The years of 2003, 04 and 05 were momentous for me. I was going to India. I would be assisting in a Hatha 1 teacher training in Yogaville that summer. I would start my first teacher training as an official Integral Yoga (IY) trainer in the fall of 2004 and spring of 2005. We moved from our home in downtown Erie, where I had lived for over 20 years, to a wooded setting next to a gorge. I had raised five children in the city home but now Allison and I wanted our own place free of the history and energy of the past. We had decided to adopt and we would meet our beloved son Saul in November 2003 in Guatemala City. He was 11 months. My dad would pass on Feb. 26, 2005 at the age of 87.
His values around hard work, education, culture, religion, tolerance, nature, service, family, and kindness will always be inspiring to me. My mom had passed in 1984 at the young age of 66 due to an enlarged heart from having rheumatic fever as a child. My mom not only had a large heart literally but also figuratively. When she was not beset by her fears, frustrations, and anxieties; her humor, affection, and love would flow. My dad was a widow for a long time. My mom was the love of his life but he enjoyed having a lady friend to take to the Erie Philharmonic, the Erie Playhouse, and other cultural events. Allison and I had fun giving him “dating” advice.
People can be very complex and my parents had their share of complexities but I have learned to feel compassion for them and the complexities of being human. We are all doing the best we can with the skills we inherited and developed. Awareness of my complexities has helped me to understand and accept others. I remember a story about a group of spiritual teachers asked to sum up the spiritual path with one word. What is the most important practice to support spiritual growth? Love, Compassion, Acceptance, Prayer and Meditation were given. The last teacher to speak, Ram Das said, Awareness.
For me, awareness is the key to change. Bringing into the light of awareness the unconscious that has kept me stuck in habitual tendencies that do not support love, acceptance, and compassion is my gateway to self-growth. Over the years the integrative style of yoga that I teach is the Yoga of Awareness. The mat is a mirror of who we are. It can reflect our habits, tendencies, and attitudes. If we are competitive or restless by nature, that will get played out on the mat. If we are controlling or passive, our practice will reflect it.
What we bring into the fire of awareness through the practices of Mindfulness, Jnana Yoga, and Raja Yoga can lead us to freedom from the past. However, not everyone is ready to wake up. Compassion helps me to accept the folks who have little or no self-awareness and are asleep permanently recycling their unconscious habits (Samskaras and Vasanas in Sanskrit).
I have learned I can only try and wake myself up and support that process in others then let go of expecting any results in others but staying vigilant with myself. Going to India was another way I was waking up. I arrived in Chennai on January 7, 2003. I would stay for six weeks. Three of those weeks was attending the IY Hatha 1 training. Despite the serious jet lag, I could not sleep. I hired an auto rickshaw driver to take me to the Theosophical Society headquarters. It was founded by H. P. Blavatsky and Colonel Alcott in 1871 but has ancient roots.
The term “Theosophy” comes from the Greek theosophia, which is composed of two words: theos (“god,” “gods,” or “divine”) and sophia (“wisdom”). Theosophia, therefore, may be translated as the “wisdom of the gods,” “wisdom in things divine,” or “divine wisdom”. To learn more go to http://www.ts-adyar.org/. I enjoyed walking around the 250 acres, meditating under the reportedly largest banyan tree in India shopping at the bookstore and perusing the ancient manuscripts in the library.
Another theosophist Charles Leadbeater chose Jiddhu Krishnamurti as their “world teacher” when he was young. He later rejected this title and withdrew from the society. He continued to teach for many years and was a prolific writer. He was a proponent of no teacher, no Gurus and no methods teaching many ways to become more aware. His books have influenced me and one of my teachers Erich Schiffmann taught yoga at the Krishnamurti school in England and heard him speak. To learn more about him go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jiddu_Krishnamurti.
The next day I visited the Ice House (Vivekananda House) near Marina Beach, the San Thome Cathedral, the Kapaleeshwarar Temple, Elliot Beach and the Ashtalakshmi Temple. The Ice House was used to store enormous blocks of ice carved from the Great Lakes as a form of refrigeration. I imagined that at one-time ice from Lake Erie kept food safe for my Indian brothers and sisters.
