The beautiful rocky contrasts and horizons of Hampi. A perfect relaxation point among the myriad of ruins, temples, rice fields, rivers and lakes…
Archive for February, 2010
Goa, famed for its beaches, Portugese influence and hospitality is India’s favourite holiday destination and one of those places that has loomed large in my life for many years. In the late 80’s and early nineties it was the place everyone seemed to disappear to and come back with new beats, ideas and psychedelic inspiration. Much of the trance music and associated symbologies that I have been promoting, listening and partying to ever since, draws its origins and inspiration from that time and place.
In Rishkesh, one of our fellow yogi aspirants, psy trance DJ (Lusid), psychic alchemist and our favourite Indian – Rohan, had pointed us to Chakra View. A 3 day ecological festival in the jungles around Goa featuring a great musical line-up, yoga and meditation – it seemed like the perfect way to engage with the Goa of my youthful imaginings. So after a brief civilizing experience in Delhi hosted by Rohan, we booked our festival tickets, accommodation and cut short some of our planned Rajasthan tour in order to get to Goa in time. And then just at our most planned and organized, Goa pounced and stripped us bare! Mid way through our 12 hour train journey from Mumbai the phone started buzzing – politics had kicked in, the police weren’t on side, the festival was cancelled and by the time our train reached Goa the phone was almost dead, the party had changed locations 3 times and we, completely at her mercy were shuffling Goan train stops with each new update.
Eventually we alighted in Chapora, rented a scooter and found a quaint shack behind a funky beach café in Morjim, just south of Aranbol with some of Rohan’s other Indian friends. Comfortably located amongst a swarm of Russian beach tourists (no-one ever told me about that) and close to the last suggested location of the migratory festival, we dived into the pristine waters and relaxed on the beach, waiting for the next move. The festival, as with many things to good to be true, never happened of course despite several more attempts and the longer we stayed in Goa the more we understood that this was how things usually work here. No-one could remember the last time there was ever a 3 day festival in Goa. Our foolish enthusiasm in buying tickets / accommodation in advance nicely contrasted the Japanese organisation and security of our recent experiences, with all of India’s special quirks. In the first 3 days alone several other parties were cancelled with numerous others popping up instantly to take their place. The initial frenetic mobile viral network that greeted us just kept evolving and almost without realizing it we became seduced by the chase of the party itself and capturing the underground buzz.
Goa has many faces and obviously as rewards its popularity, many more than we actually got to experience. We based ourselves in Northern Goa entirely throughout, where there are a plethora of clubs, night markets, shops and cafes all designed to cater to the Goan trance and hippy scene. A strange insulated bubble in the Indian experience – meat dishes and wine flow freely and there always seems to be a beat in the background here somewhere, anytime of day. Joints flow freely in the restaurants and chillums on the dance floor and the place is awash with LSD – definitely a one drug town. Many of the markets, clubs and bars still have glowing salutes and remnants of their heydays in the late 80’s – fluro escher like designs in the ceilings and old hippies in all the garb. Around Anjuna and Chapora the party folk congregate during the evenings, waiting news of the latest updates, regaled in all their funky, fashionable tribal best. The parties, like the music are always full power and relentless, though much less psychedelic and fluoro tipped than of old. Many of the bars shut at 10pm and move indoors now and you have to bike-up to travel to the more remote, underground destinations in order to get a full night / outdoor experience. Fleets of trancers on motorbikes and scooters brave the dark labyrinth of roads, villages and their own respective states at night getting to and from parties. For the first few days this was a completely disorientating and nerve racking process – slow, steady and at times completely lost, but after a week, we too were pro’s.
