The Ganga is a Local Call

I'm now at Santosh Puri Ashram in Haridwar.  I took the train, and at Haridwar, and took pictures of some monkeys on the train platform.  One of them beared her teeth and tried to grab the shoes hanging from my bag, but I stepped back and she stopped.  I walked across the street from the station, had a pratha with cheese and a chai with no sugar and a lime soda, put stevia in them both.

Took pictures with some engineering students, one who graciously kept me company, although I did not ask him to.  Indian boys want to be nice to you though you haven't asked them to.
I took a rickshaw to the ashram, but they told me it was full.  A man with very long but well-groomed ear hair was the only English speaker.  I said "hello" and they said, "no hello" so I said "Namaste, hare om."  And they said, "Namaste."  I told them about Mandakini and how I had emailed her, and then I realized it was the wrong ashram.

They pointed, and I walked and walked, asking for directions every few minutes to this small ashram with my over-packed backpacks in the midday sun.  I got closer and closer it seemed when I hear two bearded sadhus singing bajans inside a gated home.  "Ram something Ram" was all I understood.  I let myself past the gate, shed my bags and shoes, bowed, and sat in the little room where they were playing a harmonium and drum, passing the melody back and forth.  I lovingly ignored the thoughts in my mind suggesting I should leave and also suggesting I should stay for as long as possible.  After a while I began to hum along with them.  After a longer while I realized they were singing "Sita Ram Sita Ram" and began to sing with them.

The singing became very pleasurable and I began to smile in my heart, and also thinking of Jai Uttal and Aharon.  After some time, they spread out a mat, interrupting the chanting to point it out to me that I should sit on it instead of on the cement.  When I felt it was time to leave, I got up, and they motioned for me to give some money.  But because they hotel only took cash and the rickshaw driver had no change I had nothing but 500 rupee notes left.  I motioned that I had nothing but bowed in gratitude.  Then I remembered I had a dark chocolate pretzel and a granola bar from the airplane, which I didn't eat because I'm not having white sugar.  I gave them the sweets and walked back out of the gate.

I walked to the next door and realized that ashram was next door to Santosh Puri Ashram.  Guru Mataji's daughter, Mandakini, greeted me and showed me to a room.  We talked about our friend Erin, who suggested I might come here if I was looking for a peaceful and secluded ashram.  Erin left only two days ago, and they said she mentioned to the people staying here that I would be coming.  Very kind of her.

Some people were going to the River. Stephania from Italy told Mandkini she was going and asked if she should take the dogs with her.  The dogs were too hot for a walk, so she went alone. Though I hadn't slept much in 48 hours, I wasn't so tired, and I wanted to go to the Ganga as well.  I walked along the path a passed a number of sadhus in the woods, speaking only briefly to one younger man with matted hair folding an orange robe, who asked my name and told me he is called Gopi.  Then I saw the three other foreigners from Santosh Puri wading in the Ganga.  It's so dirty in Varanasi that I didn't dare go in, but here is much closer to the source, and people aren't creamated and sent into the river.  There's very likely less defication here too.  I mean, if you're not allowed to go in the river and leave your shoes on, it follows that you shouldn't go in and leave your shit there as well.

I slowly walk into the water with my clothes on.  The riverbed is silty, a smooth mud, and I slip on it, falling in up to my shoulders.  Blessed by the Holy Ganga.  I hold my nose, relax my knees, and dunk my whole self in.  It's dark brown and big river plant parts are floating past us the whole time.  This is because it rained heavily yesterday.  I climb out and Antoine ask Krishnabai, who looks very familiar to me, "How long were you in Oregon?"  "We were there four years."  Osho was in Oregon for a few years, and I immediately assume this is who she was with.  They continue talking and I ask if it was Osho.  She says yes, and then I ask if she knows the American man I met in Tiru on my first trip here, who told me he was with Osho for twenty years.  "Yes, very well." she says.

