29 March 2010


On page 53 of the latest Yoga Journal there's an ad for Slim Quick Ultra Calorie Burner to lose weight. In the same issue there is a story that the healing power of yoga will cure what ails America without pills or surgery.

Some magazines don't accept advertising for products that are anathema to their magazine's philosophy.

Apparently Yoga Journal does not have those same advertising ethics.

It would have been funnier if the ad was on a page that faced a story about yoga being about learning how to accept yourself and how you are perfect in this moment just the way you are. But that's my sense of humor. Not everyone's cup of chai.

I think that Calorie Burner is for everyone who wants to look better in those naked yoga classes.

Just sayin'

19 March 2010

from sadhus to zebras, part 1

Shiva was certainly testing me as I made my way to India this time, and as I later found out, also as I made my way to Africa. It literally took 80 hours for my feet to hit the ground in Chennai.

Due to plane problems, instead of flying American to Brussels, then Jet Airways (an Indian airline that partners with American) to Chennai, I was put on the direct flight from Chicago to Delhi. Seventeen hours later I landed in cold, smoggy, polluted Delhi and spent the next 14 hours in the airport because of more airline problems -- nothing was flying out of Delhi because of the fog/smog.

I left Wednesday night and I was still sitting in Delhi on Friday morning. They finally put us on the plane to Chennai and then we sat. And sat. And sat. For about four hours. I finally made it to Chennai around 3 p.m. Friday afternoon instead of 12:05 a.m. Friday morning as originally scheduled. But at least I made it, bags and all. It could have been worse.

I spent 6 weeks in India, flying from south India to Kolkata in the northeast, taking a train to the state of Orissa (get out your map), flying back to Delhi for a few days before taking the train to Haridwar in the foothills of the Himalayas for the Kumbh Mela (where I would be living in an ashram right now if I did not have to teach in Africa), training it back to Delhi, then flying to Qatar. Or so I thought.

I crossed the Persian Gulf twice in one day. I was in two Middle Eastern countries on two Middle Eastern airlines in one day. Not by choice I assure you. Shiva was testing me yet again.

I was supposed to leave Delhi for Nairobi at 4 am. Ah, yes....that lovely Delhi airport again where I now know the international AND the domestic terminals intimately. For some reason the Qatar flight did not leave on time and by the time we got to Doha, the Nairobi flight had closed its doors.

Thank goodness I had decided to upgrade to business class (solely for the extra baggage allowance -- you really think I was not going to buy anything in India?!?) because if I had been in economy and insisted that they get me to Nairobi by any means necessary THAT DAY, Qatar Air would not have treated me as well as they did.

OK, forget that. I completely lost it when they said the Nairobi flight had closed its doors. Had I not had the airline hassles I experienced getting to Delhi six weeks previously, I probably would not have lost it like I did. As my meltdown was being recorded (I found out later there was a camera behind the desk), Qatar personnel got me on an Emirates flight to Dubai and Dubai to Nairobi. Same day. Allah be praised.

Instead of arriving at the Nairobi hotel at around 2 p.m. as I had originally planned, I arrived at the hotel around 9 p.m., just in time to take a hot bath, sleep, and leave less than 12 hours later for a flight to Zanzibar. The room cost me $190 for less than 12 hours. I should have slept at the Nairobi airport, at least they have free wi-fi.

But I had my bags. They weren't flying over the Persian Gulf somewhere. It could have been worse.

I spent 5 nights off the grid in Zanzibar....

...where I showed some children some asanas one day and they were damn good.

I watched these kids play with pull toy "cars" made out of plastic bottles, using the caps as wheels. They were happy and laughing. I thought about what children their ages back home play with and what they throw away. The garbage of an American child is the toy of a child in Africa or India.

There is nothing on this beach except for a small hotels. No phones. No TVs. No internet. No restaurants to speak of, at least not the type that westerners are used to. Nothing.

Right before I arrived, Zanzibar had just gotten electrical service again after three months. In fact, in the middle of the late afternoon and late at night, the hotel shut off the electricity.

Every day I watched these kids play with plastic bottles or driftwood or using any type of ball as a soccer ball. They were supposed to be in school but they weren't. The local school was supposed to have electricity, but it didn't.

The filmmaker Rick Ray was staying at my hotel and we had dinner one night. He had been in Rwanda filming some survivors of the Rwandan genocide, bearing witness to their stories. He told me the story of a young woman who had been a girl the day her people were put inside a church and massacred. He told me that blood is still on the walls and skulls are still on the floor as a memorial. He told me that it is almost impossible to wrap the mind around stories that are so horrific.

She survived for three days by hiding underneath the bodies of her parents. She escaped, hiding from the murderers who were still killing and raping her village, and she made her way to a swamp where she found her sister. They lived in the swamp for three months surviving on algae and anything else that was edible, finally making their way to a refugee camp.

Ray told me that she told him she forgave the people who changed her life forever. She will never forget, but she forgave. She is happy because what other choice is there? I thought about a question that I heard the Dalai Lama once ask: in a country that has everything compared to many, if not most, parts of the world, why are so many Americans unhappy? He did not understand this. Neither do I. Not when I've seen children in India and Africa play with garbage -- and laugh while they are playing with it.

When I was in Arusha I saw them bringing the Rwandans back to jail after their day in court at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The tribunal has jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The United Nations car sped through traffic and my friend told me that the trials have been going on for almost 15 years.

Rick Ray told me that the Rwandans who took part in the genocide are put in front of their village and the people can choose to forgive them for their atrocities.

Sometimes the people who have nothing, have everything.

07 March 2010

oneness, suchness

"We are not separate;
we cannot be separate from Nature,
which sustains us in a vast interdependence with everything.

The universe comes perfectly
and is awesome in its integration and infinite existence.
It is our natural state."
(Mark Whitwell)

There are certain images in my head from my trip that are still affecting me. It was such an amazing adventure that words are much too puny a mechanism to try to describe what I experienced, so don't expect a travelogue. But I truly came to know what the spiritual adept told me last year when she said I would die in India and be reborn in Africa, because it happened, just like she said. A holy man I met at the Mela, purely by chance -- no, it was my good karma -- changed my life forever. Just as she foretold, the old me died.

The photo above is not one of mine, those will come later. But it is what I saw at the bottom of the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, which is called the 8th natural wonder of the world for good reason.

When you are standing in the middle of a wildebeast and zebra migration, an event that has been going on for thousands and thousands of years, you feel very insignificant. There are no sounds, other than your breath and the grunts of the animals and the wind and the swishing of tails, and you know deep in your bones that things you thought were very important, really aren't in the whole grand scheme of things. Just as she foretold, a new me was reborn.

There is a difference in knowing and truly knowing that you know, and if one witnesses such a thing and does not come to know the true nature of interconnectedness, that is....that thing we are supposed to come to truly know and feel as a result of an authentic yoga and meditation practice....

...then you are brain-dead.

Maybe more so, dead in the heart-mind.

Or at least sleeping ( = not awake.) "What are you?," the Buddha was asked after his time under the bodhi tree. "I am awake,", he responded.

Of course one does not have to travel to Africa, or anywhere else really, to experience this. Maybe you only need to sit in your own backyard and mindfully watch and listen and feel. During one session of my retreat I had the students do 30 minutes of walking meditation. None of them had ever done that before and their experiences were rather potent for them.

There is knowing. And knowing that you know. No more discussion is needed.