All posts by seegressagrow

The Curious Case of the Post-Traveling Blues

Saturday, December 2nd, 2018 (happy birthday Wren!):
Well I guess you could say I got a little busy this last month. Not sure how I was envisioning keeping up with this blog while immersed in yoga boot camp. Here I am on my last night finally with some time and the head space to write, sprawled out on my large bed in my hotel room, clumsily trying to type without smudging my freshly decorated henna hands or itch my turmeric face mask. Tomorrow is our graduation day at 9am. I’ve picked out a light blue sari bedazzled in little gold jewels.


My head is swimming with all of this newly gained knowledge. My body feels stronger and more balanced than it ever has, but it is also begging for a break. I think I’ve purged more emotions this month than I have in years and I’m feeling kind of like a dry well at the moment.
My belly is full of pasta and ice cream after our dinner tonight. Two foods I was passionately advised against in my ayurvedic consultation today.
I was also advised not to eat eggplant, rice, bananas first thing in the morning, and, while pointing accusingly at my bare feet, to always wear at least 2 layers of socks.
He bullet pointed my 3 main issues like he’d known them before I’d walked in the door.

  • I can’t focus on anything to save my life.
  • I’m always cold and tired.
  • I don’t let people get close enough

These three sentences have been echoed to me ever since I first got to Rishikesh and had my palm read by an old shop man. And they’re not sentences I’m unfamiliar with. I would say most of us are more familiar with our issues than our gifts to begin with, but hearing these 3 personal flaws so much coming from strangers mouths somehow has made me take them more seriously. Practising drishti, trataka, pranayama, and…..
4:00am 2 weeks later in a 50’s diner in the JFK airport:
Not sure where I was going with that, hence bullet point #1. Life gets busy. I was swept into Thailand where I swam among colorful fish, partied among tatted Thai boys, and ran back and forth from my bed to the bathroom until I felt like a frail leaf.


And just like that it’s all behind me. I am sipping cold water with ice I’m not suspicious of, waiting for a breakfast burrito with salsa and guacamole, my mouth watering and my eyelids struggling to stay open. Frank Sinatra jingles merrily from the surrounding speakers, the kitchen staff all wear ho ho ho santa hats and one served a large burger to a homeless man curled up by the heater behind the restaurant. Christmas has arrived in New York. Something I’ve been looking forward to being serenaded into coming home. I was tempted to watch It’s a Wonderful Life on the plane but I kept choosing depressing indie movies one after the other. Now I’m in a mood. God I’m tired.
Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019
Hi. I’m home. Once again, making a great case for bullet point #1. To tell the truth, I’ve had a lot of time on my hands since I’ve been home with no great excuse like doing a yoga teacher training for not writing this blog sooner. Since the hype of the holidays I’ve spent my days dragging my feet around my parent’s house, standing in front of the fridge thinking of all the things I want to eat but don’t want to cook, taking our new puppy on long and biting cold walks, binge-watching Netflix series, rearranging and cleansing my social life i.e. reconnecting with old friends and moving on from others (probably the area where I’ve been most productive), and pushing off writing the promised blog #4. Here’s something I was not prepared for coming home from an adventurous and life altering 4 months of traveling: the blues! If anything, I was preparing myself for a highly functioning refreshed and spunky version of myself. Everything was supposed to be new and sparkly through my worldly eyes; opportunities were supposed to blossom with every step I took. On my flight from Guangzhou, China to JFK I re-watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. There’s a scene when Benjamin returns home after traveling around the world as a seaman; he’s standing in his living room exactly as he left it last with a blank expression, and speculates, “It’s a funny thing about comin’ home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You’ll realize what’s changed is you.”
The relevance of those words were lost on me then, but now, a little more than a month since landing in the U.S., I get it.


