Incredible India: The Journey Begins.

My flight to India was originally booked to fly into Chennai. The U.S. news doesn’t necessarily cover Indian events and just 36 hours before my flight, I discovered that this city is completely underwater due to the worst rains and flooding in 100 years (global warming, much?). The airport was closed and nearly 400 people were stranded there. I was feeling some anxiety about traveling to Chennai, even before I knew about the flooding, and as soon as I was rebooked to Bangalore, my fears were alleviated. What I had planned (and somewhat obsessed over) in the last month was unraveled in a matter of hours and an entirely new plan was in place with exactly no time to obsess whether or not the so-called plan was even a good one. (On a side note, this is just evidence that having fear and even some anxiety is normal, maybe even intuitive, but obsessing too much over what you think is going to happen or not happen or might happen is pretty much a waste of your energy because the thing you are so worried about probably won’t even happen. And believe me, the flooding and subsequent canceling of my flight never even entered my mind as a possible hitch.)

Bangalore sounded fine by me. Better than canceling or delaying my trip. Besides, I have been to Chennai, but not Bangalore. I finally started to get excited. I was behind schedule. The day spent un-booking and rebooking made it so that I’d be packing well into the night. I stayed up nearly all night, hoping that might help me be sleepier for the time travel.

The next morning as I was driving from Austin to Houston to catch my flight, having had only a few hours of rest, I realized that even though I was in my home state, I felt more out of place in rural Texas than I likely would in India. The irony was so apparent. The weeks leading up to my trip, I had spent some hours recalling how difficult India was for me last time. I was convinced I’d be uncomfortable and feel unsafe or unable to navigate the international travel details on my own. This is my first solo international journey. I told myself a little affirmation, “I am safe, healthy happy and everything is easy.” I also did a little Kaki Pranayama (thanks Genevieve!). It helped.

As I passed the World’s Largest Barbecue Pit on Highway 290 (it’s for sale, by the way , for a mere $350,000), I had this sense that I had it all backwards. I’ve grown accustomed to the U.S. and I am undoubtedly American, but the views and values which comprise my home state do not resonate for me nearly as much as those of the Hindu culture in India. At home in Texas, I passed cows being raised for the BBQ and in a few days time, I’d be driving next to cows who roam the streets and are worshipped in temples. Perhaps I was leaving the place where I was unable to fit in to return to the place that made more sense, for me. It is an epiphany I am still exploring.

The flight was great! I finally set foot on European soil and realized that it is fairly ridiculous that it took me 46 years to do that. I didn’t leave the airport in Germany so I am not sure it actually counts. All I can say about that is my next trip is definitely going to be Europe. That’s just how it is at this point. In fact, I knew I wanted to go back to India, but I felt like I was cheating on my European dream by coming here again before going there. Alas, the East just has it’s hooks in me in a way that the West does not. My goodness, Thailand is just across the ocean from me now, can I extend this trip somehow?

Overlooking Earthlings. We are all one and that's easy to see from up here.

Overlooking Earthlings. We are all one and that’s easy to see from up here.

Landing in Bangalore was smooth and my hotel arranged for a driver to retrieve me. He had one of those little signs with my name on it, except his was hand-drawn with sharpies on a piece of wrinkled paper instead of printed like everyone else’s. It was cute and so perfectly me. He got me safely to my hotel around 4 a.m. I immediately FaceTimed Texas. Then I crashed super hard.

I didn’t want to go straight to the Ashram because I might as well see some of Bangalore while I am here. It is a 5-hour journey to the Ashok Tree Ashram in Tiruvannamalai. I definitely wanted to sleep before doing that. I spent a day sleeping, then an evening planning my touristy events since I had no time to do that prior to my trip given short notice of arrival in Bangalore. I decided to hire a taxi for the day and have him drive me to some temples and then to the shopping district. Today is Sunday so the local people were out at the temples and I slipped in, not unnoticed, rather without much ado. The Ganesha temple was high on my list and I arrived in time for the puja (a religious ritual combined with prayers, chanting, etc.) This was particularly special for me and it was again, in this moment, that I realized, as I was surrounded by faithful Hindu, without another white person in sight, that I was, indeed, more comfortable here than in many churches at home. Even the organized chaotic driving, the frenetic energy that only India can deliver, was so ordinary and comforting that I honestly wondered how I ever could have been concerned about my ability to handle it.

