Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Fierce Grace of Arunachala

With the last drop of will, hot and exhausted, I opened a heavy metal gate and made a step outside of the compound where I am staying in Tiruvannamalai, India. I join the river of people who barefoot walking around the ancient mountain Arunachala. People regard Arunachala mountain as Shiva Lingam - the creative force of God.

Arunachala is a conical mountain that can be seen from almost everywhere in this area. Even a view of this mountain said to bring deep transformation. It has magnetic qualities and pull people from all other the world to its foothills, and that is how I got here too.

I was called by Arunachala in a vision, very unexpectedly.  I never even had any desire to visit India, I thought It was a hype, and me being a rebel, I rebel even against the idea to go to India where all the “spiritual people” go. I studied yoga many years ago, then was a meditator for many years, and all that time, when people were making their journey to “mother India”, as they would call it, I felt as my journey is not really geographical.  I had no inclination to travel thousand of miles to search for truth, I felt the search is in me, as someone I heard once said: “It is only 12 inches journey from the head to the heart”. But time came, and I too was called strongly by this mysterious mountain.

It’s December,30 2015, just passed full moon. I am in Esalen Institute in California, floating  in the tub in their famous spring water baths. Its a nighttime. I am looking at the starry sky. This I would write just a moment before. The moment after - the naked body floats in the dark of the night with the stars on the cupola of the sky. I AM. The first experience where the Grace brought this realization upon me came into awareness, and the line that came to the mind at that time is here now again: “From the closest blade of grass, to the furthest star, I AM”

Time stops. I AM. There is no looking through the eyes - it’s all encompassing looking - Seeing. Seeing is a mind state that includes the act of looking and the arising imagery without commentary of the mind. It is a state of a pure natural being, unedited by a conceptual thinking.

Suddenly the sky that was above Esalen became the sky above Mt. Arunachala. I found myself sitting and staring at the sky at the foothill of the holy mountain in India. Prayer came from me spontaneously: “Esalen Land, thank you! You gave me a place to be. You gave me a lover to whom I will return. But for now, please release me. I shall go the the land of India and walk the holy mountain. It is calling me with this vision and a feeling that I finally ready to start to write my book”.

A month and a half later I am here, at the foothills of Arunachala. The first week pass by in mental and physical turmoil. There is a certain level of acceptance here of anything that arising, even difficult emotions or physical pain, I know it is all impermanent phenomena that will pass just how it arise. There is no pushing away from it, just experiencing pain and waiting. The strength and the content of the thoughts and corresponding emotions only point to some deep release that is going on here. The mind jumps like a million monkeys and the body engulfed in a strong heat. Even though it is hot here, but the heat and burning that the body going through, is not because of the weather, I know it. I sat too many Vipassana retreats burning vasanas, mind conditioning, not to recognize what is going on.

The whole place is a retreat here. It isolated me well with the house far from the center of the town. I don’t feel desire to meet with people here, even though meeting with people over chai is one of the usual activity among pilgrims and tourists in this town. I don’t feel like going out to eat, I cook myself simple meals. I don’t read, I can’t pass through the first page of anything. I can’t write, mind is too disturbed to even think clearly. I can’t even meditate for the same very reason. So I am slowly going crazy here, that’s how it feels, except I know that this will pass, and upheaval of the thinking is some detoxification process, as I can call it.

On the February, 21 2016, a night of full moon, Girivalam starts here. It is is a spiritual practice that brings hundreds thousands people here from all over India and all over the world. It’s a walk of 14 km around the Arunachala mountain. It said that this walk burns the karma of ten thousand lifetimes, and it recommended by enlightened beings to make the journey even once in a lifetime. It is also done barefoot, mostly on the hard asphalt road, it’s not easy, especially for westerners, so many can’t complete the walk, or have to wear shoes. 

Girivalam translates as “giri” - the mountain, and “valam” - circling. Thousands of people day and night walk this path on a full moon, its a 24 hours window for this practice. Some people start it earlier, and some start later, so overall it's a river of people around the mountain for 3 days.

In a way, the mountain tricked me. It called me from hundred thousand miles away here to walk around it, and then it sent several people my way to tell me not to walk alone, because it is not safe. I usually feel safe everywhere I go, and I didn’t make much of a deal from the suggestions, so on the first day of a full moon I walked by myself only to stop into 3km of the path, because I didn’t feel comfortable suddenly with young Indian men peering at me. The warnings came to my mind, I succumbed to the fear, and stopped walking as I reached my place.

