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Friday, July 23, 2010

Panic in Paradise - has passed!

I’ve heard of many people, who never had the intention of going back home to stay, but who still ended up doing exactly that. I’ve been receiving emails from close travel buddies who have landed themselves in their hometowns again, who are facing all kinds of struggles and depressions even, and who are all longing to break free. But, these same people, also have started to see that they must go through these times, to come out the other side and to continue to follow that open road, with a new sense of energy, with new perspectives and open to receiving new inspiration. This gives me strength and I can learn a lot from these amazingly strong people. Doris, from Canada, in particular. Janice from Malta is another inspiration and Davids approach to his travel-dreams is also enough for me to be less hard on my self; because I’ll always know when it’s time to arrive and when it’s also time to leave.

So, what I’ve been trying to get clear in my head for months is now being put to the test. Can I return and still feel free? Yes I can. I’m challenging myself to feel that returning to Europe is just a part of the journey, just like leaving is apart of the journey, just like panicking is apart of the journey, just like magic is apart of the journey. When travelling you can experience contrasts in the physical world, but just as much, you can experience certain contrasts in your “own world”. It’s all about gaining balance in life, and that’s what’s happening.

Have I landed with a thud in Europe and am now forcing myself to “get real” with the reality everybody else is living, each day? No, not when I look more closely. It may have felt like that though, on Thursday morning. And it could happen again. But I still have the control over what I choose to see and feel as being the “real world” or the “proper way to live”. The world around me can try to control me, and my mind will start playing tricks on me, but I know deep down what I want, and how I want to be.

I’m not lost, I haven’t made the wrong decision by coming to Rome, I haven’t lost my focus and I DO still know what I want from life. I have my priorities in order, when I look deeper. Now that I’m in Europe I know that the next thing is for me to re-connect with home. Being here in this amazing city, is just clearing my mind from any doubts I may be having in regards to my strength in pursuing what I want and my strength in holding-on to and experiencing my reality, no matter where I may be in this amazing world.

I see that it’s only natural for me to panic. It’s only normal that I’ll be having some kind of “freakishness” going on in my head - when going from one lifestyle to the next. I’m only human afterall. And I was and still am actually shocked that, so far, the adjustment has been so minor. Whatever happens, and whatever episodes I may face over the next days or week or so, is fine. I have to pass through the change - the change in my surroundings that is encouraging the change in myself. And this is what I want. So I can embrace the experience, face the fear, learn from it and gain more strength along the way.

Panic in Paradise

Thursday morning. Only 3 days since leaving India, leaving the continent of Asia and arriving in Europe. Panic hit home, or should I say; panic hit Rome, when the jetlag started to disappear. Clouds started to form and were blocking any sense of clarity I’d had about what I was doing with my life, up until that point.

I felt so lost, I felt trapped, all of my focus was gone and I needed to leave. I wanted to run! But running back to my roots, made me panic even more. And running back to the place from which I had just arrived, wasn’t an option, nor did I even want it to be an option at this point in time. Running away just to find something new, to have a sense of purpose and to regain focus.. Where those my reasons? Or was I suddenly seeing “rationally” because of the world in which I was now in? Has the perspective I’ve had on reality for months and months, suddenly changed, just because of the surroundings I’m now in? Am I seeing that coming to Rome was definitely a crazy act, that it wasn’t rational nor what can be classed as “reality”? Was this decision of mine, that I had taken 4 weeks ago when I was in amazing India, influenced by all the magic and freedom that I was experiencing due to nobody judging me or nobody having any expectations of me?

I wondered, on Thursday morning, what on earth I was doing. I had come here without a plan of action. I knew nothing. Except that I had to see that familiar face of David again, who would make the change, when coming back to Europe, seem so easy and normal and maybe even equally amazing as all the other stops that are made along the journey of life. That’s what I was needing and that’s my reason for coming here. I realize that now. And it‘s what I‘m experiencing too. Thursday I was going through a change, I could feel it and was finding it hard to enjoy what was actually happening and who I was spending my time with. But through many talks, as we were roaming through the alleys and streets of beautiful Rome, the clouds started to disappear.

Most of what I realized, was what I have been “working on” over the past months. It’s the fact that returning to Europe is not the end. It’s just another stop along the way. I’m not putting myself in a prison, I’m not going backwards. But in order to keep on going further, I need to simply re-connect with people and pass through. The only way I felt and still feel to do this as “effortlessly as possible, is through coming here and through continuing on to Holland and Ireland. The panic I felt was just because of the fear I have, that I’ll get stuck.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A brief comparison

I rang home, on Monday night. And I can definitely say that I feel closer to them. The distance is getting less, in time and space. Not only this, but also parts of this city remind of me of parts of other cities, such as Amsterdam, Bruges, London and Paris. But there’s something far deeper here that is making me feel amazed. Is it the contrast between Indian chaos and Italian civilization? But civilization is encountered everywhere in the Western world. So what is it about this particular city? Is it the level of appreciation visitors have towards what it offers and the way the locals embrace the life of such a city?

This is definitely showing me such a different world! Indians don’t appreciate the beauty of what they have. They couldn’t care less about what they are doing, or not doing, to actually express any kind of gratitude for the environment in which they live in. I’m only generalizing now, because there are exceptions of course, and those exceptions are encountered in the higher classes of society. But in general they couldn’t care about the world around them. And that’s what I’m experiencing here; they do care! What a contrast.. But then, this just confirms that a civilized country or city gives more value to material things as they strive to have their surroundings in perfect order. And in India they value a deeper kind of life and it’s nothing to do with order in their surroundings. This is one of the many differences between a material and non-material world.

Having said that, it doesn’t make me want to run from the civilized world back to an uncivilized one - not just yet anyhow - even though the thing I learnt most from India is that a deeper way of living, can fulfil a person totally. It’s all about balance though. At the moment, I’m breathing freely because of the sense of not having to practise caution in the physical world. I don’t have to get frustrated. I don’t have to mentally prepare myself for the challenges I may encounter “out there” in the world. I can be free in the sense that I’m the observer of a new world. I can participate, play the role and take from this world all of the realizations I can. It’s simply relishing in the “luck” I feel, to have been born into this European culture, which will give me everything in both the physical and non-physical sense I need so I can live as I wish. We are all blessed to be born into this particular world and should use the freedom it offers, to our advantage, if we feel the urge to do so.

