Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Pilgrimage (video)

Travel writer Erin Reese, author of The Adventures of Bindi Girl, takes us on a journey around the holy mountain of Shiva, Arunachala, in Tiruvannamalai, India. This 14 km pilgrimage is called "girivalam" (circumambulation) or Pradakshina (the Hindu rite of going round the object of worship).

Best with sound up and viewed full screen.
 Also possible to view directly on YouTube:

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Click the "donate" link on the site. Namaste and thanks!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Scenes from Arunachala (video)


Scenes from Arunachala, the holy hill and beacon of light!
Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, South India.

The mountain, the babas, the pilgrims, the coconut, the love.

Om namah Shivaya.
Erin Reese

Click here to view direct on YouTube.
Best viewed full screen with sound up!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Santosha: Want what you have

Santosha (Sanskrit) संतोष saṃtoṣa, "contentment, satisfaction") is one of the niyamas of Yoga as listed by Patanjali. Contentment is variously described, but can be thought of as not requiring more than you have to achieve contentment. It may be seen as renunciation of the need to acquire, and thereby elimination of want as an obstacle to mokṣa (liberation).

Tamil Nadu, Southeast India

The taxi driver stops for a 10 minute break along the roadside. I’ve just traveled from the west coast to the east coast of India on a 2nd class overnight sleeper, from decompressing on the beaches of Goa to the plains of Tamil Nadu. I’m making my way to the town of Tiruvannamalai, to the holy mountain of Arunachala, a vortex of light and energy and the land of the great sage Ramana Maharshi. It’s the fifth time I’ve come here in the last 6 years. I heal here. I bask in the clarity and understanding that seeps through the airwaves, effortlessly.

At the roadside chai stand, we are given steaming hot cups of tea, brewed south Indian style. At first sip, I gasp at the sweetness, but then squeal in delight at the sheer DELICIOUSNESS of the rich, fresh-from-the-cow-that-morn, unpasteurized milk.

Wow! I exclaim. That is some good milk!

I always forget what milk used to taste like until I get it farm fresh again.

Post-tea time, we pile back in the taxi – me, the driver, and two Russian gals I’ve met on the train who’ve shared a taxi with me to save costs. They want to see the ashram I’ve got a booking at, to see if they might like to stay there too.

We pull up to the ashram gates and the Mataji (renunciate woman in charge) motions for us to wait for Swamiji at the office. Soon after, he comes in, long white beard and hair, shirtless and wearing a dhoti (sarong-type wrap) – looking exactly the same as he does every time I return here.

I tell Swami that I met these young ladies on the train and they are interested to see if the ashram might have a shared room available for them, too.

“How long you like to stay?” asks Swamiji.

“We don’t know. We need to see the room,” answer the Russians.

“Three days, five days? Then I can tell you if the room is available,” says Swami.

“We have to see the room first,” the Russian lead repeats. She looks at me with a nod of approval, as if I must agree that, of course, they have to see the room!

Actually, I'm seeing this through the eyes of the Indians. When you arrive to an ashram that is given to you by the Grace of God, only on donation for food, shelter and safety, you don’t look the gift horse in the mouth.

They insist on seeing the room. Swami exhibits what I am sure is one of the first bouts of pure anger from a “holy man” these girls have known.

Swamiji’s eyes blaze: “I am trying to offer you a comfortable room that will be sufficient to your needs! How can I help you if you do not tell me how long you will be staying? Room is on the first floor.” He throws the keys across the desk. “Here is the key. Go and see.”

The girls look at me as if I should offer consolation or support, but I have traveled so much in India that I empathize with Swami’s reaction and give them a shrug. As soon as they leave the office, he turns to me:
“I don’t understand these foreigners! What they are expecting! They don’t have to stay the full time. I only need some idea of their plans.”

“I know,” I concur mildly, as I pull my passport out of my sweaty security pouch and hand it to him.

It’s that sense of entitlement we have as foreigners. We don’t even know we have it. We forget that, in India and many countries, while the guest is God, it is also our privilege and a gift to be given the opportunity to stay in an ashram. We are so darned lucky – healthy, able to travel, able to leave our homes and families for spiritual sustenance, able to get a visa, money for all our needs – we are rich! How quickly we forget and are overcome with a case of “I wanna, I wanna, I wanna…” Spoiled brats, we are!

