India

Unfolded...

A gecko fruitlessly chases a large black ant across the floor...under the chair...up the wall...back to the floor. The gecko is tireless, but the ant moves too fast, eluding the gecko with surprising agility. The fan whirls above me, confusing the persistent mosquitoes and keeping me at a comfortable temperature. Pigeons coo just outside the window, keeping time with the echos of their flapping wings. My bags are packed...each item sorted and stowed...memories folded away...alongside gifts and daydreams and faded clothes. Tucked in all those in between spaces, the smells and sounds of the subcontinent are hiding...waiting to rise up and greet me in unexpected moments.

Nearly one year ago, I sat in this very spot, under this same ceiling fan, hot and jet lagged and so very green. I had landed in India...but could not possibly have known how she would transform me. I was curious...and a bit fearful...unsure of my ability to carry myself through such a venture. But I muscled through...fumbling at turns...feeling thoroughly spent and lonely and exhausted some moments...but inextricably determined to stay the course. Strangely...it was the notion of coming home that eventually scared me the most. The decision to return wasn't easily made. For weeks I checked flights...with the cursor forever hovering over that glaring 'purchase' button...never following through.

Now...as I ready myself for my journey homeward, I know the timing couldn't be more perfect. I feel strong...finally so clear about things I've never understood about myself....so much more compassionate towards the person I truly am. I might even go so far as to say that...I like her. She's not so bad, after all. Now that I'm allowing myself to simply BE...my creativity is exploding...flowing so abundantly and effortlessly that I scarcely believe these things are coming through me. In so many ways, I feel like I've spent most of this life living at about 5% of my potential. India has bumped that percentage up a bit...more than a bit...and it continues to rise.

It's such an amazing, intoxicating feeling...waking up to the brilliance within...learning how to navigate a new, stronger dream without fear...unfolding a life that has been so long waiting to be opened up and LIVED...to be given air and space to breathe rather than pushed into that safe corner of the heart where old dreams are kept...the place where nostalgia weaves its sorrowful stories with words like 'could've' and 'should've' and 'if only'...where memories of youthful fancies elicit regret over all that is left undone... unseen...unfinished and forgotten...traded in for more acceptable story-lines...dreams downsized and pushed aside.

Not for me, that dim shadow of a life. Nope. No more pointless self-deprecation...no more tangling myself up with misguided ideas of worthlessness...no longer shall I stifle my own vibrance, nor control the direction or intensity of its shine. It's time to let myself fly...

My wings are unfolded...I'm ready to come home....

Bhagsu Glue...

Two months....so full and engaged that updating this space never really occurred to me. I've been in Bhagsu...just a couple kilometers from Mcleod Ganj. The more well known Dharamshala is just down the way. As seems to have been my pattern this trip, I have a tendency to get stuck places. As it turned out, this charming little mountain town is the place in which I've remained for the longest, uninterrupted stint.

I've watched so many people come and go...lived many chapters within this one. And now...finally...I'm the one leaving. With just 3 weeks left before I fly back to North America, I'm heading to Rhajasthan to marvel at Gypsies and buy semi-precious stones. Tonight I'll board a train bound for Ajmer, where I'll then catch a taxi to Pushkar. Excited for a change of pace...

In typical Zippy fashion, I haven't the time nor attention to properly summarize my life here before I set off. But I'll make more of an effort to give it the time it deserves upon arrival in the desert.

For now...I'm off to buy my last tastes of Bhagsu cake and share a cup of chai with my beautiful voice teacher, Anita.

Return to Mama...

This is really difficult for some reason that I don't come close to understanding. I have sat with keyboard under fingers many times over the last few weeks, trying to write an entry and repeatedly failing to do so. I had typed most of a lengthy one about my experience in the Himalayas... including my journal entries from that time. But I simply couldn't bring myself to finish it.

I can say that, like all my creative facets, this one is prone to the same alternating drought and monsoon that all the others cycle through. I suppose it just must be its turn to hunker down and wait a while...until the rains return and overflow through these now dry fingertips. For now...I just feel rather disconnected from my poetry. Everything I write sounds or feels formulaic and lacking depth, somehow.

Qualifiers aside, I suppose at the very least a quick update is in order.

In about an hour, I'll be nestled in my seat aboard a bus bound for Mcleod Ganj, just north of Dharamsala. I've been back in India since the 27th, hiding out in a comfortable, air-conditioned room on B block in Kalkaji. Delhi...back to the precise spot from which I began this journey 9 months ago. I, once again, stayed with my friend Kaushal, making use of his fast WiFi and feeling so very spoiled to be staying in his well-appointed apartment. It gave me a good opportunity to catch up on every last bit of uploading. :)

Preceding my return, I spent another week in Pokhara, followed by an equivalent turn in Kathmandu, reflecting on the indescribable beauty of the Himalayas I had so recently trekked through. The experience was beyond amazing...life-changing...challenging in unexpected ways and affirming in others. If you're interested in reading my journal entries from those two weeks, let me know and I'll send 'em to ya. Guess I just figured it was too much to post...that such candor was perhaps crossing the line...even for me!

So...in an uncannily similar fashion to my departure from Delhi 9 months ago, I'm headed North...just in time to exchange a hug with Oliver before he heads to Sweden to see his beautiful new wife. From there, I'll continue on...towards Ladak.

I've downsized...cramming all of my heavy essentials into my fake Deuter 40L pack and leaving my surprisingly full 60L pack in Delhi.

Starting anew...

Paths Unfolding...

Here I sit in a surprisingly clean and comfortable 'Cyber Cafe' in the Thamel district of Kathmandu...watching a billing meter as its numbers run ever upwards, reflecting an overall jump in pricing that has me reeling. I suppose it's a good way to prepare myself for an eventual re-entry into the West. Still...hurts to be paying 100 rupees per hour for internet after the 15 to 20 I'd grown accustomed to. Since my last post, internet access has been spotty and slow, making me far less than inclined to update this space or upload photos. And, after so much time has passed, as so frequently seems to be the case, I find it difficult to convey the breadth of my journey through words that can only grasp at memories. So...once again, the best I can offer is a glimpse into my journal entries. After all...they provide my most candid expressions...


14 March:
On a Bangalore bound bus...bumpy ride...winding roads... hot air hitting me through an open window...feet still covered in Gokarna dust...heart still warm from friendly, goodbye embraces. A touch sad to be leaving, but happy to be on my way to new adventures. Goodbye sand...goodbye Arabian Sea...goodbye sweet Gokarna...until we meet again...

