spiritual boot camp in the himalayas

coming down from the mountain

i am making my way down the mountain – because at some point one must eventually come down off of the mountain – in more ways than one. and on that winding path towards the valley are myriad juxtapositions, presented to the vigilant spectator in a variety of beguiling ways.

there’s the seemingly endless and presumably arduous stone lifting and stone splitting (by rudimentary sledgehammer in hand) every half mile on the side of every road, always unknown to this viewer whether something is being built or broken down. not to mention the attire of these laborers – delicate saris and bare feet for the women; gauzy collared button-downs, sleeves rolled to the elbows, flimsy khakis and tattered sandals for the men. there are no hard hats or steel-toed boots here. i wonder whether they will ever reach the end of their relentless toiling.

for 27 days i mindfully swept the bathroom floor, merely a compulsory addition to the ritual of nightly showering. upon reaching delhi, at this comparatively fancy hotel 2.5 km from the indira gandhi international airport, i took my first shower in nearly a month that didn’t require the oversized squeegee or ensuring that the water heater was turned on at least ten minutes prior. how quickly i left what had become the familiarity of exertion and transitioned so easily back to the luxury of accessibility.

just before that, i arrived to a row of hotel workers bowing in greetings of namaste as security guards checked the length of my taxi for explosives, both with identical levels of gentleness. i noticed that it is the same gentleness drivers employ when laying on their horns, with only the aim of signaling a greeting or one’s presence, at least according to my driver.

and before even that, i watched as the tedium of the smoky gray skies and bland dirt roads of delhi were interrupted only by the bright and unexpected flashes of colorful saris, its wearers either toiling or begging. it reminded me for some reason of how, on the way down towards the kangra valley, instead of spreading equally the space for stores and cars and people, swaths of uninhabited mountain and land stretched widely before crashing abruptly into towns exceedingly cramped with barely enough room for all it contains. but nobody ever seems to mind.

the massive blocks of airport hotels look akin to prisons from the outside, so heavily guarded and colorless they are. but inside, the clean lines, statues of hindu gods, and the ambiance of warm hospitality provide a stark contrast.

there’s the juxtaposition of the two halves of myself – one half comfortable with and proud of who i am, and the other half unsure and ashamed – presented in the clearest light under which they’ve ever been exposed over the course of this last month. i think they are merging together, making friends with each other.

there are worlds within worlds within worlds.

the sun in dubai seems to hang in the same place for hours, unchanging with the welcome breeze or the hands of the clock. it doesn’t seem to actually set. instead, the atmosphere seems to allow it to stay where it pleases, turning down its heat and softening its light using gossamer clouds of pinks and blues.

i haven’t alighted completely from the mountain, even though i sink my toes into the sand. time doesn’t exist, but it’s still able to weave stories out of threads of thin air.

the last sunday

the philosophy of yoga is divided into eight limbs (according to its first systematic documentation, the yoga sutras of patanjali), each containing steps which, put together, provide directions to enlightenment. the second of the eight limbs is niyamas, or rules of personal conduct. the second of these rules is santosa, or contentment. essentially, this means accepting that wherever you are is where you are supposed to be. you can have a goal you are working towards, but you aren’t upset or anxious at not having reached it yet. you make peace with where you are on the journey to that goal. santosa is being in the present, being patient.

if we’re all where we’re supposed to be then, i suppose the fact that i was not alone on a rocket ship zooming faster than the speed of light to a black hole in another universe or dimension was a sign that i was supposed to be, instead, here. after my practical exam on friday morning, i’d have much preferred to be on the hypothetical rocket ship. i was not practicing santosa.

the sternocleidomastoid is a muscle in the neck that is said to store much unexpressed emotion. it’s the place where your cries get stuck when you hold them in. it’s where the knot in your throat goes to fester for pretty much ever until it’s released. in massage circles, it’s referred to as the muscle of a thousand tears. dig in there, and your client’s tear ducts should ultimately explode, so keep a box of tissues handy.

my sternocleidomastoid must have been on a two-day delay. because during my massage on wednesday night, there were no tears, though there was an elbow traveling heavily up and down the sides of my neck. there wasn’t even a hint of a knot, a proverbial bone to toss to the hungry dog that is the sternocleidomastoid. but shortly after my practical, the last of my three exams, i found myself in fetal position (what, again?) on my bed with the shades drawn, crying for an impressive period of roughly 45-60 minutes.

needless to say, i wasn’t particularly pleased with my practical exam. i’d been so nervous and felt as though that nervousness were shooting out of my eyes like laser beams boring holes into everyone’s foreheads. i’d thought my one-hour class a few weeks ago was way better, and that my meditation exam wednesday night was even better than that. despite the fact that i received generally rave and kind reviews from my fellow classmates and the teacher who was taking my class, i was just bummed and feeling super sorry for myself. perhaps it was a culmination of things – the end of this leg of the journey, having to say goodbye to faces and places that have become home, my reviewing teacher having more constructive criticism than i cared to hear, frankly.

but why shoot him with anger, pride, and resentment? he’s simply the messenger sending me all the things the ego wants to resist.  i think back to three weeks ago when i’d had my breakthrough/breakdown/breakup-with-the-facade, whatever kind of break you want to call it. not much was different – i felt exposed and vulnerable and ‘weird’ and proceeded to cry for the entire following day. i felt weak but also honest, and the unconditional encouragement, support, and love from others near and far were examples that i learned i needed to follow.

when you get a scrape or a wound, blood vessels rush to that place to spring into action and start the healing process. i’m so very blessed to have so very many ‘blood vessels’ – near and far – that have sprung into action in the last four weeks to help heal those places that needed healing.

as usual, all’s well that ends well, and our closing ceremony was appropriate to our group – emotional, sappy, and ending with an impromptu dance party and maybe some twerking. oh, and pizza and shakes, of course. i can’t believe this is my last morning of lying in the sun on this balcony, with this view of the himalayas and the soundtrack of nature and dharamkot’s bustling inhabitants. this month flew by so quickly, yet it also feels like i’ve been here for lifetimes. maybe i have gone through a few lifetimes here. i’m off to soak up the last of this indian sun before leaving to delhi in a few hours, bhagsu cakes in tow. i’m sure i’ll have some sappiness left in me to relay there. until then.. ❤



the only time it is absolutely still here in dharamkot is from 3 – 4:30 in the morning. how do i know this? because i lay in a state of maybe-sleeping-but-probably-not throughout the entire night. i’ve become so accustomed to the incessant tweeting of the birds, it takes me a second or two to tune in to them, but in the middle of the night, they really are silent.

the path to the true, unchanging, blissful self is paved with peaks and valleys, and littered with boulders and craters. in layman’s terms, just because i’m stoked to be steadily on this transformative, progressive journey doesn’t mean i don’t have moods that swing like these cute little monkeys from tree to tree, or experience the very convincing illusion of existential crises now and again.

just the other day i watched these two young women in exquisite jewel-toned saris, all silk and chiffon and sequins, giggling and gossiping as they toiled in the heat of the sun, heaving hammer to stone, a laborious (and daily) task. it were as if, instead of tending to back-breaking work, they were eating frozen yogurt at the mall, shopping bags in tow.

and there i was, sitting in the shade in my western clothes and oversized sunglasses, brooding over some bullshit.

