Monday, 4 January 2016

Of Grief and Grace and Arising and Passing Away

The winds of grace are always blowing, but it is you who must raise your sails. ~ Rabindranath Tagore 

Coming up to midnight on winter solstice 2014, I wrapped myself up, walked out of my then-home on the seafront in Mumbles and followed the coast path. Finding a quiet spot, I stepped down onto the beach, sat on a damp rock and looked out to the far low tide, distant sea merging with mist in that mystical way Welsh seascapes do.

I meditated for about twenty minutes and then in a small, still, silent ritual set my intentions for the coming year. Looking back at my notebook, I seem to have manifested all of them. Given the nature of my 2015, this is surprising.

Here’s some of what I wrote:

…on Swansea Bay between Mumbles and West Cross. The tide out, sea lost in mist, light rain, like the air was wet – looking out to sea like looking into the heart of the longest night, lost in darkness and mist. A glow somewhere (in my head? heart?) – the return of light? A promise? A hope? We need darkness to see the stars…

The intention that came to me most clearly, almost by surprise, was “it’s time to go back to India”. By that, meaning the kalari… This seemed logistically improbable at the time but, as I said, that voice was very clear…

A few days later, I was off on my self-directed retreat (see the post On Tong Len and Toilets). Upon my re-emergence into the world, I received a letter informing me my landlord was repossessing his flat. Very soon after, a friend suggested I rent her holiday chalet. “You can only stay from March to November,” due to holiday chalet planning regulations. “But you can leave your stuff there.”

“Oh,” I thought, “that’s how I’m going to India.” And suddenly it was logistically probable.

Winter solstice 2015 found me looking at the moon over the top of Arunachala from my Vipassana retreat in south India. 

Yes, somehow, all those intentions manifested.

But back to the beginning of 2015.

I embarked on house-move number twenty-seven (I thought it was worth counting them up this time) and had no sooner negotiated that upheaval and started to feel a little more settled in my holiday chalet home by beautiful Caswell Bay that Nana died.

As a child I was fascinated by patterns. They still bewitch me a little. I’m not much concerned with reading meaning into them, but symmetries seduce me. My mother and her pattern of nines: born, married, the birth of her first child (me), died - all on the 9th day of the month. And the months for her: August, September, October. (My arrival disrupting the pattern as usual in June.)

And now a new pattern. I had exactly reached the age my mother was when she died. And here I was caretaking not my own passing (I did sometimes wonder) but her mother’s, just as I had to a rather crazy degree for a nineteen year old, overseen much of my own mother’s.

In 2010, after my first stay at the kalari, I stopped in Varkala for a few days before exploring a little more of Kerala. An old man sitting at the top of some steps leading down the cliffs grabbed my hand to read my palm. “You will live to 87”, he told me, and that same clear inner voice that sometimes pipes up said “I wonder if he’s talking about Nana”. Nana died exactly a week before her 87th birthday.

It was Easter and she had suffered her own crucifixion in the weeks preceding. “An auspicious time to die,” I said to Colin, the craniosacral therapist who has been treating me for various ailments of body and spirit over the last few years. “Very. And the sacrifice – taking on the suffering for others,” he reminded me.

Somehow I felt this. My internet wasn’t working and my phone network was playing up, so I had to drive near Mumbles to make the phone call to receive the news of her passing. It was unusually warm for April, a beautiful, luminous evening. Immediately, I felt lighter, like an old weight had lifted, at the same time a new weight of grief descended.

I made the requisite phone calls and drove back home, not quite sure what to do with myself. It felt absolutely significant that at this time, as at so many others, I was utterly alone.

So I did what I often do. I went for a walk. Here’s what I saw.



It struck me yet again how powerful a tool trauma is for making me totally present. There was no attention for anything but the sensation of my feet walking the path, the movement of my breath. The very air on my skin felt overwhelming.