It’s one of the reasons I keep coming back to India: to remind myself again and again how abundant and fortunate I am. I don’t take it for granted, and it seems, as a side effect, I am always provided for more than enough. I’ve learned to live off air – or rather, consciousness. Actually, it’s more like what my astrologer friend Jessica said to me after examining my birth chart: “You, Erin, literally eat from your prayers.” Yes, I do. The Divine is my employer and General Manager and it is from the Divine that I take all marching orders.

I myself am not given my favorite room. It’s facing the busier road, so I’ll be hearing honking and motorbikes on and off 24/7. The fan is also squeaky and irritatingly loud. I’ll try to fix it with coconut oil on the gear shaft, and as for the noise, I have earplugs and meditation. I’m so happy to be staying in this ashram again, I’m not cranky. It is not the particularly religious aspects of staying in ashrams that I dig. It is the SATTVIC environment, the focus on pure consciousness. Because of the sheer amounts of prayer and meditation, and noble silence, and humble seva (service) as driving force, there is a peaceful vibration and raised energy in the ashram, usually.

I immediately take a shower. I’m so grimy and smelly from the 24 hour hard journey I can’t wait another second. I throw a wad of dark clothes in a bucket, pour in some powdered soap, and get a load of laundry going to soak. Then I head to the dining hall. I know I’m a good half hour late for lunch, and the swamis and babas do NOT like latecomers to meals. I’m fully prepared to walk out in the midday heat to find another lunch option, but first I poke my head in.

“Khana milega?” (Food available?) I ask the baba near the serving pots if it’s still possible to eat. I’m speaking Hindi in a Tamil-speaking town but it’s just my way of trying to show a little respect.

“Sit, sit! I serve you!” the white-haired monk gestures. “Get plate, sit down.”

I do what he says and plop down on the clean, stone floor on a mini reed mat, joyous that I can eat at ‘home.’

“Little, little,” I tell him, asking him to give me a half portion because I know how much these guys serve. The baba comes back to my place with a huge mountain of food on a stainless steel thali plate.

“No little little!” I laugh.

“Big feast today, special food!” says a younger, bearded sadhu sitting opposite me, still chiseling away at his own mountaintop of food.

Ah, it’s Ramana’s birth star day, I realize. Every month, the day Ramana Maharshi’s birth star is prominent in the astrological constellations, there are extra puja ceremonies and the food is abundant.

I’m given a heap of rice, 3 kinds of vegetables, two papadam crisps, a delicious spiced buttermilk, a cup of kheer (rice pudding) and a laddu sweet ball for dessert. I couldn’t be happier. I try not to overeat, but it’s darn near impossible with all this goodness on my plate. I wash my dishes and fill my water bottle from the filter, then head off to my small room to take a siesta on my simple, hard bed. The sound of peacocks squawking outside my window tones down the horns and I fall into a pleasant 20-minute slumber with a smile on my lips.

Erin Reese is a travel writer, intuitive consultant and guide based in San Francisco. She is the author of The Adventures of Bindi Girl: Diving Deep Into the Heart of India, available on Amazon.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Traditional Coconut-Oil Mill (video)


Footage of traditional method of milling oil from the coconut in south India.

View on YouTube:

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sun enters Pisces: Readings by Donation

The Sun has just entered Pisces, mutable sign of the Fish,

And Erin's by the seaside in India, psychic antennae high in the sky!


~ Through Tuesday, February 19 ~


In honor of the Sun's ingress into the FLUID, PSYCHIC, AND COMPASSIONATE SIGN OF PISCES, I'm offering Tarot Readings via donation until end of day, Tuesday February 19.

HOW: Email your question directly to me, along with any specifics about your situation that I need to know. I will respond within 24-48 hours with a personalized write-up of your intuitive reading, plus full-color photograph of the Tarot cards drawn for your question.

WHEN: Send your request to me by end of day, February 19, 2013, Pacific time.

PAYMENT: Sliding scale donations due upon receipt of reading, via Paypal or by easy-access donation button on my website, erinreese.com. (My normal rate is $100 per hour.)

I look forward to reading for you!

