Putting Down Roots in Pushkar

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Exciting news!

I made the decision last night (on my 3-month Indian anniversary of all days) to declare Pushkar – the holy city in which Lord Brahma dropped a lotus flower on earth and the village floated to the top – my new, official, stay-awhile home.

In the few days since my arrival to this desert oasis, my life has quickly transformed – a variety of opportunities have unfolded naturally and almost effortlessly before me.

Through the eyes of my soul, I see now that when one follows their heart and makes every attempt to live authentically and true… the Universe provides.

Here’s what the Universe has given me:

  1. An incredible, affordable place to live – Diamond Guesthouse, managed by two genuine, hospitable Indians and their families, is a true gem.  And to boot, it’s filled with all the amenities a Western girl living in the Eastern World could ask for – free Wi-Fi, hot water, community kitchen, chilled-out rooftop café and yoga patio with views of the lake and mountains, and the guesthouse cat – Mimi. Now I just need to get my hands on some peanut butter 😉
  2. A job – well, two jobs actually – first as the resident yoga instructor of the Diamond Guesthouse and secondly, the owner of my very first business selling unique, hand-made silver jewelry
  3. Budding Friendships – including the managers of the Diamond Guesthouse, Mavi and Shambhu, along with my new pal Raj, a local shopkeeper who’s got a magnetic energy and has graciously become my Pushkar host – showing me a side of the town only the real locals and a few lucky Westerners have the privilege to see

These are just the highlights!

I’m excited and nervous at the same time. It’s a lot to take in.

For starters, I’ve never started my own business before. Sure, I have a lot of experience making money on my own, but primarily for events and fundraisers – one time things. Do I have the will power and energy to sustain this? The wisdom and courage to manage a business? Do I have the keen sense to know when to jump on future opportunities and when to sit others out? Do I have the ability to stay focused? To stay positive? To believe in myself? To remain passionate? I guess it’s all part of the learning process.

Also, this time around, my revenue stream will be dependent on the work I put into my products and services.  A really cool, yet crazy concept I’m still wrapping my mind around. I’ll be working, but the income coming in won’t be like what I’m used to… no more guaranteed regular, monthly paychecks (at least for now).

No to mention that I’ll have an Indian area code…wow!

But, like my life coach told me last night:

Show up. Bring your A-Game. Let God Handle the Details.

This mantra will be on repeat in my brain for the next few weeks.

I’m showing up. And I’ve got my A-game in my back pocket.

This morning, while taking a ride at sunrise on the back of Raj’s motor scooter, surrounded by the desert landscape, my hair whipping in the wind, leaving a trail of purple behind from my head wrap, I started to cry tears of joy.

I’ve come a long way from the burnt-out, depressed, unhappy girl from 2 ½ years ago.  It was then that I made the bold decision to commit to a life of authenticity. A lofty goal that back then that felt so unattainable – so out of reach.

But even then – there was a small voice.

A whisper that said, “Do it anyway, CJ.”

And now, I look at my life through a different lens. Through the lens of amazement and gratitude. Jaw dropping amazement.  Of course, my life isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. I have my fair share of pain, doubts and insecurities. But the shadows of today ain’t got nothin’ on the shadows that came from that lost girl of 2 ½ years ago.

I’m living my dream! (And a PS side note –  you can too!)

Sab Kuch Milega.

Anything is Possible. 

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A hike up to Brahma temple to watch the sunrise above the town of Pushkar…we had a few visitors stop to say hi during our stay.

My Survival Guide to Yoga Teacher Training: Crying, Chocolate and a Few Life Lessons

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Hey ya’ll! It’s been awhile since I’ve written. Rather than apologize though, I’m going to tell you to get used to my erratic writing habits.

Here’s why: I was beating myself up beforehand for not blogging on a consistent basis, despite the fact that I’m writing nearly every day in some way, shape or form. However, beating and forcing myself to write makes for an unenjoyable life and when life is unenjoyable, what is there to write about? That’s when the light bulb turned on and I saw how this vicious cycle goes round.

