do this practice but somehow he led the huge audience into raptures; I was full of bliss.

Yogific

Colourfest wasn’t my first yoga volunteering event this year actually, I helped at a couple of events for Yogific including the Yoga and Vegan food festival in my old stomping ground of Kingston. It was held in the Guildhall which is a lovely setting and was a huge success. There were lessons to be learnt, though. So many people came we ended up with a queue out the door as venue security restricted capacity. It was great to do some yoga, try delicious vegan food and have interesting conversations with people. I’m hoping to help them out later this year in India.

AOL and the Cote D’Azur

I went to a workshop called Awakening of Love which led to musings here… The next opportunity to do this workshop is in Devon from the 22nd to 24th Setember.

Some detail I cut out is here –

Simon Matthews is an unassuming group leader, he remains centred and is able to connect easily. His journey started in 2003 with the Hoffman Process but before this he was sceptical about any sort of therapeutic work. Taking part in the Path of Love in 2011 changed everything and within a year he had trained to lead sessions. His commitment and clear faith in the power of the work, as well as the assistants who hold space so beautifully, create a container that is safe and yet profoundly open.

Awakening of Love is a short introduction to the longer Path of Love workshop which has been running since 1995. Founders Rafia Morgan and Turiya Hanover came together to develop a system from their combined experiences in development and spiritual work.

These teachings stem from the work of controversial Indian sage Osho. He introduced a series of dynamic meditations and an open approach to working with sexual energy which is an influence on most modern teachings of “tantra”.

The workshop also connected me with someone who I went to visit in the South of France for a week. We had a lovely time cooking delicious healthy food from the local produce.  We hiked in the mountains surrounding the Cote D’Azur and swam in the sea.

Mooji

Mooji is still a strong influence, we went to see him in London last summer and I had a lovely hug afterwards. Oh, and we were offered his kettle – truly blessed!

 

Meadows in the Mountains

Meadows in the Mountains was pitched as a hippy adventure in the Bulgarian mountains with a Burning Man vibe. It lived up to that although I wasn’t expecting it to be full of kids from Hackney getting wasted to techno. It was still a lovely experience.

Amazing views, stunning sunrises, and beautiful people made it the most visually arresting festival I’ve ever been to.

I managed to do one class of yoga nidra. It was more like a yoga class with a long relaxation. This was a really nice way to dip into a different energy at the festival. I needed to catch up on sleep as well.

We also spent some time in the delightful tea shop which was run by “goldilocks” who worked tirelessly to keep the place spic and span. Our awesome neighbours in the campsite were tango teachers from Argentina. They always seemed to be in the midst of some family crisis but were such a bastion of calm in the madness.

 


I saw the sun rise over the mountain twice. On Sunday night the mist rolled in and created a fantasy scene of islands of trees in the valley.

We found a drum’n’bass dub party in the yoga tent which went off like a bomb.

We spent a lot of time people watching. In a perfect flow scenes would emerge before us. The pirate ship became our domain for a while, the uneven slopes making the zombie children stagger and the sneezing guy fall over.

We arrived at the right time for food, and this was no mean feat. The soul food curry stall took 3 hours to prep and would be gone in 20 minutes. To arrive at the right second took some synchronicity. Otherwise the festival was fuelled by cheese on toast and Prosecco. People swigged from the bottle in a search for psychedelics which seemed to consume the site. I can’t say we saw much live music but the afro-beat collective were pretty great.

Sofia

On our return to Sofia Sev’s family welcomed us as Herman insisted on taking us out for a beer. We were somewhat reluctant due to tiredness and nursing a 5 day accumulated hangover. Herman’s nighttime city tour turned out to be a highlight, though.

Unbeknownst to us the centre of Sofia has some real sites. The “5 wings and 7 dicks” monument looking like something from the nightmarish vision of a video game. The thousand year old churches. Roman ruins that you can wander amongst, with a can, even in the middle of the night. The Church where Sev’s grandmother got married, with it’s golden domes. The huge statue of a king with piercing golden eyes. We ended up in a bar down a pitch black alley, a knock to be let in and all the lighting by candlelight. The only downside – we forgot to take a camera!

