THE AROMA OF TRAVEL
Inevitably with travel such as this, one encounters a certain amount of dirt, sweat, and olfactory adventures. Currently, if you were a wine taster, you would describe my ‘bouquet’ as smoky with wisps of eucalyptus, hints of incense, undertones of ritual fire, mingled with vanilla and sweat. Fortunately, the vanilla is the only unnatural ingredient!
A short walk to the village this morning replaced one item taken by the TSA: body lotion, with vanilla. Last night’s ritual fire, led by the Andean Shaman, lingers on my clothing, while my clean laundry blows in the vigorous winds of the afternoon, raising the smoke of the neighbor’s burning project like incense gone wild. Eucalyptus trees line the dirt road and the ‘forest’ around us so abundantly that the air smells of their fine scent. Being at once over-dressed and then under-dressed for the changeable chill or heat of the day’s cycle produces the ‘mingled with sweat’ in the bouquet description!
Another inevitability with group travel: we accept these things with humor and grace.
Today, we experienced an Andean ritual for the four directions. We’re ensconced in our lovely bed and breakfast, like an oasis of sorts. The ritual leaders, DjonnaMaria and Hetty, clearly live their lives with the teachings they share. As a person with a long-standing allergy to inauthenticity, I’m relieved to find myself in the company of their clarity and heart. We were exposed to the teachings through ritual for each element.
The earth represented ‘to want’ or desire. It is the equivalent of what I would call Holy Desire, in yoga’s teachings. The Upanishads tells us ‘You are your deepest driving desire.’ If you don’t know what that desire is, a look at your life can tell you. It’s critical to be honest with ourselves in this. If our deepest driving desire is to live in compassionate wakefulness, for example, it’s critical that we ask ourselves, what percentage of my time am I truly devoting to this? How much focus, energy, and will am I committing here?
We spoke to the earth of our Desire. We listened for her response. After a long while of quiet communion like this, silence, knowing, and ease came.
Water represents this silence. It is the silence and mystery of water to which we ventured next. Much like we used the Ganges for ritual in India, we went to the water’s edge here in the valley. The river is strong and clear. I sat for some time watching the water move, rolling over itself. Several times I tried to hold my eyes still and just let the water move through the field of my vision. It’s amazing how programmed we are to follow activity (like following thought!). While I could not hold my eyes still, I was able to maintain a soft focus of about a four-inch viewing space. It produced a tremendous amount of personal quiet with great respect (once again life teaches us this!) of how impermanent, fleeting, seemingly random, and oddly impersonal life is. When I say impersonal, it is not meant to imply a kind of lack of caring from life itself. Rather, my experience is of great benevolence and humility, through which, I experience a profound relaxation of most of my Western conditioning! (Hooray! Even if it is briefly lived, it’s still quite impressionable.)
After lunch (which in my case includes the daily luxury of resting according to Ayurveda’s suggestion, today also included bathing, laundry, body lotion to remedy the intense vata here, and some time in the warmth of the sun), we worked with the air element. Air, in this ritual, represents Knowing. Insight, knowing, integrated, visceral depth of experience. To explore this, we scrambled up what wasn’t quite a path on what wasn’t quite a hill (more like a mountain) exclaiming in our various means our fear of going down. I find this compelling: as a group, we were not, by and large, fearful about going up. We went up in crocs, chacos, sneakers, a sun dress, and some yoga tights amongst us. We were more frightened of getting back down. Yet, today’s teachings also suggested we expose ourselves to the underworld where our fears and anxieties, judgments and anger live. Hhhhmmm? Certainly more frightening to go down into that stuff than to scramble up a mountain in search of Knowing!
The wind at the top of this scramble was worth it. We were told to let it blow through the throat most of all, as our leaders sense that Westerners often don’t say what they want to say, need to say, wished they’d said. While water was to support us through unresolved grief, air was to support us in unresolved anger. We stood atop the dome of our hike arms stretched wide and hearts open.
The hike down was something else altogether! If we were in America, we would have been trespassing tourists in trouble. Fortunately here, ‘ayuda!’ won the attention of the gardeners working on the estate through which we decided to make a safer descent. So, oddly enough, through our Andean ritual, we hiked down through the estate of a person with much material wealth. I wondered what part of the underworld we were walking through!
Finally, we’ll have the fire ceremony. Fire represents forgiveness. In a couple of hours we will gather at the fire pit before dinner and explore this critical energy. (and, no doubt, I will have yet more nuance to my personal aroma!)
As the electricity has been on and off here all afternoon, I am hoping to send this to my office in the little window between the gusts of wind. The VATA is totally outrageous here! We will harness it tonight in a chanting session after dinner.
A BIT OF THE MUNDANE
It’s always terrific to get out of one’s patterns, whether in the mental or physical sense that yoga suggests; or even in the mundane encounters that travel requires.
The shower floor makes a terrific ‘washing machine’ for laundry. After washing hair and body, drop dirty clothes to the shower floor. Add soap. Stomp around. Be precise where needed. Rinse. Turn off shower and wring clothes out. Hang on line in 80 degree heat with vigorous winds. Voila!
Olive oil is a terrific substitute for body lotion. Also great for the inside of the nose when high altitude dryness threatens to disturb your sinuses.
Toilet paper is not meant for going down the toilet. When you consider it, it actually makes perfect sense! And is practiced in India, Thailand, Equador, Costa Rica, Mexico, and, yes, Peru (at least these are my real life experiences with such).
Electricity should never be taken for granted. There are forces more powerful than man that can interrupt us at anytime!
Climbing the stairs at 8000 ft is an aerobic work out. Until you acclimate. Then you scramble up a gnarly hill for glimpse of the valley, which leaves you breathless in more ways than one!