Coming home is harder than leaving. Granted, I came home in the dead of winter, right on cue for my annual spell of high anxiety and depression. And, not to mention, directly coming from 2 weeks spent lounging about in a backpacker’s tropical paradise, Lonely Beach in Koh Chang, Thailand. In the blink of an eye I went from being submerged in crystal clear waters,
face to face with the strangest looking aquatic creatures I’ve ever seen while, little to my knowledge, the sun torched the patches of my back that Shannon innocently forgot to smother with sunscreen, to lying sprawled out on my parent’s couch littered in snack wrappers and cloaked in blankets, re-watching The Office without a clue or a care of what day it was. Fair warning to fellow world travelers who come back home without much of a plan of where to go next, it doesn’t matter what you do, just do something. Because the longer you wait to do something, the harder it gets to stop doing nothing. You get stuck. I’m stuck. I’m not writing this to throw myself a pity party (well, maybe a little bit), I’m writing this because it’s the truth and a part of writing a “no filter” travel blog is not leaving out the parts when you come home and the adventures slow to an anti-climatic screeching halt and everything feels foggy and you begin to wonder where that exuberant, constantly stimulated, risk-taking, fully alive person who you knew to be yourself while traveling went. Where the hell did she go? Did I leave her behind in Thailand? In Guangzhou where I had that 12 hr layover in a 4 star hotel courtesy of China Southern Airlines? Did I leave her in that bathtub I spent hours soaking in?
It’s the middle of winter and I’m back to taking vitamin d supplements in replacement of the sun. I hate January. I’ve always hated January. It’s supposed to be a fresh start for everyone, new year, blank sleight, resolutions, diets, planners blah blah blah. I always feel like I get left behind in January and all of that “new year, new me!” energy has already all been swiped by the time I roll out of bed on January 1st usually with a bad hangover (sorry close family members and relatives, tmi). But February…, now that’s my magic month. It also happens to be my birthday month and, in my mind, cause for a whole month’s worth of celebrating me! Quick pause. So I’m sitting at the front desk of Sweet Peas Hostel (where I work) and a guest just walked in and told me that I have a “bright and lovely face.” So I guess it’s nice to know that despite my returned case of hormonal acne and how dead I feel on the inside right now I somehow still manage to look bright on the outside. Still on the inside that counts though folks, didn’t just spend 2 months studying Buddhism and Yogic philosophies without learning that much.
Speaking of those 2 months, to make up for lost blogs I will make a bulleted list of the highlights:

  • Painting the bathrooms and railings at Thosamling Nunnery a bright and toxic-smelling red.
  • Playing with “Cat” a stray cat that turned out to be the center of that month’s drama at Thosamling as half the nun’s wanted to keep him and the other half didn’t (and no one had the heart to name him knowing he’d probably be leaving soon).
  • Paragliding in Bir Billing!! Which was both as exhilarating and terrifying as I hoped it would be. And if you need a laugh, to see a video of me leaping off a cliff with my gopro accidentally facing me you can either go to my instagram or facebook. You’re welcome.
  • Arriving safely at my yoga school in Rishikesh with a dead phone and a paranoid hunch that my taxi driver was taking me somewhere much different. (Sorry I doubted you, Aakesh, if you ever read this!).
  • Meeting similar souls from all around the world who I felt a bond with from the beginning, and deepening that bond as the month went on.
  • Bonding with myself through hours and hours of deep self-reflection and body-work. Breaking through my many walls and making all sorts of discoveries about myself and my world. Could get lost in trying to describe what these experiences were like, but a part of me feels a little protective over them so I’ll keep them to myself for now.
  • Teaching my first class! I can’t begin to describe how powerful it felt to lead a class in yoga after finally feeling like I kinda knew what I was talking about. Still have miles and miles of depth to discover and learn, but I’m an inch closer than when I started!
  • Learning in a more rigorous academic setting than I was expecting after being out of school for a year and a half. Got some confidence back that I’m capable of actually learning stuff and passing tests, turns out it just has to be a topic I’m actually interested in. Who knew?
  • OFFICIALLY A CERTIFIED YOGA TEACHER!!! (Which is much different than being a yogi by the way, I am by no means a yogi, by calling me a yogi you are insulting yogi’s everywhere. But I do appreciate the compliment 🙂 ).
  • Snorkeling in Thailand and getting somewhat over my irrational fear of the ocean and getting eaten by a shark.
  • PHAT SI-IO (I wasted way too many meals eating Pad Thai before discovering this dish along with sweet seafood curry).
  • Chillin without a care in the whole goddamn world.

And that’s a wrap! I’m sure you’ll be hearing more from me later when I finally pull myself out of this sludge and do something again (let’s go Feb.!). Hint: I’m already making plans to move to Barcelona at the end of summer with no return date. I’m sure that’ll give me something to write about. And who knows, maybe I’ll find some adventure here in the heart of Western North Carolina, land of the Cherokee and home of the Tar Heels, southern bumpkins and hairy hippie fairies, (and a small population of Cherokee). Until then, keep shining your bright and lovely faces my sweet, dutiful readers!
With love from the innermost corners of my gooey heart,
Gressa

The Holy Man and a Lesson in Flying

When the Holy man reached his throne on the 3rd day of his teachings, he stood and saluted the giant golden statue of the Buddha. A hush fell around the 2nd floor of the temple and spilled down the stairs to the first.
Silence; besides the gentle whirring of prayer wheels.
Silence; besides the ancient humming of Om beneath devotional breath.
After the 83 year old had been helped into seated position, he leaned forward and beamed down at us all from behind his black rimmed spectacles, high rosy cheek bones glowing. A hush filled every corner of the place that day.