Austin Kleon

I’ve been inspired by the books and newsletter of Austin Kleon who is a Texas-based artist with great ideas about sparking creativity and how art is created through careful appropriation of existing sources. His “Steal Like an Artist” takes the view that all art comes from a combination of influencers and by digging deep into your favourite work you can find the inspiration to make something new and interesting.

 

Politics

So while all this has been going on and my world is turning, the outside is equally messy. Brexit was a moment for me, in turmoil in relationship at the time, where it didn’t seem that the shifting sands of politics could really have an impact and then…

Unprecedented in its wake up call to the progressive left who have been somewhat sleeping over the last 20 years, myself included in that, I hope the upheaval we are seeing will lead to a shift in the way we see our society and how it is constructed.

I voted remain for inclusivity, and the desire to work together with people from all cultures, religions and backgrounds to improve the lot of all of humanity. The petty jingoism and casual racism that seem to have emerged since, and with the Trump effect adding to this normalisation, are not just unacceptable from a moral point of view but also take us backwards when we should be striving forward for evolution.

The recent election showed the number of young people waking up to the recognition that they can influence. The rise of Jeremy Corbyn I hope means that there is a new paradigm emerging in British politics. The Grenfell tower tragedy brings into sharp contrast the differences between the rich and the poor. It cannot be long before the masses realise the lies of the right wing press and stand up against this Tory government. It’s time for an end to an austerity agenda which only benefits those who are already comfortable.

I hope we can rise above self-interest, gain those Bodhisattva ideals (that I’m reading and writing about currently) and shake the magic money tree (which certainly exists if you are an investment banker) to provide for all those in our society.

What Next?

So next I’m volunteering at the World Yoga Festival in Reading and Buddhafield. After these two I’ll be flying down to Lyon to help the renovation efforts at the new Hridaya France centre – Ramana Village

I have been published in a few other places since I last wrote here…

http://www.yogiapproved.com/?s=Ian+Marshall

http://www.hridaya-yoga.com/ready-for-a-meditation-retreat/

http://www.elephantjournal.com/2016/07/how-i-used-my-spiritual-practice-to-break-unhealthy-relationship-patterns/

https://goodmenproject.com/sex-relationships/men-in-tantra-what-they-are-missing-out-on-grmx/

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Filed under General, India, Thailand

10 mind expanding places to visit.

I’ve traveled quite a bit in my time and certain places have lived long in my memory. I’ve listed 10 here that I think are particularly mind expanding for a variety of reasons…

Travel is a mind-broadening, mouth-watering eye-opening and loin-moistening experience which if you’re not careful will grab you as a bug and not let go until you are looking at finding ways to make it into a lifestyle. For me it is best to treat travel  as a learning experience whether that be from taking courses and classes or just through interactions with locals and travelers from countries you may never have thought of visiting. Everyone is a teacher and every day can bring new challenges and experiences and travel allows you to open up to these if you let it. Gazing out at the sunset over a beautiful ocean or up at the multitude of stars on a clear night in the mountains the everyday drifts from your consciousness a little and you begin to realise the fundamental value of a life. Doing a long trip before starting a life of work can give you a better perspective I think and stop you getting stuck in a treadmill of unhappiness because you have the knowledge of something satisfying that isn’t reliant upon or judged by your performance in an office.
Embrace the difference, be amused by the difficulty, every long bus journey is a story and every arrival a new beginning. There will be hard times on a long trip, where you miss home and the simplicity of a life that you know but the benefit gained and the satisfaction you feel when you navigate those problems is worth the hardship.
I have traveled extensively in South East Asia, Europe, Australia and India.

Real de Catorce

In the North of Mexico this former silver mining outpost is only accessible through a 2.5km winding mine-shaft tunnel which necessitates moving to a smaller bus on arrival. Since the seam ran dry Real has become a ghost town with abandoned buildings in the valleys surrounding the town.