15 March:
Bangalore...so loud...so uninviting...so expensive! After the roughest bus ride (slept, or pretended to sleep, in the upper rear bunk...bad idea!) which left my nerves rattled, my body sore and a string on my guitar snapped, I arrived this morning feeling rather like an over-shaken martini. Tired and vulnerable, I was predictably duped by a rickshaw driver who convinced me that the hotel I wanted was 10km away, bringing me instead to a less than inspired 'luxury' hotel and a tiny room for rs500. Too tired to look elsewhere, I took it, dropping my pack and heading out straight away to find a government hospital. (note: while in Gokarna, I read a book called 'Hidden Journey' about one man's experience of an exceptional woman known as Mother Meera who just happened to be giving Darshan near Bangalore, beginning on the very day my visa was to expire. Acquiring an extension on a tourist visa is nearly impossible EXCEPT in cases of medical emergency. So, I played the 'back' card, claiming a difficulty in traveling due to problems carrying my pack. I know, I know...dishonesty is not respectable. What can I say...it seemed strangely warranted. Sorry Mom!) 5 hours later, even more energetically spent from the continuous retelling of half truths and exaggerated pained expressions, I hobbled back to my room...left hip sore from the injection of pain killers...morality bruised from guilt at my act and pretense of injury...only to discover the major infestation of cockroaches in my bathroom. BAM! Instant karma! What to do? Though disgusted and tempted to find another place, I had to rush back into the noisy Bangalore chaos to find the F.R.R.O office & plead my case. Lots of shuffling about...like my experience earlier with Indian medical politics, I was continuously redirected to different windows...counters...people...until I landed upon the right guy. So...perhaps it wasn't the extension I was hoping for...he simply told me it was not possible, but he did provide an answer/solution. He assured me that I can leave after my visa expires without being blacklisted as long as I pay the $30 US penalty and show proof of a confirmed air ticket, leaving India within 15 days of my visa expiry. Well...alright then! It's off to Darshan in Madanapalle I go! I was tempted to leave tonight, but I think a good night's sleep is necessary after such an active day. The bed, at least, is incredibly comfy...so I think I can make some temporary peace with my roommates in the bathroom! I might just sleep for 12 hours!

23 March:
Graceful, Divine silence...tonight, I will sit my 7th Darshan with Mother Meera. It's been sweet so far...though the effects will surely take time to reveal themselves. At the very least, I am reminded of the universal truths that speak through silence...of the myriad voices that never utter a word...of the stillness that fills the quiet space...of the tranquility to follows 'surrender'...

24 March:
Once again...bag packed...ready to be on my way...tomorrow I'll board a 5am bus back to Bangalore. My time in Madanapalle has been an interesting juxtaposition of brilliant and boring...beautiful, magic encounters with locals who are not yet jaded by tourism...perfect silence coupled with Mother Meera's gentle touch...personal challenges and growth...sweltering heat...frustrating technological snags...cockroaches the size of my thumb...and HBO...TV...so very odd. Though I'll miss Oliver and Joni and their familiar laughter, I'm looking forward to some deep solitude...

25 March:
Oh, India! I suppose one must embrace your darkness if your light is also to be enjoyed! Back and forth and around again...this guy sends me to that guy sends me to that office sends me to another office and back round, only to inform me, 7 hours and rs300 worth of rickshaw rides later, that I have to apply the day before I fly...in Varanasi. Nice. *sigh* What to do? Sleep....so...very...tired....

27 March:
Under the ever-watchful gaze of a ten year-old Indian girl who sits quietly across from me, curiously observing all that I do. Thus far, it's been a rather sweet journey. Traveling in AC 2 Tier this time, sharing a 'cabin' with a lovely family of four...the two young girls smiling at and laughing with me all the way, calling me 'Auntie'...Laxmi and Aditi, 4 & 2, respectively. This young beauty...the one who now studies the movement of my hand, belongs to a family in the next cabin over. Anjali...she speaks no English nor Hindi, but we're communicating in our own way. I've taken some beautiful shots of her. I must admit, though AC 2 costs four times that of Sleeper class, it's refreshing not to be in the cramped dirt and grime and suffocating heat of sleeper...and I seem to have gotten lucky, landing in the newest, cleanest coach on this train...The Bagmati Express...Bangalore to Mughal Sarai...2517km...48 hours. Yes...I've enjoyed this trip. The extra space above my head in my upper berth...temperature control...relatively clean floors and toilets. I like these things, though some part of me has resisted acknowledging as much. It sets me to thinking about how, generally speaking, we...the western world...have romanticized the poverty in India. I've heard so many travelers say they prefer Sleeper class because it feels more like 'real' India...as though those of the upper classes are less significant or substantial somehow...that they have less to offer in the way of meaningful cultural exchange. I, myself, have been guilty of such thinking...but I feel like I'm waking a bit from such narrow-sightedness. It's a gradual change that has been shifting something in me...a deepening of gratitude for my blessings...the subtle beginnings of a willingness to embrace my relative wealth...both inward and external...a clearer perspective...a new understanding of how much I've always had. A slowly unfolding acceptance...it's ok...I don't have to haggle over 5 rupees... I CAN afford to fly to Nepal rather than a day of trains and buses...and I don't have to feel like I'm missing some integral, Indian experience. Gaining much from this trip...

29 March:
Varanasi...damn hot...smelly...buzzing with mozzies and flies and other winged insects...yet it feels oddly like 'home'. It's been a busy, long two days, but I managed to acquire exit permission, send a heavy parcel home and repay Dada, my tailor, for his generous loan when my bank card was blocked. Nice to see some familiar faces...but excited to meet Nepal tomorrow. Hoping for more agreeable temperatures...42 degrees Celsius here...oppressive and tiring! Goodbye India...thanks for all you've given me....

30 March:
The automated map before me shows a splash of textured white nearly the size of India, in the shape of a blue whale, looming in the distance. 240km to our destination...Nepal...the Himalayas...sure to be beautiful. Beneath us, India lays hidden. A thick blanket of gray...mist?...haze?...smog?...stretches as far as the eye can see, meeting the blue of the sky with a brush of white that fades upwards. Feels strange to be flying...traveling at such accelerated speeds! How bizarre to lift off and land within the space of one hour! What an incredible luxury... *Warm candlelight...new city...new country...similar sounds...different energy. Feeling a touch unwell... surely the result of moving so rapidly between differing climates. It's raining here...so refreshingly lovely! Such a welcome respite. I'm turning in early...tired....drained...energetically bankrupt after my drawn out visa expiry debacle. I suspect this also played a significant role in the weakening of my immune system. Regardless...Kathmandu is charming at first glance...

