I was walking through an enormous wheatfield today, sweating profusely, when I suddenly had a mental image of myself on the Underground (this time next week!). I looked around at the golden fields, the coconut palms, the white stupas in the distance, and thought, am I mental?
I was on my way to the Sujata temple with an American girl I met yesterday (Andrew having left for Nepal, despite the Maoists dying like flies). For some reason we decided to walk there in the middle of the day. Ha. It was long and hot and probably sunstroke-inducing. Not particularly clever when I've just been ill.
The temple wasn't that exciting, but the journey was something else (now there's a metaphor for life). It was such a beautiful walk out into the middle of nowhere. A small child guided us along the tangle of paths through the wheat. He distinguished himself by entirely failing to ask for money - saying "money no good for children, education is".
We walked through his school (one small windowless room for sixty children), past women making those cowpat cakes for the fires, past these cute fat little haystacks. It was all incredibly picturesque and charming, but with that by-now-familiar feeling of touristing other people's poverty. That's one thing I won't be sad to leave.
I have a lot of mixed feelgs about going back to the UK. Part of me desperately wants to stay here . . . Another part of me is crying out for 'civilisation'.
Things I look forward to in the UK (this list is partly for my reference, when I arrive in the cold and gray with only one jersey):
*seeing my friends (woo! bring on the parties)
*salads - big 'uns, with feta (cheeeese), avocado, tomato, sprouts. Mmm.
*avocado and carrot sushi
*drinking tap water, brushing my teeth in tap water, not wondering whether I should keep my mouth closed in the shower . . .
*being anonymous on the street
*Green and Blacks chocolate
*red wine (_with_ the G&B, mmm).
Ohmigod, that was a bit crazy. I started writing that list, wrote 'seeing my friends' and 'cheese' and got stuck. How could I have forgotten red wine? What has happened to me? Good god, I think I've acclimatised while I wasn't watching. Hopefully that means that arriving in the UK will mean a delightful re-discovery of the sinful delights of the Western world.
I get on the train(s) to Chennai tomorrow, then fly out next Friday. Unfortunately I have to leave before Meagan finishes the Vipassana course, so that I can go and sort out my plane ticket (assuming I still have one, the STIC man was pretending not to know who I was again). It's utterly bizarre to think that she has spent all this time sitting and meditating.
So now I'm in Bodh Gaya, the place where Buddha became enlightened under a bodhi tree. There's a large temple, alongside a descendant of the original tree. I was a little disappointed by the tree. It's surrounded by a gold fence, and then a stone fence outside that. I had the obligatory meditation under it anyway, but still no enlightenment. ;)
There are also temples and monasteries from every other Buddhist country in the world. It's an eclectic mix of styles. There's a Thai temple (all glittery gold and upturned roof beams), a very zen Japanese one, a crazy coloured red-and-blue-and-green dragons Tibetan one. Not to mention an enormous stone Buddha statue.
We went to visit the Buddha statue just as the sun was going down behind it. It was amazing, following the path to this very lifelike statue, glowing all around the edges with the light.
There's a market around the main temple, selling every bit of Buddhist paraphenalia you could ever want (statues, prayer flags, mantra beads anyone?). It's lovely at night, when all the stallholders put candles out, and the smell of the street stall food wafts through the warm night air.
I'm still sick as a dog. I think my stomach may have shrunk in the last week. I'm hoping my multivitamins will keep me going, because my diet of toast and rice is not going to cut it.
I've started on a delicious range of antibiotics and assorted other pills. I have a feeling the doctor may have over-prescribed slightly. Oh well, at least we know there'll be no bugs left standing. Will it be kill or cure?
I'm hoping for being better before I catch the train back to Chennai on Saturday. We always love sickie train trips. Woo, and then it's back to the UK. Not much time left now . . .
I'm running out the imposing gates of the meditation centre, hair streaming behind me, hastily packed luggage on back. . . and there's a rickshaw conveniently waiting outside the door. Saving me a potentially *long* dusty walk to civilisation.
This is the happy ending to a tragic tale that started three days ago now.
Day 1: I left Varanasi having had no sleep, and tried to catch the 5am train to Gaya. This didn't actually leave until 9am, which meant I had to try and catch up on sleep on Platform 9, along with the hundred or so other vagrants, bangle-sellers, beggars, and the odd fellow meditator.
I arrived at the meditation centre hot, hungry, tired and slightly ill. I had a bit of a cold, but I thought I'd be fine.
Day 2: I develop diarrhoea. Nothing particularly unusual in India. Again, I think I'll be fine.
Day 3: I start to appreciate how rigorous it is to do sitting meditation for 10 hours a day. My whole body is one big scream. I should be concentrating on my breath, but I can only think about my stomach. Stomach cramp, breath, stomach cramp, breath. I feel like I'm fighting my way through the day. I keep on repeating to myself, I can survive.
Bing! Like a lightbulb, I suddenly realise that I don't want to. Why am I putting myself through this unneccesary pain? I can leave! Being fast-moving the person of action that I am, I go to my female supervisor person, and tell her I'm leaving. It took me another 6 hours to actually get out of there.
In that time I experienced the most intense manipulation to stay. The 'teacher' spent an hour cajoling, blaming, guilt-tripping, appealing to my finer feeling (obviously a lost cause, anyone could have told him that), not to mention flat-out telling me I couldn't leave.
Some of the finer points:
*telling me that I would make _him_ ill if I left, and he wouldn't be able to continue taking the course.
*that it was my 'dark side' convincing me to leave, and I shouldn't give in to it.
*that I was doing harm not only to myself, but to my fellow meditators.
*that he had never seen a foreigner leave before. Indians yes, but that foreigners are usually determined to finish what they start.
