The Bali Glow, The Bay Hustle, and The Feminine Mystique

I just landed back in California after spending two months in Bali, Indonesia. Before the Bali Glow fades back into the Bay Hustle… I want to share a collection of experiences, musings, and evolutions from my time in Bali…

Yet so much of what I would share is hard to put into words. Sometimes so subtle it’s not even speakable, still living inside the mystery, yet to emerge. As if we have to venture into the cave to even hear the music, and when we return, we only remember the resonance… in attempting to describe this mystery, there is a danger of sounding like a riddle, wrapped in a cliché, and whispered into a conch shell, echoing an ocean I’ve never swum in. The danger of bad poetry. The danger of North Dakota beatboxing. The danger of putting into words what would be better expressed in a throaty sigh or a caress or a laugh as I toss my head back, not knowing you’re there, but you just happen to catch a self-reflexive chortle as I find my way to the pool for a morning dip.

I should back up. I’m a comedian. (I was in Bali to lead a storytelling workshop and work on my TV pilot and do a little standup.) And I’m sort of a speed freak. As in, I’m habituated to going fast, staying up late, monkey mind multitasking. I leaned from the best. My country, my city, my family. We can do six things at a time; we can think, worry, strategize, solve, and plan with brilliant intellect. In many ways, it’s gotten me where I am today. But it just seems like it’s not going to take me too much further. I think it’s mostly cultural habit, but also, someone once told me I’ve been a man more often than I’ve been a woman in my past lives. If there is reincarnation, I think probably that’s true.

So I had been a number of times to India to do some deep spiritual dives. For the adventure of seeking out new peoples and meditating with them. To burn karma in the fires of Arunachala, to dissolve identity in the pyres on the ghats, to ride trains and buses and tuk tuks into the night and come out alive in the morning. There was always a moment in India where I got overwhelmed by the penetrating presence of, let’s say, Shiva, and I would just, well, find that there’s a lot more Kali in me than I knew. That’s another story all together.

So in the past few years, I’ve been exploring the feminine riddle. What is this thing so many of us women are pretending to be, with our hair extensions and our eyelash medication and our practiced high heel catwalk? What the watery f*** is it? What am I? I don’t know! I wonder if the feminine is about being the question of the mystery itself? The mystical watery womb, grounded in sensorial intuition. What better place to experience that than an island? This entire island is a celebration of the feminine, with its coconuts and its temples and even its weaving traffic.

In particular, Ubud is a magical place. On a planet focused daily on better faster stronger higher more, Ubud is an oasis of nourishment, swinging slower deeper earthier wider gentler lovelier than most other places I’ve been, honoring and welcoming all of my parts. As if it’s a vortex, rotated energetically just a few degrees from the rest of the world. From the 6 am raves at the new vegan joint, where you can order a drink called “cacao ceremony” to the liquid contact — a contact improv dance jam in a swimming pool (filled with water), to the myriad of massage possibilities from sunrise to sundown, Ubud is a like a viscous fluid that can enter through the membrane of your being to nourish your body and soul.

And this nourishment comes in the form of presence. Slooooowwwwwing doooooowwwwwnnnn is a radical act of rebellion in this era. Stretching out the moment. Stretching out the awareness. Stretching out our capacity for sensation. Slow food. Slow touch. Slow sex. Slow breath. Slow talk. Slow scooters even. Speeding DOWN to the pace of experience. Tapping in even more to wisdom of the body, waking up when the roosters crow at dawn. And in fact, slow is not unfunny. Some of the greatest pregnant pauses have yielded the biggest belly laughs I’ve seen.

Nourishment comes in many forms, and some of it comes in the wealth gap waltz we do as post-colonial digital nomads. Sociopolitically and economically it’s complicated, but I still find it valuable and beautiful that you can get an amazing massage, go to yoga, go to the spa, and drink fresh organic green juice all in one day (not that I did) for less than the price of a fancy meal in the US. In fact, things seem to be cheap enough here that I start to think, “I could totally afford to have a baby here. Maybe that’s what I’ll do.” But money is another story too.