And of the Goan parties – after the seemingly endless chases and disappointments of the first few days we started to find ones with music that really worked for us and by the end of our 2 week stay we were firmly in its clutches. Days were spent recovering on the beach and perfecting the first semblance of a tan that I have perhaps had in 15 years (Set bizarrely amongst Russian supermodel wives in bikini’s, their kids and Indian sari clad nannies). While each evening seemed to produce an even better party than the last – a subtle conspiracy designed to keep us there just that little bit longer. The parties themselves are fascinating in that Indian way and probably best defined by Shiva Valley, next to Curly’s on the beach in Anjuna. While a truly global citizenry dance the night way, swarms of enterprising Indians work the periphery. Everything is always instantly on hand and a seemingly endless stream of young male faces appear out of the dark in front of you proffering anything that might be needed that moment – water, food, cigarettes, glow sticks and the rest. At the same time, mothers and grandmothers guard comfortably, thatched squares on the surrounding sand and sell chai, rolling papers and food to any escapee’s from the dance floor that happen to wander by chasing a moments’ respite.
Amid all the other party tourists, our experience was made most especially magic through Rohan and his network of Indian friends – old Goan pro’s from their university days treating the occasion as a reunion (Andy, Sid, Viru, Aditi, Praveen et al – big shout outs and thanks!), as well as an Australian couple, Lucy and Adam who we merged paths with for our post Goa recovery. Totally well hosted, crewed and sorted on all fronts, we got an insiders, Indian perspective of the Goa scene – a fantastic way to really connect and bond with some locals on the same, shared wavelength and hopefully make some friends for life!
And after almost 2 weeks of searching we did find our ultimate Goan party; a mix of progressive and intelligent psy-trance at “Club West End”, a beautiful Portugese style old mansion with an outdoor dance floor and a pool, secluded in its own discrete valley and featuring a more refined crowd. After an all day marathon we were well spent and in its wake the remaining crew began to slowly break-up – ultimately succumbing to those compelling, but increasingly unheeded calls for a return to reality. Reluctantly and with considerable reticence on our own part, we too caste aside Goa’s spell and managed to plan our escape as well, keen to clear the head again and strangely seeking a holiday from Goa’s relentless cycles of pursuit. I somehow suspect that we will be back at some point though 😉
The stunning Mehrangarh Fort and blue city of Jodhpur in Rajasthan. The undefeated home to many a Maharaja!
Scenes from the Kumbha Mela in Hardwar on the solar eclipse – the worlds largest mustering of people and holy men…
After 5 weeks of intense immersion in all things mind, body and spirit – we finally (and quite reluctantly) managed to eject ourselves from Rishkesh. It’s amazing the difference a month makes! Since Christmas we have fallen all the way through the mystical Indian “Looking Glass” with experiences in Yoga, meditation, ayurvedic medicine, zen macrobiotics, reiki, astrologers, enlightened guru’s and much more; all set against the backdrop of the worlds largest religious festival & spiritual mustering (the Kumbha Mela) and the beautiful, peaceful setting that is the Ganges River and Rishkesh. An indoctrination that was equally balanced through sharing the experience with an amazing, talented and eclectic bunch of people (Indian, Korean, Icelandic, Greek, Canadian, Chinese, German, Bolivian and American amongst many others) that should ensure the experience lasts just as long in the memory, as the new friendships forged.
Stumbled over the edge there have we, I here you say? And perhaps so! Certainly I feel a bit like I have succumbed to my childhood fears and programming and sought out the Indian equivalent of a Christian boot camp! A seemingly well worn path in India and scarily stereotypical, but I can see why the Beatles and millions of others got stuck here for so long. Its not that most of this information is wildly new conceptually or unexpected, but there is a simple liberation in being able to completely open the mind to the possibilities, throw oneself into it and in the process wipe away the rusty cobwebs of the soul, gained through years of neglect. India uniquely probably cultivates this effect – so rich in its traditions, history, veneration and cultural acceptance of the rightness of the grand spiritual pursuit, that explorations of this kind can happen here much more unchecked than other places.
It will certainly take some time for me to really sit down and process all that we experienced and learnt here. It is definitely more akin to a spiritual awakening and the new knowledge and awareness necessitates much more meditation, practice and perspective over the months ahead. But as we rush southward to warmer climes and away from this spiritual Disneyland to the waiting tourist traps of Rajasthan and the beaches (and retoxins) of Goa, I thought I should document some of my more lingering reverberations and thoughts while they remain fresh, pure and unjaded by the return to reality ahead.
