Thursday, March 27, 2008

Fred Rogers
In the documentary America's Favorite Neighbor, Rogers says, "The space between my mouth, what I say, and peoples' ears and eyes, that space is holy," and man, he walked it like he talked it. Fred appeared on The Tonight Show twice, both times with comedienne Joan Rivers guest-hosting, in 1980 and 1983, and my god! The man's intense and overwhelming presence! Rivers, visibly shaken by his unwavering attention and soft-spoken message of love, falls back on her requisite schtick, that of self-deprecation and sarcasm. But even that wilted under the man's insistent presence, and you could see, no, you could feel that to Fred Rogers, the space between he and Joan Rivers was in fact holy, and no matter how much she wavered or fluctuated, he was absolutely pure, present awareness.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Books on the Filing Cabinet Next to My Desk
Ultimate X-Men, Volumes One and Two
The Persian Wars, Herodotus
The Anvil of the World, Kage Baker
Count Zero, William Gibson
DMT: The Spirit Molecule, Rick Strassman
The Mexican Tree Duck, James Crumley

Music on Steady Repeat
Hercules and Love Affair, S/T
David Bowie, the Berlin Triptych
Kool Keith, Sex Style
MGMT, Oracular Spectacular

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

To study yourself is to forget yourself.

The practice itself is enlightenment.

Cf. Mark Whitwell's Heart of Yoga.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ramesh in Mumbai
The taxi ride from our hotel, near Bombay Hospital, to Ramesh’s flat, off Poddar Road, costs 40 Rupees. It’s hard to tell if that means it’s near or far ‘cause prices in Mumbai are hyper-jacked. We find the building easy, though, because we spot a bronzed-tan Westerner wearing an Om T-shirt entering one of the anonymous buildings on Gamadia Road.

We barge into the living room about 5 minutes after the talk has begun; Ramesh holds them every morning from 9 to 10:30, and today, a Saturday, there are perhaps 30 people gathered, mostly Westerners, in the large but not ostentatious living room. The windows are open, so we’re getting a nice breeze, and it’s still too early for the sweltering Mumbai heat to render all movement, all thought, all speech superfluous at best and impossible at worst. On the wall next to us are several portraits of Ramana Maharshi and one of Nisargdaj Maharaj. Among them is a portrait of Ramesh himself.

Ramesh is much thinner, much older than I anticipated. He’s frail, birdlike, with translucent, paper-thin skin that seems to be falling in on itself. I don’t know if he’s lost his top teeth or if, as he’s aged --- the guy’s gotta be in his eighties --- his upper palate has receded. He sits in a low-slung chair and is dressed all in white. As he talks, he produces small amounts of spittle, which he dabs away with a carefully folded white cloth he keeps on his lap for that purpose.

Despite his age, Ramesh’s intellect is tack-sharp. When we come in, he’s grilling a middle-aged Westerner who’s sitting in one of today’s two “hot seats,” the seats those with questions for Ramesh are asked to take.

Tara, Rowan and I sit in a swing-chair at one end of the room. I don’t know why I’m surprised, at this point and with my experience of India, but one rotund Indian man slumps in an armchair, facing Ramesh, and works a video camera set up on a tripod. He will occasionally pan from Ramesh to the questioner in the hot seat, and once or twice he pans around the room to capture the faces in the crowd.

Also facing Ramesh and sitting just in front of us is a sound guy, another Indian fellow who works the sound mixing board, adjusting the levels and volume of the clip-on microphones attached to Ramesh and, on this day, to the two people sitting in the hot seats.

Arrayed on the coffee table in front of us are stacks of DVDs of previous talks, each labeled “Anger” or “Hate” or “Desire.” After the official talk is over, but before the 10 minutes of chanting begin that will close out the day, the guy working the camera has mastered and burned copies of the day’s footage, which, the sound guy lets us know in a low-key manner, is for sale for 500 Rupees.

