Saturday, January 2, 2010

CC: The Blog Continues

If you haven't noticed, it's been a long time.
Here I am in Wellington already, and I've left you all stranded back in Jammu half a year ago.
The latest? *Spoiler Alert* I'm still alive. *Spoiler Alert*
The hobbit doc? Unlikely. I think that Andy was a lot closer to the mark then we expected him to be.
Becoming an elf: Still on. I may even have some new companions joining me.
The blog: We're going to Kashmir! I'm picking up where I left off half a year ago to take us all the way up to the present moment. I'm gonna be publishing on my personal blog now though since it's not strictly documentary related.
So if you're still up to come along for the ride, divert your attentions to:

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

CC: Jammu

“Oh yeah, I am still in India.”

When you’ve been sitting in a backpacker town like McLeod for a month and have find yourself repeating the above statement more than a couple of times a week, you’ve come across a fairly good sign that it’s time to move on – if only for a short expedition.

And what better way to seek out a bit of adventure than a trip through Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh! The minute I stepped off the bus after my seven hour trip to Jammu every single thing that I saw seemed to scream out at me “Yeah, you better believe you’re still in India.” Not a single white person in sight for the next two days. There’s not even a map of the city in my Lonely Planet book so I have no idea where I am or where to go. Perfect!

After escaping my rickshaw driver’s attempt to stick me in an overpriced hotel, I leave my bags in a more reasonably priced place and head out onto the street. I’ve only got one afternoon here, and I’m gonna make it count.

A policeman on the street who can’t seem to believe his luck at meeting a Westerner fills me in on how to get to the station tomorrow morning and recommends the best spot to eat in the market (later that night I was able to confirm him to be a man of discerning taste). I then spend the next couple hours wandering through the endless sea of stalls and shops selling everything from the coolest imitation Western fashions to air conditioning units, to new sets of teeth.

The most ridiculous street stall in India!

On my way down, I notice a small looking entrance to what looks to be a temple, but I decide to pass it by since I’ve already been to too many Hindu temples to count, this one doesn’t seem anything special, and you have to leave all bags and cameras in a store room – Jammu gets more than it’s fair share of terrorist attacks from Kashmiri separatists and radicals from Pakistan.

As I passed by the second time on the way home, something made me slow down for a second though. I recalled reading Paulo Coelho’s list of advice for a meaningful travel experience. Number 9: A journey is an adventure. It’s far better to discover a church that no one’s heard of than to go to Rome and feel obliged to see the Sistine Chapel surrounded by two hundred tourists.

Alright, let’s give it a try. This is the self proclaimed city of temples after all. And what ever happened to my decision to have one excellent night in Jammu? I step through the dingy entryway into a small room and walk through a door in the back corner. It feels like I’ve just walked through the wardrobe door into Narnia!

I’m standing in a courtyard the size of an entire massive city block. It’s surrounded by outward facing shops along the perimeter which protect it from the view of passers by on the street. The spires of the temple are covered in coloured lights and the moon hangs in the sky right over the central courtyard. The courtyard is full of Indian pilgrims sitting under the trees and wandering from room to room, but it’s nowhere near as busy or frantic as any other temple I’ve seen.

Dimly lit rooms with mysterious statues of strange gods performing unintelligible feats and walls painted with mystical symbols. Strange rituals performed with peacock feathers, lingams, necklaces of flowers, and other things I can’t quite understand. Walking around the temple between alcoves, each dedicated to and containing statues and images of a different god, a sense of mystery and adventure surrounds each new discovery.

An hour later, I walk out of the temple complex, necklaces of flowers around my neck, marks on my forehead, and no idea where I’d been (no map after all), what it was called, and without a single photo. It sunk away back into the night as I walked away for dinner - as mysterious and unexplained as ever and without any idea of where I’d been. Talk about romantic!

Thank you Paulo Coelho! The rest of you tourists can keep your Taj Mahal, I’ll take my unheard of inner city temple complex any day!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

CC: May 2009 Revelations

Sometimes we experience moments so powerful, so real, so intense that our hearts feel like they’re going to overflow.

Immediately we start grasping. How can I explain what I’m feeling?

But the more we try to describe it, pin it down, examine it, the more it eludes us. The clutter of words that we surround it with seems clumsy, painfully inadequate. It only pushes us further away from the experience.

The only way we can do it justice is with silence.

Some things are meant to be known, not understood.

Shown, but not explained.

The most important thing you can learn to do is stop thinking.

Breathing meditation:

Inhale the world.

Exhale yourself.

What is he rambling about this time?


Since I’ve just published five entries all in one go, I’ll save the rest of my entries about sime more of my experiences in McLeod until I return from my adventures in Ladakh.