So I ask that you honor this as I learn to honor the natural ebb and flow of my creativity while learning how to harness it in a consistent manner that works for me.

Ok. Back to the subject. A friend just asked me an interesting question. She asked me to share the three things I’ve learned since being in India. What a great way for me to solidify it and oh, yeah, it’d make for a great blog post. See how the Universe works when we can foster the flow?

Firstly I couldn’t narrow it down to three so I’ve listed five instead. Secondly, I chose to write about the lessons I’ve learned in the past month with my 200-hour yoga teacher training course because it’s fresh in my mind and it’s been an epic journey so far (it ends on Feb. 20).

Here’s my list:

1.      The Ego is Strong…Really Strong

On the second day my asana instructor, Yogi Surinder Singh, stated out loud in front of the rest of class that I was not good in Asana.

Ouch.

Having spent the past four weeks with him, I now see that this statement had no malicious intent behind it. It’d been over two months since I practiced last and he was stating a fact – my practice wasn’t that good.  Of course, now, this is easy to accept.  It was a harder pill to swallow when he first told me though. In hindsight, if I could’ve told my old self from two weeks ago to not take it so personal, it would’ve made for an easier journey these past few weeks. But I didn’t and this is why I list this as the first lesson learned.

As the weeks unfolded, all I noticed was my inclination to compare my practice to my classmates’. I was making it a competition.  I clung onto results. Expectation. I started to worry. If I’m not good enough I won’t pass. If I don’t pass, then I can’t teach. Side note: My desire to participate in the yoga training was not to become a teacher; it was only to deepen my practice. And round and round my ego went. I can’t say what exactly helped to change my mind, perhaps it was all the motivational lectures Surinder gives at the end of asana about patience, persistence, acceptance, but gradually I began to notice the enormity of my ego subdue. Something began to soften inside.

I write this with a devilish grin because I still have expectations in other aspects of my life, but  this course taught me that when we can let go of results we can finally enjoy life. Learning comes more easily. Our mind lightens. The constant mental chatter subsides. We stop taking ourselves so seriously. Work starts to feel like play. We can relax and let the natural flow of the Universe run its course.

What once felt like work started to become play. The chatter in my mind started to transform from:

“Oh, God. I hate Sun Salutations. Why are we doing headstand? I can’t do headstand. Hurry up and tell us to release this hard pose!”

To something a little more positive:

 “Ok, CJ: Just two rounds of intense Sun Salutations followed by an hour and a half of yogi play. You can do this. Have fun. Remember to breathe”

Obstacles turn into opportunities…

Opportunities to improve my practice physically, mentally and spiritually.

It no longer feels like something I have to endure …it’s something I look forward to (even if I’m still a little sleepy in our 7 am class).

2.       Be grateful!

When all else fails, have a gratitude practice! I can’t stress this enough. In fact, over the past year with all my dramatic and sometimes traumatic life changes, gratitude is what kept bringing me back to my center. It was no different in yoga teacher training. My gratitude practice was the touchstone that got me through the first few weeks of the course which were marked by periods of me falling asleep in mediation, temper tantrums, and crying after and even during yoga class (I don’t claim that these have ceasedentirely, but there’s been a significant lapse in time since the last episode). Even when every ounce of me wanted to resist and rebel to this rigorous schedule, and on occasion I did rebel by eating a Snickers or smoking a beedi, my heart kept telling me to be grateful.

Grateful for the sheer fact that I’m in the yoga capital of the world – Rishikesh. And not everyone gets to say that they studied under Surinder Singh, one of the most motivational and inspirational yogis of my time along with the other amazing and talented instructors of Vedangas (Shout out to Dr. Ashwine, Pondi G and Vivek – you guys ROCK!!).

So if I got frustrated, angry, irritated and wanted to rebel, I’d let it happen and acknowledge it but after it was out of my system, I made myself go back to all the blessings I really have.

3.       Open Your Heart

Open, open, open and when you think it’s open, open it more.

To go back in time for a bit, on the foggy morning of the New Year, I was curled up in bed with tear filled eyes. I missed home. I felt lost and wasn’t sure what I was doing (Remember my post on December 28th?). To top it off, I felt sick from the night before from a bad batch of Indian-produced whiskey in which I had only a few sips from a shot glass. Any who, it was as that moment that I promised to do two things in 2013: to take care of myself and to peel back the rigid barriers of my heart.

Then the Universe gave me the gift of Rishikesh.

Naturally, after being told that my asanas weren’t up to par, although discouraged, I asked Surinder what I could do to improve my practice. He looked at me and said, “Bring your shoulders back.” Being the westerner that I am, I asked what exercises achieve this. Surinder looked at me with the kindest eyes and said, “In order to bring your shoulders back, you need to first learn to open your heart.” I lost it. He was preaching to the choir. For years I protected my heart, built an impenetrable wall, never fully opening it to anyone, even my husband when I was married. Tears started to stream down my face. My old set of skills of running away from anything painful no longer served me. The pain and shadows from my past still have a grip and demand my full attention. But I’m not going to run this time. I’m committed to peeling back the old, unnecessary layers of this heart of mine.

With that said, I’m not exactly sure what techniques are used to open one’s heart. But I’m sure the Universe will teach me. In the meantime, I’m learning to develop a stronger, more solid form of confidence and self-acceptance from within. Of speaking kindly to myself and beholding every part that makes me me: the good, not-so-good and the Oh my god! Run for the Hills stuff. And with that, I’m learning how to stand with confidence in my yoga practice. Feet firmly rooted into my mat. Shoulders back. Heart out. Heart out. Heart out. I feel exposed, vulnerable at times, but secure. I can do this.

It’s a start. 🙂

4.       Be Patient.

There’s an e-card that floats around on my friend’s Facebook walls from time to time. It says: “Patience is a virtue. Why can’t ‘Hurry the Fuck Up!’ be a virtue too?!” This fits me to a T. Patience has not been a strong point of mine, but it’s another thing I’m committed to fostering more of in my life.

If nothing, my yoga practice this month has been a strong testament to the concept that progress takes time. At first, it was hard for me to adjust to the rigorous schedule of the course. Wake up at 5:30, Pranayama at 6 for an hour and a half followed by the first round of asana practice for 2 hours. Our days end at 9 pm when dinner is finished. But now I feel like my body is getting used to this schedule, and dare I say, I’m actually enjoying it? I’m able to get up at 5:30 (sometimes 5 am) without caffeine, my body feels stronger, and my mind steadier. It’s cool to see this progress.

It took some heartache to get to where I am now and acquaint myself with this new way of life. I recognized that we all adapt differently. The important thing is to set yourself to your natural pace. It may be faster. It may be slower. It may be a little of both. But one is not better than the other. Once we think our natural pace is not good enough is the moment we lose patience with ourselves. Ask yourself, what’s good enough for me? Keep that pace moving, at least you’re moving.

With patience there is movement. With movement there is progress.

5.       Breathe!

We forget how important our breath is. Our breath is our life force. We can survive days and even weeks without food and water, but only a few minutes without breathing. So consider your breath precious. And the body your breath nourishes just as precious.

Take a moment now to stop reading and note your breath. You forgot that you were breathing in the first place, huh? It was probably shallow and rapid too.

Stop reading again and take a deep belly breath. Let the movement of your breath flow and move with your breath. Take a few more. How do you feel now?

When our breath is steady our mind is steady. This is why the instructors are telling us to enjoy our breath when in a challenging position. My breath is the only way to surrender to the posture and relax my mind.

Make a mental note that the next time you’re stressed out that you’ll check in with your breath at that very moment. So often we forget about our breath, but if we can remember it, we can then remember to breathe deeper. And deeper, longer breaths mean a deeper and longer life.

