Archive for the ‘pancha karma’ Category

Sunrise over Vaidyagrama

This morning as I watched the sun rise over New Mexico, I marveled anew at the wonder of this globe. We spin on our little axis through space, pulled in endless scheduled circles around a ball of fire amongst countless other rotating spheres passing in their own exact orbits. The celestial bodies that I gazed up at from Vaidyagrama are visible to me now, in their turn, from here on the other side of the planet. Watching them keeps me aware of the true scale of things.

Door to door, my trip home from India took a total of 44 hours: an hour-long tear-stained taxi ride, followed by four flights interspersed with 14 land-bound hours of layovers, capped off by a beautiful sunset drive through the deserts of New Mexico. I am already missing my dear friends at Vaidyagrama – AND it is a joy to be home.

My typical pancha karma attire - oily hair in a towel and at least three patterns below the neck.

My last week of pancha karma was dedicated to recuperation. All of the intensive treatments were over so now my body just got to soak in the strengthening herbal medicines, fresh foods, natural surroundings, and daily oil massages while it got strong again. My focus shifted from my body’s cleansing and re-balancing to that of my mind. There was almost no explicit guidance from the doctors on that aspect of pancha karma, but the very structure of Vaidyagrama itself points you towards reflection and increasing mental quiet. With all of my physical needs taken care of, I took it as a rare opportunity to reduce as much mental input as possible. Just as eating more food before the previous meal is digested results in a backlog and poor digestion, I realized I am constantly putting in more information before the previous installment is processed. My mental digestion would benefit from some fasting.

So for my last week at Vaidyagrama, I gave up the internet entirely, and – even more challenging for me – I abandoned all reading. No studying the ancient texts, no yoga books, no poetry, not even a “just for fun” novel. No input. Honestly, the prospect was more than a little unnerving.

When you sit with yourself for so long in this intense practice of stripping away, you can discover what you’re leaning on, what’s keeping you comfortable but not really vibrant. My brain is always working; even my mental “neutral” is pretty active. Those shifting gears create a certain amount of background noise that is somehow reassuring, the white noise of my brain. It was a shock to have nothing to take in, nothing new to process – no white noise. Suddenly other “noises” could be heard. It felt odd, but never boring, to go out to the porch with nothing in my hands to read. I watched the rain or the birds, or closed my eyes and watched my thoughts go by, wandering through the stacks of my memories and dreams.

At first, I expected that this would provoke an internal revolution. I kept watching for the revelations, a breakthrough to rock my perspective. Before long I realized that even that baited-breath watchfulness revealed a drive to accomplish something, to have some proof of time well spent. It is an insidious pressure. What I longed for, I realized, was to have NO expectations, nothing to defend or prove. Just to sit, and have that be enough. So I sat. And I have nothing to report. No analysis, no tidy landing place…. Just a quiet, humble relief.

How do you say good-bye to a community of teachers, caregivers and friends who have come to feel like family? The best solution I have come up with is not to – to start planning your reunion as soon as possible. As the taxi pulled away down the dirt drive, I waved to Dr. Ramdas, Lima, Rtu, Dr. Om, Dr. Aruna and the rest of the crowd until the bend in the road hid them from sight, and I began picturing my return.

I’ve now been here in my parents’ home in Santa Fe for one week, with several unscheduled weeks still in front of me. As my body continues to get stronger, the wealth of experiences of the last six months are percolating in the periphery of my awareness. It is said that the true effect of pancha karma is not felt until three months later, as the cells turn over in the course of their natural life cycles and the body is literally renewed. I am certain the same could be said about the effect of living  in a foreign land for six months. The seeds sown in this season will bear fruit in their own time.

At the Ooty Botanical Garden

In the meantime, I fully recognize the great luxury I am experiencing right now – no job to report to, no family to take care of, few bills to pay – and I am relishing my diminished interactions with the world for a bit longer. I know it will soon take effort and intention to gracefully navigate the demands that will resume. I have faith that my experience of life at Vaidyagrama will give me discrimination in choosing which strands I weave back into the fabric of my daily life.

What happens next for me? I will stay in Santa Fe for the rest of July and then make my way to my new home: Austin, Texas. Some of you may know my brother Ian and his wife Jeri Lynn, two of the most inspiring artists (and blog writers, incidentally) that I know. Their roots are deep in Austin, and I get more and more excited about joining them in creating our own village, right there up the road from Barton Springs.

My niece, Koruna, whose brother is due in August

I will set up shop as an Ayurveda consultant and yoga instructor, offering workshops and individual consultations to help clients find their unique sources of health and contentment in life. And I will remain open to the guiding spirit that led me so effortlessly through India, watching for my right path to emerge, the path with the true sense of calling and a sense of ease.

One unexpected joy I found in India was connecting with all of you here. I plan to continue writing here and sharing inspirations rooted in the rich earth of Ayurveda – ideas about community, nature, delicious food, healing, the gifts of yoga, the importance of beauty, and other roadside attractions. I hope you will continue to keep me company on this path. Good company, I have seen, is often the very best medicine.

The full moon over Vaidyagrama

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The view from my porch

It was as if Nature was watching a calendar. On June 1st, the sky opened up and the rain began to fall. We had been hearing that it was raining in Kerala to our west, and since this is the time of year for the southwest monsoon, we knew it was coming our way. (In October, the bigger monsoon starts from the Bay of Bengal to the east and sweeps up the country in a similarly predictable wave.) Overnight, the entire climate changed. The temperature dropped dramatically (I’d guess it’s 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night now), the wind picked up, the usual dryness in the air disappeared, and clouds took up permanent residence over the mountains. Every day, there are at least two or three hard showers, usually more. The rain is broken up by spells of bright surprising sunshine – in fact last week we had several solid days of sun – but the mist returns, inviting introspection and long periods of gazing out the window.

Somehow, three whole weeks have passed with me just sitting, mostly quite still, inside these four walls. Ras returned to the States last week, and Lynn left a few days ago. Emily is still here, right across the hall with her mother who came from New Mexico a few weeks ago to do pancha karma with her. The flavor of the days changes partly due to which treatment I have, and partly no doubt due to what I’m processing physically and mentally (and if we need more evidence of the intertwined nature of these two aspects of our being, I am definitely feeling it). Being alone and still is not generally difficult for me – the bigger challenge is not getting entirely ensconced in my head by virtue of being alone and still. I have been trying to maintain a balance of attention and presence in my heart and body here. It supports my efforts (and adds to the challenge of my natural tendencies) that they discourage reading or using the computer for long stretches of time. They say it’s to avoid straining the eyes – and they also purposely put in dim light bulbs. There is a certain design and intention at work here.

One of the cows checking out Dr. Ramdas's new car parked outside my porch.

Why is it such a challenge to simply sit still, without doing anything, beyond a few minutes? Everything in me revolts. Not at the theory – I am all for sitting still theoretically. But after a few minutes of sitting and watching the sights outside my porch, my mind drifts towards action. My intrinsic focus on accomplishment leaves me almost cringing each evening: “What have I done today? What can I strike off my ‘Pancha Karma Projects’ list?” (That’s not a figure of speech – of course I arrived with such a list.) While I recognize that my prioritization of achievement is wholly conditioned, that doesn’t change its remarkable power over me and the seemingly organic sense of “wrongness” that bubbles up after I’ve been unproductive for some time. The culture of pancha karma counteracts this sense of wrongness, gently asserting, “You must also make time for not doing, for contemplation.”

So I must regularly remind myself to stop what I’m doing (usually reading or writing) and go sit on the porch for awhile. I watch the lizard who appears on the fence at the same time every day (unless it is raining) to do his push-up routine. He has a magnificent prehistoric head with a crest and wattles under his chin. Sometimes he’s a dark lizardly green, and sometimes he’s dull yellow with orange along the crest and stark black legs. At first I thought there were two different lizards, but now I’m pretty sure he’s the same guy because I’ve never seen the two together, and he takes up the same position on the fence regardless of his color and does the same push-ups.

When my imposing presence is not on the porch, four soft brown birds fly in, one at a time, and announce their arrival with exceedingly loud song. They take advantage of the reflective window glass to fluff themselves up and shake furiously and contort into wild little bird positions, stretching one wing out at a time and bending their necks at odd angles. They preen themselves and each other for up to ten or fifteen minutes at a time, several times a day. Apparently, all this rain can really do a number on a set of bird feathers.

Around 11am and again at 4pm, a chai wallah arrives on his motorbike and parks down at the entrance of the driveway to bring outlawed caffeinated chai and fried samosas to the staff here (you can’t find such indulgences in our kitchens). The high-pitched drone of his horn wafts over the palms, and the staff slowly emerge from various corners of the property, coming out from the gardens or behind the cowshed or from inside the patient buildings. They gather in small groups to enjoy their contraband snacks. Slowing down has provided me access to a whole series of activities that have been going on unseen right under my nose for the five months I’ve been here. I know that is true all the time, that life is unfolding in countless layers and variety while we’re looking the other way.

The other night, after the sun had set and my eyes actually were feeling strained and my head was achey, I guiltily closed my book and looked out at the darkness– there was nothing even to watch. I was tired in my body and mind, but it was far too early to go to bed. My mind searched for something to think about, a thinly cloaked attempt to continue doing, to remain in charge. Nothing. It felt like something in me had been worn down, and there really was nothing to do. I lit a candle and turned on some music and took the candle outside. As I absently sang along, the candle flame gathered up my attention and just held it, like one holds a baby, and gently rocked me until the music ran out.

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