I feel to have made the right decision in stepping away from an Asian country for now. It’s what I needed. I don’t know for how long it will feel to be the right environment for me. But for now, I’m trying to take each day as it comes. I’m trying to hold myself back almost when it comes to thinking ahead. I’m inclined to get carried away in the excitement and I‘m getting the strong urge to “sort out my life” all within the space of a day by finding a job, booking more flights and setting some sort of plan into action. But it doesn’t work in the space of day. I don’t know where I’ll want to be, within the next few days. But my priorities will start to guide me, once I get over the jetlag and regain the energy to follow those urges I have to do what I need and can.

I can’t believe my luck sometimes. I’ve landed myself, once again, in a loving home, in a magical city and am being looked after without being smothered at all! They don’t even want to know for how long I’ll be staying, that’s how open and free this whole situation is. So I can embrace it and see where it will lead me.

Ciao, Grazie and common cleaniness

More adjustments and small little “shocks”: I was stupidly expecting the Western people around me to all speak English or at least understand it. Because this is what I was used to. When meeting Westerners, as you travel, you would never have to wonder if you could communicate with them; it is always a guarantee that they will speak English. Now though, it’s no longer an assumption I can make. Italian people hardly speak English. Davids brother doesn’t and his mother can only say the few basics, which is a shame because I’d love to get to know her properly - such a warm Italian woman. And within a few hours of stepping off the train after leaving the airport on Monday night, I was having to greet people with “ciao”. I felt like such a snob, when I saying this word. It felt so fake and I felt like I was trying to be somebody I‘m not. But on the other hand it was great, because it brought “home” that I was actually in Rome!

The politeness has struck me so unexpectedly too, just in saying a simple “hello“ and “goodbye”. I can’t remember ever to have said these words in any of the local Indian languages. Indian people suddenly seem so rude! I’m now so happy in saying “thank you”.. “grazie” and “thanks a million”.. “mille grazie”! It’s sounding like music to my ears, when I’m hearing others saying it too! In India, nobody even says either “good morning” or “good night“, “hello” or “goodbye“, “please” or “thank you“, “excuse me” or “I’m sorry“. Words like this aren’t apart of their vocabulary. I remember how it used to frustrate me when I was first in India, but I adjusted and started to use these words less and less too. I became rude and harsh, when being out in the chaotic world, just like them.

An uncivilized world is what India now feels to be and it’s a civilized world I’m experiencing. I’m saying “sorry” to strangers whenever I’m passing them, or if I accidentally bump into someone, or if I want them to move. I’m smiling at strangers again and I can rest assured that they won’t want anything from me. I’m no longer being stared at, I blend in with the crowd and it’s not written on my face or apparent through my skin-colour that I don’t belong here. This gives me such space to breathe and the cleanliness of the air and the silence of the traffic - even though I’m within walking distance of the centre - only contributes to my breathing space.

I can sit on wall, and it’s clean. I won’t be wondering if I’m sitting in somebody’s vomit or urine. I won’t be hassled by the old man who is strolling by; I can smile at him with an ease and not avoid eye contact, which is something I had trained myself to do, and felt awfully unnatural at the same time, but I had to, just for caution of what people might be wanting from me. I now smile openly and all barriers seem to have gone, that I had to maintain when I was apart of the Indian chaos. These barriers were in order for me to always stay safe, either because of the crazy traffic, the people in that traffic or the level of hygiene when venturing through towns, simply walking, eating and drinking.

Yesterday morning, I made my way around the winding streets of this city of magic. And I was amazed by the ease, the politeness, the cleanliness. I was amazing by the beautiful boutiques, the café’s on every corner selling every kind of coffee you can think of and the language that was sounding like a melody I longed to understand and speak. The heat that is filling the streets, alley ways and squares with beautiful stylish people everywhere and the brightness of the long days, makes me feel like I’m still experiencing such newness. The sun comes up so early and sets so late! Looking out from the window here in this apartment, at midnight, which is usually way past my bedtime, I can see the stars! The temperature is still 30 degrees and there are still people walking on the footpaths after having had a late-night coffee and a chat, in one of the thousand café‘s you‘ll find here. How surreal..

A loving home in amazing Rome

Wednesday morning - 21st. A day and a half of Rome and it feels like I’ve been here forever. I’m still very much adapting to this life and I feel so much of a change in myself and already a growth within, through this step that I’m taking. This fact is making everything around me seem to be somebody else’s life. I’m still a little jetlagged which doesn‘t help, even though the time difference is really so insignificant - India is only 4 hours ahead! So maybe the 50-something hours of travel I did over the weekend is also contributing to my struggle in keeping up with everything that is going on around me. How can else can a small time-difference effect me so much, to the extent where I can’t remember every ounce of inspiration and excitement I’ve felt and every sight I’ve seen, since coming to this amazingly beautiful city? As it stands, I’m amazed with everything. A city has never felt to be so beautiful to me, in all my life. And this isn’t an exaggeration.

First impressions back in this world? When I arrived on Monday evening at the airport, I was first overwhelmed by the “whiteness” around me - which sounds so silly, I know. But I had to get over this pretty quickly. That was minor. The next thing (still at the airport) was that I started to feel sick to my stomach, when I was faced with exchanging my rupees. Why? Well, I had worked my ass off to earn what I had earned in India. I brought that amount of cash back with me and within 30 minutes of being back Europe, I was selling my rupees and getting hardly nothing in return. It felt like I had flushed, what was a considerate amount of money back in India, down the toilet. Also, with the exchange of the rupees I was confirming that India and I wouldn’t be meeting each other anytime soon. I was distancing myself and didn’t really want to. I didn’t want these euro’s! Any other currency would have been much more welcome, at that moment in time. But I had to “cop-on” and get over this stupidity. It was all apart of the change.