Ramesh has the probing, razor-sharp mind of a brilliant debater, and quickly hones in the questioners’ actual question, and in addressing the questions --- one couldn’t really say he provides an “answer,” as these are the sorts of questions that lack answers --- he espouses his ideas about reality, God, consciousness. If you want a book report on Ramesh’s take on Advaita, look elsewhere, or perhaps read Who Cares?.

(I'll give it a shot here: according to Ramesh, if one looks hard enough, long enough, one will come to realize that there is in fact no "doer"--- only Source.)

Days later, a friend asked me if I thought Ramesh had “It.” I hemmed and hawed. I must admit that I still don’t know. Based on what he was saying, I would say that he has in fact had a taste of “It.”

On the way out, I notice a wall-length rack of books by Ramesh and his protégé Wayne Liquormann for sale. I stop and browse amidst the post-talk crowd. An Indian man, the proprietor, asks me, “Yes! What books have you read?"

I indicate the Ramesh titles I've read before.

"Ah, then you need this one, this one, this one.” He puts one, two, three books in my hand.

I knee-jerk against the hard-sell, hand them back and say, “No, no thanks!” though I am interested in several of the titles.

I wrote somewhere else that India is a place where an idea and its direct opposite are both true at the same time, and Indians seem to have no dissonance holding both ideas. It is, however, a constant practice for me to remember, for example, that the cottage industry that has sprung up around Ramesh in no way detracts from his teaching.

I remember, years ago, talking to another yoga student about Tim Miller. “He’s really a great teacher, but you know,” he leaned in and whispered conspiratorially, “he eats Powerbars!”
Why We Went to Goa
I first heard about Rolf Naujokat a couple years back while I was in Mysore. Many people I found interesting and enlivening, and whom I respected greatly, all had one thing in common: they had practiced with this phenomenal teacher on a jungle island in Thailand.

After looking at photos of Rolf’s jungle shala and listening to some rather brilliant stories about the man himself, I remarked to one of Rolf’s most vocal supporters, Nick Evans, that Rolf seemed absolutely phenomenal.

“Yes,” said Nick, “and please --- don’t tell anyone!” He was only half-kidding.

DJs used to cover up their record labels with black or white or even duct tape so all the other hungry DJs circling the table, craning their necks to see what was next, had no idea what rare and obscure track was about to absolutely flatten the floor.

I feel a bit like that about Rolf. Nowadays, with the Internets, we can learn about any teacher at any time, learn where they’re gonna be, what they’re like, get Podcasts from their lectures, check out photos of their shalas, and read blog entries by their students.

This is pretty brilliant for a host of reasons, chief among them, for me, is the fact that it helps one feel connected to a worldwide community as one practices in relative solitude in a mostly secular society, in which the concept of asana, pranayama, and the rest are not only fairly obscure but rather ridiculous. “Yeah, but can you make money off it?”

The loss, however, is that sense of exploration. I’m thinking here of the story of David Williams and company bumping into Manju Jois in Pondicherry strictly by chance and hopping the next train to Mysore. They had traveled around India before that and thereby also importantly knew what they were not looking for.

So anyway, the information floodgates are open and there’s really nothing we can do about that. In this instance, though, I’m not going to add to it, except to say the Rolf is the real deal.

Otherwise, I’ve no doubt that there’ll be other blog entries by other people that’ll be chock full of useful information.
Chapora Juice Bar
Head due west from the Barat Petroleum Station ("Pure For Sure!") in Anjuna toward Vagator Beach; prior to hitting the water, take a right and dive down a steep, winding canyon road to Chapora, where three roads meet under the boughs of a giant tree to form the heart of this tiny town. The tree is the ground-zero from which a density of tourist-related shops has pulsed outward, as the three streets are crammed with shops that sell the unique Goa clothing (one part military surplus, one part day-glo fluorescence, one part tie-dyed organic Nepalese hemp), the travel agencies, the tour organizers, the STD long-distance phone booths, the guest rooms.

Immediately under the tree’s base, on a small stage that rings all sides, sits a small Shiva shrine. The tree’s trunk has been painted, and is decorated with malas and garlands.