perspective isn’t everything, but it constitutes a hell of a lot.

the good news is that perspective can be changed, shifted, magically morphed. it’s all up to the viewer. it’s only that, sometimes, this truth becomes mired in the cacophony of internal and external chatter, hidden in plain sight.

as i wind down this leg of the journey, with 1 hour to go until my last exam, my 2-hour asana class, daylight seeps in slowly through the windows and underneath the door, the chirping of the birds becomes more animated, and the agitation of the still night inches towards the exit.

the cycle is just that – continuous and unwavering. during my first week here, there was a death. the entire town closed down for the first half of the day to mourn and send the departed on his way to the next life. in the weeks that followed, there have been roughly 5 weddings, evident by three days each of impressively sustained celebratory music, bouncing off of the mountainsides and echoing throughout the valley. and just the other night, in a room directly below me, a baby was born. at first, i wasn’t sure what i was hearing exactly when the sounds of the mother in labor shot up into the night sky. to be concise, it sounded horrific. i felt worried and afraid. the presence of calm voices amidst her wailing indicated that she probably wasn’t in grave danger. i somehow fell asleep to the lullaby of her anguish, and when i awoke, the cries of a newborn had replaced its mother’s. how interesting – a death upon arrival and a birth upon leaving. it seems ironic, yet i know it makes all the sense in the universe.

nothing on these physical and mental and emotional planes lasts – fear, discomfort, happiness, laughter, tears. they are made of the same energy, forever changing form, into and out of each other unpredictably, mountains into valleys, craters into peaks. there was a time not terribly long ago that i found this groundlessness disconcerting and jarring. now, i take comfort in it. most of the time. such as now, knowing that these nerves will soon morph into relief and celebration. the next time you hear from me, i’ll be a certified yoga teacher (!). wish me luck 🙂


i’ve got five days left here in dharamsala. and what would i, with five days left in another land before making my journey back home, be without the slightest sense of panic? (the truest answer: pure, divine consciousness, presumably, but we can get to that later, or not.)

this sense of disquiet stems not from neither my impending 20-minute meditation exam, my 2-hour asana practical exam, nor my 2-hour theory exam (all within the span of three days), though i very well may start sweating profusely before/during each of these. instead, it stems from my feelings about reintegration. funny i use that word, actually, because it’s formally used to refer to the return to a state of well-adjusted mental functioning after a period of psychosis.

what i meant by reintegration is my projected alternating hope and anxiety about successfully integrating this new knowledge, growth, and progress into ‘the daily grind’. because it must be, of course, much easier to practice a spiritually abundant lifestyle when one is nestled in the himalayas surrounded by tibetan monks, a climate of unity and oneness, and unceasing om’s. but on flatter lands offering concrete and competition, materialism and the acquisition of ‘more’… it’s probably a little less easy.

it’s also funny i used the word reintegration, because in some circles, my lifestyle here may actually be viewed as being mentally maladjusted – crystals amassed and strewn along my headboard or tucked into my sports bra, my going hard at my tibetan singing bowl at 5 in the morning with eyes closed in concentration as the moon sets and the sun rises from behind the mountains, some of the wild and out-there meditation practices we’ve been doing in the evening by candlelight, my abstention from makeup, my hippie yak wool wardrobe… and a climate of unity and oneness, and unceasing om’s.

i’ve personally reached a space where i have very, very little room to care less about how this all may appear to anyone else, though there is admittedly a part of me that occasionally floats away from my body and giggles during said meditations or solo singing bowl sessions. there was a time, after all, during one of my very first savasanas, in ubud at pink and purply dusk, om’s filling the bali air, that i actually did giggle out loud, it felt kind of silly and new, yet so… familiar. and right.

there are no doorknobs here, and consequently, none of the typical western yale locks or deadlocks or what have you. instead, we use padlocks. good, old-fashioned padlocks. you lock yourself into a room using a slide bolt. and if you’re an over-analytical worrier by nature, like me, you hope that nobody accidentally slide bolts you in from the outside, never mind that it would be incredibly easy and painless to simply climb in and out of one of the windows. anyway, every time that i lock my door when i leave, or unlock it when i return, makes me pause. in those very short moments, i become extremely aware of this routine, and find it both curious and strangely comforting.

by definition, padlocks are “portable locks with a shackle that may be passed through an opening to prevent use, theft, vandalism, or harm.”

the mere fact that this particular sort of lock – one i use multiple times a day – must block an open space in order to protect is intriguing to me. it seems quite obvious, logically speaking. but it goes against the crux of yogic philosophy. or buddhist philosophy. or any philosophy, really, that holds peace as both its objective and its source. it goes against most of what we are both thinly and blatantly conditioned to believe: close off the heart and all of its open space, and thereby ensure its safety. in reality, that logic is as good as cutting off your nose to spite your own face. not as overtly obvious, but just as detrimental, if not more. i, for one, am guilty of having chopped off my nose and at least thousands of phantom noses that were regenerated in its place.

in conclusion to this rambling post, there’s that long-lost feeling in the air that school’s almost out for summer. i’m in a heady space, or maybe it’s just a mix of incense, cooking steam, and this nice man playing canciones de medicina close by on this terrace overlooking the valley. all we students are crawling towards the finish line, our mortal coils shuffling off of us the closer we get. seriously – we’ve accrued a number of ailments among us in the last day or so – an eye infection here, a migraine there, shoulder pains, part of my tooth dislodging itself. but maybe that’s just our way of shedding our proverbial cocoons and morphing into the next phase of our lives.


one of the things i love about being here is that you are greeted by almost every dharamkot resident – vendors, ancient men, children – with “namaste” and a smile. it’s not just something you say at the end of an asana practice. i always kind of took it to be a more graceful and pretty version of “thanks” or “hello” or “see ya later,” but the translation of the sanskrit term namaste is:

my soul recognizes your soul. i honor the light, love, beauty, truth, and kindness within you, because it is also within me. in sharing these things, there is no distance and no difference between us. we are the same. we are one.

isn’t that beautiful? i’d like to get this tattooed on my forehead. (kidding.) but really, how lovely it’d be to have that message permanently imprinted on my soul and/or every nerve and cell and atom of my being, to have it live inside of my every exhalation, word, and action, to lay it gently and lovingly upon every single thing my eyes behold.

i’ve been spending this day – my last full sunday, my last free day here – playing tag with the sun. it hides shyly behind the clouds, leaving me cold. then it re-emerges, bathing me in such welcome warmth. it’s mesmerizing how the presence or absence of the sun can change the temperature so drastically and quickly – and predictably. but i don’t rush inside at the first hint of temporary darkness, nor do i wait impatiently for the sun to return. i find it to be a metaphor for meditation practice – letting the clouds come and go, letting the thoughts rise and fall.

i think metaphors are the universe’s way of speaking to me in the clearest way i’ll understand. today, the metaphor of the cow is ringing strong. it goes like this: when a cow is placed in a small pen, it rebels and pushes against its boundaries, wanting to be free. when it is placed in an open field, she grazes peacefully in one place.

i am the cow. i am also the creator of the boundaries. i am the master of whether i am placed in a small pen or an open field.

