Friday, January 8, 2010

on the forest of peace

8 january 2010, Shantivanam

Like so many people I have already built up muscle memories of this place. When I go back to New Camaldoli in Big Sur, it's as if my body knows exactly how to be there. And so it has been here at Shantivanam these first two days. The transition in was pretty much seamless--no surprises, no jolts. MC met me at the airport in Trichy in a taxi after the early arrival of my amazingly smooth flight on a Kingfisher twin prop plane down from Chennai, and we drove to back to Shantivanam on the bumpy road out of Trichy in a taxi that George had graciously hired for me for the occasion. I must say, though it would have been awkward with guitar and backpack, I was actually looking forward to a ride on the bus. MC and I picked up in the car as if we had just left off the conversation yesterday, Mary Louise had a late lunch waiting for us at Ananda, and then we trudged the kilometre over to the formation house where we were greeted by George and the three brothers here. Shushila, the housekeeper, had afternoon tea within moments of arrival.

There are five guys staying here at the formation house: George, prior, and John Robert who made solemn vows and was ordained three years ago, two novices named Savio and Elbis whom I had met in '08, and a new postulant with the unique name Dorathich of which he is not even sure the origin except that it might be Greek or Hebrew. Dorathich is a Tamilian in his early thirties from way down on the tip of India where the three bodies of water meet who already has degrees in Aryuvedic medicine and Yogic science from Kerala. I am thrilled that Shantivanam has someone like that around and have asked him some questions about it, though he is a little diffident to speak about it. We may do some asana together today. John Robert was in hospital until yesterday having been diagnosed with a case of the dreaded chicun gunea (I am totally guessing at the spelling of that--it sounds to me as if they are saying "chicken guneeya," but I was assured it has nothing to do with chickens. It is carried by mosquitos and in the air, and you get flu like symptoms, etc.) so he is not very present. The ashram itself is also very sparsely manned at this point: Bro Martin is away giving talks in Auroville, Fr Dominic has taken a leave of absense, even the old lay Bro George is out sick, so that pretty much leaves Paul to lead the midday and evening prayers by himself. Indeed MC and the guests help to carry it often and once already this week had to do it by themselves without any monks. There are a host of old friends here, some staying across the street with Mary Louise: Antonella, Carl, Doreena, Jill Hemmings and of course MC, so that has also made it feel as if I were picking up where I left off. I always enjoy taking advantage of the dynamic between the three places--Shantivanam, the sisters' ashram and the formation house--though I don't think there are many who experience it from that vantage point: George always wants me to stay with him here at the formation house and to "take class" and pray with the young guys, so late nights and early mornings are here in this very quiet place; but we all go for morning prayer and Mass at Shantivanam itself at 6:30; we stay for breakfast but on the way home I stop and have a cuppa with MC et al at Ananda. I never want to presume on Sr Mary Louise since she handles quite a crowd rthere and caters to them scrupulously (and has shown her ire if you add to her burden without being asked...), but the first morning I showed up after I ate, while ther others were eating and announced that I was not coming for breakfast, just to bask in their company. Mary Louise said, "And for a cup of my coffee" which I have declared to be ther best in India. This morning I ported MC's guitar with me and sat in the corner playing while they ate. That led Mary Louise to come up to me, kiss me on the forehead and said, "Why don't come here and eat these days before the conference starts, eh?" Anyway, then I put myself to work, mostly writing, at my desk back at the formation house. (Don't know why it is India brings out the writer in me, but it sure does.) Midday prayer and lunch here at the formation house and then after a long walk along the river in the late afternoon I go up to what MC and I call the Abhishiktananda chapel at Ananda, a long cool second story prayer hall, for some guitar time in that gorgeous acoustic after which MC and I do an hour meditation together before evening prayer and dinner at Shantivanam. Actually there is only going to be two more days of this since the conference begins right away on Sunday. I'm sorry for that; it makes being on the road a lot easier when there are those "muscle memories" of how to be in a place. I suspect it will be so in Tiru as well.

After talking it over with MC, I think I know a little better how the weeks ahead will look: after the retreat conference here we will go to Tiruvanamalai--Sri Ramana Ashram--with the group on Saturday the 16th to continue the retreat-conference there (Bettina has stressed that she wants this to be as much as retreat as a conference), though MC seems to think it will be very informal there in Tiru. Then I will hook up with our friend JP and Agnete from Denmark who is flying in on the 19th in time for the three of us to attend Theophilus' wedding in Chennai. (Theophilus is the one who played tabla for me for the concerts in '07 and '08, and was a student at Gurukul Theological Seminary in Cehennai where I led a retreat day on Ash Wednesday in '08 as well. We have stayed in touch sporadically and he was thrilled to find out that I was going to be here when his wedding was to take place. I'm pretty psyched too.) After that I am in JP's service until the end of the month though I still have no idea what exactly I'll be doing or for whom. Then I plan to go to Bangalore as I am assured that our guys studying there, Pinto and especially George with whom I spent alot of time in '07, are quite excited about me coming to see them. They are studying in seminary there, but live in a boarding house, a hostel of sorts, George says, with plenty of extra guest rooms. I am assured by others who have been there that there would be no problem with me staying for four or five days. I think then that I will skip Indore, since there is actually only one sister there now, not the one I know, and it will be a little difficult to get to. Instead MC thinks I should have our friend Kumar in Tiru find me a cheap flight from there to Delhi where I have a room booked the 6th and 7th and can meet my friends for at least part of the Sufi Urs music festival. From there it is still not clear how I will spend the days from the 8th until the 16th when I fly out of Delhi, but hopefully that will work out. I certainly don't want to stay in Delhi but we will see what my adventurousness level is to spend the week tramping around farther north re-visiting Haridwar and Rishikesh where I will know many folks. Sr Turiya from Jeevandhara Ashram in Rishikesh will be here for the conference, and I think I may just ask her if she has room for me for a few days and spend the time there, perhaps making a short trip over to Haridwar to visit Sri Ram and immerse myself for a moment in the madness of the Kumba Melha which is taking place. there. More on that later.