- Having not studied anything in almost 15 years, this whole course was really a mental exercise in itself with often several lectures broaching fascinating new subjects on a daily basis. Each subject, new exercise or technique had supportive notes and opened seemingly infinite gateways for further reading, practice and research.
- What I did appreciate most about the Yogic method though – is that it largely see’s itself not as a religion but really as a scientific method for self realization. The Yogic systems have been developed over thousands of years and are seen as proven paths towards systemic improvement of the human spiritual condition and evolving higher states of consciousness.
- The basis of the course we studied was essentially introducing this in detail and the requirements of the path of the Yogi. Accordingly there were many references to the great Indian texts and the works / deeds and experience of the great Yogi masters.
- Important in this, was a series of lectures on Yamas & Niyamas – the ethical codebook of the Yogi’s if you will, exploring the do’s and don’ts of the Yogic system. These include topics such as truth, theft, non-violence, celibacy (or the tantric alternative ejaculation control!) and self study, taking tapas (or vows) which were all worthy contemplations in themselves.
- Central in all this as well though was receiving an understanding and scientific explanation of the various stages of consciousness and the 5 bodies (ie physical, pranic, astral, causal etc) as outlined by the Yogi masters. These are critical to the Yogic system and really where it starts to leave modern science behind. Our general conception of an energetic (pranic), aural (astral) body is minimal and the science while able to prove they exist, is limited beyond that. Whereas the great Yogi’s describe these planes in great detail and offer that progressing our awareness and control of these, beyond just the physical body is central to all transcendence .
- We also learnt about the stages of mind – conscious, sub-conscious and higher consciousness and some beginner techniques for embarking on the difficult task of exploring / training / stilling these – starting with mental concentration exercises and some preliminary meditation techniques.
- Among many other subjects, there were some particularly interesting lectures and initial practical explorations into the field of “Yoga Nidra” – a yoga focused on the development of lucid dreaming, the ability to relax the body completely during sleep, travel in the astral plane and develop / program the subconscious mind whilst sleeping!
- At an internal level – we studied Yogic purification, eating and alternative medicine techniques. These included a series of lectures on things like diets & vegetarianism, Zen Macrobiotics and included the learning of a series of traditional yogic cleansing techniques (Kriyas) that include tongue scraping, gum salt rubs, nasal / eye flushes, vomiting and bowel cleanses – some of which I have been doing everyday & can atest that they work wonders. (But I will leave it to you to guess which 😉
- Of course true to its name we also studied Yoga and over the course learnt 20 asana’s in detail, (plus 6 warming exercises and sun salutations). Each of which had their own individual physiological (and healing) benefits. I can now rather surprisingly do a headstand for 5 minutes (and an inverted table) and at the end of the course we were working up to holding some poses for 5-10 minutes across a 2-3 hour session. The result being I am feeling a lot more flexible, healthy (and impressed with myself) though back bends are a struggle and I still rather frustratingly cannot touch my toes.
- There were also some interesting lectures that introduced other more exotic and traditional Yogic healing techniques – the most interesting and surprisingly compelling of which was Urine Therapy – but I will give you a reprieve on the details there. (Suffice to say that it does make sense and that these Yogi’s really do go at things hard!)
- We also learn’t about (and visited) several Ayurvedic doctors – Ayurvedic medicine is a 5,000 year old medical science that works hand in hand with Yoga as a system and is based on an analysis of your body type into its constituent dosha’s (there are 3). By simply feeling my pulse a doctor I visited was able to tell me that I suffered from prolonged back pain and a range of other previous conditions that were unnervingly accurate. He then told me what foods I should eat to keep balanced and prescribed some herbal supplements to improve vitality / energy (which has actually worked quite well). This same doctor has had significant success in curing Alzheimer’s disease and ageing with these methods.
- I should also add here that living in a completely alcohol free and vegetarian town (and mostly organic restaurants at that) on top of all the exercise, has also meant that I am back to a weight last seen as a teenager. Though I sincerely doubt that can last!