i’m coming to the realization that perhaps one of the last things for me to shed is my fear or discomfort of being alone. to go fully to that place where nobody can join. where it is impossible for anybody else to be there. where there is no room for reliance on another’s physical or emotional presence, on mutual intellectual understanding. to be clear, it’s not the being alone part that scares me, it’s having to face what else might live in that place – my faults and fears and attachments and habits – the things that i’m not even typically aware i shy away from, because the ego and its accompanying defenses do that work for me. i may have visited there briefly a few times.

i was not one of those children who ran out of her parents’ arms, ready to face the unknown with a smile and the sun on her face. when i was 5, i needed my dad to stay with me on the playground until the last possible second before going in to class. i so dreaded having to see him go. i clung to my mom’s side, even at family outings where i knew everyone. i think it’s evident that i’ve come quite a long way from those days – i’m often in transit, throwing myself into other countries and experiences without terribly much thought or advance notice. but that habit of wanting security, something to fall back on, is still there, just in much more subtle forms. i know that this in itself is inherently human, and that there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with it. but in what ways do these patterns manifest in my thoughts and actions, and do they align with the path i’m currently on?

i’m grateful for the awareness and the opportunity to be in a place where the answers to these questions might more readily be revealed, where i can accept, release, and forgive – all daily intentions and sometimes in different order.  i’m also learning that time doesn’t really exist, that the concept is somehow nonsensical. anyway, i prefer to measure my moments differently. for instance, through progress. or the passing clouds.



of all that i’ve learned here so far, the least expected is… juggling. that is not a metaphor – one of my teachers happens to be a magician in his spare time (it takes all kinds to comprise the entire yogi community, you know). our daily lessons are very short – no longer than 5 minutes – and take place directly before alignment class. i’m kind of feeling like the karate kid and he’s miyagi, except tall and dutch and looks like he could be in an armani or davidoff coolwater ad or something. anyway, i learn one juggling step each day, and in the midst of my victorious metaphorical patting myself on the back, he whisks the balls away from me. “that’s enough for today. let that sink in.” i believe this is a lesson in patience and discipline, or renunciation, maybe. by the time i get home, i’ll be able to certifiably teach yoga, lead meditation, and run off with the circus.

i’m almost done with my third week here, and it’s been decidedly different from the first two. the first week had me in emotional fetal position. the second week had me in physical fetal position. this week, i’m finally upright, and i think i’ve got a case of senioritis. i’ve got a tiny bit over a week left of my india trip, so i’ve begun ‘partying’ in very mild yogic fashion: oreo shakes and a little bit of shopping, both of which get my heart rate way up (enter pranayama). i’ve re-introduced pizza into my diet, with no tangible consequences other than bodily dysmorphic guilt, but that can be dealt with easily, and after all, i’m just replacing what was lost in weeks 1 and 2. i’ve ventured outside of the 900 square feet i’d kept myself holed up in for the first two weeks. i’m staying out a little later, so i’m asleep by 11 pm, at the latest, instead of 10. my appetite is healthy once again, though i’ve got a bit of a cold/sinus thing going on, including cough.

[fyi, spiritual causes for this particular issue:
cold – too much going on at once, mental confusion/disorder;
cough – desire to bark at the world, i.e. “look at me!”;
runny nose – asking for help;
stuffy nose – not recognizing self-worth;
sinus problems – irritation to one person, someone close (! but who??); ”
sore throat – holding in angry words, inability to express self.
…hmm. i’ll have to marinate on that for a bit.]

anyway. i don’t feel like i’m anywhere in particular. i just feel like i’m here. wherever that is.. and if it’s even a question of ‘where’. geographically, ‘here’ happens to be in dharamsala. emotionally, ‘here’ is homeostasis. emotions rise and fall and there i remain observing them from the neutral zone. i don’t know how else to explain it. i don’t feel like i’m somewhere i shouldn’t be. i don’t feel like i’m somewhere unfamiliar, even, necessarily. i don’t feel like i’m supposed to be here. i’m just… here.

my flexibility has reached new bounds, physically and mentally. i suppose that’s what 12 hours a day of yoga and meditation will do for anyone. i’m learning much valuable information, almost to the point of overload, but not quite. i’m enjoying my time, and the days feel neither short nor long. i suppose that’s what being in the present moment does to the concept of time. i’ve not much else to say! but i’m sure that won’t last long. i’m trying to upload pictures, but that will have to be done later, as internet has been slooooooow the last few days. off to lunch and maybe some light shopping 😀 love to all ❤

no. nope. just no.

and this is what i am not talking about. spiders. to be exact, the biggest spider i have ever encountered in my life. i’m so traumatized right now. tonight is the latest i’ve stayed out (it’s now 10pm) and i realize now it’s because i was avoiding returning to my place. i’ll start from the beginning.

i awoke this morning after a semi-fitful sleep, as i was lucidly dreaming/having anxiety about the hour-long class i was to teach this morning, my first ever (!). i was mostly excited (i think), but i was also nervous, because being nervous is just ingrained in my genetic makeup. as i’m sitting in bed, going over my sequence, making sure my music playlist is in order, i see movement in my periphery. …….. “OH. HELL. NO. NO. NOOO. NO!” that is, verbatim, what i said out loud, very loudly, to myself.

i hear that dreams of snakes are auspicious. but what of real-life, evolution-challenged arachnids? i may have heard that spiders are good luck, but i’ll take my chances. there is only one of us that is renting this room, and since i’m the only one, i’m assuming, with an atm card and access to rupees, the other has got to go.

i open my door and scream for lucia, who is staying next door. she comes to my room, sleepy-eyed, and ultimately unable to help. i think she said in her morning grog, “you need to find a man to take care of this, we cannot do it.” i don’t really care if i’m setting women’s equality back by 10,000 years, but i absolutely, 10,000% agree. so i run downstairs to find my snaggle-toothed friend. i think i hear him humming behind his closed bathroom door which is the only room on the bottom floor of his very small home. i don’t want to knock, so i pace back and forth wringing my hands until he opens the door. “good morning, HI! INEEDYOURHELP. THERE’SASPIDERINMYROOMANDINEEDYOUTOGETRIDOFITPLEASEHELPME.” he smiles his snaggle-toothed smile and says, “oh! a big one! it won’t attack you. but i will help you.”

he follows me upstairs, and when he sees it, well, it looks like it’s the first time he’s seen a spider this big, and that doesn’t bode well for the rest of the 12 days, 16 hours and 37 minutes i’ll be here. because he’s lived here his entire life. as in, 7-feet-away-from-this-room here. anyway, it starts moving, and we both jump back a few feet as i both curse and beg jesus for mercy on all of mankind. snaggle-tooth asks for something to grab it with, so i throw him a roll of toilet paper, and he balks. i’m turning in circles looking for a suitable weapon to fend off this creature, and snaggle-tooth and i start freaking out in different languages, making our communication even better (read: much worse). he finds my shower squeegee and starts swatting this thing on the wall. it falls onto the floor, and he continues swatting it there. it scurries beneath my bed as my heart sinks into my feet and my head falls into my hands, and i immediately want to die or fly home. “it’s almost dead, you’ll be okay,” he says with another snaggled smile. i want to believe him, but i don’t believe him at all.

