Monday, May 13, 2024

wherever I go, there I am....

13 May, 2024, Lacey, Washington, St. Martin’s Abbey

 

A week of traveling and visiting as I broke up the trip from the desert southwest to the Pacific northwest. I went up from Tucson to Phoenix last Sunday to spend some days with my family, which was as comforting as always. Dina got me two days’ worth of free passes to a very swanky gym in Arcadia called “The Village,” I got to see my nephew Aeson play baseball twice, once at the Homerun Derby on Sunday night and then a real game on Monday. Maybe others wouldn’t notice as much, but I found it quite a contrast from my normal life to be immersed in Little League culture, with all that that entails. I actually really got into the game, the first time in a long, long time I’ve been part of any sporting event. It helped that Aeson caught the winning pop fly to center field at the game. It was also his 12th birthday on Tuesday, so I got to celebrate that, and of course hang out with Mom and spend lots of time chatting with Dina and Steve. Now that Dad is gone and Mom only has a studio apartment, Dina’s house is kind of like home for me in Phoenix, and they makes me feel totally at home.

     I am intentionally driving rather than flying (and later taking trains whenever possible) for various reasons (besides the fact that I love to drive), but also being very intentional about not doing any breakneck distances so it stays pleasant. I left Wednesday noon from AZ and drove to just outside Riverside, CA. It’s notable to me how you can find very affordable hotel/motel rooms, especially at the last minute, if your standards aren’t too high. The next day I had a long interesting drive to Sonoma. My GPS took me on a rather circuitous route through the desert to connect me to I-5 from I-10, long stretches on two lane roads, at times not another car for miles, through Palmdale and Lancaster, and then up the 5, to CA12 and across to 80 and into Sonoma. 

I’ve treated myself to two audio books while I’m driving; someone sent me the record producer Rick Rubin’s interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn from Rubin’s podcast Tetragrammaton, which I thoroughly enjoyed and listened to twice. RR is interviewing JKZ about the 30th anniversary re-issue of Kabat-Zinn’s book Wherever You Go There You Are. I had never read the book, though I was aware of JKZ’s work with teaching mindfulness meditation and his work with Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). I was so impressed by their conversation that I downloaded both of their books on my phone, the 30th anniversary edition of Wherever You Go and Rick Rubin’s highly praised book from last year, The Creative Act. I suddenly realized that between the two of them they were encompassing my two favorite pastimes––music and meditation. Actually, I remember an exchange I had with the guy who forwarded the podcast to me (whose anonymity I will protect) during which I said to him, “You know what I think the solution is? More music and more meditation.” And he said to me, “You think that is the solution to every problem!” Well, ya. I still do. 

My only problem with audio books while driving is I get very frustrated not being able to underline the passage or dog-ear the page. JKZ’s book especially is highly quotable with an enormous amount of practical advice for the would-be meditator, beginner or long-time practitioner. He tells the story of how he got started when he was studying microbiology at MIT. In 1965 Huston Smith (yes, that Huston Smith) was teaching World Religions there at the time and had invited the Sōtō Zen Roshi Philip Kapleau to come and speak, who is considered one of the founding fathers of American Zen. JKZ was one of only three people in the audience and he said it “blew the top of his head off.” He then went on to say that you shouldn’t start talking to other people about meditation when you are a newcomer to the practice, “maybe for the first 20 or 30 years”! I almost drove off the road laughing.

My next big stop was to Skyfarm. Michaela and Francis and I were so close and spent so much time together during my Santa Cruz years, but I think I have only been able to be with them three times since I moved back to Big Sur in 2012. Now, blessedly, we have had three times together already during this sabbatical time. The added feature and the reason to make the diversion and add a day on to the journey northwest is that our friend Romuald Roberts was to be coming down from Oregon for his regular visit south just as I was making my way north. Rom is a gentle giant of a man, another former Camaldolese monk of Big Sur, like Francis, who was very close to Fr. Bruno in the ‘80s. Again like Francis, and Michaela, he came under the influence of Fr. Bede and India, consequently left and has been continuing the monastic-contemplative path on his own these many years. Romji also comes from some royal lineage: Alan Watts, the famous English writer and lecturer on Taoism, Buddhism and Hinduism, was his uncle through marriage. The three of them had traveled to India together after leaving their respective communities and have remained close. As I told them, again I feel as one untimely born, as St. Paul described himself, and I listen with rapt attention as they tell stories about these great people they spent time with. 

Rom and I arrived minutes apart and appeared up at Michaela’s hermitage together about 5 PM, and the four of us spent the next five hours talking, eating, laughing. Rom and Francis apparently stayed up until 1:30 AM and continued their visit. We all had the morning to ourselves, though Michaela took me to her gym for a workout and jacuzzi, and then introduced me to Sonoma Ashram (too much to explain, but it is a lovely place, to be re-visited). When we got back to “the farm” we had lunch together, and then celebrated a beautiful Eucharist in the famous tea room, and then dinner and more conversation until I had to get myself to bed to prepare for the long journey the next day. I wrote to someone at midday Saturday saying that when I am there with them, I understand something deep about my own vocation, one of two or three places where I feel that’s true, the unique lineage that has inspired me, my life and my own work. It’s such a relief not to have to explain yourself all the time, to be with people who read the same things you do and share the same spiritual values.

The next day was the long slog to Portland. Most of it was not too bad and it was certainly beautiful, but the last few hours, coming into Portland were a little grueling. It was full 11 hours all told, with stops. I stayed with Pedro Rubalcava. His wife Kristen was out of town and so he was bach’ing it for the weekend anyway. In addition, my goddaughter Emily, who is now a young mother herself, was in town staying with another friend, so I got see her too. Pete and I had dinner out, retired early, had a beautiful early morning Eucharist together with Emily for the Ascension (not sure if that is allowed in the Archdiocese of Portland; don’t tell, please!), before I headed off for Lacey, WA I did have a quick stop just over the border in Vancouver to see John and Mary Pennington in their beautiful new home. I am going to be housesitting there next week when I go back down for some recording dates in Portland while they are on vacation in Iceland, so they wanted to show me around, give me the passcodes, etc.

I was texting back and forth with my host Abbot Marion of St. Martin’s Abbey as I left Vancouver, and he wrote that he was actually coming up from Mount Angel with two other monks and that they were about to stop in Vancouver for lunch, and he of course invited me to meet them. So I did. Marion and I hardly know each other––we only met briefly in Rome last year––and I didn’t know much of anything at all about St. Martin’s Abbey, so that was a very nice introduction, and a delicious bowl of vegetarian Pho besides. And now here I am.