Bull Temple, Bangalore, India

Bull Temple, Bangalore, India

To be fair, when I came to India last time, I was a totally different person. I was resisting so much and clinging to everything in my life that this place called India was disconcerting at best; confrontational, frustrating and somewhat brutal at the worst of times. When planning this trip, that is what I imagined I was throwing myself back into. And it is, actually. But I am changed. I am in the flow now. And that’s not some BS hippie statement, that’s just my reality now. I flow. I flow with chaos or I flow with order. I am just part of it. I don’t resist. I don’t cling (well, I cling less).

I had one moment when I was finished at the Ganesha temple and I was supposed to call my driver, Mohan, to meet me. I could not remember how to dial the number and every attempt I made to call him failed. I looked around for anyone whom I might ask to help me make this call. I saw faces of many beautiful people, but none that seemed like the right person to ask. I knew I was just missing a zero or something, so I kept trying different codes. I kept getting it wrong. A little anxiousness started to creep in. I had already hired him for the day and the day had only just begun. I didn’t want to get in another cab. The road where I was to meet him was extremely packed full of people, cars, tuk tuks, and bikes and at one point, all I could hear was the incessant honking that started to make me want to scream.

Then, I realized, this is the moment. This is the moment when you stay calm and grounded despite all of the external confusion. This is the moment yoga has trained me for. Breathe. Be one with it. Move with it. Enter it and exit it. Don’t fight it. Don’t run from it. Just be with it. A solution will appear. There are so many options. Sit in this pose and take everything in. So I did. I looked at all the beauty around me. I stood in the street, with everyone else, as the cars rushed by. I turned on my data for my phone and found an email for the hotel, which had their number, written out exactly as it should be dialed. I called it. They answered and dialed my driver for me. He was there a minute later. Perfect, divine chaotic order.

Cows roam the streets in India in perfect harmony with the traffic.

Cows roam the streets in India in perfect harmony with the traffic.

The rest of the day was flawless. That affirmation works. Safe. Healthy. Happy. Easy. That’s how this trip to India is for me.

Tomorrow I take the 5-hour drive to Tiruvannamalai. I have so many reasons to return to this sacred place. I’ll save all those stories for my next blog entry. I’ll be there for seven weeks studying with Yogi Ashokananda. More about him later too. Until then, I encourage you to rediscover how you are in the flow. You already are, you know. What are you resisting? What are you afraid of? What stories are you telling yourself that may be just discomfort and unease energy that you could just set aside, knowing that it will, or it already is, ok?

I love you.

Anna

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A-ha Ahimsa!

Ahimsa.001

The news in the last couple of weeks and months has really been disturbing, particularly related to unnecessary violence in our country and to our countrymen. Violence met with violence is an indication that we are mentally ill as a global community. There is a sickness happening to us, and I want to have a conversation to help us heal.

Let me digress for a moment: I’ve been motivated for some time to look at each of the yamas more closely and write about them. (If you have no idea what I am talking about, have a look at this complete list of the yamas. This will summarize the concept of yamas in yoga so I can focus on telling you about my experience of exploring them, which is a deep part of my yoga practice.) This week, I took a closer look at ahimsa, the practice of non-violence.

I don’t believe that it is possible for humans to change their violent ways overnight, or even in a single week. This kind of change takes time and dedication. I can only imagine that this is a life-long practice which may not ever be perfected. I aim to share my thoughts and revelations about ahimsa after creating intention and reflecting on how that shows up for me after seven days of concentrated awareness. As I explore the practice of ahimsa, I wonder how we humans might all be affected, and healed, by this simple practice. When I say practice, really the very first thing I mean to discover through the practice of ahimsa is simply awareness. I must be aware of when I am causing harm, in order to change that behavior.