- A lot of the Yoga we learnt was specifically designed to work on different Chakra points (7 energy points on the body) and in doing so open up / increase our awareness and specific capabilities through the direct development of these. Examples of this might very briefly include cultivating such things as vitality (Root Chakra – Mulladara), sensuality (Sex Chakra – Svadisthana), willpower (Belly – Manipura), love (Heart – Anahata), mastery of time / space (Throat – Vishuda), mental control (3rd Eye – Ajna) or higher states of consciousness (Crown – Shahsrara). As we got more into the yoga postures, you could really start to feel these chakra’s individually become more activated and actually affect your overall state of being, as the energy starts to run and flow more effectively. Additionally through specific sublimation exercises we learn’t to convert energy between the chakra’s, focused largely on energy movement from the lower more popular chakra’s energy centres to the higher and more transcendent ones.
- Assisting these, we also did a serious of music meditations designed to support the yoga with music specifically targeted at stimulating / resonating with a chakra to increase the overall effects.
- We also learnt some meditation techniques – based around chanting and the heart that focus on trying to calm the “wandering monkey mind” and open up for explorations of self. This is obviously really the focus of the great yogi masters and the “yoga of the mind control” was really only a basic introduction at the course level. The greater emphasis being to open things up to start with through the physical yoga systems.
- Outside class, Megumi did also embark on some explorations in Reiki, a Japanese system known more for its healing powers that seems similar to Yoga. With a lot of commonality with what we have learn’t it is certainly something she would like to learn more about.
- But perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the Rishkesh metaphysical experience was the Astrologer. A strange, early 40’s innocuous looking Indian man whose family had been doing astrology for 20 generations, he possessed the amazing and particularly freaky ability to perceive very personal, secret truths about everyone’s past and key glints into aspects of the future. Everyone who visited him came back equally astounded at his insights and psychic levels of perception – revealing unnervingly accurate truths without exception. I wont go into personal details, I will leave it simply at that – but he left a lot to ponder!
- Daily around Rishkesh as well – there were also a series of Gurus – all wise sages conducting different hearing sessions or lectures with disciples and others at their ashrams on any given day – many featuring dancing and devotional singing which all added to the spiritual vibe and magic of the place.
- Many Guru’s were actually in town as part of the greater Kumbha Mela happening in nearby Haridwar – a gathering (up to 50 million people) of all the great Yogi’s, saddhu’s and hindu’s held every 4 years as they gather to bathe (purify their souls) on the Ganges. Haridwar had prepared by building a tent city 50km by 10 km around the town and while it was only early in the 3 month festival and a bit cold when we attended – the energy was still electric and quite magical; emphasized by the solar eclipse taking place that day – a special experience that warrants its own blog when I find the time.
- There were other workshops / lectures that also proliferated – some that we attended included heart meditations, devotional chanting / singing and bio-wave dance experimentations. The list goes on…
As you can no doubt imagine, my head is now spinning with all this information, ideas, possibilities and experiences and my sincere apologies if I do come across here like a naïve schoolboy. Full to the brim – I have loved every bit of it, though I am very much looking forward to the break of normal travel again. Even as we pried ourselves away, Rishkesh was conspiring to keep us there longer. The 2nd last day we trialled the second month yoga class that was even more engaging than the first month and our last experience on the way to the train station, was sitting down to hear Shantimayi – an American female guru give a beautiful 2 hour open session on love & quantum connectivity, mixed with some lovely chanting. It was cultish but beautiful, pure & inspirational in its simplicity.
As for next steps I really don’t know, I am not a Yogi yet, as tempting as the call has been. But I am certainly inspired and want more. Much of it resonates very well with me and seems a natural extension and development to my own independent naval gazing and latent attraction to buddhism and so I emerge keen to continue my explorations deeper down some of these new paths. There is plenty of time and thinking to do yet though and many more experiences to be added to the mix – including a 10 day silent meditation retreat (Vipassana) in Hyderabad at the start of March…….. It would appear that the Plots are definitely Melting and starting to thicken…!!.
Some Suggested Reading:
A Search in Secret India, by Paul Brunton
Autobiography of a Yogi, by Yogananda
Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha, by Swami Satyananda
Yoga Nidra, by Swami Satyananda
Meditations from the Tantras, by Swami Satyananda