the upside to this is that i was no longer nervous for my class. instead i cleaned the entire yoga hall floor in 4 minutes flat, with 15 minutes to go before 7am, i was so jacked up on adrenaline and wildness. it ended up being the best first class i could have ever dreamed of teaching! it was spiritual but an ass kicker, with a solid flow and a bomb soundtrack, if i do say so myself, that meshed perfectly with the sequencing. it felt great, it was great (according to drop-ins, students and teachers alike), and now back to the spider. (i do feel the content of this post should include much more about the class and less about the spider, but maybe next time.)

i thought about it a lot throughout the day. i thought about how much less sleep i was going to get for the duration of this trip. where was i going to sleep? not in the same room as this beast, i assure you. i returned during lunch to try to air it out. no cigar. hours later, after dinner, lucia and i finagled one of our teachers to make this situation right, otherwise i’d have to quit this training, obviously. he shined a flashlight under the bed, it scurried out, “whoaaaa that really is a humongous spider,” he said, he grabbed it with toilet paper and threw it off the balcony.

this was supposedly a “rain spider,” which is the largest non-tarantula spider in existence, and seeks dry warmth in times of heavy rainfall…… damn that rainfall. i was so into it. now i’ll have to commence un-rain dance daily to keep the rain and the spiders away.





yes! this is what i’m talking about. a downpour. torrential rains. the ones you only experience in other countries. the deafening kind that bring along a dazzling show of unceasing lightning and that knock the power out of this place, even as i’m in the middle of my nightly provincial shower, even as i mutter “motherf***er” to myself while i blindly feel around for my towel and my oversized floor squeegee. i’m not sure why i find these rains to be so rejuvenating. i’ve been glad for the warmer weather. i much prefer it to the cold, of course. but it’s been over a week since the last rain, and if i had to guess, i’d say that there’s a cleansing energy that flows through me and this place that i didn’t realize was so needed.

there is only darkness punctuated by flashes of light, candles flickering amid soft music. it sounds rather… romantic. it feels like it, too. but not in the sense of inviting someone to physically share in this with me. for one thing, i’ve already got someone i’m smitten with. secondly, it’s highly suggested that any and all human beings remain outside of the vicinity of my room, given my recent intestinal issues. lastly and most importantly, i’m romancing my gatdamn self here.  ponder with me, if you will, the very simplified levels of an ideal relationship. first you see someone whom you find attractive – physical attraction, a vibe, whatever you want to call it. then comes a desire to get to know the person on a deeper level. you start liking them more. you want to court them, date them. spend increasingly more time with them. learn even more about them. you fall in love. and with even more time, there’s that sustainable love – a more profound sense of respect, admiration, compassion, understanding. they make you want to be a better person. you want to be good to this person, do right by them. you want this thing to last.

let’s see. as i’m here partly to peel back the layers of the onion which is my life, but more specifically my relationship with myself, i ask, where am i on this scale of self-relation? it’s been precisely ten days since i’ve worn a lick of makeup on this face of mine. i’m happy to say that i no longer regard my bare face with disapproval. why, i quite like it, even, imagine that! i pass myself in the mirror and think, “hay girl, i likes what i sees! keep doing whatever you’re doing!” i believe that’s the first item checked off the list. well, hmm, after that it gets a little dicey and out-of-order. i’m not feeling like running away from myself or crawling out of my own skin. i’m also feeling like being nice to me, whether that means allowing myself to skip class or a headstand because i’m dying of some intestinal fuckery instead of trying to stick it out for pride’s sake, or whether it means giving myself a friendly hug when i’m feeling a little insecure instead of berating myself for having such -gasp!- normal, human emotions. i don’t really know where exactly i am on this scale, but i do know that wherever i am now is better than when i first arrived. and all this without attachment to the highs these feelings bring, knowing that the steady sense of peace is the true self – formerly unrecognized but becoming less and less elusive.

how freeing and empowering it feels to experience unfathomable beauty without longing for another’s presence. to enjoy the simplest pleasures in life without clamoring for a hand to hold. to not need. to feel, even for today, that my existence is enough.

halfway through

my morning alarm clock is a symphony in nature – countless birds chirping in rapid conversation, the distant barking of dogs, nearer cows lowing, and the villager below my room unabashedly clearing the phlegm from his throat, very loudly and lengthily. in any other dimension, that last one might send me into a state of irritation and disgust. but in this one, it does not. in fact, by the time i’m out the door, he is outside brushing his teeth (many of which appear to be missing) in bare feet and tattered clothing, looking out over the valley with what seems to be an air of pride and contentment. we share a smile and a “good morning,” and neither is he embarrassed at my being privy to the very personal movement of his bodily fluids from his insides to the outside, nor am i ungrateful for this distinctive signal at the dawning of a new day.

today marks the halfway point through my journey in india. two weeks down, two weeks to go. and on this, my day off – thank the gods for this day off – i am fully present. i have no choice. swells of crippling (and i don’t use this word lightly) stomach pains continually bring me back to this very moment, despite my continual surrender and subsequent secret hope that said surrender might entice said stomach pains to ease up. so here i lie in bed, alternately hot and cold, awake and asleep, writhing in discomfort and lying still, accepting whatever comes as it arises. i do notice that i haven’t been pleading with the powers that be for this yuckiness to be over; it is what it is. i’m simply along for the ride, sitting shotgun, feet up, music playing, sun on my face, wind in my hair. there’s really nothing else for me to do (except drink a lot of water, eat plain rice more slowly that i’ve ever eaten anything, take charcoal pills and probiotics and ayurvedic mint pills).

while any other drastic or moderate changes in my spiritual self may require some time and space to identify, i need only to look down at my body to see those changes, the physical ones. look, i like being skinny as much as the next girl brought up in this distorted society, but i’m feeling a little bit bobble-heady as of late. one of the last times i was lying in bed midday with the windows open in a foreign land, i was in rome. i was steadily and happily gaining weight, and if i wasn’t thinking about pizza, i was eating it. i would openly sacrifice one of these cows using my own teeth for a prosciutto pizza right now. okay, so there is something that overrides my continual pull to the present moment – food. i adore my loved ones, but i miss and crave nothing but fatty american food. i can’t tell you how much i think about pizza. now that makes me want to cry. whoever is reading this, please have a slice for me right now and think of me all the while. send pictures, too.

speaking of american things, i didn’t realize how comforting it can be to be in the presence of familiarity. i’ve met three americans briefly in the last two weeks, but, though sweet, they weren’t necessarily the type of people i’d exchange numbers with. we may as well have been from different planets. but yesterday as i reached the road, a taxi spat out this backpacker in front of me. she stopped me and asked where she might find lodging. gasp! an american accent! “where are you from???” i asked. “dc!” we hit it off immediately, and would you believe her name was angel? truly. manna from heaven. i have many reservations about my country of birth, but home is home, and there’s something to be said for being far, far away but finding company in people who just get your silly american idiosyncrasies. we bonded over the memory of pizza, too, of course.

pictures below are from friday. we took a field trip down to the kangra valley for a swim in the river, a dip in the hot springs, and philosophy class under a bodhi tree, which is as awesomely cliche as one can get here. i do think the best way to enjoy the ride down the treacherous roads is with classical indian music blasting through the car speakers. it fosters a kind of mad yet seemly atmosphere somewhat akin to a roller coaster ride at a whimsical theme park. add that to the incessant honking drivers use as a form of friendly conversation (signs on the backs of cars even strongly suggest using the “dipper” which took me a while to realize was their onomatopoeia for honking), but which grates on my los angeleno ears, as for us it’s usually not much more than a form of expressing hate. but, as with everything else, i’m learning to find peace in just observing what’s going on and fluctuating, whether it’s erratic driving, my emotions, or my body temperature.

