The Pilgrimage Part Three


March 12th 2012

Tarapith has been an exercise in surrender, bladder control and chocolate biscuits.

I had visions of me writing daily reports, recording the minutia of the experience…but in truth after 11 straight hours meditating in the hot sun on a cremation ground I have barely the power left to think, let alone write….

As we walked in a body was burning. It was very close and its feet dangled chicken legged off the pyre. This used to be a person.

I have always been a bit of a morbid thing. Goth in High School, obsessed with all things dark and macabre. Part of it was just your run of the mill adolescent assholeism. Another part was that it seemed genuinely unreasonable to act as if it were all happy fun time. There is suffering, there are demons and we are all going to die, this is what is. To not look at it doesn’t make it less there.

And so for the first time we sit to meditate as a body burns and dogs howl. I am exhausted from so many days of travel and I have to pee and it’s cold. Incense blows into my face and someone sings ‘Hare Krishna’ and it is night. I don’t know how long we are supposed to meditate. I guess until we’re told to stop. This will be a theme.

The next day

I want sleep. Sleep wants me. The Indian family next door wedges itself betwixt me and my beloved and I can only stay still and long for the embrace that may never come.

The family next door are scattered throughout a short and slender echo-y guest house hallway. They are not distant from one another and yet their chosen volume would suggest the separation of miles. Stop screaming. Please.

India is trying to teach me tolerance. I am a shit student.

Last night I collapsed at 8pm. No pomp, no circumstance, no dinner, just a blinding headache that only many hours of sleep could fix. This morning I woke up better, refreshed even. We needed to meet on the cremation grounds at 6.30 am. Still cold. We received herbs and directions and returned to our respective bathrooms and mixed the herbs with water to make a paste, stripped naked and coated ourselves with the muddy, but nice smelling medicine.

Samskar, one of Guruji’s most infamous prescriptions, a potion to end all potions. We were to sit, wearing nothing but this precious and precise concoction, which works deep into the structure to unblock and purify, and meditate. The morning was freezing and we were to recite mantras for an hour and then wash the dry mud off with cold water.

My whole body shook from the cold, bony ass rattling against the tiles underneath me, and time went somehow fast and slow. The cold water whose shock I was anticipating with less than stellar hopes was, in the end, still warmer than I was and the herbs had worked some voodoo and I was able to simply endure thrusting my limbs under the tap…because, after all, this is India babies… and shower here means bucket of water.

 My floor looks like an actual pig was wrestled on it. My fingers numb, hair still bedecked with muddy relics, I walk back to the cremation ground.

I’ve meditated for enough years to know to drop any idea of what or how a particular sitting will be. I’ve maybe even managed to drop caring one way or another. You show up, you sit, you do your best, you go home. The end. The first meditation was almost three hours, when it started it was cold and most of us were bundled up, by the end quite a few were sunburned. There was a mantra on a neat paper in front of me. The ground was dirty and uneven. Cemetery dogs (apparently a different breed to that which I’m accustomed) ran in packs and fought viciously around us. Indians, with their patented lack of giving a shit, gathered around in droves to take pictures, stare blankly, make phone calls, smoke cigarettes, discuss the weather and occasionally sing. Flies swarmed. Spiders spun webs on our clothes.

My mind refused to hold the mantra. Five words, repeated in various configurations and my mind could not learn it. I pulled my hood low over my face, first to warm me and then later to shield me from the sun…or, if I’m honest, to make me invisible, to take me out of this insanity and to make me feel hidden and secret, to make believe I was alone. The mantra. Eyes open, read the paper, even if you can’t keep your mind still, say the words, say them until they are all that is. Over and over, drown yourself out with them. And my mind could not learn the mantra. I kept having to look. And the flies. And the cameras clicking. And the palpable there-ness of fifty Indian onlookers, measuring my accomplishment. And the sleeping knees. And the filth. And the snarling dogs. And the burning bodies. And the cold. And then the heat. And one of them has got a radio? In a motherfucking cremation ground they’ve got a radio? And the mantra which my mind will not let me learn. And at one point one just gives in, and the all around dies, and even the frustration of your own mind not doing what it’s supposed to dies and there is just the mantra.

We finish at mid-day and though there is a promise that we will end early we stay and stay. What to do if you’re a woman in a cemetery that has to pee? To say that there are no ‘facilities’ is to understate grossly. To try to pee outside when you simply sitting there covered in hoods and scarves draws camera toting crowds is, quite simply, a bad idea. Holding. The only answer.

We are fed spicy Prasad and we are lit on by flies and gawked at by onlooker and we eat. And we wait.

The next meditation is different. I don’t put on my hood and my mind holds the mantra. It’s stupid to talk about what you feel in these states, it never hits it, always either comes out sounding pompous or idiotic. When it ended my faith was increased in this process and in this little man who looked like a rickshaw driver.

My feet might never get clean.

Tarapith Day 8?

So much fucking gratitude.

It’s over. Yesterday lasted 16 straight hours and should have been brutal…but somehow just wasn’t. My throat is sore and my head aches and I’m exhausted, happily empty and quite cold and all I can really feel is gratitude. Something has shifted, something has moved and there is a peaceful joy and an overwhelming grace.

In the circle with all these people, most of whom have floated in and out of my reality with variable regularity since 2005. They are people I have lived with, people I have worked with, people I have traveled with, people I have practiced with. The same faces pop up on different continents, on beaches, in remote forests, holy places and Western cities, some who are the deepest loves of my life and some who drive me batshit crazy.

I realize that it doesn’t matter…whether or not I like them at the level of personality…this is of no consequence; if my story and their story are the same kind of story – what matters is that they are sangha. We are all heading toward the same thing, all moving in the same direction, they are family in this.

I am trying to wrap words around what I just lived. I know it to be a completely futile exercise. How can I tell you about those hours of endless mantras and two yagnas (fire ceremonies) which threatened to boil us alive. About the blazing fire constructed on top of the preciously depicted yantra which burned our faces and forearms as we offered, while the sun burned our backs. About how the frenzied beauty of the mantra and the movements and the heat made it so quiet. About standing under a total eclipse fingers full of squirmy fish and wood chips, offering again to the blaze as the moon got swallowed by our shadow. About how meditating on top of ash and shit and human remains in the midst of the melee of sounds and stares and chaos brought such stillness. About this little man who looks like any guy off the street, who plays with his fake tooth and laughs, who doesn’t dress in robes, who brought us all together in this place and worked some deep magic to make the very, very not ok absolutely beautiful.

And it was a weirdly quiet thing, no Samadhi, no states of ecstasy, no convulsive kundalini or hard core purification, it almost looked like nothing was happening. What was almost imperceptible was that we had side-stepped something, and that half step was massive. There were various times when I realized that I’d normally be getting pissed off, or cranky, or tired, or hungry, or impatient and I wasn’t. I was ok. Absolutely fine. Or I’d realized that I felt nothing but love for someone that I didn’t really like…but more than anything else I was there. Present. We never had any idea what would happen next, we simply did what we were told in the moment that we were told to do it. I personally was in such a moment of transition that I had no real formula for the future. The result was actually being there.  Awake and accounted for. And it was blessed.