Thursday, May 6, 2010

Andy and I just finished our 10 day meditation retreat at the Tushita Center for Meditation. It was an absolutely amazing experience, and probably the most valuable that I've had during my entire stay. I found it so inspiring, that I've decided to stay on in McLeod Ganj and become a Bhuddist nun.


Totally kidding.

Actually, the opposite is true. While Tushita was the most valuable experience I've had (my brain is totally flipped and I have a whole new perspective of looking at the world) Andy and I have decided to return to the states about five weeks sooner than our original plans. Here's the story:

I went into the course last Tuesday morning feeling like India had turned me into a cruel, angry and depressed person. Every little thing was upsetting me. Some examples follow:

The streets in McLeod are narrow and (as in most Indian cities) there are no sidewalks so pedestrians and vehicles must share the lane. We were walking up a steep hill, when we encountered a traffic jam since there was a city vehicle that was parked (as much to the side as possible) in the lane. Cars were trying to pass the city vehicle and pedestrians were trying to pass the cars. When this sort of thing happens, an Indian driver's immediate response is to lay on the horn (not helpful). I was getting so frustrated with the honking, that I began to walk slowly (on purpose) in front of the car going up the hill. So, of course, the driver starts to honk at me. Instead of moving out of the way (like a sane person) I (am now a crazy annoyed at India person) instead shouted: "If your country had sidewalks, this wouldn't be a problem!". I know. not helpful at all, but like I said, India turned me into a crazy person. So, there was that incident. This was soon followed by a beggar (or maybe a salesman, I can't even remember now) trying to get our attention by calling, "Friend! Friend!". As usual, I ignored him but then went off on a rant:"No, I am not your friend. You don't even know me. You just want to be my friend because you think I have money and you want it. I do not want to be your friend..."(to clarify, I wasn't actually saying this to him, but now talking to myself angrily like a crazy person).

So, here I was in India and feeling like a terrible person. I was getting upset by the smallest of things and I had become so cruel as to completely ignore the beggars and the poverty that was right in front of my face. I was getting depressed just thinking about it.

The good news is that 10 days later, after doing the retreat, I feel like a changed person. I would certainly not consider myself a Bhuddist, but the 6 hours/day of teaching for 6 days followed by 6 hrs/day of meditation for 2 days provided me with new insight on myself and a new perspective on life.

Despite this, the morning before we left for the retreat, Andy and I bought new tickets home. We feel like we have done everything we came here to do, and now we (well, more I) can leave India on a positive note rather than on a negative one.

I am SO EXCITED to be home. I now have a new found appreciation for the United States and I can't wait to have all the luxuries of sidewalks, real mattresses and working toilets (with toilet paper!) . We are going to make the most of our last few days in India by traveling to Delhi, hopping on a day long train ride to Mumbai, and spending some time there before we fly home on the 12th!

Can't wait to see you all!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Himalayan Photos

Monkeys run around like squirrels. I noticed this one walking out of the room next door to ours in the guest house we were staying at.

Looking up at the farm from the mango orchard. Devinder built a system of terrace gardens. This is where his rat problem comes into play.

There is a glacial spring that comes down from the mountains. In the foothills, they are lucky to not have a water issue like elsewhere in India (or even higher up in McLeod). The villagers in Bondi Chowk divided the river into smaller streams, allowing farmers like Devinder to create an irrigation dike system on their farms.

'Farming' in the Himalayan Foothills

It has been a long time since we last posted (besides Andy's today). We just returned to McLeod Ganj after spending nearly 2 1/2 weeks on a farm just down the hill from Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh.

Dev Bala farm was a pleasant enough place. It's a small, three acre farm run by Devinder and his wife, Brijbala. Devinder is about 60 years old, and often told us stories of how Dharamsala used to be ("I remember when McLeod Ganj had only one guesthouse) and how global warming is affecting this part of the world. The farm overlooks a large field of barley at the base of the gorgeous Himalayan mountains. They have mainly mango and lychee orchards and a small plot of barley and wheat below. They also (and this was our favorite part) own two cows which provide the family and their guests with fresh milk to make yogurt and butter (the most delicious yogurt we've had in India!).

Dev Bala farm, however nice, turned out not to be the place that we were looking for. Devinder rarely gave us work to do beyond weeding (the name should be changed to Willing Weeders on Organic Farms) and told us to rest us a lot. This was perfectly fine for the first week, as we were tired and needed a rest after 6 long weeks of traveling. Weeding turned out not to be our most favorite task, and after completing the natural farming workshop in Auroville, we now have our opinions about the necessity of weeding which unfortunately do not coincide with Devinder's. But after the first week, we began to get a little bored, and ansty. Anstyness is perhaps one of the worst feelings to experience because even though we are in a wonderful place, all we can think about is going home. It did not help that we were the only WWOOF guests at the time, so we didn't have anybody else to distract us from our ansty thoughts.

Depsite the antsyness, I was lucky enough to be able to learn a little bit of yoga from Brijbala in the mornings and am now looking forward to continuing that practice when I get home.

While the family is wonderfully kind and hospitable, we started to feel a bit uncomfortable about the money situation. Dev Bala farm asked for a Rs 300/day/person 'donation' (this is a bit steep for WWOOF guests in our experience). Devinder seemed to be a bit uncomfortable asking for this and often said "we are just living simply. We do not have a lot." We felt that this was a bit of bullshit, since Devinder and his family owned a washing machine, a tv (with a satellite dish) and a computer with internet. They live more luxuriously than the majority of Indian families we've seen and even more so than John, the American owner of our first farm. Not only that, but we would participate in things (such as yoga classes) with the assumption that this knowledge and experience would be shared freely only to be asked for money (another 'contribution') afterwards.

In the end, we decided to leave a few days earlier than originally planned. We are to WWOOF (meaning that we work for our accommodation and food) not to spend weeks away at a homestay retreat (however nice it may be) and be badgered for money all the time.

Good news is that Andy and I will be beginning 10-day residential Introduction to Buddhism course in McLeod Ganj on Tuesday. I am really looking forward to learning some new things. More will come on this later.

One more thing....Devinder was telling this story and it was all I had to not crack up laughing at the dinner table...
Devinder's response when I asked him why he doesn't just get a cat to take care of his rat problem:

Well, you see, there was this man, you know, from England or somewhere, yeah? And he had this problem with rats. So he got a trap, that didn't kill them, you see? It just caught them. So, he kept catching all these rats and he put them in the cage. Pretty soon, he caught 1000 rats all in this trap. Then, he stopped feeding them, you see? And pretty soon, the rats, they start to kill and eat each other. And then at the end, there were only two rats left. They all killed each other, you know? So, there are two rats left and one eats the last one (Me: so that's the King Rat?). And he was a big rat you know, (he holds out his hands about 2 feet apart) and so then, this man, he sets that rat free. And then he has no more problem with rats because they are all afraid, you know? (I am now imagining a huge, two foot long rat roaming this English guys house and wondering 'why the hell would he want that around instead of a cat?)

*Pictures of the farm to come later (because it really was a beautiful place)