As I am wont to say, I don’t know what I was expecting, but this is not what I was expecting. The campus (they also have a university) is right in the middle of the city, providing something like a 300-acre park/respite. The campus itself is very well-kept and beautiful, the monastery is rather typical cenobium, I suppose, long halls of cells and common rooms. The chapel is a lot nicer than I was expecting, the best of the modern (read, “Vatican II”) Benedictine style, nobly simple; there is exquisite modern art all over the place. The monastic community is not quite as formal as other places I’ve been such as Mount Angel, but they are still a lot more formal than Big Sur. There are about 20 monks, the majority elderly (70+), but a good slice of younger men, including Abbot Marion himself who is only 48. I fear he has a long tenure ahead of him, but he seems very well equipped for the job. He was a diocesan priest first, lived at the NAC (North American College) in Rome but studied at the Gregorian before joining the monastery, at which point he got sent back to Rome to do monastic studies for four years. He speaks Vietnamese, English, Spanish and Italian fluently, and has a good working knowledge of French. He’s a bundle of energy and has been very gracious in welcoming me. It’s always interesting for me to be with another monastic community, especially a “normal” Benedictine one. It makes me realize how eccentric the Camaldolese are, but also makes me treasure our unique charism too.

My conferences start tonight. This is the second of five retreats I am offering between May and early June, and no two of them are going to be the same material, it seems. I wasn’t exactly sure what material to use with these men, but I’ve decided to revisit the kenosis theme of The God Who Gave You Birth (hoping not too many here have read that book!). But it’s still good to have had a day to watch and listen, discern who and where the audience is, in every sense of that phrase.

Saturday, May 4, 2024

music and friendship (and some pious claptrap) in the heart of the desert

 3 May, Feast of Philip & James

 

I am currently “In the Heart of the Desert.” (If you don’t catch the reference, that’s the magical first album I did in collaboration with John Pennington back in 1998-1999, the one that got us started on the new musical trajectory together.) I’m at Picture Rocks, just outside of Tucson, at the Redemptorist Renewal Center, for the second time helping with the what-has-become-annual OCP Songwriters’ retreat, organized by my long-time dear friend and brother Tom Booth. His idea at the origin of this was just what it says, to get some of the newer songwriters in OCP’s catalogue together and do both some spiritual formation as well as “workshop” some songs in collaboration with other artists. I’ll write more about that below.

I drove here from the Bay Area Monday and Tuesday, over 1000 miles, staying the night partway in beautiful downtown Blythe, CA. When I was at the Hermitage for the Triduum and Easter, as per the deal I worked out with the brothers (that if I came home for Holy Week they would loan me a car for a month; John Pennington teased me this morning about how “transactional” I was…), I was supposed to leave the community’s 2011 Prius in Monterey for someone to fetch later. But when we were working out the details for that fetching, it was suggested that I just keep the car for another month. I warned them that I needed to drive some good distances with it (first here to AZ and then all the way up to Seattle and back down to California), but they seemed to think the car could handle those miles and they don’t really need it with the roads closed. I was all set to rent a car for the trip, but finally agreed to the plan which will save a lot of money. 

And so, the Mighty Prius and I made our way across the desert, stopping briefly for a little deviation to visit with Paul Ford and Janice Daurio in Camarillo. Being that close (right off the 101) it seemed a shame not to take advantage of the opportunity. That stop actually wound up adding several hours to the trip since I got caught in heavy traffic around Riverside, but no problem. I made it to Blythe by 8 PM, got a surprisingly good Chinese takeout meal and a good night’s sleep, and I made it to Tucson by lunch time Tuesday. All of which included driving into the glorious sunrise over the desert.

It's been a bit of a shock to my system to be here. I spent the last month in a solitary retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House in Los Altos. There is an apartment up at the top of the beautiful property in which I had made an eight-day retreat two years ago, and at that time had decided that when I made my post-priorship sabbatical I would like to spend an extended time there, and the Jesuits were very accommodating. It’s only a living room and a bedroom with a shared kitchen. I moved in the day after Easter and, as was the plan all along, I set up three microphones and my rudimentary recording equipment in half of the bedroom, with the plan to record my guitar and vocal tracks for at least two upcoming recording projects. Most days I got up at normal monk hours, did my meditation, went to the nearby gym (hence the luxury of having the car) where I got a workout, usually a sauna or jacuzzi, and some yoga in the studio, back home for breakfast care of the retreat center and morning prayer––and then got behind the microphones for two to three hours. Lunch break, nap and prayer, and then back to the microphones (or post-production stuff) for a few hours before evening prayer and a light dinner on my own. 

It was a marvelous experience, the first time I have ever combined that kind of intentional spiritual practice with recording. I took the weekends off, did a very minimum of socializing with friends who knew I was in the area, had a nice Sunday run every week at a nearby reservoir and one nice hike with a friend. Other than that, I was all on my own for three out of the four weeks. The last week I had errands and appointments and had a couple more visits, and I had delightful dinner with the Jesuit community one night. 

I had been planning on going to Italy to begin the Europe leg of the year in August, doing a good long retreat time at the Sacro Eremo before launching into my engagements in the fall. But it all went so well, and I was so relaxed and content, that I asked the Jesuits if I could reserve another month in the apartment. So, after the late spring/early summer travels and “work” I will be back there in late July. I am very happy about that. (I am intentionally putting the word “work” in scare quotes, remembering something I heard once: “If you love what you are doing you will never work a day in your life.” And so far this year, I simply love everything I am doing.)