Taking a horse around the beautiful hillsides is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, discovering ruins of mansions and mine buildings. You will also find sacred Huichol sites where ceremonies sometimes take place. These hills are alive with Peyote, the cactus that shamans use to give a healing dose of mescaline and the Huichol tribe come here at least once a year to hold large ceremonies.

 

Dharamsala – Triund

From the home of the Dalai Lama in Mcleod Ganj it is around a 4-5 hour trek up to the mountain ridge of Triund, passing screaming monkeys peering out of steaming garbage bins and accumulating stray dogs along the way as you cross beautiful valleys and tree-lined hills.

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If the clouds creep in the majestic view back across the Himalayan foothill valleys will disappear into a white nothingness but once you reach the chai stalls at Triund itself you will be above the clouds to see a majestic mountain appear in front of you from nothing. At sunrise and sunset the views are particularly stunning with any lingering cloud cover dissipating and the mountains bathed in yellow-orange sunlight.

Anapurna Base Camp

While the 26 day trek around the Annapurna circuit has started to become less popular due to the building of roads near part of the previously isolated route, the “ABC” trek is still out there and as inaccessible as things come.

It takes around 7 days including a loop at the bottom to reach the base camp at over 4000 metres with at least two of these days being almost entirely uphill. You will pass through small villages, delightful valleys and gorges, and finally across a snow-covered plateau. There are guesthouses en-route in the various villages, although for the last 3 days you will be staying in lodges that are solely there for the benefit of trekkers since this area is not inhabitable year-round. If you go in March or April, officially the “second season” the hills will be alive with huge rhododendron bushes in red, blue and yellow and the final valley will be a spectacular grass-lined path rather than a snow-covered tundra.

Pinnacles Borneo

Deep in the jungles of Borneo, past nomadic tribes with blow-pipes and a history of cannibalism you can journey out by river-boat and on foot to the base of the Pinnacles, a set of jagged rocks which poke up out of the side of the mountain.

The climb to the top is up a slippery slope of sharp rocks and the last third involves climbing up rope ladders, shimmying across planks and hauling up knotted cable.

Coming down is even more fun, especially if it has been raining, as the downward motion enhances the slipperiness and falling onto those jagged rocks a real possibility. It may not be such a bad move to come down on your bum.

Spiti Valley

To reach this place you have to endure hours of treacherous roads, driving in local Indian buses with drivers who think that honking the horn enables them to safely hurtle around blind corners with drops of thousands of metres awaiting a wrong turn. The buses cheerfully have “Oh God Save Me” handpainted on the front and as you swerve around the 30th bend of the day with crumbling rocks skittling down into the canyon below you realise that maybe grace does have something to do with your survival on this trip.

The views from the bus, if you can stomach to look out of the window, are spectacular though and on arrival in one of the villages along the way, after kissing the ground and praising Shiva, Buddha, Christ and Allah for your survival, you soon realise why some hardy souls choose to live up here.

The “ultra blue” skies are one thing, a shade that reflects the high altitude of the region which is usually around 4000m, but add to that an arid desert landscape with little vegetation and paths hugging the valley which swoops to the trickling rivers below and then the snow peaked Himalaya which surround you at every turn and this is an awesome landscape to trek in.

Staying up here is basic, homestays with the villagers who are welcoming but understandably only able to provide the simplest of food. They burn cow shit to keep warm in the winter and have piles of dung stacked in storage rooms all shaped into neat patties.

Buddhism is rife up here with monasteries everywhere, reflecting the closeness to the border with Tibet, and you can see monks practicing and ancient caves where yogis of the past meditated and gained enlightenment.

We walked from Dhankar to Kaza over five days. The stars at night were the clearest I have seen and sitting on the rooftop of a white-painted house in the middle of this nowhere was an other-worldly experience indeed.