I want to get back to the land, and its people. And what they make possible. I’m pretty sure I’ve got the history right here… When the Mughals invaded India, around a thousand years ago, the king of India and the royal court fled. They landed in Bali, and set up shop for several hundred years, spreading to this far-away land into a Hindu culture, which mixed with their local spirituality to create a heady mix of devotion and magic. It also set a precedent to pay artists to make art for a living, so they have a thousand years of professional musicians, dancers, fabric painters, basket weavers, wood carvers, kechak monkey chanters, and more. What’s not to love about that? And of course the yoga that’s so popular in Bali now wasn’t imported til recently, but I think it fits quite well with the Hindu influences from so long ago.

But so also the Balinese people spend a significant portion of their day — and their income — making temple offerings of flowers, incense, rice, candy… all with blessings, and too there’s singing, dancing, playing the gamelan in the temple. They have one holy day to bless the metal! The cars and motorbikes on that day are blessed with offerings too. There are festivals every week or two for their local temple or a god and of course there’s the day of silence on the new year — Nyepi — during which the entire island turns off the internet. All of this makes for a very alive, very intentional approach to life, that sets the stage for the harmony, simplicity, and joy, and *constant synchronicity* for awakening and growth, often intense, but almost always shepherded along with someone’s open arms to hold you through the pangs. A gentle path.

And as the stage is set, more players arrive. The yogis, the tantrikas, the nomads, the bliss bunnies, the empty nesters, and of course the tourists. But most importantly, the devas. Ubud’s feminine soul attracts a very particular kind of woman, who, once arrived, becomes even more so. She is deep, she is gorgeous, she is youthful, no matter what age she is. She radiates sensuality and joy. She feels everything, and she lets it move through her. She takes exquisite care of herself, inside and out. She is a mistress of self-care and self-love. She moves, she stretches, she breathes, she loves. And, on an off-day, she compares.

See, there are so many other brightly lit-from-within devas, and also so few dudes (they’re all surfing in Canggu) that it can sometimes feel a little top-heavy… a little… overflowing with one side of the polarity. It would be surprising if a gal didn’t once in a while start to wonder if there would be enough men to go around. But wait wait, back to that pleasure and abundance. It’s fine. It’s great. There’s so much to go around. I’m in my body. I’m enjoying. I’m overflowing. Wait, allow everything. Accept everything. Welcome everything. Let it wash over you. Don’t be an ad for a juicy woman, just enjoy your own juice. Come froth inside out, not the outside in. Hey, that’s a nice feather jacket. God she’s gorgeous. Is that Botox? Is she seriously that frigging happy and relaxed? I think I need one of those feather jackets. I mean, if it’s in flow. What’s your flow? God, I love that Aussie accent he’s got goin’ on there. Oh, hey, I’m on my way to Ecstatic, you want me to order you a wheatgrass? Ok, I digress…

The feminine. The full range of feminine, from the softness inside men, to the incisive power of Kali, the feminine — my feminine — unfurls most easily when I feel safe. And I can’t think of many places on earth I’ve felt safer as a woman. I know bad things can happen anywhere to anyone, but the visceral experience of not fearing the world and not fearing men and not being on guard, plus the heat which caused me to wear lighter, flowier clothes, dresses almost every day, gave me this sense of joy and freedom that is hard to put a price on. Priceless, but worth so much. And in some way, there was a shedding of the shame of having a body, having a female body, having a female body that experiences pleasure. That shame so pervasive in the US that we don’t even realize how deeply it’s embedded.