The OCP Songwriters’ retreat… This is the third one. I came for the second one in January 2023 and offered two talks, presided at Eucharist and did a musical performance for the group. I am not coming as one of the participating songwriters, but I am honored that Tom asked me to not only do some teaching/formation last year, but also that he wanted them to hear my music. It is not a place for showcasing any particular artist. I remember last year, I did the first talk on integral spirituality in the morning, and then presided at a Mass sort of in the ashram style. We sat throughout in a beautiful wood floored room that used to be a zendo, some of us on the floor, and I prepared all music that I could lead even while presiding––“essentially vocal music,” as we Psallite people like to call it, some bhajans and acclamations from India, a few Psallite pieces and of course all the presider’s chants and dialogues. In this musical culture, heavily influenced by Praise & Worship music, the notion of chanting seems to have been somewhat neglected. Then I did the second presentation. If in the morning those gathered looked like they had been through a wind tunnel, by the afternoon they were very engaged, and we had some great discussions. And then to be asked to present my music was a real honor. This year there were several of the younger generation who are familiar with my music as far back at my first album, “Lord of Field and Vine” (1983), including the music if my band LUKE St. (Someone was singing “Prometheus” and “Maybe When I’m an Old Man” from that era today at lunch.) But last year I was an unknown quantity. And I have to say it went very, very well. And certainly very different from anything any of them are doing. I didn’t do much liturgical music, mostly the sacred world music. I thought they had had enough, but Tom brought me back by popular demand, this time in addition to two formation talks and presiding once again at the Eucharist (in very much the same style), serving as an unofficial spiritual director for the group.

The best part of the week, to be honest, is that this year some of my best an oldest music friends––and just plain best friends––were here, besides Tom, Pedro Rubalcava, John Pennington and Rick Modlin. Jaime Cortez, my guitar guru, even came down from Mesa for 24 hours. It was such a consolation to be sitting with these guys, all of us about the same age (I am the oldest by a month, Rick the youngest by 8 years), laughing and swapping stories with such instant ease and rapport. Oh my goodness. The talks went very well, as did the Eucharist again, and the several appointments I had with individuals were moving and profound. I am yet again moved by two things. One, just how much pain, how many wounds, people are carrying––we never know! All the more reason to err on the side of gentleness and kindness. And two: how courageous and resilient people are. My own petty problems pale in comparison with some of the issues that were shared.

We (John, Rick and I) did perform one piece of music. There was a song-sharing (no one wanted to call it a “concert”) last night, open to other guests. Tom asked me to do something with John to open the evening, and of course we wanted to include Rick, so we did a pretty nice, though unrehearsed, version of “This Is Who You Are (Litany of the Person).” I really wanted to showcase Rick and John’s talents and they can really stretch on that piece. I guess I also wanted the participants to see the sonic possibilities as well as extraordinary musical talent of those two brought to the service of sacred music. When we break into the, as John likes to call it, rhythmic modulation––going from 3/4 to 12/6 without every losing the downbeat; and then when Rick starts improvising at the end (not to mention me scatting over the top of the B section––I admit this time, as in the past, even I got goosebumps.

I realize that I have a very unique spiritual path––the combination of Camaldolese monastic and interreligious––but I felt acutely this time as if I am from a different world in almost every way from most of these musicians. There are some extraordinary musicians in the group, for sure. The skills of Sara hart and Thomas Muglia particularly stuck out for me. Though there were obviously some identifiable individual traits to  the songs that were presented, there was a commonality to the sound musically, a certain style of singing that was shared by several (often with just a hint of a southern accent even if they were not from the south and a way of biting off the end of the last word in a line), and a common lexicon to their texts as well. I was talking to my friends about this too, and they concurred. The best I can make out is it’s heavily influenced by the Praise & Worship music that comes out of Nashville. The word “worship” came up a lot, a word that obviously applies to liturgy, but I would hazard to say is not the central motif of liturgy (as a matter of fact one of my regular formation lectures on liturgy is entitled “From Ritual to Worship to Liturgy). And also “adoration” came up a lot, music that could be sung at Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. I wonder if  Catholic musicians of this generation have moved back to devotional spirituality and somewhat away from liturgical spirituality, and why.

This group of musicians has become a real loving community of friends after three gatherings, and they are very sincere, talented, and devout people. I don’t know if I will ever be with them again, but I was glad to offer what I could, hear their songs and stories, and share mine.

 

Pedro is staying on through the weekend, lodging over at Booth’s house, because the International Mariachi Festival is taking place this weekend in Tucson. The two of them went with Tom’s lovely wife Tammy to that tonight and I will join them tomorrow for some of that. Tom and I are also going to look at some of the tracks I recorded last month for fine tuning, and then we will all celebrate Eucharist together Sunday before I head up to Phoenix to spend some days with my family. The Redemptorists were kind enough to let me stay here at the retreat house through the weekend. The building I am in is the same one that houses the zendo/meditation hall, but removed from the other hubbub of activity, though there is a meditation group here this weekend too. 

Tonight I had dinner with my friends Tessa Bielecki and Dave Denny, formally of the Sedona and Crestone Carmelites, both of whom are writers, now living just a few miles from here. We of course had a marvelous conversation about lo these many things. We know so many people in common and were dreaming of us all being together someday, along with Adam Bucko and Francis and Michaela of Skyfarm, this side of heaven. For now, so grateful for all the love and inspiration in my life, to be surrounded by such a great cloud of spiritual pilgrims, young energy, dedication, devotion and enthusiasm, and wise fellow travelers. 

 

Some things I’ve been thinking about…

First, the two talks I gave were based on two essays I’ve been working on, the first “A Body You Have Prepared For Me,” all about Mary, the annunciation and the visitation, and how central the flesh is to the whole Christian story. The second is entitled “Empty Words, Pious Claptrap, and Undigested Glop.” I don’t really have the explain what that one is about perhaps (empty words, pious claptrap, and undigested glop), but the subtitle of it is “On Authority and Love.” As I was rehearsing it, I kept wanting to slip a remark in about “Christian values,” which has become a kind of buzzword (if not an out and out dog whistle) in the political realm. I hesitated from adding it in specifically for that reason––knowing that there would be a wide range of ideologies at this gathering and not wanting to provoke a political debate. But it had left me wondering what exactly those Christian values were. Listening to the political discourse and how this term gets bandied about, you’d think it mainly meant protection of the traditional nuclear family and fighting against all the concomitant issues around sexuality––abortion, gay marriage, transgender rights, etc. (Honestly at times it seems like “the right to bear arms” gets thrown in there too as a Christian value.)