31 March:
Feeling scattered...unsure...lacking clarity. Head and chest still stuffy...mind clouded...heart hazy. It's in these moments that 'home' sounds so heavenly...so welcoming...and so...very...far...away. Sometimes, I just miss my people...and the outward distance feels impossibly wide. I know I carry all of them with me...but I have these days...these little blips in my strength that feel like holes where my friends should be...these empty spaces that lack a certain warmth. They aren't very good conversationalists...they simply swallow up my words and leave me longing to hear a voice other than my own...some familiar, sarcastic quip and subsequent giggle...the casual banter that passes easily among companions. True...my guitar keeps me company...but it falls decidedly short when humor is needed. These fingers naturally strum melancholy tunes...haunting melodies. *Just a momentary weakness...this too shall pass.* Signed up for Vipassana beginning tomorrow. Not sure the timing is right. The silence beckons, drawing me towards its stillness...but I wonder if it's not some cleverly disguised attempt to escape this feeling of loneliness...somehow...as though turning even further inward will mask this vulnerability by giving it a valid reason for welling up in me. I wonder if it's wise to enter into such a challenging endeavor while my body and spirit are so depleted. Still, some other part of me keeps interrupting such lines of thinking by suggesting that ten days of silence and deep, spiritual excavation might be precisely what I need right now. Ugh...perhaps this fog will lift by morning. I can barely hold my head up...thinking in tangled scribbles that make little sense. May this eve's dreams gently unwind my thoughts...


And...that brings us to NOW. I decided against sitting a Vipassana right away...feeling it best to take some time to acclimate and settle in a bit. I've moved to another neighborhood, and after a bit of shuffling about, I've secured a sweet enough room at the Yellow House. I've resigned myself to a week of relaxation...reading and playing guitar, tinkering with the beginnings of a new song. Taking space to rejuvenate and make myself well. I've got 90 days to explore Nepal, so I'm in no hurry.

The path before me is slowly unfolding, though it's direction has yet to reveal itself...surrendering to the whims of the universe...

A little place called Gokarna...

Sitting down to write this, I find myself at a loss for words. I have attempted a few times since my arrival here a month ago, but spending time at a computer is low on my list of preferred activities. The beach...the sun... sketchbooks and pens...these things are far too enticing. Yes...life here as been good. So good that trying to conjure up definitions and explanations seems unnecessary and strange. Still...as I ready myself to leave this shanti little beach town, I figure it won't hurt to try and give some sort of glimpse of its charm.

Time seems to fold itself into the strangest shapes here, barreling forward at warp speeds while simultaneously standing still. I have passed many hours barefoot...feet pressing happily into soft, welcoming sands...toes becoming paintbrushes etching lines into ever-expanding mandalas...beach becoming canvas...warm, Arabian Sea beckoning and soothing sun-baked skin...freckles appearing in droves, overtaking the lighter spaces in between...pens meeting paper in collaborative and solitary swirls...evolving as color spills into black & white spaces...mini cows wearing garlands of flowers...fresh coconuts sipped and split, revealing the tastiest, softest flesh...disbelieving taste buds marveling at their perfect sweetness...heavenly cold showers under a mango tree, sometimes two or three a day...rinsing salt and sand and sweat...sweltering heat...sea shell hunting naked on deserted stretch of beach like carefree child...dolphins swimming close...sun glowing brilliant beyond words, setting under pastel skies and lavender clouds...painting with light beneath upside down constellations on nighttime beaches with beautiful, lithe friends...sharing space and creating with Oliver and Joni, my sweet Gokarna family...

...smiling always...quietly...peacefully...deeply...*So very blessed...

Headed to Bangalore tonight...

Thank you, Gokarna...

Learning to Breathe...

After the tearing open of my chest in my last post, it feels necessary to update sooner, rather than later...but I've been staring at this screen for far too long, unsure where to begin. Much has shifted in me...deep changes that had been cresting for months...years... lifetimes, perhaps. How does one compress such learning into the space of a few paragraphs? I haven't figured that one out yet. Increasingly, I find it simplest to just copy entries from my journal into this space as I have already expressed everything within the confines of those pages. I tried to narrow it down into one or two of those excerpts...to extract only the pertinent bits...but they all seem relevant, so...read on if you're so inclined. I'll make no apology for my verbosity...

1 Feb 2010: ...slow from fever...quiet...little in my head and nothing on my tongue. Shifting gently...sounds muffled, then crisp as the waters of surrender lap at my ears...circling my face in a continuously expanding and contracting ring. Breathing in...breathing out...inhaling and exhaling silence. Aware of a subtle throbbing at the front of my skull...I'm not bothered by it...the fever in my body reflects the changes that are broiling within. I am an apparition...floating rather than walking...see through...transparent in my emptiness. No resistance...no searching for someone or something to fill me up. Just...here...and not here. Observing these letters as they spill from the pen with as much attachment as I feel towards the flies that now feast upon my meal's remains...witnessing the hand that writes with the strangest sense of detachment. Moments rising...passing...rising. Breathe in...breathe out....loosening...softening...letting life be...letting go...

3 Feb 2010: Moving now...Maharashtra unfolding beneath us...rails carrying us...Kerala bound. We're presently 4.5 hours behind schedule, but I really don't mind. 53 hours isn't so different from 49...but even 49 doesn't feel daunting. Whether on or off a train, these hours will pass. Regardless of where I am, my body still behaves the same. Heart beat steady...lungs pulling in and pushing out breath. No matter where I am or how surrounded I am by fellow humans, I'm still alone. Experimenting with that truth...trying it on like a new skin...a new dress...realizing the beauty of it...understanding that I have never really allowed myself to fully occupy my own space. I've never really known what it feels like to spend time with 'me'...to get to know myself intimately. Perhaps I was too afraid of what I would, or would NOT, find. It's strange, but I really am no longer scared. I want to know now...all those shadowy places inside. I'm sure I'll discover much that will make me cringe, but perhaps I'll also find some surprising, unexpected treasures. Either way...I feel ready. I'm pulling up my sleeves, dressing in my grubbiest clothes, pulling back my imaginary hair and getting to work...cleaning out the attic of my soul...moving in and making it my home....finally....