That day was October 5th, the 3rd day of His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama’s 4 day teaching on Chandrakirtis’ Entering into the Middle Way. On the early morning of the 1st day I overheard two nuns talking about the complexity of this text. I heard them joke that they themselves most likely wouldn’t understand much of the teachings, but even still it was important to be there so that the teachings may leave an imprint to be understood later on, perhaps in another life. On the morning of the 1st day the air was biting and harsh. Steaming porridge was served to those who woke up before 6; I was not one of them. The taxis had been arranged the night before and at 6:15 sharp we all piled in; the nun’s in their ruby red robes, overlapping each other, and me, along with the other five volunteers, wearing the cleanest, crispest clothing we could find at the bottom of our backpacks. On that 1st day, Shannon and I found a seat on the brick floor outside the temple. There was not much need to get closer as two theater sized screens were positioned outside the temple walls in front of us, live streaming a better view of the Lama than if we’d been in the room with him. The volunteer coordinator had handed out radios upon leaving the monastery. It hadn’t even occurred to me that the teachings would be in any language besides English, and as I was handed my radio I tried to suppress the dumb look of surprise on my face while feeling like the biggest American idiot. The Dalai Lama, naturally, gave his teaching in Tibetan, his native tongue as was the tongue of most monks and nuns in attendance. There were many language channels you could tune to as well, in an effort to make the teachings as inclusive and available as possible. There was Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, German, English, and probably one or two more I’m forgetting. The translation from Tibetan to English on that 1st day was, to put it gently, kind of like the little brother nagging around his older brother and his friends, always getting left behind and having to sprint to catch up. And so I hope that no one will be offended when I admit that on that first day, in the late morning, I drifted in and out of consciousness in a rare subtle spot beneath a sleepy blanket of sun. The second day I woke up feeling ill and chose to stay in bed. And on the third day, well, let’s just say I stayed awake long enough to have something to write about.

This time I wiggled my way into the most devoted of crowds. I stood in the second row by the stairs, waiting for the Lama and his royal succession to parade by with the hope that he might glance at me, or that I may have a good glance at him. I wanted so badly to know what all this ruckus was about. Why, glancing around, did I notice some people with tears in their eyes? Why is he pretty agreeably the most popular and likeable of all the world leaders? And what’s all this talk about his smile? I stood there feeling like a corn stalk in a row of coriander. Or, more accurately, a tall blonde American in a row of shorter-than-me Asians. I wondered if it was taboo of me to be there, but I relaxed when I saw some other westerners in the row in front of me. (Not that this should validate my being there, but group mentality what can I say). When the Dalai Lama entered the room, I did feel a shift in energy, and I did feel a river of peace flood my whole body. Looking into his face, and a face might I add that is hard to believe belongs to an 83 year old man, I couldn’t help but smile and feel tears well up of my own. The Dalai Lama is to the Tibetans what Jesus Christ is to Christians; what Muhammad is to Muslims, what Moses is to Jews and so on you get the point. Imagine what it might be like if your savior was reincarnated over and over to be here with you, leading you in flesh and blood (although it’s rumored that the Dalai Lama may not be reincarnated again). Perhaps this, along with other notable and admirable attributes of their faith, is how the Tibetans have been able to endure, since the Chinese invasion of 1959, unspeakable violence and torture and yet continue to hold fiercely to their traditions and religious beliefs.

The Dalai Lama did look at me, by the way; with those narrow, liquid eyes, and when they fell on mine I did nothing short of melt. I got it. I hate putting people on pedestals, and I actively try not to worship certain human beings over others. This aligns even with Tibetan Buddhism, which is largely based on the concept of selflessness; the idea that we are not separate entities with separate selves, and in fact the term “self” is just this big illusion that leads us down the path of suffering. The sooner we recognize this, the closer we are to becoming enlightened. Therefore, worshiping one person over another, in theory, is really no different than worshiping yourself projected in a different form. However, in my personal experience, being in the presence of the legend that is His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama, was not quite the same as being in the presence of the white picket fence-suburban-Pabst Blue Ribbon bellied-White Soxs fan-dad from Illinois (if this is you my bad). This is a man who has devoted his entire life since the age of two when he was recognized as the Dalai Lama, to becoming a powerful force of peace in order to serve, touch, and lead, not only Tibet, but a great portion of the world outside. This is a world leader who believes consistently in non-violence despite Tibet’s ongoing struggle towards liberation, and despite the magnitude of brutality Tibet has endured under Chinese regime in attempted genocide that is comparable to the Holocaust. For this, and for his undying optimism that peaceful days lie ahead, The Dalai Lama gained world recognition and popularity when he accepted on behalf of the Tibetan people, the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize. But enough about the Dalai Lama already, as I’m sure you’re just dying to know more about little old me. 🙂