Sure enough, the phrase got brought up several times in discussions, almost as if I had put it in the air myself by thinking about it so much. One time it came up directly in regards the upcoming election and who to vote for. I went to bed that evening really wrestling with it, wanting to articulate my own belief, and what I came up with for Christian values was the seven corporal works of mercy, based on Matthew 25: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, give shelter to travelers, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned and bury the dead. And one more thing: radical inclusivity. But then, I will admit, I did an internet search to see what is now commonly considered to be the list of Christian values, and I was shocked by what came up. I recommend you do it. The first list was love, humility, kindness, peace respect, generosity, and forgiveness. Other listings were simply the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26): love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Others of course mention belief in God along with living a moral life and practicing what you preach. But the answer I was looking for, and this was actually the point I was making in my talk and essay, came from a place called the Oak CE Learning Foundation: “Love is a core Christian value for our schools, because in the Bible we learn that God is Love and that God showed how much he loves us and how to love others.” Is this what people mean when they use that phrase? I suggest we challenge them on it, to make sure it's not just pious claptrap. I’d love to hear someone read Galatians 5:22-26 from the floor of the House or Senate. “My esteemed colleagues, I want to ensure that this bill is rooted in the Christian values that our country was founded on: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. With that I yield my time to the gentlewoman from Georgia.”

I was also thinking about how we Christians and the Christian tradition in general sometimes cherry-picks phrases out of the Jewish Scriptures that seem consoling and poetic, sometimes totally out of their original context.  One such is “Be still and know that I am God” from Psalm 46, a phrase that is used often as a spur for meditation, but which in context is in the midst of some very war-like imagery.

 

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.

 

Another one is Your almighty Word leapt down from heaven from your royal throne, which is used as an entrance antiphon during the Christmas season. It’s already on shaky ground if you take the mythic language literally (i.e. “leaping down from heaven”), but in its context (Wis 18:15-17) it does not really convey the reign of the servant king who blessed the peacemakers:  

 

… your all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne…
a stern warrior carrying the sharp sword of your authentic command,

and stood and filled all things with death,
and touched heaven while standing on the earth.
Then at once apparitions in dreadful dreams greatly troubled them,
and unexpected fears assailed them.

 

Merry Christmas!

The same applies to the favored phrase about the desert from Hosea 2:14, a phrase that I of course love (there’s a song on the new Animas album based on this line) and that is the motto of this desert house of prayer. The NRSV renders it I will now persuade her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. I went back to the rest of Chapter 2 of Hosea for the first time in a while and was shocked all over again to see how strong the language is in reference to Israel, as it is throughout the Book of Hosea. At the beginning of that same chapter God says through Hosea that she should

 

… put away her whoring from her face,
   and her adultery from between her breasts, 
or I will strip her naked
   and expose her as in the day she was born,
and make her like a wilderness,
   and turn her into a parched land,
   and kill her with thirst.


There is a two-edged sword there, like the monastic cell or solitude itself: it’s a bridal chamber where God speaks tenderly to the soul, but first it’s a desert, a wilderness, a place of purification.  

With all that, still, good night from Picture Rocks, where at least tonight God is speaking tenderly to my heart.



Wednesday, March 20, 2024

singapore and a little work in malaysia

 20 march, 2024


I’m back in California now, again staying with Bob and Ellen Peck until next week. I must say, 15 hours hurtling through the sky at 30,000 feet 300+ miles per hour––our bodies are just not supposed to do that. But it was without incident, thanks God, and I picked up a day coming home.

            The last week was certainly a change of pace from the easy flow of ashram life in India. I flew into Singapore from Delhi early morning March 11, met by good friend Leonard, and stayed with him two nights. He and I met Mark Hansen down at Arab Street the second evening. It being the first nights of Ramadan, there was quite a lot going on down there. All kinds of extra food stalls were set up near the grand mosque for the iftar at the end of fast, as well as other booths and shops. We had a delicious Turkish-Lebanese meal and walked around enjoying the sights and sounds. I also got in my first run in several weeks early in the morning along the canal outside of Leonard’s apartment complex and a morning at the gym there too. 

And then I headed up to Kuala Lumpur by bus on Wednesday where I had some "work." I chose the bus rather than flying, because these are great comfortable air-conditioned buses, and it’s a beautiful relaxing five hour trip with one stop along the way. I was met by my faithful old friends Pat Por and Joe Lipp of the WCCM Malaysia, and Ian John, both of whom were sponsoring me for some work I was to do there. I stayed at the newly built parish house at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Cheras, where I have been two or three times in the past. The pastor there is Fr. Paul, OFM Capuchin, who I had also met a few times in the past. It was a very comfortable private lodging with three bedrooms. The Malaysians are marvelously hospitable. 

The schedule was pretty full from there on. The main thing I was there for was to do three Lenten reflections with music and speaking. The first one was at St Francis Xavier Jesuit Parish on the other side of town. An amazing turnout of about 200 people on a Thursday night. It went very well. Friday evening, I did a small music workshop for Ian’s choir back at SFA. That was more fun than I thought it was going to be. I sang some fun songs with them first just to break the ice, then gave them a bunch of theory about music being mainly a share in the ministry of the Word, and how liturgical music, from my standpoint anyway, ought to be “essentially vocal.” And then we spent about an hour and a half with me teaching them Psallitè pieces, almost all acapella. They loved it and though it was a lot of work, I was very pleased at how well they sang the pieces. Then Saturday I did my Lenten reflection there at SFA before the evening Mass and then presided and preached at that Mass. On Sunday morning I did the same thing at the Cathedral. The pastor there is Fr. Gerard who I had also met, worked and lodged with in the past.


In between that there were several lunches and dinners. Malaysians and Singaporeans eat out a lot. Some say it’s actually more economical to do so, especially at the famous “hawker stands.” Plus we had a brief visit with Archbishop Julian Cheow who again I had met some years before when he was living and working in the seminary in Penang. He was a runner back then and I was interested to see if he has kept in shape. I am pleased to report he has! I was also impressed that he seems to have remained a simple down-to-earth guy. We met him at his residence-office, and he came into the parlor wearing what we would call simple street clothes (I am not sure I have ever seen a priest in clerical garb in Malaysia) and barefoot. 

I took the bus back to Singapore on Sunday afternoon. That was a bit of a longer trip given that there was a long delay at the border on the end of the weekend. You have to do immigration on both sides as well as bring your luggage in to get inspected.

My friend Keith Toh had arranged for me to stay at a nice hotel for the two nights that I was to be in Singapore before heading home, since I was to be doing something that he had arranged at the Tanglin Trust School, which I wrote about before I headed to India. It was a late night and an early morning, since we didn’t get in until 10:30 PM, and then I was to meet some other friends for breakfast the next day––Jeff Plein and his son Luke, who did a father-and-son Ora et Labora with us a few years back. Actually, Luke was a surprise. He’s in school at Yale now but had flown in at the last minute for Spring Break. 