Arunachala – Tiruvanimallai

Tamil Nadu in the South of India is a strongly religious state.  Old and impressive Hindu temples dominate everywhere you go with awesome facades, intense ceremonies and usually a lot of fire.

Tiru is in the shadow of the mountain Arunachala which is said to be an emanation of Lord Shiva, one of the main trinity in the Hindu pantheon. It is a beautiful mountain and walking up amongst its verdant hills and away from the honking and mayhem of the centre of the city is a most peaceful experience.

It was here that Sri Ramana Maharshi, a famous Indian saint, sat in a cave for many years and meditated in silence. At the temple in town, where he also lived for some time, his experiences are recorded;  and on the outskirts a small enclave has grown around his ashram, set up by his followers.

In this part of town things are a bit more relaxed and you can spend your days visiting the western gurus who visit to speak of their take on advaita vedanta or the non-dualistic teachings of existence that Ramana originally expressed.

Every month at full moon, thousands of pilgrims walk the 12km around the base of the mountain barefoot, taking time out along the way to give offerings to the hundreds of Shiva Lingam shrines that ring the base, and ending up at the temple for further blessings.

Andaman Islands

Part of India but closer to Burma and Thailand, this set of Islands (forming a large archipelago with the neighbouring but inaccessible Nicobar islands) are as close to the Robinson Crusoe, perfect beach getaway as you can imagine.

Their history is not so great with the British causing great hardship to the indigenous population meaning that many of the tribes have died or have lost their traditional way of life (and why large portions of the islands are now off-limits to tourists).

The main island houses a huge jail which was used for prisoners who were treated extremely harshly and given unfair punishments when they were unable to keep up with the unreasonable targets set in the hard labour work they were sentenced to undertake.

 

Getting away from the history though, you can find almost untouched beaches that are out of a dream. Radha Nagar beach on Havelock Island for example is known for its beautiful sunsets but there are only 2 small guesthouses serving the beach. There are a couple of more upmarket resorts but they are hidden away in the jungle such that when you walk down past the handful of chai shops offering simple thalis you enter out onto the beach and find it stretching as far as you can see in either direction with barely a soul bothering its pristine sand.

The sea is a clear turquoise and the white sand is fine to the touch, jungle rings the shoreline and other than a couple of wooden umbrellas on immediately entering there is nothing man-made in sight.

Walk along to the right and you will find a lagoon with still green water for when you tire of playing in the waves which are frequent but not too strong.

I used to come down at 8 in the morning and there would never be anyone there, I would swim with the dogs who would come to meet me and be amazed that I was so lucky.

4000 islands Laos

Deep in the south of Laos, not far from the border with Cambodia, is this set of islands in the mighty Mekong river. It is home to Irrawaddy dolphins which you can go and see, but for me, it was more about being the most peaceful and beautiful spot to hang out in a hammock.

 

Mount Bromo, Java

The volcanoes in Java are very much active with Gunung Merapi regularly erupting and causing significant damage to the surrounding region. Bromo is a little less dangerous, although a potential eruption here could be devastating.

You walk, or ride a horse, across large flat plateau with nothing except an old temple in between the small town and the crater.

After a climb up the side of the mountain you reach a hole in the earth with smoke gently rising from the innards which are not quite visible . The slope leading down to the pit is reminiscent of the gaping maw that Han Solo narrowly avoids in Return of the Jedi and the security barrier that existed here at one point has now eroded into barely nothing.

As visitors toss their offerings down into the mountain there is often a moment of disquiet as you fear that some over-exuberant fellow may overbalance and follow on down into the middle of the crevasse.

Black Rock City

The home of the Burning Man festival in Nevada. For a month or so the participants transform this site from the most inhospitable desert, with nothing growing on its large flat basin floor and super fine dust covering everything, to something resembling a city, as it might be on Mars.

Taking over the environment by building camps the participants create the vast majority of the city themselves with the organisers only being responsible for some of the main structures.