We walk back to the ashram together, and I'm still not tired.  In the library I send an email to my parents to tell them I've arrived safely and where I am.  The shelves are full of books in different languages, and the one that pops out is titled, The Way of a Pilgrim.  I pick it up.  Where have I heard about this.  It's by a Russian man in the nineteenth century who sets about on a journey to learn the practice of incessant, interior prayer.  J.D. Salinger places it in the trembling hands of Franney in Franney and Zooey.  I placed Franney and Zooey in the hands of RM.  On Independence Day, July 4th, 2006, an hour before we saw the fireworks, on the steps of the Maritime Apartment complex in San Francicso, he told me that he had read The Way of a Pilgrim while traveling in India these past seven months, and this might be more than a coincidence that we are reading Franney and Zooey together.  Though we parted ways several years ago, strands of our conversation are still finding their other end and turning out to be incessant loops.

I'm still not tired, and after dipping in Ganga, I pick up The Way of a Pilgrim and sit with a guy outside the gate of the ashram.  He is building a set of steps out of bricks and dirt, sandbags, wire, and old pieces of wood and concrete.  Since the path to the Ganga is not ashram property, it's illegal to make a proper stairway, but the path is difficult to traverse and Mataji has asked him to make something a bit more sturdy that the monsoon won't wash away so easily.  I sit and read The Pilgrim while he chain smokes and builds and I feel both an affinity for him and a desire to help construct the stairs.  He says it's his third trip to India and he has stayed for almost a year the past two times.  He had lots of complications in his home country; his mother fell ill, but he found himself counting the days until he was to return in January and finally decided he couldn't wait any longer, that no matter what happens, he's coming here in May.  I tell him the same thing happened with me, and I had to come now.  He remembers Erin, "Covered with tattoos?" "No.  Tall, curly hair."  "Oh, yes.  Black hair.  Very strong and clear internally.  She does astrology."  "Yes."  I tell him how Erin suggested that it would be astrologically fortuitious for me to travel immediately instead of waiting, and then get back to working on my career punctually on July 31st.

He and I agree that the West is materialistic, and he says subtly that the stars might not know better than my internal guidance.  He suggests that if I want to be in India, I should focus on India, and see how I feel then.  We agree that we shall see.  I feel judgment that my internal compass is not louder and stronger like his or like Erin's.

A woman here wears a white cotton sari, and she reminds me of someone I met at Anandashram, on my last trip here.  I found myself at Anandashram because during a medicine journey my guide played a bajan sung by Krishna Das, and was in tears at the ecstacy of God Realization.  I asked Krishna Das after a concert about this prayer, and he told me this song is sung day and night, incessantly, at a place in Southern India called Anandashram.  On my first trip here, I went to Sivananda Ashram upon the suggestion of a friend I  had met, and I write a little bit of comedy about my trip so far, which I get up and perform for the two hundred yoga students and the swamis on talent night.

One fellow there, a fellow Jew now living in Boston, lived at Anandashram for several years, and he tells me, yes, go there and you can chant Sri Ram Jai Ram day and night.

At Anandashram, Thuli Baba is making a rare appearance, and I just happen to arrive while he and his devotees are there, though I have never heard of him.  A devotee of his invites me to attend his satsang, during which we chant the Rhibu Gita and receive the prasad of his his left over food.  It's not really left over, it's more like they make food for him and he gives us each a bite from his plate, and this is very holy.

I fell asleep after reading and awoke to hear the chanting of Arti.  At dinner last night, K has just bought a new handloomed thick white sari because she is headed north to Badrinath to the holiest city in India, to be with her Guru.  "We are not averse to the cold up north, and we are very ready to be out of this heat."  I ask the name of her Guru.  She says he is not famous, and I think, well, I don't even know the Gurus who are famous.  "His name is Tuli Baba."  "I met Tuli Baba at Anandashram.  You must know M!"  "She is a good friend of ours.  Babaji gave her a new name, Gagi."  "I thought you reminded me of her.  You must also know C, who is now in San Diego and came to my house in Oakland a couple of months ago to give a satsang."  "Yes!"  K says that her name came from Thuli Baba, after the Mother of Anandashram.  