The place I am staying is called Golden Song. It is a beautiful garden compound with several houses for rent. It is right on the Girivalam pilgrim path, so I hear and feel the current of a human river encircling the mountain day and night, and it only intensifies my state. I already feel burning in my whole being, and the presence of even more stronger energies in the last couple of days with people flooding the town and starting walking in a circle, sends me into the fewer. 98.8, my thermometer says. It is probably the same temperature outside. I feel hot, weak and I am sweating profusely. I feel absolutly let down. Why did she call me in a first place if it does not let me write, meditate, does not let me walk, just like all other people doing it right now? Heck with the karma, let me just be here, simply just be, without sending me into sickness and craziness. But for some reason I can’t relax and write, as I was planning to do here, instead I feel as I am on a hardcore retreat that I didn’t sign up for!

Sick and exhausted I go to bed. I hear the sound of the human river passing by behind the wall, and I see it as one continuous movement of energy, as it is a copper wire around a transformer that creates a dynamo machine. At this point my mind goes into delirium, and I feel as I am in center of a ring of fire. “It is probably hell” -  the last thought in my mind before I fall into sleep.

Couple of hours later I wake up. The sound of a human river is constant, it didn't change a bit. Same intensity engulf me immediately. I drag myself to the kitchen to boil some tea. As I take a stainless steel cup with milk from the refrigerator, I feel an electric current shock. I am surprised, but I continue to manipulate with cup, pot and water, getting electric shock anytime I touch any of it. I think I might have some static, so I walk outside and stand on the ground for sometime. “This can take care of it”, I think. I am still exhausted and can’t think clearly, also I am all wet from sweating while sleeping, so I go to the shower under the cold water. As I am about to turn off the shower I get electrocuted from the shower knob so hard I lost the vision for a second. I manage to turn off the water by wrapping a dry towel around my hand. I stand there naked and delirious, I feel electric current through my body very strong, realizing that I don’t have another choice as to surrender to the call of the mountain.

I step outside the gate and merge into the human river.
“Just take me”, I whisper. Feverish and barefoot, I walk. People passing me by, talking, eating, families and individuals, hundreds of people around me. I don’t feel my feet, no I feel weak anymore, I don't know where I am going, I am a part of the river now, and I just simply walk.

I hear a chant in front of me, couple of women around a bold man who is smeared in ashes, softly repeat mantra with him. Naturally I join. I feel shy a bit at first, but by the time women leave to worship in one of the temples on the way, I am completely immersed in a chanting with the man. He doesn’t stop to worship anywhere, he pass by all the temples with a gesture of his hands together over his head, and continue to walk in a steady pace and chant. The young man, a boy about 16 y.o suddenly join us. We are perfectly aligned by the sound of our voices, all of us having the same pitch. Sometimes people join us, then they disappear, but three of us walk like a unit, and we sing.

“Om Nama Shivaya Shivaya Namaha”, we chant every couple of breaths, stepping on sharp stones, rough asphalt and navigating around the walking people, people selling stuff, siddhis, fortune tellers, fakirs with dancing cobras, disabled children laying on the side with begging bowls, some wheicles, wondering cows and flocks of stray dogs. “Om Nama Shivaya Sivaya Namaha” is the only what exist at this time for me, and a feeling of the mountain on my right side, even if it is blocked by houses or trees, I can feel the presence of a powerful Being.

As we start to approach the center of the town, the human river goes around some barriers, police cars and buses full of people leaving the town. My priest, as I named him, slows down, I feel he cares about another two from the unit not to be lost. Even though he barely looked at me for hours that we walked together, and I never saw his face, walking behind him, I feel so much love circulates between three of us. He cares about us making together to the finish line. I can feel he is surprised by me walking barefoot, he glanced at my white feet several times. Together we comprise a very uncommon unit: a half naked man in ashes, an Indian teenager, and me, a caucasian woman - apparently, perfect trinity to carry a chant together through hours of time and kilometers of the path, not pulled out to temples or vendors to stop.

We walk into the ancient Arunachaleshwar temple. “Om Nama Shivaya Shivaya Namaha! ”, by this time we sound like a professional trio. Its full of people, but the sound of the chant makes people part and give us a way. Suddenly the priest stops chanting, turns around and prostrate himself on the ground. I turn too, and I see the pyramid over my head: the temple, built from stones in a form of the pyramid is immense in the dark of the night. It towers over me in its magnitude. I put my hands over the head in respect. I feel that the size of the human being and the temple’s parameters are in a perfect harmony. I turn to the priest, he turns to me. This is the first time I see his face, with the ashes streaks of different colors on his forehead and his cheeks, and he sees me. He put his hands together in front of his chest, I do the same. Our eyes meet and we say goodbye silently to each other. I leave. He finished his Girivalam by the temple, since he started there, and for me it is another couple of kilometers chanting the mantra I was spontaneously initiated in.