Snapshots From Pune 

I ended up leaving this place a little early after all to head into the city. Mostly because I had to take care of a backpack full of dirty laundry, but also because I needed to come up for air. The final verdict: Pune is the first place on this trip that I didn’t love. I didn’t love the ashram and I didn’t love the city. The constant rain wasn’t helpful.

I think I was naive when assuming that monsoon in India is like the rainy season in most other places I’ve traveled: lots of rain, but decent amounts of sunshine here and there. This was only rain. Dark and gloomy. When I ditched meditating to try to drop back into city life again, the gloom still felt heavy, even being surrounded by people and traffic. Such a difference from the warmth I experienced in Rajasthan.  

Despite this, there were a few bright spots in my visit to rainy Maharashtra:

My room at the ashram was so run down that every place I’ve stayed in since (rooms that I would have balked at a few weeks ago) feels almost luxurious. Nice to get a little perspective here as to how bad it can really get. Makes the rest of the budget lodging feel like a piece of cake, and I hope it stays that way!

I finally learned how to sit up properly for meditation, and I’m amazed that it took that long to learn a few simple techniques. This has helped tremendously in my practices since.

In Pune proper, I got out by myself a ton for the first time. My hosts in Jaipur were amazing for taking me anywhere I wanted to go, but the downside of that was that I didn’t jump off the deep end in doing it alone. Now, I can hail a rickshaw, navigate the streets, and spot a few scams like a pro. 😊

Here are a few snapshots of some sightseeing I did in the city:

Aga Khan Palace

Gandhi Memorial at Aga Khan Palace

Gandhi Memorial at Aga Khan Palace

Shantraj Wine & Dine, Korean Park. Great coffee. Ask them for mosquito incense if you go during monsoon.


Where I stayed: Backpacker Panda Pune, Koregan Park

Room: bed in women’s dorm

Recommend? No. The room itself was decent, but this was a generic, cookie-cutter hostel that I picked because it was the only thing available in my budget in short notice. There’s also only one place on the property to eat your meals, and it’s the deck where everyone sits outside and smokes all day–a little gross if you’re a non-smoker. 

Bonus fun fact: I’m still not sure how to pronounce Pune. Mostly everyone I’ve met here says “Poo-nay” but the people that actually live there say “Poo-nah.” I’m thinking both ways are correct. 

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A Quiet Retreat Near Pune

Ananda Kriya Yoga Ashram, Pune

Om Ganesh

The Ashram Gurus. Not pictured here are two additional gurus, the Swami who founded this center, and the Divine Mother, represented in the surrounding nature and creation itself.

 

I wanted to leave this morning. I thought I’d cut my stay here short and head into the city for a few days before my flight out on Tuesday, but something in the sudden rainstorm as I sat for breakfast in the open-walled pavilion convinced me to stick it out.

I’m at an ashram about 30 km outside of Pune, and it’s everything I should love. A climate that I adore — warm and wet and lush. Cool and breezy in the evenings. A secluded place, with verdant hills and jungle as far as the eyes can see. Birds sweetly chirping all day long, with only the rare sound of a small car or two passing occasionally on the village road. The silence here feels surreal compared to my recent noisy stay in Jaipur. Driving in, I was amazed to see men from the village working the rice fields in the traditional way, with a massive bull pulling the plough. Beautiful, and like something out of another era.

Despite all of this, I’ve felt lonely here. It’s monsoon season in India, which is technically the perfect time to do a meditation retreat as the constant rain supports going inward. However, monsoon is also the low season, which means I am the lone guest on this huge campus, with only the company of a small staff and the meditation teacher. I’m finding it odd that a few years ago, another version of me would have been beyond delighted to have this jungle paradise all to myself, and I’m wondering what’s changed. Perhaps it’s because I’m the furthest I’ve ever been from home, and being here alone makes that fact inescapable.

There are pluses, though. The food is a carefully selected Ayurvedic menu, and absolutely incredible. They make a curd (or, as we call it, yogurt) from buffalo milk delivered fresh every morning, and it’s one of the most amazing things I have ever tasted. The meditation teacher, (or Acharya) is incredibly kind and patient with me, and I suspect he is as glad for my presence here as I am for is. He’s a middle-aged American, full of stories and wisdom from his travels in the US, Italy and India. The Swami who founded this ashram recently passed away, and as he was the heartbfeat of this community, most people who visited and lived here in his lifetime have since moved on. The Acharya is hoping to somehow revitalize this place, as they have acres upon acres of land filled with empty apartments, and he has a longing to see community here once more. I think it would be unfortunate if that didn’t happen, but somehow, I suspect it will.