I had frequently wondered over the previous few years whether it wouldn’t be me making an exit, so hard had they been. I looked on in some astonishment at my health, which seemed to continue so robustly in spite of everything. Of the ends I have witnessed, Nana’s was by far the worst. So much suffering, psychological even more than physical, spread all around, fracturing the fragile network of relationships around her. Most of all, she suffered. And what an appalling thing to witness and be able to do nothing for. She lived and died that case of squeezing her hand to hold the water and wondering why it all runs out. Because, yes, only an open hand holds water…

But I had this very strange, irrational sense that this awful karma of clinging, controlling poor Nana had lived, and lived fully, with all her power and enthusiasm and generosity, so the rest of us could set it down. Perhaps it’s odd to feel grateful but she had carried her sacrifice completely and bravely. And it’s one of the many things for which I’m profoundly grateful to her.

A few days later, I went to the nursing home round the corner from my chalet, to find the people who had been with her during the night she died. One doesn’t generally meet Malayalis in Swansea, but they were two nurses from Kerala, one of whom I had met on my visit the day before Nana’s passing. For the first time I felt I was sitting with two people who were just kind and present, no threat of imminent attack or demand or judgment. For the first time since her death, I felt safe enough to cry, just a little.

“Where are you from?” I asked the nurse I hadn’t met before.
“South India,” she answered.
“Yes, where?” I asked.
“She knows Kerala,” said her colleague. “She does kalari. Look, here is Aum,” she indicated the charm on my necklace.

“You really have a connection with that place,” remarked a friend as I recounted this to him on a beach walk some days later.

At the funeral home, when discussing the logistics of Nana’s cremation, we’d been asked what to do with any jewellery on her body. “Let her take it with her,” I’d answered. My brother had agreed.

“Wait, I have something for you,” said one of the nurses and went to a locker to remove a brown envelope. In it was the little gold chain Nana had been wearing. Of course, Indian women have a different relationship to gold…

I took it down to the sea at Caswell and held it in the incoming and outgoing waves as I recited the Mahamrtyunjaya mantra 108 times.

My intention was to clean the chain of its dark residue of suffering and death. I’ve taken a few things to the sea with that mantra. I wasn’t thinking precisely what it means; I’d mostly forgotten.

Months later, I was sitting in the low chair in the front of my Sanskrit teacher’s house in Trivandrum, transcribing that mantra into Devanagari script to test my understanding of the pronunciation. He then took me through it, translating each word for me. Roughly it means:

We give fire offering to the fragrant three-eyed one (Shiva) who increases fertility/prosperity. Like the pomegranate (or watermelon – fruits that fall on their own, without effort), release me easily from the bonds of death to the eternal.
Om tryambakam yajāmahe sugandhim puṣṭi-vardhanam ǀ
urvārukam-iva bandhanān mṛtyormukṣīya māmṛitāt

Mahamrtyunjaya mantra means the great death conqueror mantra.

Sometimes we know without knowing.

transcriptions and corrections

At Nana’s funeral service at the pretty chapel at Clyne, I chose to read a poem by Mary Oliver.


Messenger
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird –
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

A few things occurred to me as I walked up the steps of the Victorian pulpit in my navy dress to read the poem. I looked out at my mother’s father’s family who had crossed the country to be there and thought how hard it must be for them to see me, the same age as my mother was when she died, the same age her father was when he died, and how they all think I am so like her (a comparison which always makes me profoundly uncomfortable). I wondered whether my voice would hold, whether I would hold. So I concentrated on my feet in touch with the wood through my shoes, my breath in the pit of my belly, my gaze as it embraced everybody there.

A strange thing happened as I began. A wave of power rose up through my feet, filled my body and carried my voice to fill the church so that it was all far bigger than I am. I hesitate to use the term because it’s become so hackneyed, but really it was a sense of pure Shakti. I’d always struggled in theatre with big emotion closing down my throat, contracting and constricting my voice, but here it was totally open and very powerful, even in breaking.

So that’s what Lear’s channelling, carting Cordelia’s body around the fifth act, I thought.

I wonder how Shakespeare knew.

It felt an inappropriate moment to be thrust into performance practice research, but there it was: the states we open to and create and how we share those with others present. And looking round, it seemed clear to me that the other mourners had felt it too. Really, a moment of grace.

For the past few, traumatic years I had felt like a hot desert fire was powering my body, giving me huge energy but drying me out. I did at times wonder whether I would survive it. With Nana’s passing, all the holding released and that dry fire turned to something liquid and swampy. I was permanently sluggish and exhausted and genuinely panicked that I was coming down with some form of unshiftable chronic fatigue.

