Monday, March 25, 2013

The Sky Is Crying: When Eras End

February 2013

Goa, India

I awaken to the sweet sound of songbirds chirping in the coconut trees outside my hut, mixed in with the lapping of waves and crows talking to each other. I’m overcome with a sense of bitter-sweetness. I’m both happy and sad.

It’s happy-sad time. The end of an era. I am finally admitting to myself, filled with this happy-sadness, that I’m going through a death process. Grief is hitting me hard here in India, even while back home (yes, I am finally referring to the U.S. as “home” again, for now) the new visions and renewed relations are so nourishing and inviting.

I’m in a year of transition. According to numerology, my Tarot card for 2013 is The Hanged Man. It’s about a complete change in perspective, and surrendering completely. Letting go of that which we held dear for so very long, with faith that Life Itself is bringing a new chapter in.

Things will never, ever be the same for me again. The last twelve years were beyond the beyond for me, as I was spiritually COOKING. Melting down in a crucible called India. That chapter has ended, the cooking completed within the crucible of transformation as my two great gurus – Mother India and my spiritual teacher – were the keepers of the forge.

The last three years encompassed the slow ‘n steady turning of the Great Wheel of Life. This is the long reentry back to a more western-centric existence. But even if I know the turn of events is inevitable, my soul is still playing catch-up, or come-down, as it were, and the sky is crying over it.

Literally. It is raining off and on, unseasonably, here in Goa. The rains mirror my grief, a washing of the soul to make way for something new. Sitting here in my beach hut in south Goa, tears fill my eyes and my heart seizes.

India is one of my soul mates – imagine! An entire nation! She will always hold a seat of honor in my soul. But my relationship with Her IS changing. She has to step down from being priority #1 – “The One” – in order to make way for new loves and horizons to emerge in my life.

Attempting to feel that old magic is futile. When we have moved on from a life chapter, we’ve moved on. Like I said, this turning of the wheel, this time of “closure” has lasted three years. Death can take a long time. As I feel a sense of an old identity dying, I’m acutely aware that grief is an honest emotion. It is so pure. It is critical in its place of creating space for the next chapter. But it need not turn into mourning which is an emotional identification with the past, an unnecessary clinging to “the way we were.”

Indeed, I could drop into reverie now of ‘the way things were’ all those years ago when I first touched down in Delhi twelve years ago, but those blogs have been written in real time and they’ve been compiled into books. I could bitch and moan no end about the changes here in India and how it’s just not the same – the skyrocketing prices, the disrespect to customs that make for real eyesores, the love/hate of technology showing up – mobile phones, Internet, and satellite television. And the newly emerging sense of consumption that India is inheriting  from the West as it strives to speed up its status on the developing nation stage.

Perhaps I will write more on these things. But for now, just for today, The Sky Is Crying*.

I am so glad I recognize grief. It’s one of the gifts of time, and getting older. Yes, the gifts. When we feel it fully, we know we’re ending a life chapter. And, while we’re not fully stepped into the next flow, we can trust through wisdom that Something New will emerge.
My first Big Grief was divorce at 28, representing end of youth. The second Big Grief was death of my guru at 38, a transition into becoming my own spiritual master. And now, here is my third Big Grief, the ending of a long-term, all-encompassing love affair with a nation.
This particular 5-week trip is about honoring the work I’ve done here over the years. It’s also about severing the ties. Making sure no stone has been left unturned before I part ways. The power of new love, new ventures, new vistas back in the U.S. holds promise. I am excited to get going on my second book (the Bindi Girl sequel) and other projects and collaborations with others. But the grieving process is a primarily solo, internal one. It does feel vacuous, it is exhausting, and the whole point is that it can’t really be assuaged. Perhaps, if it could be lessened, it would mean that it wasn’t really over. And it is.
It can feel like you’re abandoning your lover, or that she is abandoning you. The scythe hurts. Even if no one has done the abandoning – it’s just happened as a part of natural life cycles – the leaving, the ending happened on its own through no intention or fault.  But the ending process MUST be completely experienced. There IS a period at the end of the last sentence of a life chapter.
Let us not forget: real love never dies. The story ends, but not the love, nor the gratitude. No matter the external changes in circumstances, in loyalties, in the love we shared with a person, a place, a time of life – the love will endure. It is a flower in the heart. The tears water the new seeds of growth which shall bear  springtime blossoms. We are rich. And it is beautiful.

Can’t you see the tears roll down the street?
~ Blues standard (Elmore James)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Heal the Body: Ayurveda in Rishikesh

Dhanvantari, incarnation of Krishna and Lord of Ayurveda

Hello friends, from Rishikesh, near the headwaters of the holy river Ganges at the base of the mountains of the northern India state of Uttarakhand. Known to be a hotspot for yoga and spirituality, Rishikesh has become much too busy for my tastes these days, yet I still come here to imbibe in the wonderful energy of the Ganga, see old friends and bask in the splendor of the foothills and greenery. It’s only five hours by train from Delhi, so it’s worth the trip if you’re in this corner of the subcontinent.

Dr Shree and Remadevi,wife & clinic manager
The main reason for my visit this time is to see my ayurvedic physician, Dr. Srinarayan Kurup, known as Dr. Shree by his clients. Last August during monsoon season, I underwent an intense panchakarma “cure” under his care. (“Panch” means five in Hindi/Sanskrit - there are five typical therapies involved in a treatment; “karma” here means action.)