My days at Thosamling Nunnery have been quiet and introspective. I have a room to myself that I keep tidy, and I leave my shoes in a neat row beside my door. It is so silent here that the loudest sound is the non-stop trill of the crickets, and I often find myself hushing my own thoughts out of fear that even they will disturb the peace of the residents. At 8:30pm I burn a stick of Tibetan herbal incense and then climb into my twin bed with a metal cup of tulsi ginger turmeric tea and my westerner’s guide to Buddhism book or sometimes short stories from Kathmandu by the genius Samra Upadhyay (highly recommend). I wake up at 5:45 to a gong that alerts the nuns that it is time for their morning meditation. Breakfast is served promptly at 7:00, lunch at 11:30, and supper at 5:00. In-between meals, unless I am the one cooking them, I spend my volunteer hours cleaning and changing rooms, bathrooms, and gazing in romantic disbelief at the Himalayas while pinning wet sheets to dry on the roof. Spending this much time alone, yet surrounded by others who have quite mastered their own peace of mind, has allowed me the space to reflect deeply on myself and my thought processes. There was a moment there when I found myself daydreaming about becoming a nun; shaving my hair, giving away my clothes, giving up long Epsom salt and essential oil baths and a comfortable degree of vanity, giving up whiskey gingers over ice and Netflix and chill…and then I quickly shook myself out of it. I do have a huge amount of respect for those people who choose to live the life of a nun. Monks as well, but I recently learned about how the inequality between sexes prevail in Monasteries and Nunneries and I’m trying not to feel let down. For instance, Monks get 7 chances to come back to their monastery if they decide to leave, while Nun’s only have 1. (Perhaps this will be a future blog topic when I’ve done more research).
Everyday I catch golden hour on the rooftop of the nun’s building, lay out an old yoga mat I found in the linen closet, and attempt to whip my body and mind into enough shape to not get completely slaughtered during next month’s yoga teacher training. In front of me loom the mammoth Himalayan mountains wrapped tightly in stratus clouds, and to them I wholeheartedly devote my practice. Watching this whole scene the other day it occurred to me that I am the mountains, and the clouds are my thoughts. In the moment I felt really proud of myself for making that connection but writing it down now it’s dawning on me how cliche that sounds. But if that gives you any idea of the la-la land state of my mind lately. I think after a chaotic almost 2 weeks of traveling and having to be mentally prepared for anything to go wrong at any moment, hitting the pause button for these last 2 weeks has felt necessary. Also, I brushed up a little more closely than I would have liked with human impermanence when I witnessed a new friend plummet off a Himalayan cliff in a paraglide that didn’t catch the air. Before you spit your coffee out at your computer screen, both her and her tandem guide are alive and well if not a little traumatized and scratched up. I won’t get much further into this story as it’s not mine to tell, but I will say that it has nudged me into more of a hermity state than I otherwise would have been, and also that I listened a little more closely and intently when the Lama started giving his lesson on impermanence. The few times that I’ve since poked my head out of my hermit shell, I’ve ended up getting wrapped up in innocent, but slightly draining and unnecessary mini adventures. For example, the other day I casually walked into a jewelry shop and before I knew it I found myself on the back of a motorbike to see the upscale jewelry factory all the way across town. If I made that sound sketchy just relax and trust me when I say it wasn’t. I got a thorough 2 hour long tour of the entire place while trying to act like I was interested in buying something and also trying not to cringe every time prices were mentioned. Fascinating place as it was, for my last 2 days off the furthest I’ve ventured from my room has been the rooftop of my building. Despite the exclusively solitary picture I’ve been painting of this place, I have in fact made friends with the few other volunteers here. My social purge of the day has often been our after dinner ritual of sitting around the table playing poker with dried beans. I love that. Now I can say that I learned how to play poker at a Buddhist nunnery.


It is 8:00pm here now and I am exhausted and ready to pass out. (Go ahead call me a baby). I sincerely hope that all of you readers are safe from all the hurricanes, and not too downtrodden by the daily blasts of disheartening news. It is difficult for me, as far away from the political world as I thought I could get, to allow myself this time for self-growth and healing without feeling guilty that I’m not doing more to show up and speak out. Although I do wonder if that sometimes being away from it all (and I acknowledge that this is a privilege of mine), to mature mentally and foster peace within myself, is for now at least the most beneficial work that I can and should be doing for the political world. Curious to hear thoughts if you have any. But more importantly, thank you for getting this far, thank you for being interested in my journey, and thank you for supporting me. Until next time, and next time I plan to dedicate a portion of my blog to describing how exactly this place pulls off being completely zero-waste, so if you care about the earth you will stay tuned. (Not to use the manipulation of our guilty human consciences regarding our poor dying planet as a tactic to gain a loyal audience or anything).
Okay, ta ta for now. Lots of love no matter who you are cause that’s just where I’m at right now (but don’t get used to it).
Gressa
P.S. If you’re wondering what happened to my travel companion, Shannon, she has left to work on Vandana Shiva’s farm in Dehradun for a couple of months. If you’re interested in finding out more about who this bad-ass Indian woman is who started a solar-powered, eco-friendly, feminist-af farm in India I highly recommend looking her up. Also I’m sure Shannon would be happy to tell you all about it.
P.P.S. An excerpt from the 3rd day of HH Dalai Lama’s teaching on “Entering into the Middle Way”:
Like animals we human beings have sensory consciousnesses, but we also have a marvellous intelligence on the basis of which we can achieve happiness. Most people, however, underestimate their mental potential and instead seek pleasure in sensory gratification. When the mind is disturbed, sensory pleasures will not set it at ease, but if you have peace of mind, whatever goes on outside you will be much less upsetting. We have to use our intelligence to the full.
P.P.P.S. If anyone was paying close attention and is wondering what happened on the 4th day of the Lama’s teaching, I slept in that day.

“My Sister, My Heart”: Finding Humanity in Rajasthan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(All of the good photos are taken by Shannon Herlihy)

10 days into my India travels, I’m sitting in an Alice in Wonderland themed cafe called Morgan’s Place in Dharamkot; a small hippie town near Dharamshala with a gorgeous view of the Kangra Valley and the snow capped Dhauladhar mountains. Monkeys teeter on the skimpiest of branches, and just when I’m sure they’re going to fall they gracefully swoop to another. Yellow-billed Blue Magpie’s soar across the mountain ranges displaying their freakishly long tails that flutter and flap behind them like blue splattered wedding gown trails. I’m watching all of this through a large window, huddled on a cushion on the floor with a steaming cup of chai and a whole pizza on the table in front of me. (Not very Indian of me but I finally got my appetite back after an episode of Delhi belly). The power keeps going on and off and so does the space heater, which is a shame because it’s cold up here in the mountains and I’m having all of my jackets washed by a local Indian woman who offered to do it for only 50 rupees. The ceiling here is a painted universe with splattered white stars and multicolored planets. The signs that led me to the cafe were cute wooden boards painted with sentences like “follow this sign if you’re mad” and “go on til the end: then stop,” which is also an accurate example of Indian directions I’ve come to find the hard way. It’s actually quite appropriate that I’m sitting in an Alice in Wonderland themed cafe because a relevant sequel could be called Gressa in India. Although I do wish I could shrink a little more to better cram myself into the shrunken streets and also as to not tower over most of the locals.


Dharamshala is an entirely different planet from Rajasthan, which is where I’ve been traveling for the past week with my good friend Shannon. Rajasthan is hot, bustling, and exhausting. It is a region rich with royalty and romantic history. In Jodhpur we spent a day at the Mehrangarh Fort, one of the largest forts in India, with unashamedly touristy big black headphones listening to a cheaper version of a tour guide and dodging families wanting selfies (a selfie with each member of the family and then one all together). At first I felt tickled but after the 30th request I started to understand how it feels like to be a famous person always running from the paparazzi. (Side note, Nick Jonas and his Fiance Priyanka Chopra were apparently there a week after we were and I’m sure they had a hell of a time). In the short and rare moments I had to myself in the fort I would stand in the six hundred year old rooms imagining the royal men and women lounging in their brightly colored flowing clothing; chatting, arguing, laughing, feasting, loving, and fighting. Rudyard Kipling, poet and author of The Jungle Book, upon visiting the fort poetically described it as “(a) Palace that might have been built by Titans and colored by the morning sun.” Needless to say, there is magic built into the bricks and the stones that make up the fort as well as the small blue city that surrounds its walls.