With love,
Erin Reese

Please feel free to repost this link or email and share with interested friends and family.

Recent testimonial on Erin's readings:

You're a mid-wife, doctor, priestess, 
with a gentle, sweet, hip, sophisticated way
of articulating the information.
The clarity of your voice pairs with an amazing life-path
of stripping to the core that resonates pure love and light.
~ Noreen, graphic artist, Berkeley, CA

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Big Top and the Bhagavad Gita

Mumbai seems more decrepit, dusty and disgruntled with itself than ever. And just as beautiful. The swirling sea of humanity, the gorgeous color and chaos mesmerize as I bumble through Bombay. Kerplunk! Straight into heart of the Big Top. Nothing compares to India, the Greatest Show on Earth.

The participants are not actors. You know that saying from that old TV show, The People's Court with grumpy, endearing Judge Wapner. Here in India, the veil of illusion (maya) is so thin, it is clear that life IS the play (lila) of the Divine. The timing is impeccable, the staging beyond brilliant. Who is acting in this cosmic joke? The thespians are playing parts perfectly, with no idea they're delivering Oscar-winning performances. For years, this was the biggest high for me, the most intense rush of being here for long periods of time. It is one of the key points that kept me coming back for more.

India was my greatest guru. It is here I learned to surrender to the play of life, from moment to moment. Here, it is plain to see how powerless we really here. One has a snowball’s chance in hell of controlling anything. The Mind must lay down its sword and shield and admit surrender. Swimming amidst the incomparable pandemonium of India, it is crystal clear: we don’t make the rules.

Thing is, this is exactly the same back in the U.S. and everywhere else on the planet. It is only our cultural conditioning, the glaze resting lightly on everyday events making us forget that we are powerless. The world is a stage, and we are merely players. We walk out onto the street in the morning, or even prior, we wake up in our bedroom next to our beloved, and it is as if life has been scripted perfectly, just for us. Down to the first bird chirping and the fresh-squeezed orange juice, down to the first text or email message of the day. Down to the first happening.

Why is it a good idea to see the theater of life as a play? Doesn’t it numb us to life’s unfolding, giving it a sense of detachment that impersonalizes the experience? Oh, no. It gives us the freedom to dive in deeper into our parts, enjoying and embodying our roles as lover, mother, child, friend, worker, artist, rebel, you name it. We stop resisting the play, which may relieve us from a great heap of suffering. The suffering that comes from Mind which tells us things should be different than the way they are.

Now, I can hear some of you saying, but wait! I am power-full! Dr. Phil says so and Louise Hay tell me I Can Heal My Life! The Secret proclaims I manifest my own reality! Gandhi and Obama implore us to be the change!  I’m responsible for my own happiness! Aren’t I?

Yes, and no. If it is your character, temperament and design to affect change, to grow spiritually or intellectually, to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, YOU WILL. If you’re money motivated, you’ll climb that career ladder with all your might. If you’re a freewheeling hipster who’s happy to live off Top Ramen and write poetry, you’ll make it day to day. If you are meant to marry, you will have that inkling and take the leap when a partner shows up. If you are in a miserable marriage or job, whether or not you are inclined to leave it is up to your hard-wiring, current psychological conditioning and conglomerate life circumstances. How much of that is in your control?

This is where an understanding, however rudimentary, of the Baghavad Gita comes in handy. In the Gita, Lord Krishna is the charioteer for the warrior Arjuna. Krishna represents God, the Divine, in the driver’s seat. Arjuna, your everyday mortal (albeit a world-class fighter), has entered battle, and he sees that, up in the distance, the enemies on the field are his friends and family. He tells Krishna, how could I possibly fight these people? They are my kin!

Krishna tells Arjuna: I have already killed them. It is written. You have no choice. You can only be that which you cannot not be. You are a warrior. Be as you are. Fight, and be happy

Now, perhaps this is a bit politically incorrect. Even worse (or better): it may come across as spiritually incorrect – for shame! (Claps hands together with glee.) How can it be that warring and fighting could be part of something holy? That is because holy is wholly perfect, and it makes no difference whether we are talking good or bad, it is all Divine. Therein lies peace. Be what you are. Be as you are.