poop and other things. but mostly poop.

my body is in revolt. it is like a child having a tantrum. anything it’s given in hopes of placation is swiftly thrown aside with such vigor and violence that one wonders why it is given anything in the first place.

sanji tries to help. he suggests different foods to calm the torrent that is my stomach. i think some of them work. i can’t be sure. everyone else offers well-meaning suggestions, though their readiness to attend to my plight is dwindling. also, i can’t say that i’m not tired of hearing that pepsi is not a sufficient salve for my intestinal issues. i’ll take comfort however i can get it, thank you very much. let me live, people. or die, whatever it is i’m doing right now.

i remember discovering a calendar of my first year of life, in which my mom wrote down little milestones, including bowel movements, noted as “BM” and drawn very artistically in fun marker colors. i could sense the pride that could only be that of a mother’s, over anything her child does, including pooping. i had such a feeling the other day when i thought my BM was turning normal. i rejoiced! i squealed and did a little dance! but alas, celebration proved to be premature. the torrent reared its ugly head that night, and i was defeated once more. this is the dance in which i’ve become an unwilling partner. it’s the subject of thrice-daily conversation, if not more, between me and anyone else with ears.

i used to pride myself on having an iron stomach. boy, do things change. at any rate, i don’t have the time or the energy to search online how to become my own nutritionist/dietician. i don’t have the tools to tackle this problem logically, i.e. weeding things out until i find the culprit. instead, i handle it like this:

sharon’s guide to eating in india:
1) eat as much as nausea allows.
2) enjoy whatever it is i’m eating as much as possible, in the limited time between waves of nausea.
3) relax after eating, knowing that i’ve finished moderating the battle between sustenance and nausea, a tiresome task it turns out.
4) laugh heartily and genuinely whenever the stomach starts churning, because at this point it’s just funny, like an inside joke between my stomach and its own wretchedness, except i’m front row for the show, an audience of one with vip tickets, popcorn, and sweatpants on. one must find humor in situations of inconvenience, otherwise everything might fall apart, intestinal lining included.

to be clear, i don’t feel like this all day and all night. i’m not, like, seriously dying. think of it more like one more class period to add to my daily schedule. i also looked up the spiritual cause of this mess. ready? “fear. rejection. running off.” i’m not sure what running off means exactly, but sure, the fear and rejection part sound pretty spot-on. i’ll probably find out later what relevance “running off” has to this as well. i’m also thinking that my body is playing follow the leader – purging itself, letting go to the nth degree, releasing releasing releasing – hoping that the rest of me will take heed. just let go of the crap. literally, figuratively, metaphorically, ironically.

ps i will try to make this my last reference to poop.


this morning, as we lay supine in meditation before beginning class, our teacher read us this poem attributed to charlie chaplin, written on his 70th birthday. i thought it so appropriate. this perfectly exemplifies the path i’m on:

“as i began to love myself, i found that anguish and emotional suffering are only warning signs that i was living against my own truth.

today, i know, this is AUTHENTICITY.

as i began to love myself, i understood how much it can offend somebody as i try to force my desires on this person, even though i knew the time was not right and the person was not ready for it, and even though this person was me.

today i call it RESPECT.

as i began to love myself, i stopped craving for a different life, and i could see that everything that surrounded me was inviting me to grow.

today i call it MATURITY.

as i began to love myself, i understood that at any circumstance, i am in the right place at the right time, and everything happens at the exactly right moment, so i could be calm.

today i call it SELF-CONFIDENCE.

as i began to love myself, i quit stealing my own time, and i stopped designing huge projects for the future. today, i only do what brings me joy and happiness, things i love to do and that make my heart cheer, and i do them in my own way and in my own rhythm.

today i call it SIMPLICITY.

as i began to love myself, i freed myself of anything that is not good for my health – food, people, things, situations, and everything that drew me down and away from myself. at first i called this attitude a healthy egoism.

today i know it is LOVE OF ONESELF.

as i began to love myself, i quit trying to always be right, and ever since, i was wrong less of the time.

today i discovered that is MODESTY.

as i began to love myself, i refused to go on living in the past and worrying about the future. now, i only live for the moment, where EVERYTHING is happening.

today i live each day, day by day, and i call it FULFILLMENT.

as i began to love myself, i recognized that my mind can disturb me and it can make me sick. but as i connected it to my heart, my mind became a valuable ally.

today i call this connection WISDOM OF THE HEART.

we no longer need to fear arguments, confrontations or any kind of problems with ourselves or others.

even stars collide, and out of their crashing, new worlds are born.

today i know THAT IS LIFE.


all i could think about this morning for the entire duration of our two-hour asana class was bhagsu cake. this will be my new anchor, i just know it. when seas are rough and i need stability, i will look to the bhagsu cake. i hesitate to call the bhagsu cake a dessert, because “dessert” implies a post-meal quality. i can easily make this my main meal. and my appetizer. and dessert. housed in tin foil, giving it a real homemade feel, and unwrapped with the eagerness of finding a golden ticket, the bottom layer is a crumbly shortbread biscuit and the top layer is a hard shell of either white or dark chocolate. sandwiched between the two is a layer of creamy, gooey caramel. this is the golden ticket. i already foresee myself cleaning out all the bhagsu cakes in dharamkot on my last day here so that i may share of this bliss with my loved ones, if i haven’t eaten them all by the time i get home.

but about my appetite. it’s gone. i think it’s been flushed down the toilet on more than 20 occasions. i’ve been forcing myself to eat for energy’s sake. the idea of everything kind of nauseates me, and nothing is appetizing to me other than bhagsu cake. even pizza! this is worrisome and makes me sad. i miss the food back home, because i can guarantee i won’t get sick from it. i take for granted how easily accessible everything is at home. i’ve been daydreaming about little caesar’s and in-n-out. i don’t mean to complain. anyway, doesn’t starvation lead to enlightenment? come to think of it, i have lost weight and gained (some) clarity in the almost-two weeks i’ve been here.

really though, i have been thinking about what i put into my body. i love junk. you all know this about me. i love it in the moment. not so much right after, when i’m feeling greasy and bloated. and not so much even later, when i look in the mirror and wonder where my toned body escaped to. bad habits are hard to kick, that’s for sure. in keeping with the theme of drawing parallels, i’ve also been thinking about what i put into my emotional body. bad emotional habits are equally difficult to tame. but taco bell and jealousy are so comforting. they’re familiar. they’re safe. i know what i’m getting with them, even if it’s the shit end of the stick. they’re reliable in their unreliability. they’re like my two closest mates who talk about me behind my back every chance they get, then steal my money and my boyfriends and leave me tattered and dirty on the side of the road as they skip away laughing merrily, knowing i’ll pick myself up, dust myself off, and follow them to the playground asking if i can join in their game.

i shouldn’t be surprised that i’m being confronted with these particular truths here, with nowhere for me to hide from them. so, i’m doing my best to look at them straight in the eye, catching and releasing (or trying to) the patterns, their causes and their manifestations that don’t serve my best self. and what better place to work on this than here, where every time i start to relax, i’m conveniently shoved out of my comfort zone? but, if it gets to be too much, there’s always bhagsu cake.