4 Feb 2010: Momentary stillness...a pause in the hum and clack...letting off and getting on...a vein, filling and emptying. Moving ever closer...only a few stops left now. Already, the changes I've seen in landscape echo a change I feel manifesting in me. Warmth...vibrance...healthy green. Southern India is truly beautiful. I feel renewed already...refreshed... surprised to discover that leaving the heaviness of Varanasi really has made me feel lighter somehow. I feel very alive...present....suddenly incredibly grateful and aware of the blessing this trip has been. Excited to be entering into new territory, in so many more ways than one.... *Arrived in Palakkad without incident...was met at the station by the immediately lovely and lovable Tara...an hour drive brought us to Kotha Kurssi, where she and her parents live. It's incredibly peaceful here...warm and quiet, save the croaking of frogs and chirping of crickets. I feel like I've stumbled into some lovely fairytale...like the train delivered me into some alternate universe. My room feels palatial compared to those I've grown accustomed to. Clean bathroom...clean floors...clean sheets! I am so blessed and grateful to be here. I'll sleep well this night...to be sure!

5 Feb 2010: Super shanti...spent this day mostly on my own...playing guitar...drawing...marveling at the softly swaying banana leaves and soaring, coconut-bearing palms. Curiously observing the frog that lives in my bathroom and contemplating the friendliness of a spider the size of my palm that, I'm told, is actually quite small! *Thinking of my Mum today, on the day of her birth...loving her dearly from afar...hoping she feels as held and loved as she's always made me feel. *Writing a new song...feels different this time, like it's coming from an entirely new place. Feels good...effortless. Connecting to something deeper...inside of...beneath the emptiness. Something soft and intangible...*life*...

7 Feb 2010: Feeling quiet today...absorbing the sounds of Kerala...swaying banana leaves...whispering palms...countless unique bird calls...passing cars and buses and trucks and motorbikes...distant hammering...and always...always... beeping, both near and far. I'm sitting on the front porch, sipping surprisingly tasty instant coffee, enjoying my presently favorite past-time...conversing with the 200 year-old Banyan tree that lives across the street, standing guard. It's tendril-like roots stretch ever downward, dancing gracefully in the warm breeze. I'm told it used to be one of many. Sadly, all but this one were cut down to make room for houses and roads. Though it has lost its family, it doesn't seem to mind. There it remains...silently observing all that surrounds it...breathing in and out...so steady and strong...never lamenting the changes it bears witness to. Quietly accepting impermanence...a perfect example of equanimity...peaceful and unassuming. I am learning much from this tree...

10 Feb 2010: Misty this morning...pleasantly cool. Aware of a subtle unsettling...some sort of rippling through the stillness. Just observing it. Or, doing my best to simply be...allowing whatever it is to bubble up, expand and then dissipate. Staying present with it...bringing myself back to breath...always breath....steady and reliable...softening... comforting...anchoring me...

11 Feb 2010: Precarious...this balancing. Equanimity takes work. Allowing not the scales to tip takes an immense awareness...strong presence...of mind...of heart. Holding space for oneself isn't easy...akin to floating about a rose garden hoping your bubble will not pop upon meeting a thorn...but, of course, it will. Thorns are penetrating. The trick lays in not allowing yourself to collapse...to somehow absorb the puncture without falling apart because of it...to brush up against the pressure of it...let it define your edge...then simply smooth yourself back out and move along, knowing full well another and another and another barb will surely cross your path. Gifts, they will become...helping you to know and understand where your shape is vulnerable....allowing you to reinforce your boundaries...showing how simultaneously permeable and impenetrable you can be....*these roses smell so sweet*...

12 Feb 2010: Warm...sticky and clammy from sweat. Enjoying space as I ready myself and my things to go. I leave tomorrow, headed to Gokarna. From village in Kerala to beach in Karnataka. *My time here has been wonderful, though tricky in its own right, Much has taken root in me over the last week. Feels like lifetimes have unfolded within me. Many sketches...many solitary hours...two new songs...and quite considerable lessons tucked in between. I think I understand the challenge now. Most notable...my stay here, with Tara and her parents, has helped me to confront my difficulty with receiving . I think it's related to the part of me that has somehow been giving with latent, skewed intentions of taking. I'm beginning to see that I've had some deeply ingrained idea that generosity is one half of a transaction...that to get, one must give, which isn't entirely untrue. It's the other side of that exchange that is so backwards and self-serving. It's the expectation of also 'getting' when you think you are 'giving'. So...here I have found myself...not knowing how to respond to an incredible generosity that expects no return. It has made me squeamish...uneasy...unsure ....until today. Something became clear...that, for me to understand what it means to truly GIVE, I had to experience what it feels like to simply RECEIVE. No...it hasn't been easy. I try to help with dishes...I am waved away. I ask if there is anything I can do around the house...of course not! I mumble feeble sounding 'Thank Yous' that make no sense to them. Incidentally, in their language, Malayalam (the only language that is a palindrome) there is no translation for 'thank you'...nor is there a reply. Gratitude is spoken and returned through smiles......wow. All this polite banter that spills so flatly from our lips....it's all so unnecessary. Which brings me to the other substantial learning I am taking from this week...a deeper settling into silence. Fewer words...more meaning. Communicating through other means...allowing spaciousness to expand...in myself...between myself and others...within and without. Speaking less...breathing more...becoming Banyan-like...

Room #Zero

Written last night in my aptly numbered room...zero: Everyone thinks that I am so strong to be here, in India, by myself. But it feels like anything but strength that keeps me here. It's pride...and some unknowable obligation that I have constructed for myself. As though fumbling my way through a third world country will miraculously cure this deep sadness that has been ailing me. As though losing myself in the midst of fellow backpackers will magically make me feel whole again.

It's odd...but I feel like I've hit bottom...like I'm confronted with the uncomfortable truth and, rather than struggling against it or thrashing about in protest, I find myself, for the first time...simply giving in...

I feel strangely calm...even though I really don't fancy the person I've been walking around inside of...I don't feel proud of the act I have been so haphazardly playing out...the face I have worn...the mask I have flaunted as 'myself'...trying to pretend that I am strong and clever and fearless....trying to convince myself that I am giving when really, I am taking...deluding myself into believing that my intentions are wholesome...that I am giving without conditions...that I have no expectations of those who I throw myself so intensely at.