There’s another kind of freedom. Riding a scooter I have to pay full attention, because I don’t know what I’m doing. And I’m doing it on the left side of the road. I’m praying constantly in my life anyway, but especially when I get on the scooter and while I ride, I make prayers, I chant, I surround myself with protection, light, grounding. Which handle is for the gas? Which handle is for the break? You have to turn your turn signal off after you turn, because it doesn’t go off automatically. There are almost no traffic lights new good so you pretty much decide when it seems good to stop, go, turn etc. And the bike is pretty heavy. You don’t want a scooter to fall over or veer off of some aqueduct 20 feet below into the rice fields. Just staying on the thing and balanced and managing to make a turn is a feat I celebrate. A feat of freedom. People are riding with you, riding up from behind you, turning in front of you. But no one gets pissed if you do something wrong, or you’re slow, but you could still die. All of that is to say it’s an experience of paying full attention, especially when learning. Also, scooters don’t have radios. So you’re not listening to music or NPR. You’re just there. With the other humans, and the dogs, and the scooters, and the cars. I only ride with my helmet off once. And it’s glorious. Like unprotected sex. So bad, but so gooooooooood. I digress again.

So many moments nourished my soul there, and I have so many dear people and pets and plants to thank (like flowers and vegetables, I mean) for the ways I was nourished. I’m growing in my understanding of the feminine mystery (ha, the irony!)

And it would be an error to not acknowledge in particular, the sacred sisterhood of my dear friend Robyn, whose priestess-ing is ministered through pleasure and care, whose skills and powers, seen and unseen, of caring, grounding, standing in and for the feminine, while deeply cherishing the masculine, in her (sometimes) quiet way witnesses and celebrates eros, from the inside out (not the outside in), without whom my experience of Bali (and your experience of this missive) would not have been as lovely or real.

There’s so much more I could share about… the writing time with Matthew, the stream of awakening men, the water temples of purification, the foot massages, the exquisite food, the amazing yoga clothes I bought, the temple parties, the smell of burning rice fields, the bathrooms with koi ponds, the mosquitos, the constant synchronicity, and also the shady underbelly of a paradise overrun with tourists and trash, and finally plenty of my own tsurus, which I won’t go into here…

And of course it was hard to come back to the states, but wherever you go, there you are, and it came time for there’s here to become here’s there again. And here I am, back in Oakland, landing, breathing, and feeling. And hopefully joking too, just to keep it interesting.

Lost Passport in Bali, Blow-By-Blow

I cry a few times at the airport checkout counter after learning, I absolutely can’t fly out of Indonesia without the passport. The woman says it’s ok, and soon I will be strong again soon. Ha.

It’s embarrassing to cry in public, but people are so polite here, no one indicates they even notice. My poor porter walking alongside me while I bawl, wheeling my bags… LET’S REWIND…

6:50 am Alarm goes off on my phone, playing Cat Stevens (Ready to Love, Yeah!). Shower and eat the rest of last night’s vegan tiramisu from Seeds of Life. Skype with my client on her big presentation for an hour.

8:21 am Luxuriate in my last moments of Bali’s rice expansive fields, listen to the coy make bubbles in the pond, and just enjoy life.

9:33 am Say da da (goodbye in Balinese) to ‘Yan and ‘Tut (our helper ladies) Emma (dog) and finish packing the pile of 4-way stretch braided yoga tops I bought.

10:10 am Gede, the driver (who has a crush on me) helps cart my giant suitcase downstairs and loads all my luggage into his car.

10:13 am Ride my scooter into town, with Gede following, buy those adorable Havainas I’ve been eyeing (flip flops), get a cheese quiche from Bali Buda, get more moolah at the ATM. (Awesome Tree of Money)

10:28 am Just as I’m riding up to the scooter rental place, the woman is riding off with three daughters on her bike. She spots me, turns around, and I’m able to return the scooter!

10:32 am My phone isn’t working, so I can’t contact and find Gede, my stuff, etc. Somehow manage to find him on the street.

11:09 am Finally communicate to Gede I need to find WiFi cafe on Hanuman so I can contact Oystein, the friend I’m meeting at the beach. Gede is video chatting and driving sloooooooooowly, shooting his camera at me – to show his video buddy who he’s with. Feel objectified (and a little flattered.)