Patience Lucy, all things in their season. I modified my yoga practice accordingly and tried not to panic. But it didn’t shift. And part of me panicked. For months.

The strange thing was that in my Aikido practice, people were telling me how fit and strong I was. My body was doing it mostly. It just felt like my bones were like water as it did.

In June, one of my oldest friends committed suicide, in particularly distressing circumstances.

Just as I found out, I was called to my other grandmother, Lucie, not far off 92, in the south of France, as she was very ill.

She recovered.

I returned to my friend's funeral.

In 2009 I was taught a meditation called the Kalagni Rudra. Basically, you dissolve everything. About 10 days after I started practising it, my entire London life dissolved around me. Well, if you want to practise, you have to take the consequences. I kept practising.

“But I feel like it’s been one long process of dissolving ever since then,” I told Colin the craniosacral therapist over the summer.

“Don’t you think it’s time to start building?” he asked.

The problem is, I’ve come to realise that if anything has a remotely shaky foundation, it’s inevitably set for dissolution, so better, easier, sooner rather than later.

This was the year any problematic or inauthentic relationships I’d been politely paying lip service to were once and for all cast into the fire. I no longer had the energy or desire to keep them limping along. The French have a saying «Mieux vaut être seul que mal accompagné» which means “better alone than in bad company”. I’ve realised that I live this with a fervour that is perhaps not entirely healthy. But I do love people, many of them, just not generally too close.

Having said all of this, it did feel that perhaps this phase of dissolving might be coming to a close. For a start, now that Nana was gone, I had a promise to fulfil to her, of buying a home. So maybe house-move number 28 would be the last one for a good long while.

It turned out it wasn’t quite finished. On All Souls Day, I was sitting in my Sanskrit teacher’s front room again. Unusually, my phone rang and as it was a UK number, I took the call. My other grandmother had died during the previous night of Halloween in France. Given her astonishing life-force and occasional ferocity (though never towards me), it seemed perfectly appropriate she should go this night the veil between worlds is thin. My full heart was grateful I’d seen her last summer, grateful for the sense of connection I’d had with her, sad not to have seen more of her over the years. Ah yes, those shaky, dissolved relationships. But funnily enough, never with her.

Receiving the news of the passing of this Lucie I was named for was less isolated than it had been for Nana’s, but awkward, sitting in a meeting point of different cultures on death, the personal and the formal, three or four languages. I found myself falling into my usual pattern of caretaking everyone’s feelings but my own, concerned my teacher shouldn’t feel embarrassed at the situation. That day on my way home, I was less tolerant than I usually am of the children treating me like the circus come to town. Sometimes it’s wearing being the woman with three heads. Sometimes it would be a relief to be seen as ordinary.

Having said that, while people think I’m strange here in India, I’m sure they think I’m just as strange in Wales. Just generally, they’re quieter about it there.

Given that since my 2013 departure from the kalari the term I’d used most honestly to describe my general state was “punch-drunk”, my return to Trivandrum in October felt wholly enchanted.

Yet in all the difficulties, there were countless instances of kindness and integrity over the last year, from friends old and new in Swansea and beyond, from my teacher and fellow practitioners at the Aikido club in Port Talbot. I felt carried by all of these as I landed in Trivandrum. The immigration official at the airport seemed delighted I was here for kalari, and that theme continued.

It was like no time at all had passed with Rajan, the kalari’s senior teacher and my landlord, as he fretted over our crossed wires at the airport (and really, I felt terribly guilty, having got him out there at 4:30 am). People at the kalari I thought would certainly have forgotten me seemed genuinely pleased I was back, arriving in the full swing of the preparations for the annual 3-day puja.

“Be free,” Rajan had said, when I questioned him on some logistics, “you are part of us.” And I pottered around, greeting everybody, grinning like a child at Christmas.

For the 2012 puja, Shiva Rea, a rather famous American yoga teacher, had been around doing lots of filming. “It is the students’ privilege to clean the kalari” had said Rajan to camera, in his formal, dignified voice. I hadn’t thought much of it at the time, being rather taken up with polishing a spear and a couple of bucklers.