Commonly, when referring to ahimsa, I immediately think of how to not hurt other beings. Many people practice ahimsa by becoming vegetarian or saving spiders and other bugs from their squishy deaths. I did encounter choices about what I ate this week that had me really ponder how I could live my life, every single day, without harming anyone or anything. It’s a tall order. As my mind considered ahimsa, every meal choice became a question of my practice and gave me room to think about where my food comes from and if I was perpetuating harm by my choice of food. I didn’t have any big a-ha moments in this context, and though I started out thinking about not harming animals, I ended up looking at how my food choices are harming me.

A-ha Ahimsa! Yeah, so we, as a culture, spend a lot of time looking at how we ought to be more peaceful towards others (or even more prevalent, how other people besides ourselves “should be” practicing non-violence, and spend time looking for an external source to be “fixed”, i.e. the police, the government, etc. Suffice it to say, it is always easier to see what someone else is doing wrong than how we, ourselves, may be at fault). I ask you, how often do we realize how violent we are to ourselves? 

I had an idea that I was pretty hard on myself, not just with bad food choices, but any number of other things. Cigarettes, alcohol, other substances that supposedly take the pain away…are these really helping ease some darkness inside me or am I just inflicting pain and sickness on myself? I realize that I was making choices about what I put in my body that not only deliberately made me sick, but also so I would be forced to slow down and be more gentle with myself. In essence, I was hurting myself so that I would have the opportunity to heal myself. Huh? Why would I do that to myself? I wouldn’t do that to a bug and that is the truth! As soon as this hit me I realized, ahimsa isn’t just about NOT DOING HARM, it is also about TAKING CARE and BRINGING JOY to myself and others.

It is so easy to beat ourselves up about making not-so-great choices or even deliberately harmful choices. Then the harming begets more harming as we tell ourselves how “bad” we are. It is literally a vicious cycle. I don’t know about you, but when I am down on myself about something, I go all the way down. I don’t care…and when I don’t care, I do harm.

Instead my practice of ahimsa could simply be that I forgive myself and have compassion for myself. I honor myself. I nurture myself. I treat myself to good food and plenty of rest and choose healthy, vibrant activities to encourage joy in my life. Instead of the mental beating on myself about my relapses, I could simply choose to go for a brisk walk or take a long, hot shower or go to bed early. I can drink extra water and move my body. Ahimsa is making room for all things joyful and allowing LOVE to FLOW unhindered, not just eliminating the harmful action. I don’t have to inflict harm on myself to deserve the compassionate treatment. I could easily just skip the beating and go straight to the pampering, ya dig?

I wonder if we all took a little time to really examine how we treat ourselves, and had some simple awareness that could spark a change when needed. And as we cultivate more love and compassion for ourselves, especially when we have dark and treacherous moments, then wouldn’t it be easier and just more natural to have love and compassion for our fellow humans? It seems we are so caught up in the duality of right and wrong, us vs. them, justice and injustice, blah, blah, blah that perhaps we can’t see that this constant chain of violence starts right in our very own minds. The minute I tell myself “I am such an idiot” or “I am so fat.” We kill little parts of our own psyche every hour. This slow death makes it easier to be desensitized to all the harm going on outside our comfort zone.

It is obvious that we need a big awakening to change the violent culture of school shootings, police brutality, racial injustice and riots in the streets. I think the small personal awakenings are the path to the BIG awakening that must occur. Ahimsa starts with me. Then the real stuff has room to happen. Changing who I am can change the whole world.

The Yoga Sutras say:

“As a Yogi becomes firmly grounded in non-injury (ahimsa), other people who come near will naturally lose any feelings of hostility.” (ahimsa pratishthayam tat vaira-tyagah)

Yoga Sutras – 2.35

Be Gentle.

Practice Compassion.

Peace begins with me.

Gratitude

Gratitude.

It’s easy enough, right? I am an upper-middle class, white woman who has never had to worry about where my next meal will come from or if I’ll have shelter and warmth for my body during the night. I have always been surrounded by loving family and friends and have never felt unsafe in my own home. I have made it through 45 years without much concern about my means of income, paying my bills, or my ability to sustain my above average standard of living.