IMG_5261 (1)

edit – finally managed to get a picture. as you can see, i almost didn’t get one. bhagsu cake man says he will send me home with a whole box!




spiritual boot camp

week 1 of what will now be termed “spiritual boot camp” is finished. and what a doozy it was.. as evidenced by my last post, the writing of which, by the way, drained me even further. luckily that was written on sunday, my one day ‘off’ i get each week, so i had time to recover, recovery translating to lying in the sun on my balcony, reading, painting, staring at the mountains, and listening to a village baby cry all morning and into the afternoon, 15 minutes on, 2 minutes off, which i absolutely related to and along with whom i may or may not have joined.

speaking of sun days, the sun has been out in full force since day before yesterday after a heavy morning downfall, and like a moth to a flame, i inch my way towards it every chance i get, my long lost dearest friend who manages to find me wherever i am on this planet to supply me with support, energy, color, and familiarity. [side story: i killed a massive moth last night in my bathroom – by drowning, if you must know – and the entire duration of my inflicting suffering on this poor creature that was very sturdy and very unwilling to die, i was alternately cursing at myself and apologizing to it profusely. i still feel badly about it :/]

with the bright change in weather, i’m feeling much more grounded and settled here, emotional swings notwithstanding as they are part and parcel of SBC. added to my repertoire of motley emotions here is having cried laughing so hard several times in the last few days, one of my favorite pastimes and accidental exercises (physically and emotionally). i’ve even come to embrace my schedule, which is as follows:

  • wake up anywhere from 5:25 to 5:50am, a bit earlier than my alarm set for 6:12, which i haven’t yet needed, but i’m kinda superstitious, so i still set it nightly.
  • 6:30am – walk up those damn uneven steps to the yoga hall, where i do my karma yoga duty and sweep the floor with a halfway-effective makeshift broom. the broom is short and uneven and requires one to retain a majorly village squat-walk in order to avoid potential back spasms. if not the broom, then i pick up the only thing there is to sweep: pieces of filling that have escaped from the bolsters and have managed to make their way across the entire floor.
    i actually find this cleaning ritual very meditative and relaxing. a vacuum would be easier, of course, but would surely take away from the austerity of it. and there is much to be gained from practices in austerity. also, i’m fairly certain they don’t have vacuums in this particular part of the world.
  • 7-9am – yoga. a regular yoga class which includes pranayama, asanas, and a little bit of meditation. it’s typically quite chilly during this period. they do thankfully have space heaters, though one is finicky and we have to tell it we love it in a creepy cult-like voice in order for it to decide to work (not really joking about this).
  • 9-10am – breakfast up the road at the second restaurant on the left (sanji’s milky way café). breakfast is typically tea and oatmeal with fruit and honey. otherwise there’s hummus with tomatoes and cucumbers. or pancake filled with fruit, which i haven’t had the good fortune to try yet, as the one day they had it last week i was instead curled up fetal position on my bed yearning to either die or go home.
  • 10-11am – anatomy class. this has been surprisingly quite fascinating, or maybe i’m just a nerd.
  • 11:15am-12:30pm – alignment. this ends up being like another asana class, since we learn how to direct each other using only words (more difficult than you’d think to not show by example) and inevitably end up holding poses for way longer than we normally would.
  • 12:30-3pm – lunch (during which i intend to take a nap, but i end up reading, doing ‘homework’, writing, or actually eating.)
  • 3-4:15pm – philosophy of yoga. super interesting and view-expanding.
  • 4:30-5:45pm – yoga asana class (T, Th, Sat); teaching methodology (M, W, F).
  • 6-7pm – meditation (T, Th, Sat); restorative/yin yoga (M, W, F). i’m not sure whether i’m asleep or in a deep meditative state during either of these. i like to think the latter, but if it’s the former, no judgments here 🙂
  • a very quick dinner at sanji’s if not directly to my room, but certainly showered, hair braided because it lengthens the time i can go without having to wash my hair, in bed and asleep by 10pm.

sounds rigorous when i lay it out like that. it can be, but at the same time, yoga and meditation 12 hours a day in the himalayas? self-exploration as my only task for a month? i’ll take it.

[ps. update on not wearing a lick of makeup aka the superficial level of project love-yourself-as-you-are: the first few days i’d examine myself in the mirror for a few minutes, then roll my eyes in disapproval with a sigh of exasperation before walking away. but last night, i noticed it wasn’t so bad. maybe it was the sun or the exercises in laughter, but i looked more familiar to myself. good going, team!]

and the walls came tumbling down

if there is any one religion that i have practiced fervently, it’s skepticism. the main tenets are as follows: doubting and resisting.

i’ve come to realize that there’s nothing i’ve ever 1000000% believed in – other people’s promises, my own, yoga, chanting, art therapy, music, meditation, buddhism, love. i’m capable of theoretically accepting, eagerly practicing, and ardently promoting the principles of any of these, sure, but i’ve never trusted wholly in anything to the point of fanaticism. (a deep longing to believe is, woefully, not quite the same as actually doing so.)

yet, i seem to keep going back to the bible. which i find paradoxical, because i had (until recently) long regarded what it is associated with – my introduction to religion – with disdain. that with which it is strongly associated is what gave me my very first recognizable taste of self-hate (namely that i was born irreparably flawed, never had a chance, and as a bonus, am swiftly on my way to eternal damnation unless i call on this unseeable being that i can’t comprehend to save my “soul,” whatever that is), at the tender age of 6, an age at which i had already, at age 5, been torn not-so-gently apart at the emotional seams via bullying, a supplement and contribution to feeling what i can only now, as an adult, name as a profound sense of un-belonging, well before i could possibly know what to do with such hurt.

when i awoke this morning, two stories popped into my head that had been inadvertently thrown out with the rest of the doctrinal detritus i’d decided to discard.

the first is the story of noah.
the world and its inhabitants had turned to shit. so, in his 600th year of life, noah was called upon by god to assist him in, essentially, invoking a do-over. noah would spend a lot of time building a giant ark in which only animals and those who chose to join would survive what god had planned – a deluge that lasted 40 days and 40 nights. he threw the earth into the wash basin, wrung it out, and hung it to dry, ready to begin anew. noah never wavered in his faith, never questioned what everyone else in the world thought was crazy-talk. (and he lived. they all died.)

the second is the story of paul.
once upon a time, paul used to be named saul. saul’s work and passion were one and the same – persecution and punishment of jesus’ followers. one day, as saul heard a booming voice asking him why he did what he did, a blinding light flashed across the sky, and he could no longer see. for three days he could not see, eat, or drink. to make an abridged story even shorter, he had a spiritual conversion, turned to god, stopped killing people, and changed his name to paul as a symbol of this change.

there are a few themes here:
1. starting over.
2. listening to the voice within, at the risk of ridicule, everything else be damned.

i’ve realized something else, being here: one can travel anywhere on this planet for as short or as long as one wishes, and still feel stuck. one can take up as many assorted hobbies or belief systems or lovers or pets for that matter and still be stuck. because being stuck isn’t something you can run from. it is a place within that is somehow both deep and perpetually exposed. so while grad school and europe and coming here were/are all effective means of finding myself in their own ways, they are all ultimately attempts at trying to find a way to like myself with all the barriers i have up and don’t want to let go of, at trying to obtain peace without having to give up my guards. without having to take a good, long look at the real me – the bare, raw version of me. but it doesn’t work like that.