This morning they served chai and fresh homemade bread and butter made from their cows' milk.  S and Mandakini are talking about herbal medicine and Erin's astrology reading for S.  A new woman keeping a vow of silence has arrived, named L, and she's wearing a shirt that says Omega.  I tell her how my father was a sort of acquaintance of Stephan, the founder of Omega and how we used to attend retreats there when I was a kid.  We get up, and she hugs me, which is a surprise, and I hug her back tightly.  I give her some of my neem oil, and she silently says thank you.  I'm hoping it will rain soon.

**

Today,  I went out to sit and read Pilgrim by the steps to the path to the Ganga.  A band of monkeys came and hopped past me.  A and S were going to the River, so I followed them.  On the way, a herd of cows, apparently led by no one, were crossing the River…  probably twenty of them waded in and about halfway they would begin drifting, over their heads, diagonally toward the other side.

The current would carry them quite far, and then they each reached the bank and would begin walking again.

The river was rushing pretty fast, so we found a spot where it was calm, and some Indian guys about to go swimming pointed out a snake in the water.  I was scared, saying "Om Namha Shivaya", but crossed this little tributary behind S anyway.  We waded into another part of the river and it was incredibly refreshing.  A couple of young guys asked if we would take a picture with them, and I really didn't want to but feared it would be very rude to say no.  "One snap?" they said.

A. took a picture with them, and then it seemed to be our turn.  They waited an awfully long time for us.  I sat in the flow of the river, imagining what these guys would do with their picture of them standing between two white women in wet clinging clothes.  We very gently said we'd prefer not to.  Ok they said, and it was a relief.

S. decided to go back, and we followed her.

On the way, A told me a joke:  "There's a swami, and he goes to Rome to meet with the Pope in the Vatican.  They talk about God and spiritual matters.  'Dis gold phone  hotline for God?' 'Yes,' The Pope says.  'I talking God?' The Swami speaks with God for a minute, hangs up, very happy.  The Pope says, 'That'll be $3000.  We have to pay for the calls… it's long distance.'  Some years later, the Pope is in India and meets the Swami at his ashram.  The Pope sees the swami's phone, says, 'God call phone?' 'Yes.' He talks for 30, 40 minutes, and swami says, '20 pace.' The Pope says, 'Only 20 pace?'  The swami says, 'Local call.'"

The train to India (to Haridwar)

I’m on the last part of a six hour train ride from Old Delhi Station to Haridwar in Uttarakhand. Anjou and her son are in the berth across from me and Raj Kumar was in the berth above.  I boarded at 5 am and the train left at quarter of.  Booking my trip to India only a couple of weeks ago, I only just got around to checking for train tickets.  Hadn’t really decided where to go.

Imagine coming to the States with a ticket to New York and contemplating upon arrival if you’re going to hop a train to Baton Rouge or North Dakota, because, what the heck, it’s all an adventure, right?  So I booked a train for the last night, and got waitlisted.  Assuming I might not get off the waitlist, I booked this train for 5:50 am as well, but I didn’t go so far as to book a hotel, meaning I did the dumbest thing possible: flying into one of the most expensive and dubiously treacherous cities in India with no actual place to go upon arrival.

I just need to check the website to see if I should go to the train station an hour north of the airport to catch my train or if I should find a hotel for the train station an hour south of the airport where my morning train would depart from.  The tourist bureau in the airport has no actual suggestions of where I can get on the internet, I take a taxi to the hotel area, then to the tourist beaureau, then to a hotel.

I’m still waitlisted so I’ll take the morning train.  I slept from 3 am to 5 am before my flight, took a six hour flight and a twelve hour flight, on which I slept three more hours. Passed through 11 time zones, slept 4 hours at the hotel, and now it’s morning time again.  How does it keep being morning again with so little night?