There’s a lot more that I’ve learned, but I think this outlines the lessons I’ve learned so far. I want to give a special thanks to Manoj, Deepika, Nadim and the rest of the Vedangas’ team. This past month has been amazing from the classes and instruction to the food and accommodation. It’s much appreciated.

Visit their website to learn more about this amazing course: www.vedangas.com.

Punjabi Paparazzi

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When first arriving in McLeod Ganj, I wondered how to keep myself busy because the time seemed to move s-l-o-w-l-y. A friend forewarned me though. He said that when travelling for an extended period, it’ll take time to adjust, but eventually you start meeting folks and time goes by effortlessly.

He’s right.

I’ve already spent a month in MacLeod Ganj and it’s time to say goodbye to this second-home as I make my way to Rishikesh, India.

I’ve created some amazing memories and met some incredible people while here.

One of the memories that I’ll always cherish was this past Christmas. It was the first I spent as recently single and away from my family back home, but I had the opportunity to spend it with a new kind of family instead.

I met Guus from The Netherlands and Sophie from Australia in a Tibetan Café about a week prior to the holiday. Travelling has a funny way of pushing people together at a rapid pace. The fact that you’re fellow travelers, away from home and on a path of exploration instantly puts you on common ground. At home, it might take weeks of going to the same café to finally work up the courage to make small talk with a stranger. Life feels busier at home. Hence, there isn’t a lot of time to lollygag in cafes. At home, I already have a core group of friends, what’s the point?

Random Side Note Thought:

Sometimes, this is an unfortunate truth of our lives. Are we really SO busy that we can’t take a second to make eye-contact with a stranger and smile? I encourage you, the next time you’re in a public place, take a second to be aware and say hello to someone. It feels weird at first, but after a few times of repeating the same behavior, it becomes natural and is a huge mood booster for both parties. Smile on, my friends, smile on!

So when you meet a fellow traveler, you do the proverbial butt-sniffing custom dogs do to get acquainted; then you decide if it’s worth sticking around.

After a few times of sniffing each other’s butts – er – hanging out together, the three of us agreed to spend Christmas together. I would make vegetarian chili, Sophie would provide the wine and spirits and Guus would bring the dessert – triple chocolate truffle cake from Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen. Yes, it was as delicious as it sounds. It’s too bad that I was already drunk when the cake was being served because I vaguely remember eating it. 😦

But the coolest part is that our original group of three turned into a crowd of 11 whom we met after making our plans for the holiday.

Well, what really happened was this:

Guus, Sophie and I went to the local rooftop café, Carpe Diem, (one of the only cafés to serve large Kingfishers) the Wednesday before Christmas to listen to live music. I ended up having a few more Kingfishers than expected and proceeded to invite the entire band and random French people to our holiday party.

Then, on the afternoon of our Christmas party, I felt bad for my hot, Hungarian neighbor, Gabriel – whom I refer to as the Hungarian Eminem because of his brief stint as a rapper in his early 20s – as he had no plans and just looked so lonely and handsome. Like an adorable, lost puppy you just want to hold and kiss, someone had to take him in. So I took it upon myself to invite and then ogle him the entire night. (If you’re reading this Gabriel, don’t get a big head. Because after all, you may be hot, but you’re still a smartass! 😉

So fast forward to Christmas night, 11 of us stuffed into Sophie’s small apartment; talking, eating, drinking, singing along to Manu on jambe and Shambu on guitar…are playing covers like Yellow and Where is my Mind?

After we were well-fed and delightfully tipsy, we decided to migrate up the mountain side to pay a little visit to the night club, Mount View.

Somehow Sophie and I lost track of the group and found ourselves being the only ones from our group at the night club, we spotted an empty couch on the other side of the room, a perfect place for us to contemplate our next move.

Once our eyes adjusted to the epileptic-producing strobe lights, we realized we had taken the seats of some Punjabi men with brightly colored turbans who were standing on the other side of the table talking to friends. Sophie then said, “I’m sorry, did we take your seats? We’ll move.”