With massive dance parties all over the landscape, particularly at night when people in EL wire lights fill the entire bowl, art cars parade around pumping out beats and providing their own light show and art exhibits glint and sparkle or flash and titilate depending on their wont.

Burning Man photos by Severin Taranko

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Filed under India, Malaysian Food, Thailand

Spiritual as…: Guru Hopping and Mystic Mountain Power in Tiruvanimallai.

Mooji sits at the front of a large, mostly off-white hall crammed full of mostly white, western truth seekers.  He is not a typical yogi; more Laughing Buddha than ascetic monk, Jamaican and with a gurgling chuckle that brings to mind an affable Uncle, albeit one with some profound things to say about the world.  He is delivering Satsang; an opportunity for people to ask questions relating to truth from one who has some experience of the subject.  Mooji, like most of the Gurus in this town, follows the Advaita Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy where the path to enlightenment involves questioning “Who Am I?” until you finally unveil the true “self”.  This is the non-dual view of the universe that takes us all as one, coming from one source and ultimately being the same in our true nature. The illusion of life as we see it comes from our associating truth to it but actually by using self-inquiry you can begin to understand that the “I” we create is not real.  You are not your body and you are not your mind because it is possible to observe both and possible to disassociate from them also.  You are not your past or your future but you are existing as pure consciousness and awareness right now in the present moment observing what the character you are associating with is doing.  Viewing life in this way can bring a great lightness to everything you do, allowing you to take things less seriously and ultimately to exist in a state that is closer to whatever universal truth exists out there.  In this way it is quite beautiful in its simplicity and the way that some of the teachers present it is often said to be in us already. We are already enlightened we just don’t realise it yet.

The search for truth, says Mooji, is like a fish in the ocean looking for water.  The fish complains “I’m really thirsty.”  “So drink, you are surrounded by water” responds Mooji. “Well yes,” replies the fish, “I understand that intellectually…”

On a more subtle level the search for truth is like waves looking for the ocean, it is difficult to see because we are part of the whole.

If there is a spiritual zeitgeist it seems we are riding the wave after hearing that:

“Oh yeah, most of the spiritual world are in Tiru right now, make sure you see Werner”

Werner sits on the roof of his house under a shade with a perfectly framed view of the holy mountain Arunachala in the background.  He is the most happy looking and bright-eyed of meditators, with an ageless air about him as he recieves questions twice a week from another group of western truth seekers.  There are Russians here who through confession don’t understand a word he says and yet come regularly to feel his presence.  Compared to Mooji this is a low key affair but his story is quite extreme by Western standards, having spent at least 7 years  in the basement of Amma’s ashram in the Kerala backwaters meditating until he reached a point of realisation.

The view of the mountain is what dominates this small town and Arunachala, said to be an emanation of Shiva, does seem to have a power to it.  We start walking up the hill and are stopped by a Baba at a temple, stripped to the waist and wearing a black lunghi almost the same colour as his skin. He has bright eyes, a wide smile and good enough English to draw us into his story. We go inside the baking hot shrine room where he shows us a photo book gift he was given by some German tourists who stayed with him.  It is a beautiful present with some touching photos and he is obviously as proud of the present as his visitors were inspired to give it.  He takes our name and performs a blessing on each one individually.

Carrying on along the Inner Path and surrounded by herbs and lush vegetation it doesn’t take long before you turn a corner and find the honking bustle of the town below is long left behind and a peacefulness descends.  It is here that I really begin to understand the magic of the town.

Each full moon the town and pilgrims from afar do a full Cora or circumnambulation of the mountain on the longer 14Km road route which takes in a multitude of Shiva Lingams.  As is often the case in India of course, a spiritual activity like this is turned somewhat into a family holiday trip as shops along the route sell everything from gold watches to posters of WWE wrestlers (or your favourite God). In December the full moon is marked by a giant fire on the top of the hill and the crowd swells to massive numbers. It seemed crowded enough when we did it so I can only imagine the bedlam on this occasion.