My going-away dinner for my third trip to India was very casual.  I haven’t written pages and pages of intentions for my big journey.  There’s something very casual and very natural about coming back here.  People can tell it’s not my first time here.  I’m already back to speaking the broken English I have found to be highly understandable in communicating with people here.  I paid for the hotel with left over rupees from my last trip.  There was a minimal amount of nausea in the death-defying road race of Indian traffic.  I even forgot to pack toilet paper.  Part of me is afraid that it’s almost too natural, that the parts of me I’m hoping to leave behind have come along for the ride. Though I know it is delusion to thing that I left them behind the last time.  We come with who we are, wherever we are.  Sometimes it just feels a little more momentous.

The plane to India

I'm sitting inside a giant piece of metal and plastic hurdling through the sky to visit a distant and exotic land.  I hope the pilot has had more sleep than I have.  Times in my life have been more meditative.  I don't sit and meditate every morning these days.  Turbulence rattles the wings outside like a floppy plastic toy.   Flying on the big taxi to India is a 5 hour trip to Newark plus a 14 hour trip to Delhi.

I love how the wings are aligned with the horizon and the wing tip tones match the sky and the clouds.  The clouds above blend into the water below as if there is an active process of transition between aqueous and gaseous forms occurring.  We've just traversed some body of water I can only assume to be a great lake..  As if all lakes are not great, but anyway.

Gazing below at the patches of red, beige, and various shades of green, seams dotted with cars, the land shaped like the "crazy quilts" they make in fabric shops and display at quilt festivals.  These crazy quilt landscapes are more likely sewn by men.  Bedazzled with streetlights and swimming pools.  The trees and forests look like fluffy feltish material.  I want to know that moment when everything changed.  The tipping point.  The constructional pivot point at which there came to be more land cultivated or paved or bulldozed or housed than there was land with those fluffy tree things.

I imagine a unified effort throughout the country to radically change the way we buy products.  A partnership between the community and the company, whereby both parties step up to the challenge of sustainable living.  A growing awareness that all life is really one life.

Trapsing: Oxford, London, Bombay…

Dear Lovies: (as they say in England)
The last ten days have been a whirlwind. As I type, roosters a cockadoodledoo-ing at 1:30 am. Wild dogs, doing the same. I don't know if their internal clock is off, or there is some weird Indian breed of rooster who crows when the sun is down instead of up… Everything else is "backwards" here, so why not add farm animals to the list.
I arrived in Oxford, via Heathrow ten days ago and stayed with my friends Christina and Brian, of new baby fame. Their six-week old bundle of joy is named Jasper, and we shot the shit (metaphorically and literally) all week. We all laughed and played and I learned that much of the external Harry Potter scenes were filmed right in Oxford. Which is why I kept expecting to see the students pull magic wands out of their matriculation robes and say something Latin-sounding, and no, not the salsa kind of Latin.
Visited Avebury, an energy center similar to Stonehenge, but way quieter and way cooler. Went to a local sustainability conference and festival. Ate amazing beef lasagna (even though I don't do that.) Roasted a chicken for the first time.
In London, I hung out with friends I met last year at Sivananda ashram in India. I went on a date with a cute Irish guy (whom I'd met on the plane when I was coming home from Costa Rica.) Navigated the Tube, ate apple cinnamon cake with clotted cream.
Did TWO comedy shows in London–thanks to my friend Paul, who I met in India. One was at a pub in the theatre district, one was with some really good comics in East Dullich (sp?) ALso had a drink at the famous Ivy Room (though I didn't spot any celebs) with a theatre producer before flying out to Bombay in the morning.
Last night I flew into Bombay at 12:30 am. Negotiated several hours of immigration lines, security checks, swine flu checks, and then night time in the city that's never sleepy–my taxi driver didn't know where Thane was–or speak English–or have a mobile phone–so every few minutes we'd stop and ask some more rickshaw drivers where Thane, Balkum, and Runwal Garden City are. I was about to give up and look for a hotel instead of trying to get to my friend Sam's house when a guy on a motorcycle led the way and we finally arrived, sans cell.
The most amazing thing here has been not having a cell phone for the last ten days, and having sporadic email access. It's so freaking liberating. Of course I'm aware of how much I use my iPhone. Every four minutes, I check something. What to do without all the checking? Without Googling something when it comes up and I don't know the "answer". Just something to chew on… I'm hoping that when I return, and set up a new place to live, I'll create a new structure for my life, with my new home as my alter, and my iPhone as my bitch. And not the other way around. \
Oh, BTW, I just did "Eat, Pray, Laugh!" in Bombay tonight with my fellow comic Sam Koletkar at the Jewish Community Center here in India, and we rocked it! What awesome fun! All the bits I was scared they'd be offended by were the ones they laughed the hardest at! (Pics to follow–it's hard to upload on vacation.)
Namaste,
Alicia
P. S. Want to get my updates and info by email? Send me your address… I'll put you on my list!