On our last day in Jodhpur we ventured out into the market. I was sucked over to the first woman who started shouting at me about her dupatta’s (traditional Indian shawls), and like the amatuer I am I bought 3 before I knew what was happening for a price I didn’t even try to bargain for. Afterwards, we walked around with dupatta’s wrapped around our heads, shoulders and mouths, mostly to keep the dust out and attempt to lessen the stares, but also because, well, they’re pretty. While Shannon and I were walking around the market we started noticing stares from locals, and a few even blatantly laughed in our direction, so we wandered over to a lassi stand to avoid the spotlight and to sip mango lassi’s. We started talking with an Indian man working at the market who has never been to a day of school in his life but seemed to have attained the wisdom of the whole universe. He said that he learned his impressive English from the tourists among a handful of other languages. While it was pressing on our minds, we decided to ask him what he thought about us, as westerners, wearing traditional clothing. His response was similar to the responses that we would get from more locals in the days that followed; and that response was generally that as long as we were in India, wearing traditional clothing was appropriate for not only showing interest in and respect for the culture, but also for lessening the stares from men and for accommodating to the weather (wearing the dupattas to cover our mouths to avoid dust and shield our head and shoulders from the hot, Rajasthani sun). However, wearing traditional clothing back in the states could be seen as potentially problematic, and, depending on what is worn and in what context, does teeter the line between cultural appreciation and appropriation. For myself, as a privileged westerner who’s heritage is responsible for colonialism, cultural appropriation lies heavily in my heart and mind and is something I’ve been keenly aware of and have been doing my best to avoid. It has so far become clear to me that the difference between cultural appreciation and appropriation is between being consensually given a cultural gift from a local, and non-consensually taking something from a culture because we think it looks pretty, we like it, and because we’ve been socialized to believe we have the right to take whatever we want (free country amirite boys?). Moving forward, I believe that this next section of my blog describes a good example of cultural appreciation; however, I am more than open to feedback if anyone thinks otherwise.


On the morning of our first full day in Jaisalmer, (we’d arrived late the previous night) we met a woman on our way to find an ATM who invited us into her home for lunch. I am embarrassed to say that at first I was suspicious and wary of her intentions, but something about her found us strolling over to where she’d said her house was after our ATM run. This woman, who’s name I’m probably not spelling correctly but sounds like “Banasi” ushered us into her small brick and clay two room home, cooled by a small overhead fan and warmed by the charming smiles of her four children. Upon our arrival all of the residents got to work on making sure our visit was five stars. Her oldest daughter made us papad’s with hot curry stuffed peppers and her younger daughters got to work on decorating out forearms and palms with henna. Her son and his friend sat in a corner watching television, requesting from time to time to have their picture taken as they posed in various cool poses. Although financially this family seemed to be hurting by western standards, they showered us in gifts, entertainment, laughter, and, for me at least and I think I can say this for Shannon as well, restoration of faith in humanity. Among gifts varying from small handmade cloth animals and marionette dolls they sold at the market, my favorite was a ring that I complimented on one of the daughters’ hands and before I knew what was happening was being lovingly escorted onto my finger. In return I gave her a ring of my own and I found myself wanting nothing more than to give them everything I had with me that day and more. Shannon gifted them with some of her ointments and creams that she’d made, which was received with humble surprise and appreciation especially from one of the boys who had a small rash on his chest. Although we could have stayed there all day, we said our goodbyes in the early afternoon as we had booked a camel safari at 3pm. Banasi insisted on walking us most of the way to our hostel, switching from smiling up at us sweetly to turning around and clucking at her children who were mischievously trailing behind us, not wanting to see us leave. Before she left us she looked back between both of us, placed a hand over her chest and touched the other to our shoulders and repeated, “My sister my heart, my sister my heart.”


That evening we rode camels into the desert and drank large Kingfisher beers from a mysterious beer man: a villager who rode his motorcycle through the desert to our camp like a godsend carrying the large box of goods on the back of his bike. We sat on a sand dune watching the sunset and the almost full moon rise, sharing travel stories between our small group of adventurers; all wild spirits bursting from Ireland, Israel, Germany, and South Africa. We were the only Americans, which has not been an uncommon theme, (so far I believe we’ve met one other fellow American traveler). That night I drifted to sleep on a cot beneath the dazzling desert stars, waking up only once to watch in disorienting dream state as a Bengal fox tried to sneak into our camp and a guide shot up to promptly chase him away.

