Through the sniffles of a travel cold and a spotty connection to WiFi, I humbly write to you three hours north of Mumbai, India, in the mystical Sahyadris mountains, at the charming Govardhan Ecovillage.
It has been one week since I arrived here after my approximate 19-hour journey from Boston to London to Mumbai, and am reminded of just how at home I feel in India with each new person I meet and each bite of uttapam (traditional Indian pancake) I take.
Feelings of support and comfort come also from my fellow exceptional trainees from all over the world, including from Spain, China, Germany, Switzerland, and Russia, and the kind and accommodating staff from India at the Ecovillage.
This is just the first stage of my three-month expedition through Asia, and I am so grateful to be able to take you on this journey with me!
I decided to bring just a backpack due to the fact that I would be carrying my harmonium instrument with me on board. That's the roll-y thing in the photo to the left. These instruments are extremely fragile and I was advised NOT to check it beneath the plane. Because I will be traveling to different places between trainings in India and teaching in Bali, I decided to forego the worry of any checked bags at all. So I packed one school-size backpack for essentials. And although in hindsight I could have afforded to pack a few more small things such as Emergen-C, Echinacea drops, and maybe one more pair of underwear, I am feeling more than prepared so far.
The weather where I am right now in Southwest India ranges from 59 degrees Fahrenheit at night to 94 during the day, and dry. Bali in March will be warm and humid during the day, with perhaps some rain, while in Dharmsala, where I plan to head next, they just had their first snowfall last week. So in thinking about this trip, I really had to pack at least one of everything. But if someone were to ask me what I thought was most essential, I would answer: Wool socks, long underwear, a wool hat, warm yoga clothes, yoga socks (toe-socks with a sole material similar to that of a yoga mat), sunglasses, sunblock, shampoo, and a journal.
Govardhan Ecovillage, a 70-acre farm community and my home for the next 18 days, exists in a region that is one of the top-ten biodiversity hotspots in the world. It is founded on the principles of service (Bhakti), empowerment of farmers, women's empowerment, rural education, water resources development, and high thinking. You can learn all about the Ecovillage at www.ecovillage.org.in.
In keeping with the theme of using only what you need, the accommodations are ashram-style: providing just enough. As shown below, my private room is equipped with a bed, dresser, and desk for study. As this is my second trip to India, it is nice to be reminded that we really don't need much to feel safe and provided for. After only the first night, my room is already feeling like home.
I tend to enjoy the morning time, so waking up at 4:30a.m. every day for sadhana, or routine spiritual discipline, is not so hard. I enjoy the quiet on the walk to the Yoga Studio above the Goshala (safe space for cows), and find the most solace in looking up at the brilliantly clear sky and its familiar stars. After two hours of kirtan (chanting to the Divine), meditation and Vedic lessons, the roosters summon the eggshell colors of red, yellow, purple and blue from beneath the mountain range just in time for yoga asana practice. I can feel myself creating space in my body and mind with each morning's class on the hard and dusty wooden floor.
Below is a picture of one of my teachers, Janeshwar Das. Janeshwar is a spirited young Indian gentleman from Bengal, professionally trained in several musical instruments, especially the mrdunga drum. In addition to his classes and having the opportunity to absorb his angelic voice during savasana every morning, I have enjoyed getting to be around with someone with such an innocently sweet sense of humor.
Another one of my teachers here, Madhuri Pura, or "Madhu," pictured below, is a trained vocal and kirtan artist from the United States and one of the most gifted teachers I have ever met. Also pictured is my harmonium, which is the main instrument I am here to learn. I can't wait to share with you soon some of the techniques this talented individual is teaching me for accessing deep breath.
Although I have been teaching yoga for seven years, the Vedic Bhakti Yoga culture of devotional service to the Supreme Lord Krishna is fairly new to me. I have always understood "The Divine" as the pure and unwavering consciousness I feel within, and the thought of looking to an entity outside of myself always felt like a shortcut or a crutch. But as I learn more I begin to understand that there are potentially deeper layers of this inward connection I feel, and I am willing to dive head-first into this experiment. Because whenever we start to feel comfortable in our own way, it's usually a sign that it's time to try something new.
So I will continue to enjoy dosa, coconut chutney, papaya and sambar, read the Bhagavad Gita, learn everything I can from the philosophy portion of this training, and chant devotional songs. Because if I am resonating with Bhakti at all, it's the pillar understanding that we own nothing: the food on our plate, the money in our pocket, this body, our house... There is an energy greater that could come in at any time and swoop these things right out of our hands. Therefore, there is always thanks to give for what we have. The reason we suffer isn't because of the people and things in our life, it's because we think we own them. And this higher knowing underscores all wisdom traditions.
We are now eight full days into the new year (nine in India!), and even if you have already begun your New Years resolutions, I highly recommend creating a list of the people for whom you are grateful, and observe a change in consciousness. Do the results of this practice resonate with your original resolutions?
More to come... I give thanks to you for your support as I train and learn in order to be of the highest service to you.