If you are a worker, serve happily. If you are a thief, steal and delight in your conquest. If you are a pious one, pray and share your joy.  If you are a curmudgeon, play your Scrooge or Archie Bunker to the hilt. A parent? Revel in your child’s upbringing. A lover? Shower your Beloved with kisses! xoxoxox

Once we get this "be as you are" deal, even intellectually, a great load of shame and guilt is shed. And once this understanding explodes into the heart and is embodied – well, then, my friends, that could be called a Great Awakening. We are talking nothing less than the yoga of realizing the true self.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

In Transit

Singapore International

Temperatures are warming, accents becoming more exotic. The smell of Southeast Asia permeates the carpets in the airports as the humidity seeps in and the fungal spore count rises – you can smell it. The air is heavier. There is a palpable vibe of kookiness increasing. This is what I love about travel: things get loopier and it’s not just because of jet lag. The mishmash of cultures while on the road creates a beautiful potpourri of movements and mannerisms that is so ‘out there’ that, at the end of the day, anything goes. My soul breathes in the freedom and sucks it up like the ambrosia it is. Once again, I am On the Road.

First time ever, I book a nap room at Changi International in Singapore. $30 U.S. for 3 hours of fairly quiet shut-eye. Problem is, it’s 10 a.m. San Francisco time and no matter how wretched I feel, I can’t sleep. Eye mask on, earplugs shoved in, even some Rescue Remedy Sleep under tongue – to no avail. Ah, well. This is life in transit.

Our plane had stopped for two hours in Seoul, and we had to disembark and pass through security again. My Swiss Army knife almost got confiscated. I’d forgotten it in my daypack carry-on and it slipped inadvertently through the Great American Homeland Wall of Security. The Korean official gave me the option of tossing, but I fretted and jutted out my lower lip, pouting. That little red knife with doodads has major sentimental value. It’s been on the road with me for over 20 years. They accommodated me and checked it through separately to be claimed in Bombay.

Flight on Singapore Airlines was fab. Smiling, accommodating staff dressed in colorful attire. Best airline food I’ve had in years, by far. And the best coffee! Scalding hot, strong and black. I overate, down to the cheesecake. Savored good red wine for free (one of the last indulgent airlines). I enjoy everything I've paid handsomely for when I’m on long haul flights. I watched five films en route. Movies on board airplanes always seem more riveting than usual. Here’s how I spent my in-flight time:
  •  Hope Springs:  Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones in emotive drama about a married couple who, after 30 years, see if they can get their groove back. Slow film, but realistic and touches on many issues that I’m sure long-time married folks will relate to.
  • Two Days in New York: Loved it. Frenchie Julie Delpy of Before Sunrise/Sunset romantic fame shows her stuff as director. Her caricature Parisian family comes over for a few days and the Big Apple is turned on its ear. Chris Rock plays her lover. He looks great, if oddly thin, and plays a straighter character than usual. Giggly and smart.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Coming of age film that did well by leaving the cheesiness and gratuitous sex by the wayside. Recommend. Fine acting. Love the Rocky Horror bits, the Smiths references, and the perils of high school dances.
  •  To Rome, With Love: Oh, Woody Allen. You did so well with Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Midnight In Paris. But he missed his mark with this third Euro-city love letter. A few funny bits but in general, this one felt forced. Unless you’re in love with Italy, you can pass.
  •  Ruby Sparks: A good movie for those who are writers or appreciate magical realism. A 29-year old Salinger-type genius writer conjures up a female character, falls in love, and manifests her into reality. Includes strong turns by Annette Benning and Antonio Banderas as contemporary hipsters in Big Sur. As a writer and mystic who dreams her own world into existence, I enjoyed it thoroughly.

I’m taking shorter trips to the Motherland of India – a month at a time versus a year or more at a time. I am attempting to wean myself from long-term travel, attempting to have a home base in the U.S. For me, ‘settling down’ A BIT is like landing the space shuttle. Reentry after 10 years of road tripping is a complex process. It can’t really be done overnight; even if the mind thinks it’s ready to stop, there is inertia built up. As the laws of physics state, an object in motion stays in motion until it encounters an equal and opposite force (powers of interest, love, passion). For me, it’s all about what the heart wants.