Still in the airport, another sickly feeling started to arise; but now due to nerves, for seeing David again. He was waiting for me at arrivals and it was like we had only seen each other yesterday. I had so much to say and wanted to say it all at once, which left me speechless in my grogginess, due to having had 2 hours of sleep only, in nearly 48 hours. We had so much time though and there was no dead-line. I had, after all, come to this amazing place without any further plans. This gave me a sense of freedom, ease and timelessness to fully embrace what was happening.

It’s Wednesday morning still. I’m staying at David’s Mom’s house. He’s living here temporarily, until he finds work elsewhere in Europe, so he can get enough funds to travel again. His Mom is the nicest person and goes by the name of Rosella. I‘m actually having to call her by this name! So strange, because in India people call the ladies of the house “auntie”, to show them respect. But now I’m calling a 62-year-old woman by her first name! Small adjustment in the mindset..

Anyhow, she lives in a beautiful apartment, right in the heart of the city. And this is not just any apartment! I walked into the building and I actually asked if this was a museum! This building is more than 130 years old and it’s absolutely gorgeous. There’s a courtyard in the centre and all the apartments are built around it. The windows are overlooking this courtyard, and are framed with flowers pots and plants. They offer me a sneaky glance into these Italian households.. and the lift is something that you would only see in a movie that is set back in the 1920’s, but still so beautiful! I walked into her place, and I really felt to have landed with a “thud” is a city so rich in culture. It’s a modern Italian home, with paintings from wall to wall and the living room has shelves and shelves of books - I had landed in heaven - even though there were all Italian books! The kitchen is where many hours are spent, making coffees and preparing the meals that are high in quality, rather than quantity - which is the case in India (the more the better, is their motto when it comes to food!). Also the bottles of olive oil and wine are in every corner. I was in a world of luxury, with clean sheets, a soft bed, a warm shower, a delicious fish meal and a glass of wine, with this loving family. I couldn’t quite believe it.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

India and I will meet again!

As I entered the airport this evening, I felt somewhat of a relief, after the days I’d had. But I cannot say I’m running away from India. All I can say is that I’m ending or pausing India in a manner I won’t quickly forget. All the challenges that have been thrown at me since leaving Chennai, were just to remind me of all the contrasts that exist so closely along side each other. All the things that I appreciate in India, can be encountered and embraced on any journey “out there” in the chaos. And this is what I wanted. It doesn’t make me happier or sadder to leave. Instead, as I sit here in the airport and still have 7 hours to go before check-in, it makes me smile to look back on it all, not only today, but everything.

For just about 6 months I’ve been up and down and have wanted to embrace every aspect of this country. 6 months is not nearly enough. Not when I find myself walking around a city that is far from all the other cities that have become familiar to me, and I feel to be in another country (which is what happened today in Mumbai). Any traveller in India, either national or international, will say the same thing. Contrasts galore!

The friendly souls I met today, all asked me the same questions. First: “What do you love most about India?” My answer: “where do I start?”, and then they asked: “What would you change about India?” Again my answer: “where do I start?” It’s so true though. There is so much to love and so much not to! There’s so much to never change and so much to change! But seriously, what I love most about India is that everyday something happens to either inspire me, blow me away or bring up some kind of emotion (either good or bad). There’s always something that makes me question the way in which the world works, or the human race in general, or the Indian culture in specific or the lives that are lived at home. Always there is something, and be it good or bad, it’s what makes me love this place so much.

So really, when I answer the question: what would you change about India?”, then how can I say: “where do I start?”. Who am I to say that things should change? Instead, I’ve heard stories and have also witnessed, that India changes the people who choose to embrace all it has to offer. It does wonders to a soul, because of being amazing in it’s contrasts. ALL that it is, shouldn‘t change. Let India be India and in it’s natural state, let it do the work so effortlessly it has been doing for decades or centuries even; changing the lives of those who come here and who appreciate it fully. India is enriching people’s lives by showing those who are open to seeing; that the simplicity of life is far deeper, far more complex and far more amazing than one would expect. Such offerings this country has for every individual and I feel so privileged to have experienced a brief taster. I’m certain that I’ll be returning. How and when, I don’t know.

I cannot board a flight and leave India without feeling certain that I’ll be back. And I do. Somebody once told me: India is like a mother, always waiting for your return to embrace you with open arms. So I don’t shed tears, which I thought would be the case. Instead I express gratitude and feel fulfilled. This fulfilment is bound to last until it’s my time to return again. I cannot analyze too much more at this moment in time. My head will start to go wild, with trying to grasp the actual fact that I’m leaving. So as I sign off for now, I’m going to flow to Italy; which is something else I cannot quite grasp.. But; no more analyzing! Just simply living..

Sunday - Venturing across Mumbai city

This attitude I had and the lack of excitement I felt, after the longest train journey I’ve ever taken, I reckon was the reason for me to be attracting all the things that made my trip from the train station to the airport, all the more challenging.

I shall just vent some of my frustration: This city is nearly impossible to get around! There are hardly no English signs and there’s little English spoken too! Considering to get a bus, meant I was expected to run and jump, just to be sure I’d get on (with my backpack on my back and rucksack on my front!) Help is well-intended but not always dependable, which meant I was sent everywhere except where I was actually needing to go. The sleazy men were everywhere, my back was sore, beggars were still forcing me to part with my money and taxi-drivers were ripping me off. I spoke not so nice words under my breath, nearly with every interaction.. Which I hate to admit.

But now that I’ve gotten the complaining out of the way, I must say I did get the right help, at every moment when I was reaching breaking point. That was actually only due to my direct and harsh manner in stating my query every so clearly. I then had my first and probably last argument with the taxi driver, on my way to the airport. I actually couldn’t believe what I was saying, and how stern I was! I shocked myself, and put him in his place too! Even he was shocked! Wouw.. It felt strange to react in such a way, on my very last leg of the journey; I was going to the airport, I was leaving India, and I wasn’t knowing when I’d be amongst this amazing chaos again (that I usually love so much), and I was arguing just because I was being ripped off!