My little room is sweet, with pictures of the gurus on the windowsill, including Jesus and Krishna, which I love. It is, however, extremely humble, so much so that I gasped upon walking in. I suspect this will happen a lot on this journey, and I’m laughing that not even a year ago, I thought my hotel rooms for $70-$85/night on a trip to Costa Rica were a steal. In India, that’s more than I’ve budgeted per week for lodging, though I’m paying a little more here as full board is included with the stay. I will say that there’s something special about living this simply which allows me to appreciate my life back home more than I ever possibly could have before, and has already drastically changed my views on money and what I really need in this lifetime.

I’m unsure of what the next few days will bring, but I’m glad I’ve decided to stay. If my loneliness lingers, it’s likely best to lean into it and allow it to become yet another teacher on the path. My meditation practice has deepened with the Acharya’s gentle instruction, and it would be a shame to leave before I’ve completed the course. Something else also speaks to me here, a whisper woven into the raindrops, bird songs, and fleeting glimpses of sunlight. What it’s saying, I haven’t yet discovered, but perhaps with some patience, it will reveal itself.

Where I’m Staying:

Ananda Kriya Yoga Ashram

Pune, Maharashtra

$18/night for a very simple room, private bathroom, and three full Ayurvedic vegetarian meals + evening chai break daily. $7 (one time fee) to add on personalized meditation instruction, but daily community meditation sessions are free. Full free access to a wonderful spiritual library throughout your stay. 

Recommended, especially for the gorgeous scenery and amazing food. However, be aware that you may be the only one here during low season, and that the single rooms are very basic and a little run down. They have apartment-like suites that are much nicer for a few dollars more per night.

India, Day 1: Jaipur

After my first day in India, this is what I’ve learned: there is nothing I can control or predict here. The only thing I can do is step fully into not knowing what’s around the next corner.

I arrived optimistic, feeling a rush of indescribable beauty as my flight landed in New Delhi. This was quickly tempered by the hustle it took to get on my next flight to Jaipur. By the time I got to the right terminal I was hungry, frazzled, jet-lagged, and exhausted, lugging a backpack that I painfully discovered was WAY too heavy for me to move as quickly as India demanded.

Then I saw a peacock standing on the roof of one of the runway buildings as we took off. Which, coupled with a warm smile from the woman sitting next to me, instantly made it all better.

The leg to Jaipur was a last minute addition. I trusted an instinct to land here for a few days (vs. stopping over in Delhi) before heading to an ashram near Pune next week. The wisdom in that decision was echoed by the owner of my hostel, who confirmed that Jaipur is a much kinder introduction to India for first-timers. I could feel that difference as he drove us through the tree-lined city streets. Even amidst all the honking and traffic (mind you, it’s still a city of over three million people) the atmosphere felt so much calmer than my brief transfer in Delhi.

I’m staying at an earth-friendly, mindful hostel in the old city, in an ancient home marked by a cheerful yellow door. Nadim, the owner, shared that his family has lived in the building for generations. The hostel reception is on the first floor, the family home is on the second, and the rooms are on the third floor and fourth, adjacent to the roof terrace. The view from the top is stunning, and the sounds of the household (women cooking, children playing) makes it feel even more welcoming. I was given a full, warm breakfast upon arriving, cooked by Nadim’s sister – chapati, eggs, and chai. I didn’t mention that I don’t usually eat eggs or gluten, devouring it gratefully instead.

After breakfast, I unpacked, slept, and cried. Sobbed, actually. It felt like a release of stress and exhaustion, and all the pent up tension that pushed me into taking this leap. Plus, a newfound, bittersweet homesickness. I’m pretty sure every person on their first big journey has that moment of “what the hell am I doing here?!?” This was mine.

I reached out to a well-traveled friend for support, and his voice on the other end of the phone was deeply comforting. He simply reaffirmed what I already knew, how important it is to keep pushing boundaries and crossing borders. Even if our first instinct upon arriving is to run right back home.

After another long nap and a shower, Nadim and I went out for dinner and I enjoyed a rich cup of darjeeling and a dish of brown rice and vegetables in cilantro sauce. Simple, but cooked to absolute perfection with perfectly balanced spices and flavors.