Then a kind of long day at the Tanglin Trust. I was in the same room all day, which made it easier. In the morning I met with students from year 12 and 13, theology and philosophy classes. Our topic was “exploring arguments for the existence of God” and I was to offer some insights into different conceptions of the nature of God from around the world and the role of contemplation in reasoning about God. They were not as interactive as we (the teachers and I) had hoped they would be, but it went okay. Keith said I should have sung for them. So the next class in the early afternoon, I did start with a song. It’s a required class that’s part of the International Baccalaureate Curriculum (IBC) which Tanglin follows (which I had never heard of) called “Theory of Knowledge.” It’s not epistemology per se but rather “how different ‘knowledge communities’ construct knowledge, methods they use and perspectives they develop” (according to the notes I was given). Pretty sophisticated curriculum for 16/17-year-olds. After surveying the notes that Keith had sent along to prepare me for those classes, I had gotten up earlier than I would have naturally that morning to jot prepare some notes of my own. Whether because of that or not, that class was more interactive. Keith teased me about sending him 8 pages of notes at 7 AM (with footnotes), but I had to remind him that he is the one who could crank out a spread sheet in the middle of a Financial Advisory Board meeting. But he was right: I was way, way over-prepared.

The array of backgrounds of the students is phenomenal: several with dual citizenship, often British plus somewhere else, China, Italy, India, Pakistan, Denmark, the US, New Zealand and Australia are the ones I remember, with only a handful of actual Singaporeans, due to government regulations, I believe. I imagine these are all children of highly professional parents in business or diplomacy of some sort. 

The late afternoon was more like a concert, open to parents and faculty as well. It was entitled “Universal Wisdom: The Sounds and Songs We Share.” Basically it was me sitting on a stool singing songs and telling stories. 

After that I had a nice relaxing evening in my hotel room, Keith had a delicious meal delivered to me and I went to bed early for the early morning departure. As I said, I find those long flights really strange. I was squeezed in the middle seat between two not-small young gentlemen who were polite enough but also not very interactive (which was fine with me). I found a really fun Taiwanese Sci-Fi TV series called (in translation from the Chinese) “Oh No: Here Comes Trouble.” I have now learned what people mean when they say they “binge watch.” There were 12 episodes, all about 45 minutes long, and I got to watch 10 and a half of them before we landed, which took up a lot of the flight. Customs and immigration were mercifully quick at that hour, my bag arrived, and Ellen picked me up at the SFO airport, and now I am safely ensconced at their home for the next week. 

I will be going up to Skyfarm in Sonoma to spend Palm Sunday with the Francis and Michaela, but other than that I have a very quiet week ahead of me: Bob and Ellen left for the east coast this morning and I have the house to myself ‘til Sunday! Then somehow I will be heading south to Big Sur just for the Triduum next week, rain and roads allowing. After that I am heading into a month-long solitude retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House in Los Altos, during which time I plan on being offline until May, so this may be the last you hear from me for a while.

Every blessing on the upcoming Holy Days. May the memory of the Passion and Death of Jesus, as well as the energy of Easter and the Eucharist, make us grow in our awareness of our place in this world so in need of mercy.


Some pics....

Music workshop at SFA Friday evening.
My Malaysian "handlers": Ian, Joe Lipp, Ann,
Pat Por, Fr. Gerard


Ian's family who I have known for some years, 
        brunch on Saturday morning after the gym. 


Beautiful St John's Cathedral, 
Kuala Lumpur.


Setting up at Tanglin before the students came.




Saturday, March 9, 2024

a natural upsurge of energySaurab

 March 7, 2024, from Sadhana Mandir Ashram, Rishikesh

 

The promenade along the Ganges is not far from my window. If I open my curtains people could basically watch me sleeping. It’s 4:30 AM and I already hear pretty distinct voices of folks walking along it. Every now and then you see someone jogging. I was planning on doing that myself but with the schedule for the day there hasn’t seemed to be an opportune moment to sneak in a run. I have enjoyed walking it myself though. The weather has been quite pleasant, not too darned cold at night (there is no heat) and very mild during the day. Like other places I’ve been in north India, the houses are built to retain the cool for the hot months so in the winter rooms such as mine are like meat lockers nearly all day long. They supply marvelous thick duvets of sorts on the bed though, so sleep is no problem, and I wrap up in blankets to do my meditations.


Sunrise over the Ganges from the window of my room.


If I have any disappointment about this week, it’s that I would have liked it to be a little more retreat-like. I suppose if I had not attended the Daily Ashram Program (DAP) and kept to myself, as many guests do, it would have been different. The ashram itself feels a little bit like a hubbub of activity some days, and even though there are signs all over the place saying “SILENCE,” it is not observed very much. There is even a sign on every table in the eating hall that says “SILENCE,” but many folks carry on conversations at about half volume, as if that counts. I was worried about playing my guitar, but my next-door neighbor practices scales on his flute, which is quite loud, each day at 11 AM, so no problem.

 

The DAP is not as formal as I thought it would be. Attendees at the sessions come and go and the residents don’t attend at all. (I’m such a rule follower! I was sticking to the agreement that I was to attend all the sessions the first three days.) In the early morning there is a session called “joints and glands,” which I thought was a humorous name, but it’s mostly breathing and stretching, no real asanas. Swami Rama, the late founder was very big on pranayama. So far, all but one of the sessions has been led by young Saurab, 23 years-old, recent graduate of the Yoga University near Dehradun and an intern here. His English is pretty good once you get used to his accent and vocabulary. One pranāyama session was led by another intern named Kunji, whose English was very limited so that was a bit of a trial. He kept saying, “The whole body are relax.” Hard to silence the discriminating mind and not sure whether or not to correct him. I did offer Saurab one correction the other evening: instead of “causal body” he kept referring to the “casual body.” When I explained the difference, he found the humor in it. I was trying to imagine myself teaching any class or leading a yoga session in Italian. My guess is it would be a lot worse, so hats off to them.

 

There is a philosophy class at 10:30, the first two days a survey of Samkhya and yoga philosophy. Saurab is very knowledgeable about the tradition, though it was hard to have a discussion with him since he does not seem to know much about any other tradition. But we did have a pleasant exchange about the difference between “spirit” and “soul,” and also the connection between mind and soul, the nerdy stuff I like (and the topic of my Masters Thesis and nearly unreadable second book). Then there is another pranāyama session right before lunch and a rigorous asana practice at 5 PM.