Was this a sign that I really did need to leave India? Or was I attracting the vibes that I was sending out? It made me wonder. I didn’t want my last hours in India to be such a drama.

But would these be my last impressions.. A taxi driver who was angry with me, a toilet-lady who wouldn’t accept my 5 rupee note because it had a tear in it and the airport employee who wasn’t going to let me sit in the waiting room all night, not until he heard, through the determination in my voice, that I would otherwise hang around outside. I was pretty much saying: “I don’t really care, do I look bothered to you? And you can stuff your rules wherever you like, but don‘t annoy me with them!” Wouw man.. What had India suddenly done to me? I was becoming this infuriated person all of a sudden. I was so determined not to let anybody walk all over me, to point of being just as rude to them as they were being to me (very childish niamh!). I was strict and stern and it hit me out of nowhere.

Was it me just getting caught up in the harsh mentality here in this city? Or was it me already placing myself in a different country, where things happen more easily and with a natural friendliness, which made me see the way in which this India works and therefore caused frustration to arise? Was I less adaptable all of a sudden? But having said this, in my frustration and sternness, I still met 3 people who randomly spoke with me and offered me a contact of some sort, for when I come back! How crazy is this country?! Things constantly happen; up and down, all the time. And now I’m in the airport, I feel to have left India, but I’m still attracting new people. I can’t keep up with it all.

So the boldness of today, will never be as overpowering as the kindness I experienced from those people who did approach me and who did make the effort to help. Such sweet people there are, in every corner, and those are far more valuable impressions that will last a whole lot longer!

Saturday - The final train journey

The 17th - A train from Chennai to Mumbai that would take 27 hours. I noticed that, as I sat on the train and observed my surroundings, I was slowly starting to place my head back in a European city - I can’t exactly imagine how Rome will be, but I can at least start adapting and placing myself in the Western way of living, which I’ll be experiencing from Monday onwards.

This adaptation has had a big effect on how I’ve coping the past 24 hours. The life I was witnessing around me, felt almost as if I was watching a movie, set in India, without subtitles. Absolutely everything. I was placed outside of myself and the chaos around me started to open my eyes. I wasn’t seeing these things for the first time though! But it sure felt like I was. I had to laugh to myself at the ridiculousness of some of their actions, and at the commotion they caused for no apparent reason. I also smiled at how they were eating their way from one side of India to the next, as the “food-men” would come by, every 10 minutes or so, selling just about every dish that can be found on an Indian menu (actually that’s a slight exaggeration..) . The luggage some of them would carry, was unreal.. They transport all kinds of goods by train: sacks of rice, grains and vegetables, parcels the size of barrels containing their life-long possessions, 20 suitcases per family and bags of food of course just in case they may all fall down with the hunger, or in the unlikely event the “food-men” run out of items. It’s so funny. I was highly amused for hours, but still needed to dive into my book whenever I felt it all to be too much.

The journey progressed and changes started to appear. As the passengers were getting on and off, the language was becoming predominant Hindi, instead of Tamil. There was no more idly or dosa to eat, except now it was chiapatty. The train was entering what is known as Northern India and we were leaving the beautiful South behind, with every hour that passed. What I noticed more than anything else, was the amount of beggars that started to bombard the train, the nearer we got to Mumbai. And the “scenery” only confirmed the poverty that was more apparent in the North, with the countless slums passing by the barricaded train windows. It didn’t inspire me, nor did it make me want to reach Mumbai, even after being on a dirty train for so long. I would have happily stayed on the train. Venturing out into this unknown city was something I really didn’t feel too excited about.

Preparing for take-off!

Sunday evening - the 18th. I’m sitting in Mumbai International Airport. I have 12 hours before I can check-in. It’s 7pm. So this will be a sleepless night for me as I sit on a chair in the waiting hall, counting down the hours until I board the plane. I didn’t deliberately chose to end my journey like this. It’s just that the timing of the connecting methods of transport have not really “gelled” together. I’ve been on the road since Saturday morning. When I started off, I was feeling ready and able for the journey onwards to Italy. I knew it would be a long one and I’m now at the stage where I don’t know if I’m coming or going, nor what day it is. I have around 24 more hours to go. But I can’t complain, because this is all part of the fun.

My last days in Chennai were brilliant. Within a few days of being there, I started to have a feeling of belonging. And that’s something that doesn’t always come to me! A sense of belonging wasn’t only at Jayanthi’s home, but in the city too. There was so much ease, in everything! This only made it effortless for me to spend the week winding down from previous travels and gearing myself up, at the same time, for the upcoming changes. I was chilling-out, reflecting, writing, looking after myself and getting along with the city-life of Chennai as well as getting the homely feel at Jayanthi’s. Also something that will have contributed to my feeling so homely with the situation I had placed myself in, for the remainder of days in India, was getting well acquainted with Jayanthi’s new tenants who are temporarily occupying the top floor of their home. The husband is Indian, who goes by the name of Dietrich and his wife, Jeannette, is Dutch! They have 2 gorgeous kids, Dhana and Lukas and have only recently relocated from Holland to India and are in the middle of setting up a new life here. How inspiring it is to see this! It was also like I was slowly becoming re-tuned with the Western world, through the contact, talks and familiarity I experienced with Jeannette. Something I’m very much grateful for! So I felt I reached the right state of mind, to concur whatever the journey would throw at me, by the time it came to me saying goodbye, almost too suddenly. That time arrived on Saturday morning. I said it feeling so happy due to the time I got to spend, once again, within this special family. I also felt I was completing my Indian chapter and was coming “full-circle”: I arrived in Cochin, in Kerala, then headed to Chennai for 5 weeks, slowly made my way back to Kerala again and then to top it all off nicely, I came to Chennai one more time!