In 1897, it was the place where Swami Vivekananda gave daily talks. If you recall, he was the first Swami to speak in America. I tried to visualize him standing there giving one of his inspiring talks about Raja Yoga. I felt the energy of his presence. I felt the profound effect he had had on me and millions of others. Every year on his birthday, January 12, thousands of devotees gather to celebrate his legacy. It was amazing for me to stand where he addressed his students.
The San Thome Cathedral was built in 1504, then re-built in 1893 in neo-Gothic style and is said to hold the remains of St. Thomas – the Doubting Thomas. I meditated at the crypt then at the altar which has a portrait of Christ rising from a lotus and flanked by two huge peacocks. I could hear the Bay of Bengal in the distance. Saint Thomas in India. I was in amazing India! Next was Kapaleeshwarar Temple. This was my first of many visits to temples. A Shiva temple in the Dravidian style was preparing me for the famous temple cities I would visit later. Not being a Hindu, I could not go to the inner sanctum, but I enjoyed the many bronze statues and images of deities. The smells of camphor lamps and incense and the sounds of priests chanting gave me a full sensory experience.
The streets of India also deliver a full range of sense impressions. The temple was surrounded by many narrow streets and busy markets. I began to learn how to keep hustlers and beggars away. Gesturing and talking was not effective. I began to loudly chant Om Namah Shivaya with my eyes looking up at my forehead. They would bow and leave. If it kept happening, I would get hoarse so then a strong no and a wave of the hand to go away would work.
I love Indian food so I was in foodie’s heaven. I stayed with the direction of only eating well-cooked food from restaurants and only fruit with thick skin like bananas instead of apples. I avoided street food and drank bottled water and “played trumpet” in the shower and never got sick. I got an auto-rickshaw driver (a three-wheeled vehicle with a canopy) to take me to Elliot Beach and the Ashtalakshmi Temple. There were cows wandering and defecating on the beach. That was a first. I saw an old man wearing only a dhoti, a wrap skirt worn by some men in South India, walk in the water lift his dhoti and clean his privates. That was a first too!
I strolled the beach and refused with great difficulty to buy mango ice cream from vendors. I did buy a pineapple from a lady who used a machete to prepare it for me. I visited the Lakshmi temple. I am a big fan of the goddess tradition. The archetypes have helped me resolve some of my mother issues. If you recall, I even participated in a weekend Lakshmi program at the Siddha Yoga ashram. Lakshmi personifies that aspect of grace that inspires us to improve our health, beauty, wealth and compassion. Next to the Mahalakshmi temple in Mumbai, this is the only temple on the Indian coast dedicated to the goddess in all her eight manifestations. I felt much love and abundance from the Lakshmi’s in my life like my wife Allison.
I completed my second day with a visit to the Velankanni Church and a beach restaurant. The church was built in honor of the Madonna of Health. Devotees come here in search of healing. Spirituality is everywhere in India. Auto-rickshaw drivers have photos of Jesus and Krishna and the family Guru on the dashboards. Altars are next to registers at shops and cafes. After a full day and a fine meal, I was ready to return to my hotel. I had been blessed by Swami Vivekananda, Saint Thomas, Shiva, Lakshmi and the Madonna! I had had a good day.
Tomorrow I would be meeting my tour group from America and Europe led by the vivacious and fun Swami Divyananda Ma of IY. She had been directing the IY Institute in Coimbatore and knew India very well. We affectionately called her the madcap Swami due to her incredible energy and packed itinerary. She was accompanied by Swami Gurucharanananda Mataji who just turned 88 this year! She manifested sweetness and wisdom in each moment. Our tour would last less than two weeks. I did not know who else would be on it. I felt empowered that I had survived India for two days by myself.
We would be visiting the Krishnamacharya Mandiram, Mahabalipuram, Pondicherry, the Aurobindo Ashram, Auroville, Tiruvannamalai, Ramana Maharshi’s Ashram, Tanjavore, Trichy, Madurai, Palani, Coimbatore and much more.
Amazing adventures were just beginning as I eased into a deep sleep.