The pilgramage or Gilvaram is supposed to be undertaken barefoot although we didn’t realise this when we set off.  We took our time and made several Chai stops, checked out the stalls selling honeyed dates and marvelled at the lengthy queue building to climb through a small gap at one of the many Shiva Lingam shrines around the mountain.

The most famous Guru from Tiru is undoubtedly Sri Ramana Maharisi. His ashram dominates proceedings and the tourist part of town emanates from it as a central hub. (From there and the chai shop opposite doing the best ginger masala chai around).  He meditated in a cave halfway up Arunachala for around 20 years after some years suffering rats in the main temple in town and then established his ashram as a home for truth seekers. The ashram is a relatively peaceful place (as long as you don’t get a room next to the road) with powerful meditation spaces, peacocks roaming the grounds and a beautiful old tree in the entrance courtyard.

His most fundamental and common teaching was to ask the question “Who am I?” while probing at that which marks us out as an individual.  He said that his greatest teacher was the mountain and his silent teachings were the ones he considered most powerful.

Using the subject/object oriented view of the world one can begin to understand that you are not your mind or body because you are able to observe both.  Looking at the awareness that is behind that is when you start to probe the true self and by extension the source of all existence.

The main temple is a huge affair. With 4 gigantic towers marking the compass point entrances and leading through more and more shrines to the central Darshan area which is like an oven as you queue to get the blessing from the Shiva flame burning constantly inside. Stepping in is like something from a fantasy film and the energy is powerful. You get a great birds eye view from up the mountain and going inside is equally impressive.  You can get blessed by the (not particularly happy-looking) elephant, or watch the baby monkeys counting their prayer beads. I stayed down here for the first week or so due to the lack of accomodation and the pissy-smelling street with tourbusses of pilgrims arriving to a honking chorus at 5AM eventually made my decision to move but it was a great area with some fantastic local food and the feel of real, crazy India apart from the sanitised western guru grounds.

James Schwarz sits in a small air-conditioned room on the top of one of the more expensive hotels in town, teaching more intellectual types his interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita.  He is a very impressive scholar, clearly doing a great deal of research and explaining the spiritual path as he sees it from an academic perspective but also reflecting on the different types of practice and how he sees it.  Where Mooji can be vague in his practical teachings but warm and all-encomapssing in his welcome then James is very precise in his teaching but harder to warm to.

He seemed to do a good job of making what is a very simple philosophy rather more complicated than it needed to be and his habit of disparaging the credentials of other spiritual practicioners didn’t really sit right with me but then he has many followers who find his words inspiring so he must be doing something right.
While James was the wordiest guru I went to see the ancient Hindu practice of Mouna or silence is also in effect with some teachers.

Every day sees the opportunity for Darshan (meeting the guru) with Shiva Shakti. We sat in silence in the bright room at her ashram and waited until this small Indian woman descended the stairs.  She looked calm and peaceful and the atmosphere was reverent but positive. Her every move was slow and deliberate as she crossed the room and sat down.  Looking around she would blink her eyes between people as she made to look at everyone in the room individually. Then she stood up and came closer to the group, seemingly making Mudras with her hands and blessing people through this action.  After 15 minutes observing this I was no closer to being convinced by her enlightenment, although I appreciate this isn’t the point.  I did feel peaceful afterwards and it seems that she does have a good energy which perhaps the room leeches from her, I guess this is her gift to us. Going in I knew nothing about her and even now I know little more.

The philosophy of Sri Ramana and by extension Papaji, Mooji and Eckhart Tolle has been a bit of a revelation since I first picked up the Power of Now in Thailand. To arrive in Tiru where the philosophy is so ingrained in the teachings and where this thinking has certainly been popularised is a revelation, particularly since I had no idea what I was coming to beforehand.  As much as I like Buddhism, the core philosophy isn’t so different but Advaita offers a more direct path and with less BS ritual or practice.  Self-inquiry isn’t so easy or simple as it sounds but at the same time it does cut right to the crux and makes a lot of sense to me.

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