The Chapora Juice Bar is within arm’s reach of the stage. It’s small and typically Indian --- cramped, busy, dirty, utilitarian --- and for that reason is quite anomalous among Goa’s more polished and refined eateries. It’s a small square concrete building with a sliding front window through which one can order a multitude of fresh juices and milkshakes. The menu has been hand-painted on the roof above the order window. Picnic tables sit in front and to the side of the building. Armies of flies hover, drawn by the fruit and the sugar.

Friends suggested the Juice Bar as an interesting hangout, so we visited on several occasions. It’s quite a popular hangout, I think in part because it’s a Goa rarity that offers genuine Indian prices. Juices range from 10 to 30 Rupees, which is a far cry from the 70 to 100 Rupee offerings at the nearby Bean Me Up.

Sit there long enough and one watches tides of people wash in and out as the sun describes its arc overhead. One by one, as morning stretched into afternoon, sadhus arrived to take seats on the stage or at the picnic tables. Their gaunt bodies were wrapped in the traditional orange sheets, their faces painted, their dreads hung down to their waists. Curiously, all four were white Westerners.

Many frequenters were older, sun-leathered hippie ex-pats. One of whom, a Spanish gentleman, told Tara he had arrived in Goa 25 years ago and simply thrown away his passport. Many, their faces ill-used and sun-cured, looked like they’d lived hard lives under the relentless tropical sun. Many smiles were missing prominent numbers of teeth.

The actual juice at the Juice Bar is incidental to the place’s appeal, which seemed to be weed, around which all seating arrangements at the picnic tables were based. Other, younger visitors came and commingled with the older residents, and at table after table it was quickly determined who had the mota, who had the chillum, and who could pack the best bowl.

The other, darker element at the Juice Bar, though, were those visitors, younger and older, looking for more serious hook-ups. The most obvious had pale, spotty skin, dark circles under their eyes, and ceaseless sniffles. One girl who couldn’t have been out of her early twenties sat in a corner, knees in her chest, and alternated between chewing a thumbnail and scratching at her arms, neck and legs.

Goa has a very dark side, one that seems out of place in the sun and sand, and yet is inevitable given the 24-hour party scene, and, on a bigger scale, India’s overall exoticism. The exchange rate means many Westerners suddenly have vast wealth at their disposal, and to take a Westerner and unseat them from the deep structures of family, job, friends, language, and culture, and deposit them somewhere far, far away from the persona they inhabited, is to knock away any center of personal gravity, any psychic and psychological mooring.

Sprinkle on top of this the concept of “vacation” and “holiday,” or “gap year” and “spiritual journey,” and you have two recipes: the first, the anything-goes mentality in which every problem can be solved by throwing Rupees at it, or ultimately and decisively solved by simply boarding a plane home in two weeks. The second is the Holy Mother India mentality, replete with its exoticism and fetishization.

One can come to India and one can quite simply lose one’s goddamned mind, no matter if one is amongst the shrill idleness of the leafy, tree-lined streets of Gokulam, with its mansions and the incessant yoga drone, or whether it’s amongst the dispersed party-burnout transience on the sun-drenched beaches of Goa.

What Sharath has said in Mysore rang true for us in Goa: “Do the yoga --- now go home!” This is a sentiment echoed by my wife, whose pragmatism is doubtless all that keeps me from living, shoeless and soon toothless, on the concrete floor of some ashram in Hardwar, when she takes my face in her hands and says, gently, “Okay, baby, it’s time to go home. C'mon.”

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Super Mega Photo Fun Time! Awesome!

Wend your way down one of the circuitous sets of steps at Little Vagator Beach and you find yourself in a slender cove, bracketed at either end by cliffs that extend to the sea. Shiva’s is one of only a handful of restaurants on this particular stretch of beach, but perched in front of Shiva’s sits a large trampoline, a veritable kid magnet. The sun dips downward, the parents sit in Shiva’s, drinking, eating or smoking their chillums, while their children leap and tumble.

The family, and the family car.