Hey 2009, You’re Looking Mighty Fine…

Dear Fellow Humans from the year 2009,

As 2008 passes like a gall stone, I'm laid up for the first day of the new year, high on early episodes of The West Wing and the belief that the inauguration of our new president will rescue this country from free-fall. It's been an endlessly interesting year for us all. Electing our first black president, losing 40% of the capital in the stock market, seeing Tina Fey look so much like Sarah Palin, I can't tell who's who.

Personally, I've had an interesting year as well. It began with a ten-day silent meditation course in India. You all followed my travels throughout India, Thailand, and Cambodia for three months starting last February. I gathered parts and memories of myself scattered in many lifetimes during that trip. 

I also joined a year-long training course for life coaching and workshop leading in August, and began coaching people in creativity and spontaneity. After doing standup, working and playing with others to break through to what is most true for them is my favorite thing to do. And after almost two months of work on my solo show, "The Punchline," I played to sold out houses at the Fringe Festival. It was an honor to win Best Female Solo at the Festival and be selected for the Solo Show Festival in Marin in February (the 24th.)

I'm sending out this new year's wish to you because I want to reach out and connect with you. I've been very affected by the intensity and fear of the world's events–the end of easy oil, the reluctance of auto companies to completely re-invent themselves in order to protect the environment, the blindness and greed of the mortgage industry, and the sense of scarcity the downturn in the economy has had on us. And the message I want to convey is that it's time to open our eyes to what's really happening in the world. And to take a stand. To speak what we believe, and to align our actions with our values and our words. But I also want to say that there is so much more to life than the what's in the news. Our own thoughts and actions are what truly build the fabric of reality, moment by moment. And together, we have the power to focus our thoughts to send an asteroid crashing into Bernard Madoff's living room. (But read some of my beloved Krishnamurti and you'll realize we are all Bernard Madoff.) 

So stay tuned for info about my gigs, laughter yoga classes, and workshops in the coming year. I'll be premiering the full version of Eat Pray Laugh! at some point, and I'm also putting together a down and dirty old-school standup set for the clubs.

To 2009, may all beings be happy.

-Alicia

http://www.aliciadattner.com
http://www.creativeheartcoaching.com
http://www.monkpunk.org
http://www.examiner.com/x-453-SF-Comedy-Examiner
http://www.youtube.com/AliciaDattner

Thank God Obama Won (so I can get back to worrying about myself)

You caught me with my morals down.  I'm another relieved armchair liberal.  Yes, I'm going to keep buying organic produce, turning off the faucet when my boyfriend leaves it on for no reason, and only recycling paper bags by putting bottles and paper in them to transfer them to the recycling bin.  And I'm breathing a sigh of relief that maybe the next four years won't be as terrifying as the last eight have been.  Did you read the salon.com article about how the Gen-X'ers are sorry for hating on the Boomers?  It was great.  And, yes, I do feel a swell of hope–hope that Barack will lead us, unite us, bring understanding and dialogue within the country as well as around the world.
I have hope that the crumbling of financial institutions lead to the kind of dissillusionment that real truth and real care for the land and people we need.  I have hope that the rise in oil prices will finally spark the development of alternative energy sources–that someday soon, they won't be "alternative" sources–that solar and wind power will be the plain-old, everyday way we power up (kind of like when alternative music became mainstream and everybody in tenth grade, even the jocks, were listening to the cure and pearl jam and dying their hair black and this turned high school upside down.)  I want to turn high school upside down.