The next day after a quick Indian breakfast cooked for us over the fire by our guides, we rode our camel’s back through the desert and returned to our hostel to prepare ourselves for a 14 hour train ride to Jaipur.
Jaipur was nice but we only had a day and a half there, which we spent mostly between our Zostel and the rooftop restaurant of a hotel that allowed for a wide view of Rajasthan’s capital. The next morning we flew into Delhi, and in the chaotic Delhi airport barely made our flight to Dharamshala thanks to Indian directions and a language barrier. Flying into Dharamshala is how I’d like to imagine it might be like soaring into heaven; with a birds eye view of the Himalayan mountain range and a physically felt change of energy from bustling and stressful to peaceful and serene; home to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, countless beautiful and bizarre species of Himalayan wildlife, and now, for this next month, me :). More to come on what life is like at a zero-waste, all women’s Buddhist nunnery in the most beautiful place I’ve ever been in my life (sorry Blue Ridge Mountains, love you).
Yours truly, (unless you don’t deserve me),
Gressa

“Lighthouse, Not Sponge”: alternatively, “The Sanctuary Stalker”

(A jotting down of my month long experience volunteering at the whimsical Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY).

Time, as our world knows it, does not exist here. The days brush up against me like cattails and disappear into the bushes. Minutes freeze mid-scamper to observe me before diving back behind the trees with their food scraps. Seconds half-glance down at me from their branches, immersed in their squawking. One of the meditation teachers here noted that you really know that you’re meditating when a bird lands on your head, mistaking you for a stump or some inanimate object. That’s how I feel like I am here in respect to time.

Because time here is non existent, the relationships here happen fast and they go deep. I have to keep reminding myself that I’ve only known these people for barely a month even though I feel like I’ve known some of them for much longer; and maybe I have, who knows, (past life stuff is a big topic here). And because everyone is so intune with each other and with all of the different energies floating around, it can be easy to feel like you’re soaking up everything and everyone like a sponge and then you don’t have a sink to squeeze yourself into because your tent is drenched from all the shithead storms.

 

And that is how I found myself, one week in, completely drained and confused, typing into my search engine “how to deflect unwanted energy.” Who needs therapy when you’ve got the google search bar at your fingertips to solve all your energetic crisis? The first result was a lovely article entitled, 10 Top Tips to Protect Yourself and Deflect Negative Energy. Many of their tips involve crystals and sage and spells, which are all fine and dandy when you’re not too broke to buy all those things from the cute, pricey bookstore. My hero of the month turned out to be Tip #7, delightfully entitled ‘Think Lighthouse not Sponge,’ which is exactly how it sounds. And so, every time this month that I felt overwhelmed I would mutter to myself, “lighthouse, not sponge, big shiny lighthouse, Gressa, not sponge.”  

When I first got here it felt like everything was going wrong. My tent didn’t arrive for the first couple days, which actually worked out fine because a friend here was generous enough to lend me her foam mattress and crash in her tent. But then when I finally got my tent and set it up it rained for 3 straight days and my tarp came down in the storm and the foam mattress soaked up the water like a sponge (see what I did there?). I spent those nights sleeping in the staff lounge on the bed bug and I don’t even wanna know what else infested couches. Also at that time I was noticing poison ivy creeping up my hands and my feet. One evening when I ducked into my tent to change I was flat out attacked by every species of mosquito and spider and gnat and I’ll admit, that was the closest I came to losing my shit that 1st week. I bolted out of my tent just in my towel and streaked down the path through the campsite scattered forest and straight into an ice cold shower and didn’t bother muffling my teeth gritted groans and half hysterical giggle whining, all the while whimpering “lighthouse, not sponge, lighthouse, not sponge…”

Everyone in first aid knew me by name by the end of that 1st week. I became a regular there between my poison ivy and the mysterious thorn I swore I had stuck into my foot but was nowhere to be found. I’ll admit I’m a little bit of a hypochondriac and maybe I was subconsciously looking for a little attention. As most of you know my mom’s a nurse so there’s probably a weird thing there about looking for motherly support from health professionals. To be fair though I was in need of support early into my 2nd week, as I was unfortunately wrapped up in a situation that lead to someone getting kicked out for crossing quite a few people’s boundaries. My boundaries included. To omit the situation from my blog would not only water down the intensity of this past month, but also filtering my writing has never been my style. Be careful who you disrespect boys! Or just follow the golden rule and try not disrespecting anyone. And girls. Just everybody respect everybody okay? Anyway. 🙂