On the road again: I was overloaded and weighed down by the luggage, but I knew it was just one last push through the Indian madness. This always seems to be my struggle: the size of my backpack! For this part of the journey, I forced myself to part with quite a lot of clothes. Especially after I unexpectedly went bargain hunting on Thursday afternoon to freshen-up my “wardrobe” after more than a year of carrying and wearing the same raggedy clothes. Wouw, I couldn’t believe how good it made me feel to buy new stuff that I’d be able to wear elsewhere, without feeling like a “knacker”. It made me feel to be apart of the bigger world again! This might sound strange, but the longer I’m away from home, the more unfamiliar I become with western fashion and so often I’d look at photo’s of family and friends back at home and I’d be blown away by the stylish clothes - not to mention hairstyles! In my current daily life, or what was current up until a few days ago, I’d be used to seeing either beautiful Indian women in their dresses and sarees or travellers who don’t care what they wear- which is also what I would see in the mirror each day! So I was feeling renewed with a fresh backpack-contents! I then parted with my Indian dresses and saree. What a shame! But I left them at Jayanthi’s house; because I have a feeling I’ll be back there at some stage in the future. Don’t know if it’s the near or the distant future though.. Humm..

My backpack was still weighing me down though and getting on and off busses was a chore. Shouting at the bus conductor to wait so I could get off, happened on a few occasions as I was pulling and hauling my luggage and pushing my way through the crowds of people, who are so rude and couldn’t care less when it comes to offering a hand! Actually since leaving Chennai yesterday morning, I realized that the people would prefer to stand in groups, looking at me and laugh in my face (not even sneakily sniggering!) at the scene I’m setting in motion due to the lack of control and strength I have when fighting with gravitational forces. So infuriating! But I managed, obviously. Or else I wouldn’t be sitting in a waiting room typing about the journey so far!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

After India comes... - 2

I continued to travel and followed whatever felt to be the right thing for me to do, with every moment. I went from Thailand back to Oz, from Oz to India. In regards to travelling freely and flowing with my feelings and meeting the right people at the right time, I felt reassured that everything was happening as it was meant to. This attitude I had to also apply towards meeting one special person again. So I had no expectations, we were both free.

As my travels unravelled and these adventures led me from one place to the next, I met so many other souls and I was revealed to so many sides of myself, which meant I always felt fulfilled, even in my precious moments of despair. In that fulfilment, I couldn’t help this extra force that was at work between myself and that special someone. The contact remained just as strong, and maybe even grew stronger in the distance between us. My experiences were contributing to the growth between us and each chapter of my India-time led me to feel even more blessed by the fact that I was able to miss this one special person. I also knew though, that I create my own destiny, I make things happen: It was up to me to keep on making my decisions based on what I had been following since Oz.. My heart.

This is how the next decision was made. I put my head on pause, because I couldn’t bare to start questioning why I was choosing for this to be my next step. Nor could I figure out an exact plan as to how or IF it would actually work. By doing that, too many practicalities would get in the way. I’d have been driven by job stress, financial issues and expectations from others who are eager to see me soon. I would have been driven by forces outside of myself and wouldn’t have taken the risk I took 3 weeks ago, when I booked a flight to Rome, which is where David is from and where he’s is currently living. I didn’t discuss it with anybody, only Mam. I didn’t know if he would still be Rome on my date of arrival nor if he even wanted to see me. But I wanted to find out if we were or weren’t meant to meet again and under what circumstances. So I booked the flight and kept ever so quiet, until 3 days later, when he randomly gave me a call. I couldn’t NOT tell him at this stage. I was so excited (especially because I was going through a tough time at Ebenezer school). So I blurted out that I would be in Rome within 4 weeks! Just to think: 7 months ago, we didn’t even know if we would be seeing each other again.. And now I was being welcomed with open-arms! Yay!!!!

So this is my next step. On Monday morning I fly from Mumbai to Rome. What am I going to do there? I’m not too sure just yet. How long am I staying? Again, another question mark. When will I be going to Ireland or Holland? I have no dates. So, again, I know so little. But that’s the amazement of it. In knowing so little, I know that what I’m doing is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing, at this stage of my life. If it’s to either reconnect with someone so special OR to find out that the connection dissolved when we parted on the 26th of December; whatever my flying to Italy will reveal, is so very welcome. I trust that this is for certain reasons and not until I’m there, will I find them out. So I’m still flowing through life and living with whatever comes my way, even through this next step. This feels so right!!!!
4 days and counting….

After India comes... - 1

July 15th. On the 19th I’m due to leave India. Only 4 full days left, and nearly every hour will be serving a purpose until the time comes for me to board the flight that will take me away from this sacred soil of India.

So far I haven’t written about my plans. I haven’t told many people of my next destination. I made my decision a few weeks ago, but I still didn’t want to broadcast it to those on the home-front, because there was so much else going on at school and my head was fuzzy and scattered. I didn’t want to put myself in the position of explaining my reasons for choosing to do what I’m doing.

The decision to leave India, wasn’t by choice. It’s something every tourist has to do, after 6 months of being here. It’s compulsory to leave for at least 8 to 10 weeks before re-applying for another 6 month tourist visa. So that decision wasn’t my own. However where I was going to go to next, was. I knew the time was nearing for me to start at least moving in the direction of the precious family in both Ireland and Holland. I’ve stayed away a lot longer than I expected; for 15 months already. Even though I’ve established myself almost in this lifestyle of constantly moving, with job options that will keep me on the road, if I so wish, I still felt (and feel) that going back home is a little too “backwards” and risky. But what would I be risking? I had created a drama in my head that I would be stopping dead in my tracks, after having flowed so freely for “so long“, since leaving Europe. So it felt safer for me to slowly make my way back, instead of getting on a flight from India straight to Ireland and landing back on home turf with a massive “thud“ So, 3 weeks ago, I decided to take a chance on something different. And now that I’m touching the “plan“ I have set for myself, I can’t explain it without bringing up a part of my journey that is amazingly special to me.

I’ll backtrack a few months. 7 months to be exact: December. I was in Thailand. I was in paradise, surrounded by people who complimented this environment in their presence. 1 person in particular. Through forces beyond ourselves, our paths crossed. What at one point seemed to be the most scary bus journey of my life with consequences I had no clue of, suddenly led me to the most magical meeting. The ferry that brought me to Kho Phanghang, an island off the East coast of Thailand, also brought me to a special person, who I had an instant connection with.