 

I wound up having a few sessions with Saurab by myself. He’s a very talented yogi––I found out later that he has been studying since he was 4 years old and seems to come from a family of yogis. I have been comparing him to a pipe cleaner which we used to play with as kids, a wire covered with fur that you could bend in any shape. A 23-year-old pipe cleaner without an ounce of fat on his body who can basically fold himself into a wallet––needless to say, the asana classes have been challenging. He has not yet learned the art of finding where his students are at and leading them beyond. We have had up to six people in the class, but some of them dropped out because it was too difficult, and I did hear a few of them grousing about it after class the other day. He also has an issue with counting. You can hear the clock ticking behind us but when he says “30 more seconds” it usually lasts over a minute, for example. (I suppose he could be using “yoga seconds.”) But he will also at times start counting up and you have no idea how far he is going to count, sometimes 8, sometimes 12. And then he will count backwards and stop to adjust someone and then start at the same number when he is done. So, some long holds! The variations on postures that I already know may be the most challenging thing. Thus far I have been able to get into at least a modified version of all but one asana, but my hips are pretty sore. 

 

Last night, not sure whether or not it is because of the unhappiness of the other ashramites, I wound up being the only one in the asana class. Saurab and I had had a few friendly conversations, and at the start of class he asked me if I had ever been to the aarathi up river at Triveni. I said no, and after some confusing exchange I finally figured out that he wanted me to go to the aarathi at Triveni with him that evening, which started at 6:30, which meant that we would cut short the asana class. I was absolutely fine with that, and he led me through some nice hip opening asanas, and we set out down the promenade at about 6. Along the way we told each other a little more about our backgrounds. He is bound and determined to be a yoga teacher in Singapore, of all places. But if I knew of a place in California that needed an Indian yoga teacher… His family comes from a village up near the source of the Ganges. He by that time had figured out that I was a monk and I explained that I was on a sabbatical after ten years in leadership. He asked me some questions about monastic life, and at one point asked, “Are you the pope of your church?”

 

The aarathi was indeed a sight to see. It’s done every night, similar to what I have experienced here in Haridwar/Rishikesh before. The main devotion is to Ganga Mata herself, Mother Ganges, and is led by young priests in training standing on platforms on the bank of the river, waving large ghee lamps while the music plays from behind, highly choreographed. There were thousands of people there. Saurab said it is very popular with tourists, but I did not see many, though I didn’t feel too conspicuous. When the aarathi was done people then gather in front of the musicians on what was like a dance floor and then the kirtans start up in earnest. He had asked me on the way if I dance, and I said maybe not, not sure what was going to happen. Well, as the music turned up to a fever pitch it really did break out into a kind of ecstatic dance, with lots of shouting and singing along. Everyone seemed to know the words. I did not want to be in the middle of it so let myself get squeezed to the outskirts of the dancing area near a pillar, all the while keeping my eye on Saurab. I think in the past I might have felt a little moment of panic in a situation like that––it feels like there is always the possibility of being trampled by a crowd in India––but this time I felt safe and Saurab was keeping an eye on me too. It was really fun to see him break loose in “praise and worship.” As we left, we stopped at a little Hanuman shrine (his main devotion, he told me shyly, is to Ram), and again very touching to see how devout he was.

 

This same school of yoga, Himalayan Yoga Tradition, has another ashram about 3 km down the road, Sadaka Gram Ashram, which is their main center (though this place is the original). It is very large, set up to host big conferences. Our Brother Axel, who is a very well-trained yogi in this same tradition, has already been there for some weeks. It is he who recommended this place to me. He and a delightful Italian woman named Lucia came to see me here earlier in the week, and then as planned I went down there yesterday afternoon after lunch for a full tour of the place and a long visit with Axel, which was a really fine meeting. Axel and I both had some “disappointments,” shall we say, at the Chapter at Camaldoli this past fall so it was healing to talk that through from this distance, physically and emotionally. He is opening a new chapter in his monastic life in that he is going to be moving from the Sacro Eremo in Italy to have a trial period with our fledgling community in Hildesheim, Germany, which is of course his country of origin. 

 

Again, the issue of the kavi robes came up. He has a couple of very nice sets and wears them everywhere in the ashram, as well as walking the road and back and forth along the river. He is often referred to as “Swami” and noted to me that people recognize the orange robes as the sign of a monk. I find the dhoti so comfortable, but I am just not there. I have this aversion to either seeming like I am going native (no Indians dress like that here at this ashram) and a real caution about cultural appropriation––a white Christian wearing the robes of a Hindu monk and then changing back into street clothes––especially in Nerendra Modi’s India. 

 

Now already making my plans for the next transitional phase, back down to Delhi Saturday, two nights at my old haunt, the YWCA Blue Triangle Family Hostel, and then fly to Singapore Monday. It’ll be nice to have a day to tramp around Connaught Place and see how Delhi has changed since I was there 15 years ago. Tomorrow, Friday, is Maha Shivaratri, a major festival here especially on the Ganges, so there will be no classes for which I am grateful.

 

Sunday, 10 March, 2024

 

It is nicer than I thought it was going to be to be back at the YWCA Blue Triangle Family Hostel here in Delhi. As I was coming here in the taxi yesterday, I recognized the Cathedral and the Archbishop’s House, then the big Gurudwara, and then I called out to the driver, “It’s here!” as we passed the YWCA Blue Triangle Family Hostel. He seemed surprised and apologetic and, though I asked him to let me out at the corner and I would walk back, he insisted on driving all the way around again, which took an additional ten minutes given the traffic in Delhi and the maddening array of one-way boulevards in this area. We passed the spot where I got hit by a car in 2009––well, grazed by the mirror of a passing taxi going the wrong way, but still… the memory of the fact that if I had been one second faster I might very well be road kill still gives me the shivers. 

 

This place is clean but more run down than I remember, but I’m very happy here. I have a huge room (they had no single rooms left but it is still eminently affordable from the perspective of the USD). And the food in the little canteen/restaurant is really good. I didn’t venture out last evening, but I plan on going to Mass at the cathedral this morning, then perhaps tromping up to Connaught Place. My nextdoor neighbor from the ashram, Dhruv, the flute player, told me about his school of music and a cultural center nearby and then offered to take me there if he is free. So I might do that in the late afternoon. It would be nice to see Delhi from the perspective of a native, and it will be interesting to see how much it has changed since I was last here which I think might have been 2009!