It’s more than that. I have always had a car. I have always been able to find work. I always have enough money, even when I don’t. I have unlimited support. I have so many people who care about me. I have many, many homes. I have beautiful and cherished friends who I can call when I am either sad and lonely or jumping for joy. I have both my parents still alive to provide advice and unconditional love, among many other gifts. I have a large network of friends, colleagues, travelers, artists, yogis and kindred spirits that I call family, though our connection isn’t blood, it’s love! I live in pure abundance and I want for nothing.

Except when I do…want for something.

I’m human, I guess. I find myself in my own internal battles (and sometimes not so internally) of wanting something more, something different, something better, something else. I have spent years of my life wishing I had SOME THING other than what I had and if only then, when that SOME THING that I have is more, different, better or else, will I be satisfied. Except, that’s not true. Then there is the more, different, better something else that I could have….Alas, the ego never wants to believe that what I have been given is exactly enough.

And when this happens, and I feel as though I’ll never have IT, whatever IT is, I wonder if I have any gratitude at all. Do I even know what it means to have gratitude?

I meditate and remind myself of all the blessings and abundance I was just born into. I tell myself that “I SHOULD BE GRATEFUL”, those words, stinging me down deep because, down deep, I know I have never had to suffer the winter without heat or summer without air conditioning and I likely never will. I don’t know what it means to be hungry. I’ll never really be alone, ever. I will always have a home. Shelter, food, survival…all a birthright for me.

Karmically, my spiritual tasks here are about something else this time. Clearly, the so-called suffering I experience in my mind is nothing like that of the majority of the world’s population. I take a moment, a full breath, to really let that sink in. For all the “something more, better, different, elses” out there that I think I WANT, I have the luxury of wanting vs. needing. I have the dharma that allows me to create a life by design rather than have to fight for my survival. I paint the picture of my daily reality with the highest quality brush and a limitless pallet, filled only with the brightest of colors. And what an incredibly beautiful creation of life I have made!

On this day of gratitude, I choose to really allow myself to feel, see, and honor that I have been offered a life free of needless suffering. I thank my higher self for being present enough to cut through my own bullshit and acknowledge the boundless, abundance that is mine in this lifetime. I submit that my ego take a back seat and just stop the constant wanting. I move in the direction of desire that arises out of the need to evolve on a more spiritual and positive energetic level, and free myself from trappings of the more, better, different, else. I embrace the ever-present NOW and revel in my gratitude for how perfect NOW and all that I have in NOW is. I let go of circuit-like thinking of that OTHER THING that keeps gratitude at bay. I honor a higher power and driving spiritual force that must be in play here. I humbly thank that force.

I bow my head in gratitude.

Namaste!

 

The Life I Am LIVING

It has been more than six months since my last blog entry. This is one of those situations where my life that I am living gets in the way of documenting it and sharing it. And man, have I done some living in the last six months. I am not sure if it can all be summarized in one entry, though I’ll start by catching you up with the highlights.

Spring and Summer in LA: 

It was about as wacky as you might think it is. I lived off-grid in my 1974 Chevy Van called Luna on an undeveloped  40-acre piece of land in Malibu with some friends who invited me to stay with them. I spent a bunch of my time taking care of basic day-to-day tasks and practical living without electricity or facilities other than what I had in my van. Most days I would plan where and when my next shower would come, practice yoga in Santa Monica (and usually getting that shower afterwards), find suitable food that didn’t need much preparation or clean-up, do dishes outside in a bucket, take cans/bottles to the CRV while simultaneously filling up drinking water (the cans paid for the water), and taking tourists on Segways around Venice Beach and Beverly Hills. You know your life is wacky when you live in a van in one of the richest zip codes in the world and your job is to roll by Tom Cruise’s house on the regular. It soon became evident that even though I loved the kookiness of LA, I needed to continue to pursue my real joy. This wasn’t it. I left LA near end of June and headed out for summer adventures.