After our first encounter we spontaneously spent 2 special weeks together. We then parted, without knowing when or if we would see each other ever again. The 2 of us were travelling and therefore well aware of how flexible people are, when they are on the road. In this flexibility a change of heart can be unexpected. Special people enter your world and leave it, just as easily; from one day to the next you can never know what will happen or who will come into your life, to turn things upside down. Just like it happened, on that day in December, when we met on the ferry ride. 2 week later, when we parted, we knew so little, because of the open road we were both following. But what we DID know was that we had been destined to meet at some stage of our lives and we also knew that we were blown away by the strength of our connection. Even still we said goodbye. We wished each other so much more magic in life and we promised to stay in touch without giving any guarantees that we would stay close or that we would even make the effort to see the other again. We were both so open to let the world work in whatever way it was going to, because we knew if we were meant to meet again, then it would happen.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Chennai re-visited!

Not only was I leaving the ashram on that Friday morning, but I was also leaving the state of Kerala where I had spent 4,5months of my trip. I knew I wouldn’t be coming back to this piece of paradise in Southern India for quite some time and then it suddenly became even more beautiful than it once was. Kerala; known as “God’s own country” and also “the land of the coconuts”. Kerala; so green, so luscious, so tropical, with the perfect climate. On the train I was enjoying hours and hours of beautiful sights and inspiring scenes of rural Indian life. It was all passing before my eyes, as I gazed out the window. At the same time, in my mind I was having visions of all the people I had met in these similar surroundings through the experiences I’d had.

The sun started to set and we slowly entered the drier parts of the south. The scenery was no longer to be seen, it was no longer familiar to me and it brought me little recognition in the darkness of the night. The train journey then takes on a different feel, as people start to curl up in their beds, that are barely 70cm wide. I slept so nicely in the bunkbed, even with the bumpy tracks, the screeching brakes and the general noise. All these sounds needed to be soothing - how else can a person sleep? I must have still been a little delirious from the flu, because I actually managed it. I managed to create a song out of the noise the train was making. I managed to feel fit and fine again, after 4 hours of being rocked like a baby and 4 hours chanting meditative songs over and over in my mind. I was so at ease with everything in the world, that I was floating.

This served me well, when I was in the chaos of Chennai only 20 hours after leaving a peaceful haven where people are embracing enlightenment through each and every action they undertake. I suddenly was on a bus, moving through Chennai, making my way to Jayanthi’s house - who I stayed with in March when I was here for a month. Due to the fact that I was still so chilled out and not bothered about anything, I took several wrong busses, I was placed from one to the other by the conductors, I was crossing highways, weaving in between traffic, tempted to hang out of busses that were overloaded and teased by the luxuries of private cabs. Eventually I was always brought to where I needed to be through pure determination, even with an attitude of not caring one bit about the haste and the chaos the was surrounding me. A journey from the station to Jayanthi’s house would usually take 45min. But it took me 2,5 hours. I could have wept, but instead I smiled - afterall I wasn’t bothered!! Thinking like this, can make life so stress-free. And being in a city is amazingly pleasant, freeing and magical when it can be experienced in this manner.

Coming back to Chennai, felt so natural, as did coming back to Jayanthi’s house. I walked into her family home, after the dogs greeting me, instead of trying to scare me away (like they did the first time I came here with my backpack weighing me down, all those months ago), I sat down, got offered an Indian Chai and I instantly knew I was where I wanted to be. The ease washed over me and I contently spent the first 2 full days, in a daze. There was no need for me to do anything. All I wanted was to process the past weeks and slowly get my head back to where it was needing to be - on this planet. Due to the flu I’d had and the change of environment, I was a little bit disconnected. But it was all fine. Sleep, rest and writing got my whole self feeling great again; and so eager to “embrace the city life” instead of “concur the city life“. Concurring is done only when something is a challenge. And this city is not going to be a challenge for me, it’s not the big deal it once was, 4 months ago. I will happily place myself within it and know I’ll deal with it easily. I’m here until Saturday. But will be sure to update real soon, as I only have 7 more days left in this amazing India. The suspense within me is rising, as each day passes.

My last daze

A daze is what I experienced, during my last 2 days in the Ashram. From Wednesday night onwards I started to feel not so good. Sleep was turning into a time when my mind wanted to go crazy.. And being awake was then turning into the time when all I needed and wanted was sleep. So, it was only natural that something was going to give, and of course it did. My body wanted rest and the only way it new it would get some was by making me get a good dose of the flu. From Wednesday night onwards I had fever, aches, pains, a cold and was physically exhausted. I pushed myself through one more yoga class on Thursday morning, until I could hardly walk and then I decided to act sensibly for a change. So I spent my last full day at that amazing place, in bed.

As I lay there on Thursday afternoon I knew I had to leave the ashram the following morning. I had a 17-hour train ride booked! But I seriously doubted if I was able to make it out of bed within the following12 hours. I felt panic and pressure. But I knew I could make myself feel energized. I knew if I really wanted to make it onto that train, I would. And of course, I did. I woke up on the Friday morning, after having used every “technique” I own, to get all my inner strength together - seeing as though I didn’t have in my body at that time - and I felt a lot better. The aches were gone so my body would get me there. My head was still sore and fuzzy and I still had a cold, but I was fine to actually move and to get through an overnight train ride. All was well and good in my world.