The truth is that I am empty....I've been empty for a long, long time. I have tried to fill myself by 'giving' an illusory love that I don't even have for myself...trying to share an increasingly hollow space. Discovering ...over and over again...that such desperation only makes me more depleted...only pushes people away, making me ever more lonely at the very deepest level.

So...here I am...splayed out on this filthy, shit-covered stone...my imaginary flight coming to a definite, crashing end...landing, not so soft. So...maybe my 'self' is a strewn mess of splintered pieces...and maybe the frail, terrified truth that has been hiding inside me, wearing this 'Zipporah' suit, is exposed in all its glaring nakedness...but something is left to observe the mess it is in. Some part is still breathing...broken and destroyed, pulled apart...but still a faint pulse is beating. I've burned my house down to the ground to make space for the simplest, most pure truth to break soil...cleared out...emptied beyond a capacity to refill...vessel dried out and cracked open...drained to less than nothing.

I have nothing. I AM nothing. I cannot give what I do not have...cannot share a hollow, vacuous space.

Yes...some death has befallen me...some destruction that I have fought and feared and struggled against. But within this end, some tiny glimmer of some 'thing' remains...the smallest hint of a possibility for rebirth.

I accept....this hollow nothingness. I have nothing to hide behind...nothing left to hide within...nothing within to conceal or disguise...'I' am exposed.

Look...my existence is but a self-spun story...crafted to protect some imagined, shameful deficiency...sewn cleverly together with pretense...expertly strung together like so much poetry...each, descriptive word strategically placed to hide some piece of the void underneath...growing weaker with each retelling... wearing thinner with each replayed lie. Revising...redrafting...patching holes with new faces...new places...growing heavier with each, desperate stitch...labouring under the weight of denial...delusion.

I've been painting over the cracks and chips and inviting the world in, as though the space within is warm and fresh and pleasant...luring people with clever, charming masks...knowing the truth would eventually betray 'me'. And, as has happened more times than I can count, those who fall for my bait know they've been duped as soon as they get too close. Upon deeper inspection, they see that the walls are dingy...that repairs were made in haste, with desperation, hoping that some unknowing victim would move in and fill the emptiness. And, always...they recoil and retract...repulsed by the 'me' they discover in place of the pretty picture they were sold. They withdraw so quickly...extracting as much of their energy as they can before I consume it completely...discarding the hollow shell they bit into believing it was solid chocolate.

So...here I am again...tossed aside with distaste...pushed away with a disappointed shudder...crumpled in an appropriate nest of garbage and cowshit and clay. So many times I have found myself here...but never before have I felt so grateful to be in this precise spot...to be so confronted with the ugly truth and find that I'm ok here...that, perhaps, I need to take a good, hard look at myself and my surroundings and finally learn what it means to LET GO...to live in truth. Even if that truth is far less than pretty. Even if it requires that I hang out here for a while...alone and dirty...broken again and exposed...without hoping or looking to be rescued.

Here I am...here I am not. I am NOTHING...I am nowhere. I have nowhere left to run to...no more stories to tell...I'm all out of patchwork fixes. I have nowhere left to go but inside...straight into the emptiness...right to the very heart of the space that I have so feared...directly into the belly of loneliness. With a deep breath...calm resignation...no more protesting. No more lies. No more pretending....

.....I surrender.......

Written this morning on a quiet rooftop:

Everything looks different this morning...like a vibrant painting unfolding around me...smoothing itself into view. Birds in rippling, rhythmic patterns play in the morning wind...the golden globe of a rising sun highlighting their winged edges...crisp air bringing my awareness to this spot...breathing in a new day.

Little did I sleep last night, but nary did I worry. I lay in silence...dissolving...succumbing...settling into nothingness...sitting with my own discomfort...giving in to it...feeling the depth of my sorrow. Facing it without pride...allowing 'myself' to be utterly lost...inviting disillusionment.

I watched a vision unfold...lucid and aware...my own, slow-motion approach...a petal strewn aisle...bare feet gently stepping...naked body walking. Glowing casket, half open before me...feet pausing as they reach its edge...right arm slowly lifting...tulips placed with care...resting upon folded hands...my 'self' laying peacefully...an empty shell...a collection of ideas tucked around its edges.

Gazing upon what was...contemplating my own demise...owning it...accepting responsibility for the failures of this life...exhaling...saying a silent goodbye. 3 soft steps backwards...quiet pivot...walking away...into the dark unknown...laying down naked at its center...disintegrating...asking to be shown the way.

Admitting defeat...letting go completely...clearing out...becoming breath.

Inhale....exhale...inhale...taking comfort in this forever changing loop...tracing a circle in calm repetition.

Out...in...out...coming to understand that outside is inside and inside is everything...a perfect circle...round and empty and full....closed and open....filling up and spilling out.

Dieing and re-birthing each moment...meeting my own end and greeting a new beginning...in a dark space...punctuated by the whimpering and howling of Varanasi dogs...

Dead and newborn in room zero...

The Beauty of Down...

I've been sleeping in triple layers under four wool blankets...warm cap covered by fleece hood covered by down to warm my naked noggin...knee-high wool socks peeled off only to shower, now permanently misshaped due to wearing with my only pair of shoes...flip-flops. My savior, a sweet down coat that came with its own stuff-sac that was meant for emergencies. Who knew I'd live in it for weeks...even while sleeping! I'm still in Varanasi...could be elsewhere, but circumstances have kept me here. First I was waiting for the arrival of friends from the Bay Area, then I was waiting for the completion of a beautiful jacket that I designed, finding a brilliant tailor to bring it to life (raw silk...lined with wool and more raw silk... with beautiful, embroidered detailing from the edge of a sari)...now I'm here by choice, giving myself a bit more time before heading South.

I've been in an interesting space since the turning of years and decades. Floating...hovering in this spot, feet not wanting to touch ground but unable, it would seem, to take flight. The pungent inspiration that initially kept me here has waned, though it returns in unpredictable spurts. I suspect I've been here a bit too long, losing the fresh perspective of those newly arriving. These narrow alleyways are more than familiar now...my daily routine leading me between the same, predictable spots. I enter my regular breakfast cafe, they smile and give me the signature head wobble...I smile and wobble in return, knowing my meal will magically appear before me without the need to utter a single word. Yes...life here is easy...