If you are ever a tourist in LA, definitely give the RastaBus tour a day of your life.

If you are ever a tourist in LA, definitely give the RastaBus tour a day of your life.

Luna’s voyage north and the Rainbow Gathering in Utah:

I decided to put Luna in storage a little closer to Oregon as I was pretty sure I’d be ending up in Portland again as fall set in. I debated on how far north and ultimately settled her in Gilroy, CA, just south of San Francisco Bay so she would be easily accessible for traveling to Burning Man later in the summer. My traveling partner from the previous summer’s Rainbow Gathering journey met me in LA and drove my car so I could drive the van. We parked Luna and locked her up tight and travelled with another beautiful new friend we met through the Rainbow rideshare board on Facebook. Though there was a lot of negative hype and rumors going around about Utah’s strict law enforcement, the gathering itself was incredible and beautiful this year (as it is every year) and it was my favorite event of the summer. I met so many beautiful people and shared some really heartfelt and perfect moments working with the Casual Encounters kitchen, who happened to be based out of LA this year. Thomas, Blaine, Eliza and Mason (and let’s not forget Zoe), I frickin’ love you guys! Let’s keep this kitchen alive, ok? East Coast next year, eh?

On the rainbow road, somewhere in Nevada.

On the rainbow road, somewhere in Nevada.

Utah Rainbow Gathering

Utah National Rainbow Gathering of the Tribes.

A month of travel, family and preparation:

After I returned from Utah, I took the long road back to my Mom’s, who lives an hour or so north of Seattle, allowing for time to check out towns and visit friends. I wanted to stop in a few towns along the 101 that I hadn’t really spent much time in previously. I drove north on 101 until Arcata then traveled inland towards Redding. From Redding to Portland, I explored the I-5 with a little more scrutiny than in my previous drives, as these days, I am considering where I might like to grow roots. The next few weeks were filled with a visit from my brother and niece and preparation for Burning Man. While Brad and Skye were in town, the four of us including Mom, went on a beautiful whale watch in the San Juan Islands. This was definitely a super fun day filled with lots of wildlife sightings, including orcas and bald eagles. Once my beloveds left, I began the process of reading Burning Man blogs, acquiring the items as dictated in the Survival Gide and generally freaking out over all of my to-do lists, for it would be my “burgin” voyage.

Good-bye California, for now.

Good-bye California, for now.

Skye

My gorgeous niece, Skye.

Beautiful orcas in the San Juan Islands of Washington.

Beautiful orcas in the San Juan Islands of Washington.

Beloved Festival in Tidewater, Oregon

Before I embarked on the Burning Man voyage, I ended up at the Beloved Festival just in time for my 45th birthday. I was selected to work with a burgeoning duo of pure shakti and fire essence for the Sahasa Indian Fusion food booth. The festival was only three days, though I worked for them for about five days to help them get their booth and supplies ready for the weekend. I learned some valuable lessons working with Sahasa and I’d be selling this experience short by trying to summarize it. Suffice it to say that now having been to Burning Man, I’d be inclined to attend Beloved more frequently and enthusiastically, especially given the location so close to the Oregon Coast. Along the way back to Seattle, I picked up some hitchhikers who looked like they were leaving the Beloved festival, though they turned out to be a beautiful couple who had been walking the Pacific Crest Trail. We journeyed back to Portland together and on the way stopped at Tillamook to celebrate my birthday with ice cream and free cheese samples. What a strange way to celebrate with complete strangers from the road who I hope will stay in touch with me.

Beloved Festival in Tidewater, Oregon.

Beloved Festival in Tidewater, Oregon.

How to wake up on your birthday.

How to wake up on your birthday.