I left on Friday morning (the 9th). And I didn’t feel relieved, nor did I feel sad. I felt amazing to have experienced it. I felt blessed by the people I met and those who I connected with instantly and managed to help and who helped me. They all inspired me in someway and left a lasting impression. About the yoga itself, I learnt so much. These precious days gave me more than I dared hope to gain and it’s amazing. I left in the reassurance that it was my time to move on and Chennai was the right place for me to be going.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Om shanti - 2

In this environment I’m able to do and be as I wish. I’m allowed to let go of reality. Something I was struggling to hold on to last week, as I was still trying to teach properly. Holding onto reality is no longer expected of me, here at the Ashram. And it’s a very freeing feeling, even with the schedule we must stick to. It’s so easy to be here and the schedule doesn’t feel like a chore. I actually feel gratitude for it and it’s a pleasure to stick to! I can imagine for some people who stay here for weeks and weeks or months and months even, that the monotony of each day can start to “freak you out”. But for me, it’s still fresh and new, so I’m always inspired and excited by the fact that, due to what I learn through the disciplined schedule that has been applied, I can loose myself in myself for a few days. And this is the beauty of my stay here; it’s short and therefore very very sweet. I’m getting a taster of what India can offer me, in terms of yoga. And already I’m realizing what it is. I’m getting a sample of how it would be to stay in an Ashram and to study yoga. I’m being reminded of how easily yoga comes to me, when I have the environment to only focus on that. Life flows and learning about the self comes so naturally. just after 2 days I‘m realizing this.. It’s amazing.

After my last yoga experience, which was back in April, I wasn’t practicing daily yoga anymore. I stopped. Something happened in that dreaded place where I experienced some of my worst days in India. On several occasions I tried to practice again, but it didn’t feel good anymore. Even though I still was longing to do it regularly and expand through the art. This was one of my reasons for choosing to spend a short week in an ashram: to get back into yoga, and to feel what it brings out in me, once again. To relight the flame, I suppose you could say. And on the first full day, that started happening.

Regardless of my weak frame, right now, the teachers have encouraged me to take the higher class. But I’m taking it easy. I’m getting reacquainted with this yoga style and even doing the beginners class, feels to be too much. I have to do what I feel comfortable with, and it's not going to the higher level, even though some women have said that I'm offending them by being in the beginners class, because it's obvious that I'm not a beginner. Did this effect me? Usually it would have done, but not now. Not the way my body is feeling. I have to face facts, as they stand right now, and that’s the fact that India has given me an amazing amount, but it’s also taken a few things from me. And the main thing is, a few kilo’s. An exact number, I don’t know. But have I lost too many kilo’s? Yes.

It's a subject I've been wanting to touch for quite some time, and now I'm faced with it. 6 months of being in a crazy, insane, and freeing country like India, has taken it's toll, on my physical frame. It happened, and I'm just facing facts. Different foods, hectic travels and working hard, can take alot from people. I'm not worried, but I'm just saying how it is right now. I'm not sorry to have come to the Ashram and to have discovered my weak frame, but I'm just grateful that I now know, if I do want to seriously continue with yoga, I have to gain more physical strength.

So many things can arise, when you stop and are "forced" to still the mind, each waking hour. We face our deepest and darkest side, that really is so very very bright. Therefore I'm not scared. Yoga and the meditation is giving me insights and calmness, it's inspiring me and making me more aware of my inner strength once again - as in the haste of life we can tend to leave that side of ourselves to rest, unintentionally. It's all coming back. A short and sweet stay at an Ashram is what I needed. So I will continue to engage in whatever I'm faced with, before I concur crazy Indian travel, for one last time.. Friday afternoon I'm getting taking a 17-hour overnight trainride to visit Jayanthi in Chennai - it's just one last push I'm taking with my 30kilo's of luggage, and then I'll be in a place where I can reflect for a few days, on my 6 months in India and rest. xoxoxo

Om shanti - 1

Three days into my stay at the Sivananda Ashram. The chanting is all I can hear in my head, whenever I’m alone. The yoga is starting to wear on my body and muscles I’d forgotten I owned are aching. The meditation is sending me to some place other than the most southern part of India, which is where I am right now. I could be anywhere in the world really and I’d still feel as good as I do right now. Life is fantastic!

I’m surrounded by people from everywhere; Spain, America, Japan, Israel, Iran, England, Australia and of course a few Irish. It’s like we form one big community, of only 40 people, all with the same intention: Yoga. There are only 2 or 3 Indians, which makes me forget I’m in India. But the roars of the lions I hear in the middle of the night, coming from the nearby Lion Safari Park, remind me of where I am. How beautiful!

I’ve gone from having days full of planning lessons, stressing out about my performance as a teacher, evaluating my methods and forcing myself to focus on each and every English lesson I was giving, at Ebenezer, to now having my days full of everything that can provide me with quite the opposite, which is: peace, bliss, tranquility and awareness.

I didn’t have freedom at Ebenezer. Here I’m still being controlled, but differently. We have rules to abide by, we have a schedule to follow and I’m worn out. But the schedule is in aid of myself and not of others. It might sound strange and selfish but that’s how it is and it’s what I wanted.

This is how our days are filled:
5.30am wake up bell
6.00am meditation, chanting mantra’s(in Sanskrit), readings and talks
7.30am tea
8.00am yoga class
10.00am Brunch (where we eat in silence, crossed legged, with our hands, sitting on the floor - after chanting for a short while).
11.00am Karma yoga. (This means we get given a chore to do in the ashram, to help out, such as cleaning).
12.30pm Optional coaching for meditation and yoga 01.30pm tea
02.oopm lecture
03.30pm Afternoon yoga
06.00pm dinner
08.00pm meditation, chanting and readings until 09.30pm
10.00 everyone is shattered!
10.30pm “lights out”

Did I realize that this was how it was going to be? Not really. I knew that I’d get the chance to do yoga and meditation. But I didn’t know it was all compulsory and If you don’t attend any of the classes, you are asked to leave.. But I don’t mind. I’m so happy here. It’s exactly what I need. The only thing I’m struggling with, is my body. It’s feeling the strain of suddenly doing nearly 4 hours of yoga a day and sitting with crossed legs for another 4 hours. The exhaustion is catching up on me.