There are an abundance of utterly mad people who’ve washed ashore in Goa and decided never to return to the land of their birth, and India being what it is --- a land where everything and its opposite are both true at the same time --- many of these afflicted and affected souls have carved out their own particular dreams, no matter how bizarre or off the wall. We’ve been frequenting the results of one such dream, a restaurant called Sharewood, at which every table is its own treehouse. I’ll say it again --- every table is its own treehouse. If that doesn’t stir your blood in some way, you are dead to the world and ought to climb into a coffin.

Each table is either built off the ground, up in a Swiss Family Robinson-style treehouse, or else sunk into the ground, the curved walls of the earth forming parts of the chairbacks. Sharewood also has a small, ankle-deep wading pool filled with various children’s toys, and there are usually at least one to three nude children splashing about.

The place is owned by a French couple who are cyberpunk biker nuts, and there are always several heavily modified motorcycles parked in front that have been channeled and chopped just in time for the coming apocalypse.

The ambience of slight lunacy at Sharewood is abetted by the absolutely brilliant food --- it has the best shakes, the best galettes, and the best tartines I’ve ever tasted, and their croissants are neck-and-neck with the French bakery as far as the buttery flake-factor goes.

We have no burner or stovetop at Resort Melo Rosa, so I dropped 40 Rupees (one US doller) on a “heating element” as a means to continue my caffeine addiction. I’ve procured a French press, and have accordingly switched from espresso to coffee. Drop the heating element into the glass and the water boils in less than two minutes. I am inordinately sketched out about electricity and water in such close proximity, but needs must. I also have a profoundly negative association with “heating elements” as the last time I saw one, it was in use by some junkie friends.

En route to the market area in Anjuna sits a large field, most of which has been given over to the nearby high school for cricket and football. At one end, though, a small portion is where the locals shape, press, and then dry the cow patties. I’m told cow patties make for excellent floors and walls, and are incredibly sterile.

We made the arduous 30-minute scooter ride north from our digs in Arporam to visit the beaches at Arambol and Morjem. Although the area is saturated with beach bungalows, restaurants, and of course, hundreds of shops selling the requisite fisherman pants, sequined peasant bags, and T-shirts, the beach itself is as beautiful a stretch as I’ve ever seen. Where else but India do you get cows on the beach?

We lived within blocks of the beach in Encinitas for roughly 14 years, so both Tara and I tend to have little desire to sit in the sun and sand. Which is why there aren’t too many shots like these.

The Las Vegas Market is around the corner from our old, rat-afflicted flat. It’s atypical of most Indian groceries due to both its vast selection and its overall large size.

I do love the 10 Rupee-per-pack biscuit selection, though why they don’t just call ‘em cookies and be done with it is beyond me --- must be some throwback to British rule.

This mutt lived at our old flat, and was one of the pack of dogs that used to howl and bark at the rats. All of the pack members were old, decrepit and disfigured in some way. This is Broke Face, so called because he was run over by a car as a puppy and managed to survive, though the accident left his head permanently kinked to one side.

The ankle-biter appears unhappy to have been woken from her nap on the scooter ride to Mapusa, the biggest town closest to the beaches of Goa.

We hit the Mapusa market in search of bootleg movies. Okay, in all honesty, I hit the Mapusa market in search of bootleg movies. I scored Jet Li and Chow Yun Fat bangers --- 16 movies on one DVD for the former and 12 movies on one DVD for the latter! --- and a kid’s compilation for Rowan that didn't work when I tried to play it later.

Need For Speed: Pro Street! In India! It’s an EA-produced video game I worked on last year with my man Rod Chong. Bootleg?

Scooter hair! My hair has been blown so high that it’s actually eclipsing the view of Tara and Rowan on the seat behind me. Note: although the forehead is truly giant, please remember that it is the containment unit for my monstrously oversized, incredibly virile, and hypersexy brain.

The kid’s room, or “Kids Korner,” at our favorite local vegetarian eatery, Bean Me Up. (I’d stab a stranger for their key lime pie.) Unfortunately, on this night Cartoon Network was inexplicably frozen, which devastated both Rowan and myself, because it was frozen on a fight scene from the “Cell Saga” of Dragon Ball Z.