He talked about his ideas for growing into the hostel business, and I shared the reasons why I left my job and came to India. We found common ground with our sadness, fears, and hopes for both our countries dealing with complex and disheartening political environments. Neither of us had any real answers, but were glad that we could speak so openly about it with each other.

When we got home, he graciously offered to let me borrow a smaller backpack so I could re-pack and travel lighter. I’m storing some of the remnants of my original bag here, and some of it he’ll donate to families nearby.

I ended the night on the roof terrace under an almost full moon. An unexpected fireworks display erupted above, lighting the sky red as loud music, chanting, and drumming poured into the evening from a nearby residence. And, of course, the incessant honking in the crazy city streets below. I laughed out loud at the contrast of chaos and beauty, and noticed the strange, sweet stillness beneath the noise. A cool breeze, insects chirping, and a lizard running along the terrace wall.

Something in the magic of that moment allowed me to take my first real breath of the trip. My heart softened, and in an instant I felt more grounded, relaxed, and just a little more open to the adventure. Not the one I thought I’d have, but the moment-to-moment path unfolding before me.

Where I’m Staying

Chalo Eco Hostel, Jaipur
Roughly $7/night + tax for a private room (no A/C, but a wonderfully strong fan) and shared bathroom. Budget accommodations, but clean and comfortable. Breakfast included, inexpensive airport pickup on request. Highly recommend.

To India

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Lake City, Udaipur, Rajasthan

There’s a book that I love, called Abarat. Clive Barker is unfortunately not finishing this wonderful series, but it’s a rich, spectacular, and vivid story, and I highly recommend it anyway.

At the beginning, the protagonist, Candy Quakenbush (love that name, btw,) decides she’s fed up with her mundane life and horrible school, and impulsively decides to just up and walk out of class one day, into the unknown. What follows is a wild adventure, and a meeting with her destiny.

How many of us have heard the phrase, “You can’t run away from your problems?”

I’ve never liked it.

It’s true — sometimes I’ve run away from shit with absolutely disastrous results. But, there have been a few occasions when running (or sprinting!) away was the best decision I could have made.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll get it out of my system one last time: 2017 has been a ridiculously hard year for me. I could list all the ways here, but some of it is too personal to share, and the rest would be a mile-long list of grievances and upsets that finally pushed me into a place of, “Enough.”

I will, however, share this: Though I spent the early months of this year angrily pointing the finger outward at all the things that were falling apart or going wrong in my life, in recent weeks, I’ve realized that those events were merely a reflection of my own inner turmoil. When I finally looked inward, the root of everything was clear and simple:

“I am not living my truth.”

So, what is my truth? While I could have previously spouted off an answer to that question with some ease, after being put through the ringer a bit, I can honestly say that I’m not sure. I feel like big pieces of me, pieces that I once held so dearly to, are falling away and turning to dust, revealing something new. And I don’t yet know what exactly that “new” is.

Which is why I’m taking a break. A long one. The longest one I’ve taken in a really long time.

I had a ticket booked to spend some time with a long-distance love interest in Tanzania. After that flirtation fell apart, I still planned on taking the two-week trip, until a fateful dinner date with a couple girlfriends one night. One shared her moving story of leaving town to work at a yoga retreat for the summer, and then travel onward with no real plans afterward. The other excitedly shared about a time in her life when she’d sold all her belongings and headed to the airport with just a backpack, and how incredibly freeing that felt.

In contrast to their stories of adventure and freedom, I felt a bone-deep contraction and tightness in my body and spirit. The next morning, I woke up sobbing, and by the end of the day, decided to change my two-week ticket to Tanzania and take a three-month journey of India instead.

I have a little bit of a rule about impulsive decisions — if I sleep on it, and it still feels good the next morning, then it’s likely a good decision. This one has miraculously felt better and better with each rising sun. I resigned from my job with ease, and tons of support from my colleagues. My apartment was sub-let within a few days, and most of my belongings sold easily. Signs began to appear everywhere in support of the decision, as if the universe was reassuring me, saying, “Yes. Go.”

I’ll be spending four weeks out of my trip completing a 200-hour yoga teacher training in Rishikesh, which as been a dream of mine for years. Other than that, definitely some time in Jaipur, and at a retreat center near Pune, but I’m leaving the rest of it in the hands of fate. (For someone who is slightly addicted to having everything planned to perfection, this is a huge leap of faith!)