 

You knew it was a festival day by early morning Friday: there is often some music from loudspeakers playing in the early morning hours almost everywhere in India, but there was especially a lot of it that day. I spoke too soon about there not being classes on Shivaratri. At dinner Thursday night, young Saurab went up to each one of us and whispered that there would indeed be the 6:45 joints and glands class. I was actually looking forward to a morning to myself, maybe an early morning jog along the river and my own practice, but I felt somewhat impelled to attend and avail myself of every opportunity to get some input into my own practice. Saurab has been showing up every day in something like workout clothes, black sweats and a hoodie. But this day he was all in freshly pressed white kurta and pajamas, with his hair combed and beard trimmed. He was going to be going to the temple immediately after class. 

 

Saurab in his festal whites saluting
Ganga Mata after class on Shivaratri.

I didn’t realize the significance of the feast for yogis. All I had heard was it was the legendary day when Shiva married Parvati. But some people say it is the most significant event in India’s spiritual calendar. The fourteenth day of every lunar month or the day before the new moon is known as a Shivaratri. But among all the twelve that occur in a calendar year, the one that occurs in February-March is of the most spiritual significance and so is called Maha-Shivaratri. Aside from its mythical significance, on that night, the northern hemisphere of the planet is positioned in such a way that there is thought to be a natural upsurge of energy, “when nature is pushing us towards our spiritual peak.” That’s why many people celebrate it all night long. To allow this natural upsurge of energies to find their way you are supposed to stay awake with your spine erect all night long. I am very attracted to the idea of lining ourselves up with the natural gifts that nature has to offer, aligning ourselves with the cycle of the seasons. The indigenous peoples all over the world have a real gift to offer us in this way.

 

I did have the rest of the day free. There was a handful of extra guests at the ashram, some preparing for the evening puja which was to take place, others gathering early for a retreat that was to start on Saturday, so the place felt a little extra crowded. After lunch I ventured off on my own back down the same route to the big market and the ghats upriver at Triveni. So much going on there! I originally was going to walk back on the road instead of along the river but it was quite unpleasant with all the traffic and dust, so I had a lovely meditative walk back, passing lots of people prepping for the evening’s ceremonies, weaving garlands and cooking pastries.

 

I had a nice long exchange with Ma Tripuram, the youngish Dutch woman who is the main monastic and teacher there. She sought me out at teatime, wanting to hear about me (she already knew Axel) and I was fascinated to hear her story as well. She sees herself as a sannysini in the universal yoga lineage, not really as a Hindu. We spoke about the usual things––perennial philosophy, non-duality, the changing climate in India. I gave her my spiel about the energy and the container, and how I find yoga to be a marvelous container for my devotion to Jesus and my Christian spiritual life, which she really loved. She goes back to Holland each summer where she does not wear her kavi robes.

 

I did dress up and go to the puja that evening out of respect. It was held in a big hall, with many extra guests and visiting dignitaries of sort, mostly administrators from the Himalayan Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy in Dehradhun. The VIPs were seated in a semi-circle at the front with the portrait of Swami Rama and all the vessels and instruments for the ceremony. There was a line of about ten Brahmin priests on the right and of course the main pandit and pujari. It was supposed to start at 5:30, but it didn’t start until 6. The priests were chanting the entire time––something I was used to––and the pandit gently guiding the main participants through the ceremony, while the rest of us watched. After an hour there was a little break and I asked my neighbor Dhruv, who was seated next to me, if it would be rude to leave. He assured me, no, and so I went off to dinner and bed. Another great night’s sleep and this time I did have the morning all to myself, besides packing up, seeing if I have added any new skills to my own practice after this intense week immersed in another tradition. 

 

They needed my room for this new retreat coming in, but they had assured me that I could stay until breakfast. So I cleaned up, packed up and after breakfast went looking for a place I could store my stuff and kill a couple of hours doing my own lectio and prayers before I had to head out. This happens so often: the very last day I find the perfect spot. Upstairs from where we did our DAP was just marked “silent hall.” I stored my stuff under the staircase and ventured up there only to find out it was Swami Rama’s old rooms, now turned into a kind of shrine and meditation hall. I spent a very powerful two hours there wishing I had found the space earlier. It reminded me of staying in Swami Saccidananda’s rooms at the Divine Light Society in Kuala Lumpur with Mother Mangalam all those years ago, where and from whom John Main learned meditation. There was kind of a touching moment. I was to take an autorickshaw to meet Axel again back at Sadaka Gram at 10:30 and had told Saurab that that was my plan. As I was coming down the stairs from the Swami’s rooms, he was coming into the building. I asked him if he had philosophy class today, and he said no, he was coming to find me. Right behind him was old Vippi; the two of them just wanted to accompany me out and get me my autorickshaw, which they did. I would really like to return there someday for a longer stay, though they tell me it is beastly hot in the summer months.

 

I really do respect that tradition, and of course love the idea of yoga being a universal science, a part of the sanatana dharma. I also love the fact that Swami Rama sponsored medical facilities that serve the poorest of the poor, that there is social outreach from the practice. It was only later that I learned that from the 1970s onwards, there were persistent allegations of sexual abuse against him. In 1997 a woman won a lawsuit against him for multiple sexual assaults. Disappointed but not surprised. Obviously, this is not just a Catholic problem. Ken Wilber calls it, “the uneven development of spiritual leaders,” writing mainly about the Buddhist tradition. But (I was writing about this the other day), principles before personalities!

 

I fly in the morning back to Singapore, then almost immediately to Malaysia for a little work in Kuala Lumpur. 

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Haridwar and Rishikesh

 3 March 2024

 

I’m just outside of Rishikesh now at Sadhana Mandir Ashram which is, unbeknownst to me when I booked it, right on the north bank of the Ganga. Like the last two nights, in Delhi and Haridwar, there is tremendous thunder and lightning and intermittent heavy rains going on outside. I immediately have felt like this is the most pleasant place I’ve stayed here in India this time and after four nights in four different places to sleep, I’m happy that I can settle into this fifth place for a week.

 

Yesterday I got a ride to Haridwar, arranged by faithful Devin. That is Sri Ram Ashram, which is an orphanage founded by Baba Hari Das and the good people of Mount Madonna, that also has a school for about 1000 students. I had been there several times in early 2000s, the first time with John Pennington in 2005. He returned several times after that with students from Augustana College when he was teaching there. (Actually, a woman on the staff asked me, “Didn’t you come with John and the students from Augustana?”) Back in the day there would have been lots of folks from Mount Madonna here at this time of year, but things have changed a bit since Babaji died. Two old friends, Dayanand and SN were the only ones there from California, deeply engaged in laying out a new field hockey and football (soccer) field and building an addition onto the school. Very impressed especially with SN at 77 years old out there with a shovel showing the young guys how it’s done.