12:43 pm Wade through traffic, finally arrive at Kuta beach, with about 30 minutes of actual beach time possible before turning back around to the airport. Gede insists on driving a 15-minute walk past my meeting point at the beach, walking to the beach with me, and taking pics of me in the bikini. I get 10 minutes with Oystein before he leaves for the airport. Drink half a Bintang sitting in the waves, walk back with Gede.

2:23 pm Freak out at how late we are for my 4:15 flight. I realize I don’t know where my passport is exactly. I climb in the back seat and tear my suitcase apart. My computer case too. No luck. I climb in the very back, sit on the floor of the trunk, and rip apart my big suitcase. Nada.

2:43 pm Arrive at DPS International.

2:44 pm Cry.

2:55 pm Ticketing sends me to EVA customer service on the second floor. No carts allowed on the elevator, and the escalator is broken, so we walk back and forth across the airport til we finally ditch the cart and make it downstairs.

EVA customer service says it’s $400 extra to fly out tomorrow, $200 to fly Saturday. They kindly offered me tissues and water when I cried again.

3:15 pm I text Robyn the news, and she is ON IT, searching for my passport at home, doing consulate research, and reminding me to breathe and seriously chill, “Guess Mama Bali doesn’t want you to leave yet!” Robyn turns the house upside down and doesn’t find the passport. I can just see it in my head – it’s in a thin black fanny pack.

I pull all my stuff out of my suitcase to look for the passport again. The zipper breaks more. I punch myself in the face trying to pull things out of the suitcase which were now stuck halfway in and halfway out.

3:40 pm EVA kindly calls the US Embassy which closes soon – turns out, if you want a replacement in Denpasar Bali it takes NINE DAYS to process!

Possible though, if I fly to Surabaya. (Where? Oh, Java. Where do I know that name? Oh, the terrorist bombings last week in Indonesia.) I can get it same day. (My next workshop starts in 4 days in Oakland, so I have to get back.)

3:49 pm I realize my porter has been sitting in the EVA office for half an hour while I cry and text Robyn, so I pay him and let him go.

4:02 pm The helpful ladies at EVA tell me to go to the police station in the domestic terminal, and remind me it’s closing soon. I wheel my own luggage past the cars awkwardly along the road and found the police station, file the report. Commanding officer asks if I’m a teacher, because I enunciate well. I say yes, which I then have to put on the form as my occupation so I’m not lying. I use the men’s toilet because there are no women’s toilets in the police station.

4:34 pm I go to the SIM card phone store and find out the reason my phone stopped working this morning is because after 2 months you have to register the phone number with your *passport*. Ha! I keep asking and finally the Telkomsel guy tells me to buy a SIM card from the other phone company.

4:44 pm I buy a new SIM card and yay! My phone is working!! Called and emailed the US embassy. Robyn helps more.

4:55 pm I get a decaf iced latte at Starbucks with whipped cream, sit, and research the US embassy.

5:03 pm You need 5 passport photos (no glasses, white background), the police report, ID, several documents, and an appointment, to get a replacement. $145 US. Robyn wonders if they’re closed for Ramadan, and if I just book a flight to Surabaya show up on the doorsteps with no appointment, will I even get in?? It does seem risky. They’re already closed for the day. If I don’t get in tomorrow, they’re closed all weekend and I have to wait til Monday.

5:22 pm I find the number to call but it’s wrong, and after a lot of help from the guy who holds the door for people coming in and out of Starbucks I get a human. Human transfers me to the consulate. Yay! But it’s a dead line. I call again, and he says he’ll speak to the consulate and ask on my behalf, but then he hangs up on me. But he does tell me they’re open tomorrow! Yay!

5:25 pm Meanwhile the email I sent them goes through, and yay I have an appointment in the morning at the US Consulate!

5:26 pm I feel a creeping sense of schmaltzy, effusive patriotism rising in my fourth chakra.