so in cosmic/universe/etc. fashion, the other day i had my own noah/saul-to-paul experience.

we did a version of this thing in teaching methodology class called a family constellation. it’s a therapeutic approach in which you choose others to represent yourself and members of your family in order to uncover hidden dynamics so that they can be confronted and therefore healed. then you stand back and watch. instead of representing family members, though, we were to choose representations of our ourselves, the student, our biggest strength, and our biggest weakness. sounds triggering, right? (spoiler alert: it totally is.)

so in true skeptic fashion, i approached this with a healthy dose of cynicism. i mean, these people don’t even know what i wrote down as my strengths and weaknesses. a few of them only met me, like, two and a half days ago. how could this possibly tap into anything real? but i go along with it, because i want to believe just like fox mulder does, and also, at the same time, i really am totally game.

fast forward about twenty minutes but what felt like 73 years, after watching from the wall as these very personal representations interact with each other and move around the room in order to better symbolize themselves.

and there i stood, my teacher’s arm around me, my face pressed hard into my sweater sleeve, tears and snot streaming uncontrollably out of my face.

at this point, i felt only two things inside of myself: weak. and honest.

from outside of myself, that is to say from the others in the room, i felt strength. and compassion. nothing else. i didn’t feel any of the judgment that i am forever anticipating from others and always passing upon myself. my inability to believe fully in something is really my inability to believe fully in me.

and then i realized – it takes strength to be weak. i mean, to really be weak. to just be in it. to allow weakness to be there.

i was confronted with my deep-seated hurt, that self-hate. that sense of not belonging and the ensuing life-long desire to find a way to get that belonging. in a word – inadequacy. what i had written down as my weakness was: “caring too much about image. letting that get in the way of authenticity and real connection with others.”

my real weakness: the feeling and fear that i am not good enough. the i that is without makeup on her face. the i that is without a joke ready to crack at the drop of a hat. the i that is without some witty comment to make. the i that is without the need to defend or project. the i that wants to be perceived a certain way – always right. in control. not a failure (at anything). cool, funny, smart, talented, pretty, intimidating, desirable, someone to be envied. my weakness is the truth that what motivates me and paralyzes me with fear is what others will think.

these are all barriers i realize i’ve formed to keep others from the real me, but in doing so, i’ve blocked myself from the real me. i don’t even know who i am.

my fear: without these things – the makeup and filled passport and carefree lifestyle and the walk and the talk and the rest of the image – am i still enough? am i still likable and lovable? i’m asking this of myself. i’m scared of the answer, and i’m scared i won’t like what i see.

but i’m going to find out. it’s become apparent that it’s one of the reasons i’m here.

so, i’m shedding these layers one by one, the superficial ones and the not-so-superficial ones.

in yoga they talk about how the way we are on the mat provides insight into the way we are off the mat. similarly, the intention with which i cover my bare face is indicative of the ways i try to hide my bare soul. i’m going to leave my face bare until i like what i see when i look in the physical mirror. and i’m going to look at my bare self until i like what i see in the spiritual mirror.

now i see it as a blessing in disguise that i was sick and jetlagged. my physical and mental immune systems (physiological barriers and guards) were down, and in its wake left only this spiritual/emotional barrier to face. also, the breakdown of the other two probably means the breakdown of the third.

i didn’t know if or how i should write about this. it’s all over the place and raw and thoroughly exhausted, but so am i.

and how funny that the thing which first consciously connected me to my self-loathing is the same thing that is helping me better understand this spiritual journey and healing process, what seems to be my conversion from skepticism to believing in myself.

at the milky way cafe

if you want to lose weight quickly, go to india.

last night i caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror before washing my hair for the first time in four days, and i had to do a double take. i was like, holy indian cows i didn’t know christian bale in the machinist was traveling with me. obvs i’m exaggerating because if i were 100% truth-telling, i’d probably be in a hospital, not writing this. but boy, there is nothing like clean, dry hair. it just feels so… good. and down the drain along with whatever was living in my nappy near-dreads went the bad juju of illness and fear. or at least some of it.

which reminds me of something one of my teachers said the other day in a lesson on pranayama [quick background: pranayama is a sanskrit word that literally translates to “control of the breath,” which is true, but it’s, of course, more than that. it’s life force. it’s the connection between the body and the mind through breath. it’s also more than this, but time and bandwidth are limited]:

guruji (just kidding, we don’t call our teachers that.. yet) talked about how in the same way we don’t wash ourselves once and then remain clean forever, we can’t meditate once and expect for its benefits to last in perpetuity. practice is key. i’ve been recognizing this more and more in the last year or so, but it strengthens the idea to hear it from a new perspective.

kind of related, i think it not coincidental that as soon as my illness began to subside and my sleep morphed into some approximation of normal, my distress and panic also began to diminish. i had more than an inkling that these were connected even as i restlessly tossed sweaty and freezing in the middle of the other night, riddled with angst and thinking frantically about the fastest way to run all the way down the mountain to the nearest airport. this is not to say that i’m all “better.” this is simply to say that this feels more doable. increasingly doable.

i have more to say (duh) but i must get back to the hall. will post again in a short while, crocodiles! (also breaking it up for my attention-span-challenged friends.)

day 4

the rain in the himalayas is like nothing else i’ve ever heard. you hear it before you can see it – there’s a great booming sound right before it comes down, as if the doors of the heavens were being torn open with thunderous and windy force. and then the rain. it’s like a never-ending crashing of enormous waves upon the shore. you wait, but there are no lulls as there are with the ocean. it’s exquisitely deafening and awe-inspiring.

yoga in the himalayas is also like nothing else i’ve ever experienced. windows along two of the walls in the yoga hall offer views of pastel-colored houses built into a mountainside so steep it’s like a towering vertical wall of fir trees. higher up from the houses are sparingly scattered tiny abodes where monks reside in solitude, silence, and simplicity. it’s chilly here at least half the time, so it’s not uncommon to find one shrouded in one or two heavy wool blankets during practice. just yesterday i wore two pairs of pants, wool socks, and three layers on top! but that was likely due to fever and chills which have thankfully since subsided but which left me with a bout of diarrhea (sorry, tmi), lower energy, and a very particular appetite (read: chips, bread, and vitamin water).

this place is bare bones. well, i do have hot water for my shower (thank god), although it only lasts 10 minutes at the most. the curtainless shower is in the corner of the bathroom and one must sweep the water which inevitably collects across the entire bathroom floor to the drain using a large broom-sized squeegee. i suppose i’m having to work for my pleasures.

anyway, it’s back to the basics for me – there’s no central heating, no television, barely an internet connection. no atm or any of the creature comforts i’m accustomed to. the artificial lights are exceptionally harsh, the beds are stiff, and the space where every wall in every room meets the floor remains awkwardly unfinished. i like to think that i’d usually embrace all of that, but here i find it triggering somehow. there’s nowhere for me to run or hide, no way to distract myself, which is now relatively out of character for me to do, although i’m guilty here of rabidly attempting to download episodes of scandal during lunch break to at least have the option to escape from the emotional whirlwind that’s being spiraled up within me.