Longish story shortish, I trusted somebody too quickly as a lighthearted friend just in time for his unfortunate mental collapse, which I may or may not have triggered. Apparently I reminded him in a few short days of his recent ex girlfriend, especially after rejecting him upon his first physical advancement. The days following my rejection of him as anything more than a friend, I noticed his behavior becoming strange and unpredictable; sometimes he would confess his undying love (which I made very clear was not reciprocated), and other times he would tell me that I confused him and he thought he couldn’t deal with my presence anymore. This whole one sided hot and cold affair came to a dramatic end one afternoon, about a week and a half into my month, as I was meditating by myself in Omega’s charming mountain top sanctuary. As I was drifting in and out of a disorienting meditation, partly thanks to my lack of undisturbed sleep, I heard what I thought was a bird running into the windows that surrounded the meditation hut.

I opened my eyes to see him violently “cleaning” the windows with a broom. And by cleaning I mean using the broom as a baseball bat and the windows as the baseball. So, naturally, I took this disturbance as an opportunity to test my meditation skills. I envisioned myself as a giant version of myself, a giantess in all of her giantess rage and power…(I’d like to see him try anything on this armored giant warrioress). But then I heard the door open and close and a shadow fell over the room. He was inside and he was proceeding to vacuum in tight, intentional circles around me. At this point I felt the image of my badass giantess shrivel and pop. I was outraged by the inconsideration, outraged by his nerve. It is unheard of to vacuum in the meditation room of the sanctuary when there are people occupying the space; and I was joined there by one other young woman, who was sitting in the back corner looking deeply disturbed and annoyed. At this point I got up and stomped off as quietly as possible to the restroom outside of the room. I splashed my face with cold water and thought about what I could possibly say to this person to get him to leave me in peace. What was my power move in this situation? I decided that I would tell him peacefully and bluntly to “fuck off.”

When I opened the bathroom door he was standing inches away from me, waiting for me. And his size is not to be messed with either. And I felt something then that I’ve never fully felt before and I never want to feel again. As powerful as I feel in my strong, female body, the body that loomed before me could crush me in seconds. And it was yelling at me; its face was inches from mine, spitting on my face. Something about how I was a cold hearted bitch and all he’s ever given me is love and kindness. My cells felt rigid and rusty. I felt red and I felt fucking furious. I knew that nothing that I could have said to him in that moment would do any good, so I turned and I walked ferociously in the other direction as far away as I could get. I stormed into the forest and then I sat down by a tree and let it all sink in. I stayed away from everyone that day not wanting to disturb anyone with my mood and not caring to be disturbed further. That night when I finally made myself stick my head into the staff lounge, the first person I made eye contact with came up and asked me if I’d heard: my sanctuary stalker had been kicked out that day. Apparently after our interaction he had proceeded to make quite the scene and was brought into the People and Culture office, who promptly fired him after he began yelling and demonstrating obvious signs that he was not fit to continue volunteering at Omega.

After his banishment, my days took a turn for the best. I learned a great deal from that experience about asserting my boundaries and listening to my intuition about the people around me. Mostly, however, I spent a good amount of my time alone; in meditation, reading, running, exploring all of the intriguing groups that took over the campus on a weekly basis, journaling, and preparing myself for my upcoming Indian adventure. About a week after my sanctuary stalker (how he will forever be referred to as) left, I decided that it was not enough for me for him to just be gone. I hadn’t been able to talk much about my experience, and I was starting to feel paranoid about him coming back at night. He did live only 20 minutes away and he knew the location of my tent. So I took my case to the People and Culture department, and after retelling my story, the sanctuary stalker will never again lie a foot on Omega’s soil.

I began this blog entry 2 weeks into my Omega experience, and I am finishing it up a month later in Baltimore, 2 short days before flying to New Delhi, India. I made a promise to myself that I would keep a blog during my travels, and have also been mentioning it to friends and family to further motivate myself to keep this promise. Welcome to my blog! This first blog is much longer than I intend to make the entries that follow, as I hope to be keeping them up weekly. So if you’ve made it this far, you are a true friend and I thank you for caring about my life. There is obviously much more about my month at Omega that I could write about, as it was rich with growth, healing, and metaphysical non-drug induced mind and spirit trips. But perhaps for another time, because honestly I’m over this first blog and anxious to post. See you in India!

Much love, (unless I don’t know you or particularly like you),

Gressa