5:55 pm I drag my giant luggage(s) with my new white hipster yogi hoodie hanging out (broken zipper) to the Garuda ticket counter and buy a ticket for a couple hours from now to Surabaya. God is great, and also Visa is pretty cool.

8 million guys keep asking if I need a taxi. Where are you going? To the airport! I say. Taxi? No, thank you! Unless you want to drive me 10 meters! They laugh.

6:11 pm I get to the luggage storage place. Yay! I don’t have to drag all the braided tribal yoga pants I bought to Java! It says ‘no live animals allowed’ in luggage storage. I say, I have 5 cats and 3 dogs I want to store overnight. It takes the guy a while, even though I’m over-enunciating. He finally gets it and laughs. A moment of joy! I sort through my luggage and pack even less in a smaller backpack, and I feel like George Carlin in his Stuff routine, keeping piles of shit all over the world. I store the laptop too.

6:22 pm I go into the airport. I have to get a boarding pass even though I just got a ticket at the counter. Robyn says take the laptop. The guy doesn’t let me walk back outside 20 feet away to go get the laptop, I have to go all the way around to exit. Taxi? Taxi? No taxi, only going to airport.

6:55 pm Go through security, pass perfumes at duty free stores, find the gate, chat with off-duty pilots from Italy and France about… Trump. I just need a little European contact. Board the plane. Lots of empty seats, but there’s a guy next to me. Boo. I move to be in my own row, but the airline guy says I can’t sit in that seat. I move to a different row and he doesn’t stop me. Yay!

7:35 pm The engine is strangely loud. Boo. Flight attendant says it’s normal. Yay! We get Ramadan snacks on board. Yay! It’s a dinner roll and a bottle of water. Boo.

I had booked a fancy hotel for my overnight layover in Taipei for tonight. Non-refundable. Boo. Robyn puts in a request for a refund – so sweet of her. Yay!

8:14 pm I land in Surabaya, and put on yoga pants under my dress and a sweatshirt to cover my bare skin after an hour at the beach. It’s different in Java.

8:21 pm The taxi driver smiles and laughs when I ask him if he knows the address of my hotel! Hahaha. I’m popping Rescue Remedy like it’s Valium.

8:49 pm A rainbow striped hat falls off a baby on a scooter. Another scooter driver rides alongside them, motioning to the head, but it fell away long ago. (Sidenote: a rainbow appeared at SFO when I flew to Bali.)

9:05 pm Book the hotel online while in the taxi. Arrive at Novotel. They sweep under our car for security. (Yay!) of course they want to see my passport… I catch the dessert train just before it pulls out of the station. I’m printing official documents for the US Consulate. Prayers from the mosque filter in through the glass doors of the hotel. They tell me here the photo place will probably open late because it’s Ramadan… The hotel staff here are all fasting during the day, and we joke about me getting up at 3 am to eat with them, before they have to start fasting at 4 am. I say we have this in the States too – it’s called intermittent fasting. Anyway, please let me have a long hot shower. I don’t want to conserve water tonight. I’m sorry. I do on all the other days.

10:24 pm I ride back up to the 17th floor to fill out passport paperwork and plug in my phone. I open my computer case, which I’ve already searched six times today… and… (see the video below).

11:11 pm I head down from the 17th floor to give a donation for the “give a kid a tree” charity, in honor of the good fortune, and to share the good news with my new friends at the concierge desk.

Post script… had Robyn not told me to go (back) and get the laptop from luggage storage in Denpasar, I would still be heading to the consulate in the morning!