yesterday morning i felt very tempted to call it quits and come home. the combination of fitful sleep, illness, and the intensity of my daily schedule, not to mention my undulating fear and anxiety, was getting overwhelming. that emotion has dwindled, though i’m well aware it may resurface over the course of the month. then again, what haven’t i wanted to quit, despite simultaneous feelings of enthusiasm? grad school, regular school, work, friendships, relationships. i think it’s a natural thing to consider, at least for me. but everything challenging and uncomfortable in my life up to this point has always opened my eyes that much more to inner truth, strength, and peace, so i’m estimating with fingers crossed that the same will be true of this.

whoever said ignorance is bliss (thomas gray, fyi) wasn’t lying, but maybe he only came to this conclusion from the other side, and maybe, even though the end of that phrase continues the notion that ignorance is bliss, the reality is that the opposite is even greater.

day 1 done

the very short drive from mcleodganj up to dharamkot is anything but easy and tranquil. the road is precipitous and narrow, and at any given moment, somehow impossibly accommodates two cars, a motorcycle, a monkey or two, and visitors, monks or beautifully dressed women effortlessly balancing any number of otherwise cumbersome items atop their heads, trekking serenely from one town to the next. the cement seems to melt seamlessly into the earth and into a sheer drop on one side, and abruptly cuts off on the other in the form of a short, ragged step, leaving just enough room between the road and the mountainside to surely render one’s car useless, should a tire inadvertently find itself in that space while dodging oncoming traffic. it can be a titillating if not disquieting experience, but no one else seems to be nervous about it, so i don’t mind following suit.

if ever i wished for an experience which forced me to remain in the present moment, it’s being here in dharamkot. every step i take is taken with caution and awareness. and that’s to be taken literally. the dirt roads are uneven, and the steps leading up to the road and the yoga hall are formed in such a way that’s seriously uncooperative with the natural gait of a human being. if i’m not careful, well, i’d rather not find out what’ll happen.

and that alone is enough to make me realize how much i’m used to living on autopilot. i can’t remember the last time i placed so much concentration on putting one foot in front of the other. with day one down, i’m getting the impression that this trip is, in part, really about getting back to the basics. uncluttering the mind and paving a clearer path to the self. breaking everything down to build it back up in the most spiritually, emotionally, and mentally nourishing and uncluttered way possible. or at least jumpstarting the process. or continuing it, depending on where i feel i am at any given moment. i think the most apropos parallel i can draw is that i’ve been practicing yoga for years, but just this morning in a seemingly basic two-hour asana class, i learned so many foundational elements that blew my mind. some things are so simple (and necessary), but so overlooked.

um, i don’t know how to end this one, so i’ll just

and a few hours in new delhi

holy smokes. this is what my current location’s weather report stated upon landing in new delhi. not verbatim, but may as well. saying the skies in new delhi are not blue would be an incorrect assertion, because the skies cannot actually be seen. visibility is low, and deep cleansing breaths are not recommended.

i’m familiar with the superficial dynamics of third world countries, but it is always fascinating and somewhat meditative to watch life go by from the distance of within a moving vehicle. i wonder what everyone’s stories are, the nuances of each. what we share in common and what we might never understand about each other. fascinating and incalculable.

i like to consider myself an appropriately cautious solo traveler. the gut is a strong and useful travel device, and i believe in keeping all avenues from the gut to the head clear so that it may be more clearly heard and heeded. i also think striking a healthy balance of openness and paranoia is helpful. as such, i believe the most intuitive lesson from this day and a half of traveling is ensuring that, depending on where i am in the world, i’m not the only woman in a particular place – elevator, bus, et cetera. feminism ftw but also let’s be real, here, shall we? gut says we’ve got a bit of a way to go and despite the nifty stickers plastered everywhere saying that this taxi respects women and that bus is all for the protection of females, well. as they say, peace of gut, peace of mind. that said, here in dharamsala, gut feels safe as fort knox! om shanti y’all.

a few hours in dubai

naturally, as may typically be the case after 36 hours of travel, jetlag has me firmly in its clutches, and i, amenable to its influence, am simply going to float along for the ride, i.e. write some more and post a few pictures.

after 16 hours (?!) of flying, i landed in dubai for a layover, where i met up with rani and, after stopping to catch a 40th-floor rooftop view of the city, we got more food at mcdonalds than is prudent or likely suggested, that is, if there were serving suggestions that came with drive-thru menus, although this would certainly in no way hinder my ability or desire to acquire and consume said food. i LOVE trying international mcdonalds! especially their fun menu items which are specific to the country. or i’m just gross and outdated and trying to make excuses for my poor taste in food. at any rate, dubai’s only item of special interest was the McArabia which, first of all, is an exceptional name for a food item, and second of all, is not bad. it’s not the best, but it was good. (among my top international mcds items in no particular order: a leg of chicken and a scoop of rice from indonesia, and fried cheese and broccoli bites from croatia. oh! can’t forget spam and rice from hawaii.)

anyway. a few observations about the airport:

  1. the airport is impressively clean. i actually thought to myself, “i would eat ice cream off of this floor, but only the top layers.” i think this says a lot about the level of cleanliness, as well as, perhaps, the ways in which i manage to include parallels to random things using food as a measuring guide.
  2. there’s a bit of a lonely quality to this place, a transitory vibe.
  3. is this place kept so clean in anticipation of guests that might never arrive? it brings to mind hotels in obscure locations, the ones that are much larger and grander than necessary and with more effort put into them than would ever be noticed or appreciated. or a young girl who sits hopeful and primped waiting for a suitor that will never show up. oh, that’s depressing.
  4. or is there simply nothing left to do but tidy up? this is also a potentially sad state of affairs.

i thought i had more notes about my short stay in dubai, but i guess that’s all she wrote. oof the birds are chirping and the sun is rising! that must mean it’s bed time. ciao!


it’s the middle of the night. i sit in a room in a little hotel tucked into the side of a mountain overlooking the kangra valley in the western himalayas, little lights spread out over the landscape and gathering closely together in the distance of the basin. it is dark save for punctuated bursts of lightning. it is silent except for the rattling of the windows in conjunction with the thunder and the swelling rainfall, which smacks any surface it can touch in flat sheets and emphatic claps. before this, only the intermittent barking of dogs, i imagine in conversation with these varied and tempestuous instruments of nature.

i think i’m hungry, i may be sleepy, i’m definitely travel-weary, and i’m fairly certain i’m feeling a bit of anxiety. something i recently read pops into my mind:

fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.

i find this comforting, because i’m also feeling kind of scared, and to be frank have been for the past week or longer. i’m not exactly sure why or what truth i must be moving closer to — of course i have my suspicions — but i am sure that the significance of those answers is of less consequence than the journey towards them.

this next month of yoga and meditation, of deepening my spiritual practice, may or may not be life-changing. i may or may not be confronted with deep-seated demons ready to pass through me and onto their next iteration, and i may or may not come closer to the full embodiment of awareness and illumination than i’ve ever been — who knows? it’s tbd, if at all, which is to say, not here. and my sole intention for this next twenty-six days is to simply be here, in all of its manifestations and messiness and darkness and lightness and unvarnished honesty.

to that end, nothing else exists for now, in these hours before i move into the ashram to begin this segment of the odyssey. just me, the rain, the dogs, the thunder and the lightning.