I'm living on less than $7 a day. This, even after a ridiculous indulgence of several hours a day uploading pics. At least I'm finally making a small dent in what feels like an impossible backlog of images. The cold weather has made it easy to spend so much time indoors! Thankfully, the sun has started showing its beautiful face again and all of Varanasi seems to be perking up in response.

Of course, now that the temperatures are slowly rising, my puffy, down coat has been replaced by my new, lovely, silk jacket! I had to wait a while for its completion but it was well worth it. It's still cold enough that I wear it throughout the day, feeling rather like I stepped out of an episode of Star Wars or Lord of the Rings!

I could not have predicted the response, but I am continuously approached by people wanting to know where I bought it. I draw them maps or lead them to my tailor in person, telling them to ask for 'Zipporah's Jacket'! It's a new sort of flattering to know that something so simple that came from my wandering mind is catching the eye of so many. At least my distraction during Vipassana was productive! Each time I am approached again I smile...and Dada, my tailor, can hardly believe his good fortune! Already, four replicas are being made. Maybe I should switch professions and try my hand at clothing design! Not likely...but it's fun to imagine for a moment!

Yes...life is good here. I had a tough spell, for the first couple weeks of January...feeling quite lonely and down...unsure of my next steps and where I might want to go. I had moments in which I considered packing it in and heading straight home, but I've somehow managed to stay the course...pulling myself back into the sunshine...warming myself from the inside, despite the frigid weather.

I feel strong in this moment...deeply rooted in my little sunny patch...more solidly grounded then I ever remember feeling...alive...aware and open....watching, again, as my muse rubs her sleepy eyes and begins to play. I wrote a new song a couple days ago...or, rather, a song was written through me, spilling out whole and breathing in the space of only a few hours like a newborn child...like me. (*wink, wink Mom!*....that's a story I'll save for another entry!)

I feel deeply happy...smiling easy...grateful for my solitude and for a happiness that was hard won.

That's the beauty of down...the upswing that always follows...a keen awareness of warmth in contrast with a biting cold...the gentle turning of mouth's corners...downward to upturned...

See what I see...click on this image to visit my Flickr Photostream...

Shadows & Kites...

The sky blushes vibrant pink...hundreds of kites kissing it goodnight each day as the sun dips below the horizon. As night begins to settle, the heavens overflow into the Ganga, spilling precious jewels upon her surface. Constellations of prayers float gently, the flames offering sweet lights made brighter as the city falls into deep darkness, blackened by the sudden and frequent power cuts. Dogs bark and whimper, tablas & devotional voices echo while crickets, like metronomes, keep time, anchoring the strange, chaotic melody...an oddly fitting soundtrack for the gentle shifting and bobbing of tiny flames. I watch and listen from my beautiful nest of a room that sits right above the ghats, with nothing but air between my front door and the Ganga. Upon waking, I pull the shutters and doors open, revealing sweeping views of the holy river in both directions. The sun rises, large and brilliant, coloring the ripples pink and red and orange as boats in silhouette cut lines across, like fingers through paint.

Varanasi is a city of extremes...colors, textures, smells, emotions...pulling one down into its thick heaviness one moment only to send you dancing above rooftops the next...like a kite, rising from the shadows, illuminated by the golden glow of a setting sun. Finding solitude is tricky...silence is relative...

Still, I feel strangely 'at home' in my little room...surrounded by goddesses and geckos and cardboard fixes...feathers and candles and incense. I feel as though I'm living in Varanasi, rather than simply visiting. Each day finds me quietly drawing mandalas, creating order with paper and pen...practicing sargam... singing mantras & ragas & bhajans...conversing with my new guitar 'Mala'...filling the space around me with sweet, hypnotic melodies.

I am marinating in India...steeping and absorbing...adding spice and depth. Like a good marinade should, it is bringing out my truest flavors...showing me that the artist in me has evolved and matured, despite years of neglect.

I haven't taken a picture in days. My camera just feels so heavy and cumbersome, creating a barrier rather than connection with the locals. And somehow, putting it down has opened the way...cleared space... allowing my muse to show her other faces. Those bits of me that have waited so long in silence are blossoming and beaming as I give them air.

Creating feels effortless here...patterns unfurl organically, riding ink like current...resting upon pages like sand on shores...dancing gently upon strings and lips...

I'm finding my place here...dira, dira...slowly, slowly...

...remembering who I am and learning to love her...

Varanasi Echos...

Too many moments...from Rishikesh to Varanasi for birthdays and full moons and candlelit ghats...entry into silence in Sarnath met with hiccups and a necessary, early departure...back to vibrant Varanasi. Settling in a bit...walking confidently...tossing bits of Hindi into everyday speech, like salt on rice.

Inspired beyond words...beyond thoughts...purely observing and being and LIVING...

Last night's journal entry:

'...a warm candlelight flickers...a sort-of silence settling...caught up in, carried upon, swept up by the current... ...surrendering...giving in...tumbling and stumbling...tripping over and buoyed by laughter and tears...rooftop dancing...rickshaw bouncing...rupee haggling... ...heart pulled up and back...wrung out...squeezed, then stretched...wrinkles pressed flat between palms...slung over clotheslines...warming slowly... ...twigs igniting under massive pots...pani, so heavenly...softly spreading over morning skin, warm and gentle like mother's touch...bathing as child with bucket and pitcher by silent candle's glow... ...dipping into Vipassana baptism...inch by inch...toe to skull...sweetly disintegrating... ...dissolving...absolving...detaching and remembering... ...closed eyes...open heart...breath full deep...complete... ...empty while overflowing...drained and replenished...observing while observed...struggling stuck...challenged...pushed...boundaries overstretched... ...gut speak...heart listen...hands follow... ...bag packed quick...feet step trustingly...heavy load, shoulders pull, eyes wet like faucet leak...surya hot on unsure cheeks...gates opening, releasing me...5 days prematurely... *...still...5 days of sort-of silence set anchors deep...pulling soul into earthen spaces...formless being...grounding and releasing 'me'...allowing this shape to spill into and out of mother India... *few words speak simple truths...trimmed down...unadorned...leaving space for the language of silence... ...dot, dot pauses...words, like footsteps in rhythmic patterns, dancing upon lines and lips... ...heartbeat sculpting...softening... ...breath and pulse, like lovers, swirl in sweeping spiral shapes...lilting and beaming...bending and bobbing...like prayers, afloat upon the Ganges...weaving against, around, within one another...guiding and guarding each other... ...loving and gazing and listening...living...breathing...beating strong... ...flowing sweet and calm...'