My first panchakarma was amazingly effective; I cleared out skin issues and rebalanced my system with the help of abhyanga oil massages, potli (pounding with rice packs and oils), shirodara (oil dripped on the forehead to calm the mind), and ghee medicinal treatments (ghee is clarified butter), among others. It’s not an easy process: one must commit to a minimum of seven days for good results (ideally 16-28 days, but Dr. Shree will work with one’s time and budget).

I came to respect Dr. Shree, who hails from Kerala (the southwest corner of India – lush and green and known for ayurveda), because I trust him. There are thousands of ayurvedic physicians in India. Many are very good, some are excellent. But not all of them can diagnose a foreign patient with a non-judgmental attitude and understanding that we, well – we live differently in U.S. and Europe. We eat, drink, exercise, relate, and entertain ourselves differently. We would not fit into a typical Indian lifestyle, and therefore, we need different analyses when addressing our health care needs. When I met Dr. Shree, I intuitively felt he was hearing me. Not only was his English excellent, he’d lived and worked abroad and been exposed to many foreigners over the years. When I pushed back on something that traditional ayurveda advises as a lifestyle change but that I know I wouldn’t realistically adhere to, Dr. Shri would make accommodations and adjust the treatment plan accordingly.

Dr. Shree's lovely wife, Remadevi, is the manager of the clinic. She also comes from an ayurvedic physician's family in Kerala. The two of them make a great team, making their clients feel welcome and facilitating a plan that works for everyone.

I have come to love ayurveda – a holistic system of health care and well being based on a unique understanding of body, mind, and soul. I find it fascinating that one major stipulation of ayurvedic medicine is, if it's not worthy of going INSIDE the body (i.e. edible), it should not be put EXTERNALLY on the body either. In other words, if you can't eat it, you shouldn't rub it on your skin!

Ayurvedic humors
Many of us have heard of the three “doshas” or body types, of ayurveda: Pitta (fire/water), Vata (air/ether) and Kapha (water/earth). It is necessary to get ones pulse diagnosed by a qualified ayurvedic practitioner, and then start to learn the best way to balance that body type.

Most folks in the modern world are overwrought with far too much vata, with our overly busy lifestyles and our resultant miniscule attention spans (irregular rhythms, too much Internet, too much multitasking, too much travel - in general, not being GROUNDED).

This is often exacerbated by a high pitta lifestyle that can run amok – too much heat, repressed anger, alcohol, caffeine, passions overrunning the body to name just a few triggers. None of these things are “bad” in themselves; it’s when things get out of balance that it’s no longer fun!

When I came to Dr. Shree last year, I was a full-on, flaming pitta gal, having spent many moons for years in the broiling hot of India, with a fierce coffee addiction and a fiery, passionate personality to boot. This had paid off for years in terms of my independence and high-adventure travel lifestyle. But last year, it came to be clear that I was out of balance: out of nowhere, I’d gotten scabies (yes, scabies – cringe if you must; it happens, even in the hyper-clean U.S.) which thrives on pitta body types. While I was able to clear the skin parasite using alternative and allopathic remedies, my system was completely out of whack for about six months after, not to mention the post-traumatic stress of fearing another micro-organism inhabiting itself on my body!

I’d had no intention of doing an ayurvedic treatment when I came to Rishikesh last August. But I knew I needed help to clean my system. And the time was perfect. It was slow season, and the clinic was quiet. The weather was perfect for a treatment – not too hot, with a bit of moisture in the air. I couldn’t believe that a panchakarma therapy could put Bindi back together again, but I was willing to give it a serious try. Not only that, but the treatments in India are probably 25% of the cost of undergoing the same therapy in the U.S. I had nothing to lose.

I followed the program religiously for ten days, getting scrubbed, pounded, oiled and steamed within and without. I drank large quantities of liquid ghee (ugh!) and stayed horizontal in my ashram room  much of the time, hardly able to even read a book. But I trusted and, as usual, I endured (a good thing about pitta body types - endurance and fortitude!). I cried, I sweated, I eliminated and purged, I LET GO.

After the treatment, I felt like a different person. I was renewed, uplifted, and positive-minded again. Dr. Shree prescribed three months of post-therapy herbs to purify my blood (yay for NEEM!) and my colon (TRIPHALA GUGGUL – a stronger form of triphala combined with a plant resin to better enter the tissues). I also used regular medicated oil on my body to keep my pitta fire down, and took BRAHMI (gotu kola) nightly to calm my nervous system. Both pitta and vata body types have highly sensitive nervous systems. I also took AMLA (natural vitamin C) in large quantities every day as an antioxidant and natural antiviral.
All side effects of lingering skin conditions disappeared over the next month. I returned to Europe, followed by the U.S., with a bigger spring in my step and glowing health. I repeated the detox this spring to go for a deeper layer of cleansing, which was successful. I have a new regimen to take home with me to grow continually stronger and healthier.

Mother India has given me gift after gift after gift. Over these last twelve years, not only did I learn to travel on a teeny shoestring, able survive on barely anything, I also hit the spiritual jackpot with the meeting of my guru, leading to an unshakeable inner peace. And just when I thought I’d gotten all the gold India might offer me, I hit a new mother lode of physical health: Ayurveda – the natural healer.
Remadevi, practitioner Anita, Erin

Going to India and need to heal, detox, or rejuvenate? Contact Dr. Shree directly via email or phone for inquiries or to set up an appointment. Tell him Erin referred you.
Dr. Shree Narayana Kurup
Green Ayurveda Center
Ram Jhula, Swargashram, Rishikesh
 (+91) 9675110050

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.