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!

bombay to kerala… om!

hari om… so… we last left our heroine in bombay… (that sounds so strange to say–like we stashed our smack in an alley in india) she was just finishing a performance of her new comedy show "eat, pray, laugh" along with her comedian friend samson at the jewish community center. she–ok, i–was worried that the indian jews wouldn't really enjoy or understand the racier bits of my indian travel tales… 

but it turns out that those were the parts they enjoy the most. i capture most of the show on my awesome canon elph camera, which i then leave in a rickshaw the next day, along with all the other photos i took in england of jasper and i. jasper is six weeks old and adorable.
letting go
i am sad for a couple of days about losing the photos. and the camera too. it served me well on my last trip to india. so now i am learning lesson number 8,341 on letting go. but like i'm actually getting it. i mourned the loss, and then i got that, hey, this shit is all temporary. and it's a great addition to my losses. meaning, now i don't have a laptop, a cell phone, or a camera to distract me from what's right in front of my nose. 

nothing exists but here and now. and what i'm seeing in the here and now with my eyes is also marginal on the reality scale.
whispering woods
co-incidence of strange co-incidences, the method acting teacher i studied with for four years, who has never been to india, is in bombay the exact same week that i'm here. i visit him at the film school where he's teaching and sit in on a couple of classes. the studio is called whispering woods, and it's like the canyon in LA. lush, green, undeveloped. i even get to do a deathbed scene while a kind of famous (so i'm told) actor is in the class. talked with some of the other professors there and the head of the film school and might get to teach a class on standup the next time i'm in the hood. 

anandashram

i remember sam and his sister alice dropping me off at the train station, but i don't remember anything about the ride. all i know is that it was overnight and i arrived in khanangad as the sun was coming up. one of my kirtan heroes, krishna das, told me after a concert that there's a place in india where they chant "om sri ram jai ram jai jai ram" continuously. an ashram called anandashram. so that's where i'm going. i arrive and somehow i'm not in the guest book, but they let me stay anyway–give me a private room and everything. and it's a very special time to be there because a saint from tamil nadu (a state in india) is visiting for several days named thuli baba. i've never heard of him until now, but it's very exciting. after each meal, i have the opportunity to have satsang and prasad with his group of devotees. the skinniest, frailest, loudest cat i've ever seen curls up next to thuli baba every day. they tell me that the cat was a guru in the last life and is working out some heavy karma for the world by coming back as this cat and not eating.
sun and moon
friends of my friend haridas bring me to the ocean to see the sunset and the full moon rise on the opposite side of the earth. i climb the mountain behind the ashram and leave all my worries there hanging in a tree. 

letting go for the 8,342nd time. you know what they say… "8,342nd time's a charm!" the next day (or the day before… who knows!) my german friend sandra and i are walking back from a beautiful little temple in a field and we pass the cows' maternity ward. on the ground is a five-minute old calf being licked by its mother. they milk the mamma cow and i peer into the giant milk pail of colostrum saying, "whoa." "you like?" the guy says. 

the next morning they knock on my door with some cake for me made from coconut milk, sugar, and this thick cow colostrum–let me tell you–i have never eaten anything more rich. plus, when i was trying to "om" it started coming out as "moo" that day.
i joke!
i'm getting daily two-hour massages from these two young women with medicinal hot oil. after five days, it actually gets to be kind of boring! they don't speak much english, so i'm cracking them up with my mime humor for two hour straight. "cheery" means smile in malayalam. and "tamasha" means joke. (these words strangely come in handy later when i'm being harassed at the train station.) 

"ichally" means ticklish and "idally" is a kind of breakfast rice dumpling. and they kind of rhyme so i'm just saying "ichally, idally, ichally, idally…" there's nothing funnier than jokes between people who don't speak the same language. i'm joking with gestures about how the oil they're using smells like cooking oil and that i'm afraid all this basting means they're going to cook me for dinner… and on and on…… stuff that's way funnier without words.
i know by ths time in my trip that i'll be spending more time in india in this life. it calls. 

i hope your day of giving thanks was full of grace. i have returned from my time in india and i'm back in the bay, so blessed in so many ways. have a gander at the next installment of my adventures below… more to come about Tiruvanamalai in my next note.. 

In the meantime, I invite you to join Suzette Hibble, Erin Brandt and I, for the next Creativity, Sexuality, and Spirituality Workshop! Please register for the December 10th workshop event with me if you're interested–soon–it is filling up–only a few spots left!
Namaste,
Alicia

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

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