Eventually I agreed to stay for one more day. As soon as I had left his presence I was angry with myself for giving in to the pressure (not to mention crying!). Later, I packed again, and prepared to leave. I went to ask the manager if I could get my money belt and valuables out of my locker. He refused. By this stage, I was starting to feel trapped.
Eventually, my supervisor came out of meditation again, and came with me to collect my possessions. I left without seeing the teacher again.
The whole experience left me feeling incredibly angry and upset. I booked into a nice hotel with a telly, so that I can eat room service in bed and recover.
I was feeling pretty lonely and desperately in need of a chat (all that silence), so I was thrilled to bump into a fellow escapee in town today. Thank God. It's nice to have someone else to validate your experiences.
I don't want to condemn the vipassana practice (I know they're not a mind-control cult! I just liked the title). I know the practice has worked for a lot of people, and it was highly recommended to me.
However, I really believe that it was ethically wrong to put me under that amount of pressure to stay, especially as I was ill and therefore fairly vulnerable. I have never been so glad to leave anywhere in my life.
Whew, what a crazy day. Shopping shopping shopping. Today also appears to be Official Hassle the Tourist Day in Varanasi, so I'm feeling a little tired.
It's been really low hassle up till today, but I was seriously physically throwing people off on my way up the street/alley just now.
We made it to a sunrise boat trip along the Ganges yesterday (weeelll, maybe it was a little after sunrise). That was amazing. The light was so gentle ver the river, and the thronging crowds at the waterfront were so colourful. It's bizarre, touristing people having their morning wash in the river, or a religious dip . . .
We had this lovely little old man called Sunil rowing our boat. He had enormous glasses and an orange lungi (like a sarong for men). He had very little English, but he pointed out to us every time we went past a corpse (eg. at the ghats being burnt, or immersed in the water) - "see dead body dead body". He really must think that tourists are a bunch of necro weirdos.
Will contiue later, this internet connection is very slow.
Wow. I am surprised to be utterly charmed by Varanasi. Everyone says how crowded and dirty it is, and how the streets in the old city are so small you have to squeeze past the cows, and if you touch the Ganges your hand will probably fall off. Not to mention that all the drinking water is fake, and that almost everyone gets sick . . .
All true, to some extent. But nobody mentioned how beautiful the Ganges is with the sunlight catching the ripples in the early morning, or the amazing energy of this town. I really do think you can feel the difference when somewhere is a place of pilgrimage.
We arrived yesterday, the day after Holi. Holi is a huge spring festival, with a lot of paint-throwing and partying. It was very quiet when we arrived, possibly because of the collective hangover. There are still violet and green and pink splatters everywhere, on people's clothes and the walls and the ground. We got a little bit of green paint on our forehead after a hospital visit (for the other two - I'm still feeling remarkably healthy), but that was all.
The train trip from Chennai (35 hours) was fun, with Meagan and Hikari playing the guitar to general acclaim. We met a lovely Buddhist monk on a pilgrimage from Sri Lanka. He read my palm and told me a lot of interesting things, including that I am under protection from the Divine - when I am getting into dangerous situations, it will get me out of them. So that's a relief.
Seriously, you all know that I am way cycnical. But if I have ever met anyone that I believe was psychic, it was this guy. He radiated beautiful energy.
We're staying at a lovely little guesthouse in the old town. It has a bright blue and green courtyard full of plants, and balconies overlooking the Ganges. We're planning to go on a boat down the river another morning at sunrise (well, maybe sunset, depending on laziness).
I am also now in full-on shopping mode. 7 shopping days to go . . .
I'm all indecisive about whether I'm ready to go home or not yet. A lot of people go to Nepal from here. Hmm. I'm still signed up for this meditation retreat in Bodh Gaya on the 16th March. Then I jump on a train back to Chennai, and arrive back in cold, gray London on April 2nd. What to do?
Incidentally, I won't be writing anything the 16-27th March, because I'll be on the retreat, and we're not allowed paper, let alone email.
Yay! My rings are back. I found them in the room that used to be the 'communal' sitting room, and has now turned into Peter's room.
I screamed so loud that everyone came running, arriving just in time to do the jumpie-up-and-down dance of joy with me. I'm very happy to have my jewellery back. Note to the skeptics: I *had* actually let go, so this doesn't disprove my theory of things disappearing because you become over-attached to them.
I'm leaving Auroville tomorrow or the next day. We're going to Chennai (Madras), then Varanasi (Benares), then I'm going to do the Vipassana meditation course at Bodh Gaya (www.dhamma.org).
I'm totally traumatised to be leaving Buddha Garden.
Things I will miss:
*The peacefulness, externally and internally.
*Watching the sun set over the fields
*The way the sky is sooo huge at night
*Vrroooming along the one good bit of road on the leetle motorbike, cool wind in my hair.
*Drawing and painting by candlelight, with Ian playing the guitar. I'm completely unartistic, but doing it in the semi-dark means I can let go of my self-consciousness long enough to have fun.
*The tasty pastries from the boulangerie. I'm eating as many as I can now, as a protection against the famine to come.
*Big healthy communal dinners, with vegetables fresh from the garden. Some of them even planted by me.
*The feeling of instant community. Just add water.
*Going to the beach.
*Sunshine every every day.
*Enjoying getting my hands (and the rest of me!) dirty. That's a new thing for me.
It's been a lovely chilled-out time, but I do need to see some of the the North before I leave India. Arriving in Varanasi is probably going to be a heinous shock. We're going from a lot of peace and quiet to one of the craziest, loudest places. Hmm.
As you can tell, I'm very bad at leaving places. I have no idea how I ever manage to travel anywhere. Varanasi will be excellent, godammit.
"They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom."