Evening Sadhus at Bedtime
Just as I finish my last few minutes of reading in bed at night, (a time I so relish!), the homeless sadhus outside my window start their evening rituals. They cough, hack and make choking noises on the phlegm in their throats. They light up dubies and smoke while either playing funny patty-cake games or wrestling with each other (I can’t tell from my second floor window.) This starts up about 10 pm as I’m turning off my head lamp and putting aside Eckart Tolle and Sri Aurobindo.
One of Eckart’s teachings that makes me smile in these moments…Notice how thought labels a situation and then determines your enjoyment of or resistance to it!
In the morning, these same sadhus are sound asleep under their thin blankets as I walk out for my morning practice. I’m struck by how little they own in this world. They have their plot on the sidewalk (which they can‘t really own, but where many of them have lived for years), their blankets and a small bag of items likely related to smoking and bathing.
Once packed for the trip, my friends who were over before my departure commented on how lightly I had packed. But I could fold up the possessions of 10 of these sadhus in my rolling suitcase, (purchased new for the trip), backpack and yoga mat bag!
Strolling through the market place puts you firmly in this world. The mind and all of your sense are only HERE. You’ve got to watch your step for cow dung, which is everywhere and doesn’t get cleaned up. In fact, you’ve got to watch out for cows too. And dogs. And bicycles, scooters, and the occasional car. The beggars have their specific place along the plaza.
The man with only one and half legs sits on the left saying “Namaste” to everyone who passes by.
The smallest old woman I’ve ever seen plays the harmonium non-stop while her equally emaciated mate plays his flute. They sit on either side of their blanket where they have a display of deities and a small lamp of burning cow dung (it does come in handy!).
The man who walks on two hands and one foot in a kind of strange squat meanders through the market saying “Hi, hi, hi.”
Another shrunken older woman sits on the right side of the plaza past the vegetable and fruit vendors and before the sign for Yoga classes. She’s wrapped in a sari and sometimes has a small infant in her lap. She simply holds her hand out, no music, no greeting.
Burning incense competes from one stall to the next with the cow dung, while loud devotional music being played on sound systems in the small CD stalls competes with the honk, jingles, and hustle of the vehicles and pedestrians.
Every few feet there is another vendor selling beaded necklaces laced around his arms, or flowers in banana leaves (beautiful!) to float down the Ganges in prayer, or a man with an array of bindis (third-eye jewelry) all the way up his arms, or the vendors selling freshly popped popcorn in huge woks over fires burning cow dung.
All in all though, there is a great sense of aliveness to walk down this narrow plaza way and be greeted in various languages, by brightly colored saris and monk robes, by children playing, and dogs scurrying for food.
The Indian culture, from my vantage point so far, is a loving, celebratory, alive and warm culture. The people are beautiful, devotional, and modest. There is a sense of chaos as a visitor dropping in, but there is a sense of order that underlies this.
When I come back to Portland, I hope to carry this same aliveness when I walk down the street in downtown Portland where people are not making eye-contact and greeting you warmly. As David Ricco says in one of his books about relating to others, “One person has to take leadership, be generous, be courageous first.”
The Locals and the Holy River
As you leave the first “block” of the plaza, you come to the place where the locals climb down oversized steps to get in the river. The other day the ashram stairs to the river were closed in preparation for a ritual, so I walked down to this inlet and got in the river in spite of the odd looks I was getting from the locals. I may have inadvertently walked into their area uninvited, but since I was getting in the river, and she’s sacred, all boundaries were dissolved. In fact, when I stepped in, even the boundary between “me” and “them,” in my own mind, was dissolved. They were at their holy site and I was enjoying that which is holy.
When I turned to walk back up the oversize steps (a little trick for my hip!), my limp further dissolved the barrier between them and I as one of them offered me a hand up. I don’t know how the Indians who are shorter than I am, or are disabled or disfigured from birth, climb these stairs!
Regardless of our skin color, class, or citizenship, when you touch that which is Holy, you join that which is Holy within everyone and everything. In these moments, the global arguments and devastation created by religion are far, far from my mind.