Beside a River, Beneath a Tree

The wind picks up at night, toying playfully with wooden shutters that have long since lost their ability to close completely. Now that Oliver has left us for Pushkar, the rooms on either side of me are empty, with their own shuttered windows that remain unlatched...banging in the night...adding a haunting percussion to the symphony of crickets and dogs and distant horns. From somewhere close by, or perhaps a fair distance off that sounds near as it echos across the Ganges, voices in prayerful, melodic repetition add several more layers to the song that is Rishikesh. One never walks in a straight line here. Dodging people and cows and motorbikes and cow shit we meander through narrow streets, pressing our palms together in a gesture of greeting with a smile and 'Namaste' or 'Hari Om'...walking past the sadhus and beggars who extend their hands as we approach...waving off the many and varied vendors who beckon and insist...offering moments of affection to stray dogs and wandering cows. In an unhurried manner we make our way...always on foot.

The pace here is relaxed and slow...shanti (peaceful)...days unfold easily...

...bowls of fruit muesli curd, consumed gratefully from a balcony overlooking the ghats and the milky, wintergreen waters of the holy Ganga...bunches of bananas reduced to none as I walk, placing these rather than rupees into all those outstretched palms...journal pages filled with reaching words as cups are filled with the tastiest, lovingly made chai...gestures and laughter and skinny English mixed with fragmented Hindi and smiles...fingers sculpting patterns in gentle circles and toes pressing joyfully into the softest, most heavenly sand...rinsing and releasing in the chilly waters of rivers and buckets...dancing on marble at sunset with bare feet and warm hearts to the sound of many voices in song, blessing the Ganga...pots of hot lemon ginger honey tea shared between friends over fruit pancakes and thali and kichari and naan...

Hours pass in perfect contentment as I sit cross-legged beneath a tree across from Baba Shyam Keysor Das, observing his simple ways of being and his uncomplicated, uncluttered processes. He sings bajans sweetly as he prepares chai or chapati or rice...as he crushes cloves in a metal cup with a well-worn stick...as he forms his chapati into perfect circles...as he carefully turns tomatoes, roasting them in the ashes of his small, well-maintained fire...as he peers into a green, plastic, pocket mirror, painting his forehead with pale yellow and bright red. I am learning much from these hours with Baba. He asks for and requires so little yet gives so very much...forever offering what little he has to all those who visit his space.

All this and more....Rishikesh has charmed me into falling in love...like a siren, lulling me with her shanti voice. So...here I stay for the moment...learning how to just be...with grace & humility...beside this river...beneath this tree...

Mahendi, Smoke & Chai...

Every moment here I am reminded that, no one is ever really alone in India, despite the odd feeling of foreign isolation. One week in, and already I know...with a deep understanding, that one can never really plan for or predict what a day here will hold. I'm learning much about surrender...about trust...and letting go. Going with the flow and learning with each step are really the only options, so I'm doing my best to remain present...open to anything...free-spirited yet cautious.

My time in Agra was...well...both wonderful and challenging. Perhaps the best way to recap is to share a bit from my journal....

*8 October 2009

Still in Agra...today's heat feels slightly less oppressive than yesterday's, but my clothes feel all wrong...clinging to me in all the wrong places...contrasting sharply the vibrant, light-weight fabrics that so beautifully drape the women of India. The sounds of this city are becoming familiar...the incessant beeping of horns...the spinning of that most essential of luxuries, the ceiling fan, forever whirring above my head...the delicate clinking of bangles, an echo of gentle movements...and Hindi, that beautiful alliteration, forever swirling past my ears......always, voices can be heard.

I'm 'taking rest' in my room, having moved from the quiet zone, near the Taj Mahal, to a quaint little place called Hotel Deepak on Fatehabad Road in Talganj. This place is less expensive but far more charming and the owner, Raju Gupta, seems like the sweetest of men with a smile that never dissipates or fades.

Thus far, my time in Agra has been anything but solitary as I have been well cared for by a gentleman named Sanjay. Ravi (the guide that brought Zach and I to Agra) assured me that I was in good hands, and I am beginning to believe him. I have had many unsure moments, but doing my best to listen to my gut, asking the question often...'Can I trust this man?' More and more, I do, but I am still on guard.'

 Too many minute details could fill this space, but...suffice it to say that, I was well looked after, despite my cautious skepticism. That moment of revelation, when the underlying motive was revealed, the moment in which I knew for sure what it was they really wanted...it simply never came. Still...these were my sentiments as I pondered the weeks surprises....

'The generosity I have thus far experienced has been entirely unexpected and, sadly, it's difficult to know how to receive it. I find myself always questioning....why are they being so nice to me? Why the gifts? Why the endless stream of complimentary Chai?...and breakfast...and lunch & dinner? That has been my struggle...how to accept graciously and gratefully while questioning their motives. Sanjay assures me that, I am their guest...it is their duty...but the skeptic in me has a hard time believing that. I keep waiting for that moment of revelation, that I hope never comes. I find this inclination to mistrust more than a bit disturbing...uncomfortable....sad. I so want to believe in the possibility that, quite simply, they are good-natured people who want me to feel welcome. But I suppose I can't expect myself to trust that after less than one week in this country. I suspect I'll relax into it as time passes.

For now....I'll simply continue has I have been....cautiously present...careful yet friendly...confident yet soft.'

Now...after what seems like too much time...this entry that has taken me several days to pen, feels already outdated and incomplete. Each day holds so very much...and my detail-oriented brain longs to retain all of it. But some wiser part of me knows that this is truly impossible.

Never have I seen so many perfectly brilliant moments unfolding with such beautifully fluid continuity. I oscillate between awed bliss and terrified bewilderment...marveling at my shocking ability to embody each sentiment so fully and so authentically while simultaneously experiencing its precise opposite so clearly and unmistakably.

The learning curve here is so very steep...and falling into India's chaotic rhythm is both intoxicating and horrifying. I have incredible moments of success, when communication seems seamless, despite a marked lack of verbal understanding, and subsequent moments of bitter failure, when the transfer of pertinent information seems as unlikely as pouring water backwards up a funnel. Yet...somehow...I manage. Through choppy translations and colorful pantomimes, I work it out. Anyone who knows me well can likely predict my difficulty when it comes to downsizing my vocabulary...but, here....even the simplest of words seem too complex.