 

Dayanand gave me a tour of all the work going on and was explaining some of the new restrictions imposed in them by the government of India. For one thing, for all the amazing good work they have done there, the local government has always been a little suspicious of the Mount Madonna folks as foreigners. It was somewhat easier when Babaji was alive. Secondly, the government has forced them to be an adoption agency now, not just an orphanage, which somewhat diminishes Babaji’s dream of the place being a long-term family as it has been for at least two generations of children now. That being said, it is normally the youngest of the children who get adopted so there are still a good percentage of the older ones that stay through college age. The third challenge, which Shantivanam is also facing, is that institutions can only accept 25% of their income in foreign donations. Up until recently Babaji’s faithful disciples were donating a considerable amount more than that. Dayanand thinks that this is actually mainly in response to Saudi money that is pouring into India to support madrasas. Nothing wrong with madrasas per se, except that, according to Dayanand, they are not teaching much more than the Qur’an, and poor education and lack of adequate labor are a bad combination. At any rate, he and SN hope that the expanded school will now generate enough income through tuition to help pour back into the ashram itself. One last change is that there are considerably less children there than there used to be, especially boys, only between 6 and 9 of them (I heard different numbers and only counted five), and maybe twenty girls 

 

So it was a whole different atmosphere. Besides the fact that it was raining, there was no outside play time, of course no gathering in Babaji’s room at night for games and candy, and no real adult community to hang out with. On the other hand, the kids were great. Almost every one of them came right up to me––they must be trained for this––and said, “What is your name?” I remembered from before that I have to distinguish for them between Supriya (“But, uncle, that is a girl’s name!”) and Cyprian––and did. I sat in with them for their hysterical evening aarathi in the shrine room, the 10 minutes or so of the chants being led by a screaming 6 or 7-year-old girl with a young guy proudly offering the deafening blast of the conch shell at random intervals. One of the boys kept turning back and making sure I was on the right page of the songbook, asking me if I read Hindi. I also ate with the kids, sitting next to an enterprising 14-year-old named Rohit who was very keen to practice his English. 

 

Then a good night’s sleep amid the thunderstorms. And, in a much-appreciated improvement, there is now a “geezer” in each bathroom. (That’s the generic term for a water heater, kind of like “kleenix,” a mispronunciation of the brand name “Geyser.”) Back in the day I would stay wrapped up in my blankets until 7 AM when the chai was ready, crawl back under my blankets and do my prayers, readings and meditation until 9 when you could go downstairs and get a bucket of hot water for your pour-over “bath,” and then still wait until 10:45 for brunch. I ate breakfast with the staff and then waited and waited and waited for my taxi to Rishikesh, which was an hour late due to the literally thousands of people on the road walking to a special spot on the banks of the Ganges to get water to carry back to their villages for the feast of Shivaratri which is officially this Friday. (I posted phots on Facebook of the many of the colorful yokes that are carried, all by men, it seems.) And then we snaked out about five miles up the road back into Haridwar and onto the main road that leads to Rishikesh. 

 

Rishikesh was a bit of a letdown. I am far more attached to “back in the day” than I thought I was. So much has changed in all the spots in India that I knew so well. The main spots in Rishikesh, by the Ram Jhula bridge and the Lakshma Jhula bridge, were very crowded with tourists, a lot of them Indians, but more like for an amusement park than a spiritual destination. There were a lot more young guys there for sport, river rafting, and rowdy groups yelling up cheers and chants from the Ganga below. Of course, there are still dozens of yoga schools and ayurvedic clinics, and shops catering to spiritual tourism, etc. etc. I was hoping to see Ranjeet at his South Indian food stall “hotel,” and Ram Ram, who I studied yoga with, at his CD kiosk (as if anyone buys CDs anymore), and the place where I got the amazing ayurvedic hot oil massage. But I didn’t see any of them. I ran out of time and never made it to walk along the north bank, just the south bank between the two bridges, so I never got to the village of Tapovan and Jeevan Dhara Ashram (I’m not sure anyone is there anymore!) either, where I wrote a good deal of Prayer in the Cave of the Heart. It was pleasant enough in the end, and I ducked into a nice little food stall for a tali when it started raining hard, hoping against hope that it would be Ranjeet’s having just moved to a new location.

 

My daily schedule for the week. At least there's tea at 6!

And now I am settled in at Sadhana Mandir Ashram of the Himalayan School of Yoga founded by the late Swami Rama. My German brother Camaldolese and friend Axel has a long history with this lineage and the two ashrams here in Rishikesh. As a matter of fact, he is at the other facility 2 km away. I will see him on Wednesday since they are on retreat over there right now. I was greeted by a gaggle of young guys all trying to help me fill out the ubiquitous forms one fills out here as a foreign visitor, the main guy, Vipin, who insists on being called Vippi, especially wanting to engage about the guitar and America. He was familiar with San Francisco, where my passport was issued––“the place where the Boston Tea Party took place.” Every time I have seen him, he has reminded me that he wants guitar lessons. Two of the other young guys, who I took to be in their early twenties, are indeed recent graduates from the college the Swami Rama started and have got their BS in Yoga Studies and are on their internship. One of them, I found out, is leading the classes this week. He very officiously explained all the sessions to me. I had originally asked to just make a private retreat here and maybe sit in on a yoga class or two but was told according to their rules that, since it is my first time, I need to follow the ashram schedule for three days first and then I can be on my own. It’s okay. I think I will benefit from a new perspective and have got a good beginner’s mind going. I was just hoping for a little more time to myself. I was worried that I would not be allowed to play the guitar, but instead there seems to be not only no issue with that, but even a little encouragement to play a little for others, as well as give lessons to Vippi, both of which I am going to try to duck out of.

 


One other nice thing is that there is a beautiful paved promenade of sorts right outside the back gate that goes for a few miles along the Ganga, that is perfect for walks and even jogging, so I might get some cardio in for the first time in a month. There are only a handful of other guests here this week (I counted seven). There is a sign on every table in the eating hall that says “silence,” but at teatime (during which delicious samosas were served) and at dinner time (kitcharee!), there was no silence, so we shall see…