CC: On a More Practical Level

There are eight of us standing in a room with four beds. The walls are covered in pictures of the human body, yoga charts, and cryptic drawings with notes scrawled on the side. I notice a banner of the blue Medicine Buddha next to me (my time at Tushita paid off after all!). It looks as though there’s a pair of girls and another couple who have come together. That leaves three of us guys and one other girl.

Ten minutes later as I’m lying half naked on one of the beds watching one of my fellow male participants rub oil on another hairy man’s chest, I say a silent prayer of gratitude to the massage lesson gods. There’s a Texas (massage?) oilman looking out for me somewhere (Sorry, inside joke. If you read our Ryersonian article…)

After learning some very simple, relaxing massage techniques and practicing them on our partners we move on to a few more dubious sounding parts of the traditional Tibetan massage. We’re taught to locate our partner’s top four chakras and instructed to just touch a finger to them without pressing at all and just hold it there for 3 sets of20 seconds.

Alright, now the bullshit hits the fan, I think to myself. A minute later our teacher is over at our table showing how it works on me. “You have asthma” he tells me from touching my lung chakra. “You’re gonna wanna hold your finger here for about a minute every day and it will start to get better in a couple weeks.”

Ok, so maybe there is more to this than ancient superstition. As a number of other techniques that hardly even involve touching the body start producing their advertised effects I’m already starting to doubt whether Western medicine is everything it’s cracked up to be. And so nice to spend the time involved in a practical hands on practice after a week and a half of abstract Buddhist philosophy.

So if any of you want to sample a bit of Tibetan massage from someone who’s spent ten days getting fully (alright, barely) certified in the practice be sure to pull me aside for a couple hours next time you see me.

Diploma and Everything - I must be good!

And the Verdict Is…

Alright, I know a few of you have been asking what I made of my time at Tushita at a whole. Difficult question to answer. One night after chanting mantras in the gompa, I felt such a wonderful body of energy hanging in the room that I couldn’t bring myself to leave for half an hour after it ended. Another day I felt as though I was being brainwashed, and rebelled against the experience with every fiber of my being. In short, I found much of it amazing, and much entirely distasteful. Everything that you need for an intensely meaningful experience. I may not have learned from it exactly and exclusively what they meant to teach me, but learn from it I did.

It planted the seeds of a lot of interesting ideas in my head and helped strengthen my belief in some concepts I’d been playing around with a while. I was surprised to find that lots of it is remarkably similar to Christianity – it share many of the best and the worst characteristics, and there’s a surprising number of overlapping ideas. As a zen master might say - different fingers, same moon...

I'm pretty sure I'm living in the thunderstorm capital of India. Every three days! Too gorgeous.

CC: Zen and the Art of Falling Out of Your Upper Bunk

One morning I woke up in midair.


I painfully climbed into an empty lower bunk, apologizing to everyone I’d woken in the dorm, and tried to sleep it off.

Several hours of limping through the next day later, I suddenly remembered something I’d seen the previous night.

After our last meditation session of the night, I’d continued to sit outside on the steps to the gompa, staring at the full moon rising above the trees and taking in the scene before me. Below, someone was circumambulating the stupa not far away, immersed in a walking meditation. Every step he took radiated confidence, mindfulness, grace. There was such intensity and purpose in every movement that it was as captivating as the moon hanging in the air above.

Lama Yeshe's Stupa

Before going to bed I had walked around a couple of times myself but always felt clumsy and awkward in the process. I couldn’t sink my attention into my steps to the extent that I wanted to and my unconscious impatience with the task disrupted the rhythm of my movement. I felt like a bumbling idiot.

The next afternoon as I limped with every step while trying to walk at a normal pace, I felt the previous night’s clumsiness amplified to a comic level. Very funny. After a while I gave up and slowed down to a snail’s pace. And I noticed something. If I took small, slow steps, I could walk perfectly normally without any pain. Even though it was much slower and probably much less efficient, I immediately started to felt better about myself. I set my pace several notches slower.

Everytime I got restless and started to speed up, or ceased to be mindful and removed my attention from each step that I was taking, the pain in the hip that I’d landed on last night was quick to bring my attention immediately back to what I was doing. Inattention was no longer an option.

Before the day was through I found myself fully absorbed in every step that I took; giving my utmost attention to every shift in weight, bend of the foot, and change in rhythm that I experienced. As I walked around the stupa that night – intensely mindful and with a fluidity and grace that was entirely absent the day before, it all suddenly became clear to me. Life really has a funny way of teaching you what you need to learn sometimes.

All the same, I think might stick to the lower bunk in the future.

Add ‘walking with an elven grace’ to the CV…