So I find myself forever hovering at some wobbly precipice, grappling with a need to be understood, and wishing that such a necessity didn't exist.....wishing that I possessed some unlikely, super-human power to understand...to know and be known without the sticky barrier of differing languages.

Instead...I fumble haphazardly onward...feeling at turns unstoppable and unsure...certain yet doubtful....fearlessly apprehensive...the intrepid, vacillating gypsy.

*Tomorrow I leave for Haridwar, then onward to Rishikesh. I've been aiming myself in that direction for four days now, but India has apparently had other plans. A brief revisit of Delhi has been lovelier than I have words for...yet equally frustrating. Again....I haven't enough knowledge of the English language to properly summarize all that each moment holds, let alone outline the breadth of each day.

Until next time...I'll absorb what I can, and regurgitate as much as possible in the entries that follow.

For now...crickets beckon....the fan, still spins peacefully overhead....and tomorrow, so ripe with magic, waits patiently for me to awaken to its brilliance....

Delhi to Agra...

It's hard to believe I've only been here for a few days. Already, so many moments have pushed and stretched me...but each challenge overcome only strengthens my resolve. I arrived in Delhi on Sunday morning, just after midnight. And, though my newfound friend, Zach, had offered to let me join his waiting shuttle, I opted to make my own way by prepaid taxi. So many people had warned me about the touts that would surely swarm me at the airport, but I must have done something right, because not even one approached me.

The ride was uneventful as my driver spoke little English, and I quickly realized that my equivalent ignorance of Hindi was going to present a problem. Still...we made choppy, strained attempts at conversing and I felt safe with him. We rolled into B Block around 2am and began the most laughable circling, stopping to ask no less than 6 security guards to please point us in the direction of B-67. Trying to make sense of the haphazard placement of numbers was difficult in such dim light, and my driver simply couldn't understand me when I asked him to please slow down so that I may read those few numbers that where actually posted. Nor could he understand me when I kept insisting that I could find it on my own. My repeated insistence...'really...you can let me out here'...went unheard.

After about 45 minutes of this, I finally gathered the nerve to simply open the door during a pause, smile graciously and quickly grab my pack, insisting in my actions that this futile searching was over. He wasn't keen...choosing to wait and watch me as I walked between buildings with my flashlight. Despite my enthusiastic thumbs up and the universal sign for 'go'...'away'...'leave'...he stood his ground. 'No problem...you come...address come....no good, no good, no good!' I found the building in about 3 minutes on foot...finally convincing my driver to move along once he knew I was ok.

I climbed the dark stairwell to the third floor and rang the doorbell......nothing. I rapped my knuckles loudly on the wooden door through the metal grate and waited. Still nothing. Again and again I tried....again and again my knocking was met with silence. I have no idea what time it was...likely nearing 3 am. I was tired...jet-lagged...covered in sweat and dirty from 20 hours of flying, so, after about half an hour of failed attempts, I plopped myself down upon the step in front of the door, leaned against my pack and had a good cry. I looked at the dirty floor and imagined laying myself out upon it. I was doing my best to bolster myself...to convince my tired head that such a prospect wasn't actually so bad. That was when two girls came up the stairs and stopped in their tracks when they saw me. I can only imagine how I looked then...feeling so spent and unsure. They lived next door to the flat in which I was to stay, and quickly came to my rescue. They brought me a bottle of water that, I swear tasted better than any water I've ever had and let me use their phone to call my host.

See...I had arranged for a place to stay through couchsurfing.com, and it was the housekeeper who was supposed to let me in that night as my host doesn't actually live there. Apparently, Deepa (no idea how you spell that) had fallen fast asleep and wasn't waking for anything. Thankfully, after several attempts, Kaushal (my amazing host) managed to rouse him with persistent phone calls and, voila...that big, heavy door finally swung open.

Laying myself out upon that huge bed, under that rapidly spinning fan, I considered how much had already transpired...marveling at how much I had already experienced since stepping off that plane. In that moment, I understood the mayhem I had stumbled into. The reality of my choice to make this trip was abundantly clear then...and, rather than feeling overwhelmed at the thought...I smiled in reverence for the unknown that lays before me feeling a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

The following morning found Deepa extra attentive, bringing me chai, running to the market and making me a simple breakfast of eggs and toast and, of course, more chai. I spent the day booting around in tuk-tuks, visiting Zach's side of town and wandering through random streets with a guy named Roger from Amsterdam.

Between being taken for 4 times the correct fare by my first tuk-tuk driver to having my foot run over by a rickshaw, it was an awesome day. You'd think such things would upset me, but, somehow, it all feels like part of the adventure. I know better now...I know how to demand a fair price and the bruise on my foot reminds me to be more aware. Both are very good lessons and I am deeply grateful for them.

Now I find myself in Agra. Following a whim, I joined Zach, leaving Delhi yesterday morning. He had hired a guide, not really the way I'd prefer to see India, but the way opened up before me so I simply followed. We saw too many temples for one day, exploring them during a torrential downpour that left me sopping wet for hours as I cradled my camera under my rain coat. I was thoroughly exhausted by day's end.

They left for Jaipur this morning. I was supposed to continue on with them, but apparently my heart had other plans. I couldn't fathom another day on that overly trodden tourist track, and one day in Agra felt like too little time. Yesterday, as we sped through little streets jumping from one temple to the next, I saw photographs everywhere I looked. I wanted so desperately to be walking slowly along those streets rather than so quickly passing through in an air-conditioned vehicle. So I jumped ship, found myself a room and set out on my own.

Now the adventure truly begins.

A flurry of details....

How is it that, no matter how hard I try to take care of things well in advance, I always wind up feeling like I have a month's worth of stuff to do in one day? As I gather myself to go...organizing and reorganizing bits, checking lists, tying up loose ends, packing myself into one bag...I'm feeling just a touch overwhelmed. I suppose this is the part where I remind myself that all will unfold as it should....that whatever I bring is what I must need...that anything left undone will surely be of little importance........that all I really need to do is pack and go....

That all sounds so....wise.....and grounded. Two qualities that feel rather elusive when caught up in such a flurry of details....

While this moment finds me in a quiet frenzy, I'm quite sure that this too shall pass. When next I write, I'll be well on my way and free of such trivial worries....

Until then...the tornado of preparations continues...

India awaits....