Wednesday, March 14, 2012

an ayurvedic retreat

(As you’ll read below I was indisposed for about a week and couldn’t get my writings from my computer to the internet so am putting a two-week backlog of blogs 14 March.)

So then, putting away falsehood,
let us all speak the truth to our neighbors,
for we are members for one another.
Ephesians 4:25

Saturday, 10 march, Kerala Ayurvedic Hospital, Trichy

No sooner had I gotten to Shantivanam than I left again. I’ve been having this ongoing issue with a torn ligament or something in my hip joint for some time now that flared up kind of bad before I left on this trip and has been bothering me the whole time. I kept hoping for a miracle cure and saw a couple of specialists along the way––a physiotherapist in Singapore, an orthopedic surgeon in Malaysia and an osteopath in Tiru. It was pretty clear that the only cure was gonna be some total down time. I was so sore by the time I got to Shantivanam that Fr. George and Sr. Mary Louise both suggested I go to the Ayurvedic Hospital here in Trichy to see Dr. Ajil. Again, I guess I was hoping to get a quick massage and be on my way, but he recommended 14 days in house treatment. I talked him down to one week, so he’s doubling up the treatments. I’m glad I did it.

This is an interesting little place. I was thinking “hospital” like CHOMP or Dominican by us in Santa Cruz. It’s more the equivalent of very inexpensive hotel room, very simple, not necessarily sanitary by our standards (though they do sweep and mop every day), and they provide no necessities at all except one sheet, not even soap. Now I know why Sr. ML packed me up a bag of towels, sheets, dinnerware, etc. I do have a private room (with a TV!). Tea is served twice a day, 7AM and 3:30 PM, there are three simple meals of good Ayurvedic healthy vegetarian cooking served in a tiffin kit, and you get lots of boiled, purified water––“The same water I myself drink,” said the doctor when I asked him. I’ve had three days’ of treatments so far, mostly consisting of getting slathered in hot oil, and then them pounding on my hips and thighs with tied up sacks of hot minerals for 40 minutes at a time. I had a mud paste of sorts added too now every afternoon. The main doctor, Ajil, is a sharp guy who has a great devotion to Shantivanam and Sr. Mary Louise, and three other young doctors look in on me three times a day. But the guys who do the actual treatments look to be in their late teens at the most. Outside of the doctors, none of them speak much English outside of “Good morning,” “thank you,” “Sir, treatment, sir!” and “Medicine!”

Actually at first I thought the room looked like a prison cell and I quickly converted it in my mind to a monastic cell and I’m trying to take this as a retreat time. I’ve got books and my computer, and I’m just here wrapped in my dhtoi all day. I haven’t left the room except for my treatments, which take place just down the hall, since Wednesday night.


Fourth day of treatment now. I never know what’s coming next. Last night a new added treatment was getting my waist and belly wrapped in a pad that looked and felt like the texture of the insulation around a water heater and yards of bandage. I was to lie down with that on for six hours. I didn’t think that would be too bad. I wrapped myself in my dhoti and lay down on my bed, which had a plastic mat on it. Soon I realized that the medicine was oozing through the whole thing, and soaking my dhoti and the mat, so it was real slithery. And then the electricity kept going out, which meant no fan. The window is shut due to mosquitos and of course my door was closed for privacy, so it got really uncomfortable and itchy in the heat of the night. I could barely wait until midnight to rip that thing off and wash off. But I must admit, it did something magical. My hip feels more open today than it has in a long time.

I inadvertently threw away the bandage with the used pad, which set up for an interesting encounter. My main doctor here on the floor is a young guy named Prakash, who speaks pretty good English but is very shy and hesitant. My main therapist is a rail thin young Keralese guy who is a bit of a coyote, named Jijo. He has warmed up more and more, started singing Indian film songs to me during the treatments, and imitating the way I say “thank you” and “nandri” (Tamil, for thank you). I was expecting my next treatment at 1 PM when suddenly at 11:30 Dr Prakash, Jijo and another tall thin guy came into my room. Prakash hesitantly asked me where the bandage was. That’s when I realized I had thrown it away, and the garbage man had already come and emptied my pail… I apologized and thought the discussion was over, but the three of them just stood there looking at me in that direct Indian way. Finally they started asking me questions through Prakash. I don’t think they get many Westerners at all in this hospital, and I think they are trying to figure out who the heck I am. I heard Prakash tell Jijo “Father” once the other day, and “Christian,” and they know I am a musician. Prakash said they wanted to hear me speak English. They made some jokes and Jijo sang again, and then they asked me to take their picture, and then they just left.

Then at the treatment session, while Jijo is singing and dancing, Prakash sets himself up near my head and says, “Sir, so you read the Bhagavad Gita?” He must have seen it in my room. And so we launched into a discussion about the lessons of the Gita, and the difference between it and the Upanishads. He knows the Gita well and says it is the “milk” of the Upanishads.” He also asked me what I thought about “the Hindus with all their idol worship.” That’s the way he said it, mind you. I still haven’t ascertained whether he is a Hindu or Christian; it’s one of my quirks that I don’t like to know so I usually don’t ask. I feel like that forces me to say what I really believe. Since he’s from Kerala, there’s a good chance he’s either. Of course I asked him back each time what he thought. He did say that we need a new spirituality for the new age––Kali Yuga––that focuses more on karma yoga, and I said that’s why I thought the marriage of East and West was so important, because at our best we in the West are brilliant at karma yoga, the yoga of action, but we needed more of the interiority of the East to balance us. At the end of the session the other guy came in the room too and presents himself in front of me wanting to know my name and what it means, and then asked if I had a family, was I married. I said, no, I was a monk. I looked to Prakash to translate and he said to them, “Brahmacharya.” “Oh, brahmacharya,” they both said and nodded. I told Prakash as I was going back to my room that we could talk some more later if he wanted.