When I look back over the past week I’ve just done what I do best I suppose: I abruptly changed my course in life: I tore myself away from a job, from “stability” and special people and have thrown myself into yet another chapter. This is an amazing one though, I can feel it! However I didn’t give myself the chance to wind-down after having put myself under so much pressure, at Ebenezer School. And now that I’ve “stopped” one thing and have “started” a different and very brief chapter, I’m finding it hard to grasp all that’s going on around me...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ebenezer no more - 2

My last 2 days of teaching were great. I enjoyed them so much and I even managed to keep on learning and growing as a teacher up until my very last lesson on Friday afternoon. But even in the pleasure I felt when standing in front of class, I still didn’t doubt that my leaving was the right decision. Saying goodbye to the principal - who I hadn’t really spoken to since I arrived at the school, was a revelation. She gave me the most sincere “goodbye” ever. I couldn’t believe how warm she was towards me. She showered me with compliments, wanted me to keep in touch and said that there will always be a job available for me at the school! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.. For all of 3 seconds I wondered if I’d made the right decision, but it disappeared very quickly, once I left her office. I was free and there was no turning back!

Saturday 3 of the teachers, who have helped me from day 1 at Ebenezer, Dolly, Riya and Anjana, brought me to the nearest city to see a movie and to have some dinner. It was so lovely to be treated like that by such special girls! On Sunday morning, they brought me to the train station too, as the day had finally arrived for me to leave the campus! It was the nicest goodbye ever. I was breaking free so easily from this school and I felt so blessed for all the people I had met. I couldn’t believe how all these people, Mahaut, Cliff, Paul, Riya and Dolly, managed to touch my heart in some way, yet didn’t bring on a sadness for leaving but instead it brought on gratitude for having had the chance to meet them in the first place. I felt so alive, for this reason alone, as I boarded the train and they waved me off, at the platform. A vision I’ll never forget: Riya and Dolly, waving with tears in their eyes but smiles on their faces, telling me to come back once I’m married and have gained some weight!!! Such Indian things to say!!

I left feeling amazing and I arrived at the next destination 6 hours later, feeling tired, but better than I had done in quite a while. Where did I go? And where am I now? I am where I wanted to go, 5 weeks ago when I was leaving Varkala to start this new Ebenezer chapter: I’m in an ashram, 200kms south of where I was teaching. It’s the Sivananda Ashram. Here I can get back into yoga and meditation. The ashram is almost like a resort full of people from all over the world. From 6am until 10pm, there are meditation classes, yoga classes, chanting sessions, coaching and lectures on the philosophy of yoga. I’m only here 24 hours, but it feels like I’ve been here forever, in a good way. I’ll be staying for just a week, which might be a little short. But I’m just happy that I got here in the first place, regardless of the length of time I’ll be spending here.

This is something I’ve been wanting to try for so long. And spending time in an ashram is almost a “must” for the traveller in India. It does however mean it’s very touristy (something I always prefer to avoid) but for now I don’t mind. I’m here, and I’m happy. I can learn about yoga and I’m able to focus on what I want to focus on. I have the next 2 weeks to put everything into perspective and to reflect on the past 6 months. There are no disturbances and nobody else is needing my attention. I don’t feel drawn into the Western “gang” of tourists. I associate with who I want, and I do as I wish and it’s something I’ve been needing pretty badly.

Sometimes I can’t quite believe that I actually got myself here. I feel so strong for having finally done what I’ve done. I got as much from Ebenezer school as I could and, because of the people I met and for the lessons I learnt, I’m grateful for the experience. It’s good that I went, but it’s even better that I left! I'll definitely teach again, but I now know the environment in which I can get the most from myself as a "teacher" as well as getting the most from the kids. The teacher in me is just a sleep for the time being, but there will come a time again when the teacher will be awoken once more..

How quickly it all happened, makes it feel like it all passed me by. And to a certain extent, I think it did. But that’s fine. Because it just means that it all happened effortlessly, because it was the right thing I was doing. I didn’t start to see things clearly until I got on the train on Sunday afternoon. And absolutely everything made sense! Life is one big puzzle, that will never be complete, but every piece will always fit so nicely into the “bigger picture” that we’re creating with every chapter we open and with every chapter we conclude. For Ebenezer this was the concluding chapter..

Ebenezer no more - I

Last week Wednesday I found out that rising to a challenge in life can be inspiring, uplifting and rewarding. But when a person is classing “overcoming a feeling of discomfort” as being a challenge, then there’s nothing to overcome and a lift will never be felt. You will simply continue to struggle through the situation you are faced with.

My last entry, was somewhat of a cry for help, to myself. I needed to rescue ME! I thought I was at Ebenezer school because I needed to rise to the challenge. But I realized on Wednesday that instead of challenging myself, I was simply punishing myself.

Wednesday I reached breaking point. It didn’t matter that I had so many amazing people around me: Mahaut, Cliff and some of the other Indian teachers. It didn’t matter that the students were fun, or that the lessons were getting better or that the apartment was fresh and clean. All these luxuries didn’t have an effect on me anymore. The only thing that had an effect on me, was ME. And I wasn’t in a happy place. I was tired of trying to keep my focus on the classroom and on school. I was tired of going against the “current“. I was beat and felt that I had done everything in my power to try and make my time at the school into the amazing experience I wanted it to be.

By being in Mahauts presence, I started to become more aware of what I wanted again. I started to tune-in to ME, without effort. I suddenly was no longer wary of saying what I wanted and I became so strong, through the talks we had. She taught me so much, just by listening. And on Wednesday night a shift occurred within me and I decided to bite the bullet and to finally set myself free. I was leaving! I wasn’t going to ignore that voice that was telling me, hour after hour, to leave. At that point I only had 10 days left at the school. Most people would have stuck it out, for such a short space of time. But I figured, when it’s time to leave, it’s time to leave.. I couldn’t deny it anymore. And most importantly, I didn’t want to deny it anymore!

At that stage, I knew I only had 2 more weeks left in India. And I wasn’t going to stay in a place where I would never feel comfortable, just for the sake of it. So the decision was made. All I had to do was act and everything would follow suit. It wasn’t even difficult to do. From Thursday morning onwards I started letting people know I was going. Friday was going to be my last day. Nobody was going to convince me to stay, even though certain people were tempted to try. Everybody was understanding and my replacement was being arranged. I didn’t tell all of the teachers, only those who I had gotten close to. The students I didn’t tell either. It would only have made things more difficult and I’d have to explain myself over and over again as to why and when I‘m leaving and where I‘d be going. I wanted to leave quietly and without too much fuss. And that’s what I did.