In Women Who Run With The Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes describes the upheaval that can occur when a woman has “overstayed” somewhere, whether a job, a city, or a relationship…some circumstance where it’s past time to move on, but she chooses to hang on, instead of leave. In contrast, she also writes about the freedom that comes when that woman finally decides to go “home,” or rather, back to her center and true nature.

This decision feels like the beginning of a long-overdue homecoming for me, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t absolutely terrified. But, I’m also thrilled, and excited. And, ready.

#onward

Kali

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Kali Ma (artist unknown)

“Whom should I turn to,
if not the one whose darkness
is darker than night, the only one
who keeps vigil with no candle,
and is not afraid—
the deep one, whose being I trust.”

~ Raine Maria Rilke

“The Dark Mother is the Great Mystery in its dark, deep, unknowable totality. It is said that any contact with her transfigures the soul. She might make us uneasy because she is so full, so primal. She is everything that our culture does not allow- rage, terror, wildness, sorrow. Yet, she is also the tenderhearted mother, offering unconditional refuge and miraculous healing, and holding relentless vigil for all her children. Jung says the secret is that “only that which can destroy itself is truly alive,” and walking into Kali’s fires is the initiation ~ she is the womb, the tomb and the resurrection.

The awakening process asks us to accept the fullness of reality, and the dark goddesses invite our fearless heart to dance with the beauty and the terror of life as it is. Contrary to spiritual myths that insist on positive thinking, studies tell us that embracing our dark emotions- anger, fear, despair- is vital for psychological wellbeing. Similarly, dark mothers model radical acceptance of all our experience from the most painful to the most blissful and teach us to use it all as coal for the fires of awakening. Making contact with the Dark Feminine aspect of our being, whether we are men or women, can be a revelatory experience and birth new wisdom, courage and compassion in our life. Lay it all down at Her feet and come dance.”

(via Science and Nonduality Conference)

Shakti Woman

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(artist unknown)

I love synchronicity. I love opening a well-loved book to a random page and finding a passage that not only perfectly describes my recent years, but like a beacon in a somewhat shadowy time, also clearly illuminates a path forward. And after a few huge and heavy recent wake up calls, I’m so ready to do exactly that…take the illuminated path forward:

“The work for a contemporary female shaman is to stop behaving in conditioned, habitual, unhealthy ways and begin to act from within. But as she eliminates the cultural factors that have distorted and programmed her reality, a woman is confronted with the open feeling of more space.

This shift from density to lightness can be very frightening, and can actually seem “ungrounding.” A woman can begin to feel “out of her body” or “floaty” and insubstantial. She may begin to fear for her mind, clamping down on herself in an effort to control things, which creates added tension and pain in the body.

The need here is for work that is grounding, to help this woman embody the energies that are awakening in her being, and also for a shift in attitude that makes it all right to feel these new feelings….it is not necessary to maintain one’s sense of normal when transforming.”

(from Shakti Woman, by Vicki Noble)

Inipi

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Inipi, by Juan Pablo Herdez

Yesterday, I had the honor of participating in a traditional Lakota Inipi.

My first time, and it was helpful having previous ceremony experience in other traditions. It came to me right before we began that these initiations mirror the greater life journey…contract, expand, breathe…then do it all over again.

I prayed for healing after a hard winter, and to fully step into the sunlight of spring. This past season was one of the toughest I’ve endured in a while. One of the only bright spots was a brief romantic exploration with a man I thought I’d fallen in love with, but even that soon came to its own abrupt (though timely, and necessary) end.

Mucking through the shadow realms for a few months revealed that compromising my values for anyone or anything–a man, a job, or even for my own illusory castles in the sky–is absolutely never worth it. I see now, clearly, the areas in my life which are brimming with abundance and possibility, because I didn’t compromise. And, the ones which are wilting, because I’ve compromised for far too long.

Deep gratitude to the Great Spirit, the Great Mother, for this hard winter. And for yesterday’s much needed cleansing.

I stumbled out of the sweat lodge dizzy and nauseous. After a particularly hot last round, the shock of the breezy, cool Colorado evening air took anything else that I was holding on to right out of me. Without a word, I laid down on a sleeping bag and let my breath and body settle. Looked up at the twilight sky and felt the power of the stars reach down and touch me with love, the earth below hold me with tenderness.

I am changed today. Reborn.

Onward…