They immediately responded, “No, no. You sit. Here, have drink, have cigarette, “ and cozied in next to us on the purple couch.

I accepted the offer of a cigarette and declined the drink.

In mid-light of my cigarette, they then asked if they could take a picture with us.

Why not?

BIG mistake.

In a huge, overwhelming frenzy, a dozen other Punjabi’s came running out of nowhere, whipping out their cameras and pushing and pulling us around like rag dolls to take pictures. After the 20th picture, I put my foot down and said “No, more.”

Meanwhile, Sophie was FREAKING OUT!

“Ok, ok, just one more, one more!”

“No more!”

But we couldn’t escape, barricaded by a wall on our right and men in turbans on our left.

Thankfully the group had noticed we were missing and sent a search party out to find us. Five minutes after the ordeal, a friend came and rescued us from the crazed Punjabi paparazzi. But not before I snapping a picture for myself:

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What’s the Point?

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Folks, I have crazy news for you: today marks my first full month into this journey!

Crazy, eh?

Naturally, I’m getting a little reflective (or to my friends who know me very well: over-analytical). The questions I, and many others, had when first starting this journey have found their way to the surface again:

• Where’s the love/the man/the epiphanies I’m (un)consciously looking for?
• Has this journey reached my expectations?
• What were my expectations?
• Why am I in India?
• What do I want to accomplish while I’m here?
• What’s the point?

As I struggle to come up with an answer, I’m getting sort of discouraged and depressed; and quietly punishing myself when I don’t have an answer to give others who ask me the same thing.

But there’s a passage in a memoir I’m currently reading about a woman’s journey to India titled, The Yoga School Drop Out, who seemed to be in a similar situation as me. She writes:

“I had such high hopes of finding my soul mate(s) and guru who would lead me from darkness to light and here I was – several weeks after – still fumbling around in the pitch black. It was very disappointing.”

She begins to explain her issues to a stranger who asks her if she’s read The Yoga Sutras, which is essentially the Bible for yogis, and then goes on to say:

“If you read beyond the second sutra, you’ll find that it goes on to talk about yamas – the moral codes that govern how we behave to other people. One of them is aparigraha – detachment from desires, possessing only what’s necessary. Being happy with what you have, with who you are. Attachment causes suffering and here you are, suffering. If you can let go of these desires, I promise, it will happen.”

Well, here I am…suffering…suffering because I desire to know the reason for this journey rather than allowing myself the space to take it all in and enjoy it.

Yet, as I contemplate the issue a bit more, it’s slowly becoming a tad clearer to me that it might be OK if I don’t have the answers.

Let me explain.

I chose to move to India because I knew at a young age that it was my life’s dream to live abroad and to write. I think that at some point in everyone’s life we have a sense of what our calling might be for no other reason than it just feels right.

But wouldn’t it be great to have a magic wand that could uncover the answers to some of life’s most profound questions?

Well, I haven’t found that wand, yet. (If I do though, you’ll be the first to know!) So I suppose the only thing we can do is gently remind ourselves that we’re not fortune tellers.

Sure, sure…there’s psychics and oracles who can provide pretty accurate descriptions of the future, but in essence, we can’t predict every little thing down to the most minute detail.

Maybe sometimes, all we can do is have faith and courage to do what feels right – without questioning it.

Deep down, these answers we’re all searching for (e.g. what’s the point? what’s the purpose to life?) take time. It won’t happen overnight. Hell, maybe we’ll never really know.

So, rather than beat ourselves up and risk not following our hearts to learn some of life’s biggest lessons and experience some of life’s most beautiful moments, maybe what we could do instead is acknowledge the discomfort of not knowing everything right now and learn to be gentler to ourselves along the way…in this crazy, ambiguous thing we call life.

And maybe, just maybe, when it comes down to it, we have to remind ourselves that we’re only human. The lessons we learn in life won’t happen overnight. Perhaps there’s a reason why we hear the saying: Hindsight is 20/20…