Burning Man Carvansary 2014:

This will likely get it’s own blog entry, who knows, maybe more than one. I am still processing the lasting effects of Burning Man and it is clear that life does have a saltier, dustier flavor having seen Black Rock City, Nevada first hand. Though I wouldn’t say “I had the time of my life” or that “it was magical”, or “transformative” as many people describe it, I will say it was extraordinary and definitely something to see. I also understand how it can have that kind of impact on many people who perhaps haven’t been on the roads I have been on. For me, this trip was a journey of many obstacles. So many obstacles, it seemed as though Ganesha was just having a little fun at his burn too! In the way of my universe, every single obstacle was removed, cleared and allowed to be a reminder of how easy I have it, how lucky I am to have this life, and how Everything Works Out Perfectly (EWOP)—always. Now that I am on the other end of this journey, I can see it more clearly for what it was than I could while I was in the fire. Hence the reason I haven’t been writing…I have been fully immersed in LIVING! I’ll write an entry soon which includes some of the epic photography I took while visiting Black Rock City.

The quintessential Burning Man photo.

The quintessential Burning Man photo.

AIR Yogalates

After Burning Man, I landed in Portland to attend a new aerial yoga teacher training with some beautiful, wise teachers and founders of AIR Yogalates. I knew it was going to be a challenge for me to attend such a training, especially after returning from Burning Man. The timing worked out perfectly (duh) and the training, though exhausting and at times, frustrating and emotional, has helped me see myself in new ways. I am grateful and excited to see how this training changes me and helps me grow.

That's me. Getting inverted.

That’s me. Getting inverted.

Settling in to Autumn

Just after I safely arrived in Portland, my van, Luna, blew the head gasket (which most likely actually happened just outside of the BRC gates during Exodus). It took a month for the shop in Portland to get her completely fixed up. Now, another month later, I have finally gotten her cleaned out from the summer and removed all of the playa dust. Thank goodness for safe passage and having enough resources to pull that off. We are now safe in Washington where Luna will take rest and shelter until next year, as will I. Next week I make my annual journey back to Texas for some family time, reunions with my Texas friends and other exciting new developments. More on that later.

As I look towards winter and the upcoming holiday season, I am anxious to document my experiences in a way that helps people understand what this kind of authentic life looks and feels like. Truth be told, this was a crazy hard and intense summer that I am not likely to endeavor to repeat anytime soon. I survived and I did enjoy it, but it was a lot of work too. As it goes, I love my life and I love the opportunities that following my passion brings me. Here’s to wrapping up the year in style!

Letters from my higher self

Anna,

You are such a beautiful light to those around you. You are good enough–knowing you always have room to grow–right now, you are enough.

Take time to praise yourself and love yourself for all of the amazing things you have accomplished. Don’t get down on yourself when you fall short–we all do from time to time.

Remember your divinity and live your dharma. You have so much beauty and light to bring to the world while you are here. You live in abundance and divine timing.

I love you so much!

Anna

Mt. Shasta June 2013

Mt. Shasta June 2013

 

welcome to artlovemusicyoga

Hello fellow seekers, lovers, artists, yogis, friends and family. This is a brand-spankin’ new blog about the things I am most passionate about. I’ve been inspired to write one of these for a while and I am finally making it a priority in my life to start writing and sharing.

My inspiration for writing comes from you! Over the years, many of my friends and family have told me how they live vicariously through me. I do live a pretty interesting life. My sincerest wish in sharing my thoughts and experiences is to inspire, remind, laugh, open, and create a beautiful dialogue about the things I learn on my journey. Come here to find stories about art, love, music, yoga, peace, spirituality, health, food, travel, and positive personal transformation. Also, I am planning some amazing trips for this year and I want to document them here. I hope you will read my musings and feel warm, strong, creative and present.

I am embarking on another transformational adventure and I want you to come along for the ride. I don’t want to give too many spoilers so I’ll keep this short ‘n sweet for now. Just know that I intend to share myself authentically and humbly in the hopes that you’ll find some little spark that speaks to you. Maybe it will speak of taking risks or getting very honest with yourself. Maybe it will speak of setting goals and fulfilling dreams. I will always speak from my heart. So from my heart to yours, welcome!

"Did you ever grow anything in your garden of your mind?"  Mister Rogers Remixed

“Did you ever grow anything in your garden of your mind?”
Mister Rogers Remixed

Anna Amrita