After one of the morning rituals this October, I was helping tidy up fallen flowers and streamers. One of the regulars tried to take over, under the guise of helping me. “No! She is helping!” had said Rajan, in his fierce way.

“Oh,” I thought, “not everybody gets to clean the kalari.”

For a start, you can’t go into the training-area-come-temple unless you’re an initiated student or priest.

I explained a little in my last post how things have been at the kalari, fitting into the quiet, focused rhythm, much more one of the regulars, for all my different gender and language, than the occasional foreign students who pass through and for whom Sathya (the gurukkal) and Rajan give gracious and time-consuming attention of new-initiation. I’m not quite sure why or how, but that’s the way it is. Maybe because I’m perfectly happy just getting on with it.

When I first came here in 2010, possibly because of my other training, I learnt all the basics very quickly and made great progress over that month. It feels that ever since then, bar the long-stick (a real struggle for me to make any improvement with), nothing much has changed, nor have I learnt much more. This isn’t true of course, and this is where kalari is a lot like the Aikido I practise in Wales. Fundamentally, the basics are the same. There’s a limited amount of material to get through, so everybody, at whatever level, is practising more or less the same thing. What differentiates practitioners is the degree of subtlety and skill and control with which they work. And it’s quiet and methodical and long, but I see the results clearly in the young men I left behind two and half years ago and the fluid and powerful change in them their daily training has wrought.

Almost as soon as I walked into the kalari on my arrival, Sujith, who works in the clinic handed me a slip of paper with my Sanskrit teacher’s number. I had fully intended resuming my classes, assuming my teacher, Mahadevan, was willing, but I’d assumed it would probably take a month or so to track him down, things being what they are here. I sometimes think of Sujith as my good fairy; he really wants me to learn.

For the first few days, I was sharing the house with an Odissi dancer based in Rajasthan (also collecting Rajasthani folk dances) who originally hails from California called Colleena Shakti. On my second morning, still light-headed with arrival, I followed her bleary-eyed for the goddess Saraswati darshana that happens on the side of the huge Padmanabhaswamy temple over Navaratri, the nine nights of the goddess which the kalari puja marks the last three of. I wasn’t prepared and had in fact planned to go to the beach (I think I did later) so wrapped the lunghi around me I had once bought to cover my plunges into the Ganga at Rishikesh, in lieu of the requisite long skirt (or sari). It may be mostly used as a beach towel these days, but that cloth has had some pretty sacred dips, for all it’s now rather travel-worn.

The police officers shepherding the crowds have to follow the strict dress code of the temple, so the men were in white lunghis, bare-chested, and the women in white saris with jasmine in their hair, only their police tags around their neck identifying them as they ushered us through. We were there just towards the end, as we’d been at the kalari homa (a fire ceremony) before. The queue was thick and jostling, with the usual pushing. Slowly, slowly, we followed the line to where the goddess was displayed and the brahmins were dispensing blessings (some rather extraordinary Carnatic musicians in the background). This particular murthi is very small, and as we reached the opening, my sight faded to blindness. I had a distant sense of a tiny idol I couldn’t see, a thick wreath of fragrant marigolds pressed firmly into my hands and staying there resolutely, despite someone’s efforts to tug them out. The floor dropped away and I stood passive, until my sense of self-preservation took me away from the crowd and I joined Colleena on the floor to recover, watching the musicians finishing their set. “That was on her body,” Colleena said, indicating the marigolds. “What a blessing!”

Well I may not have seen the goddess, but I’m pretty sure she saw me.

Given that Saraswati is learning and the arts and wisdom and speech and the Vedas, I decided this was an auspicious beginning to my stay.

The next day was Vidhya Arambham, the ceremonial recommencement of learning (also associated with Saraswati), and the main ritual for the beginning of the year’s training at the kalari, in which all students participate and part of which involves touching the gurukkal’s feet and receiving his blessing.

It’s hard to explain just how full and happy was my heart, and moved to the point of tears when my turn in the line came, after his sister, to touch Sathya’s feet and receive his blessing. I’m not sure if it was the joy of being back, the simple surprise of being so welcome, the release from all I’d been through over the last years – perhaps all three.

When it was all over, I cleaned up and caught up with people and ate too much sickly-sweet prasadam everyone kept giving me more of, and drank sweet tea and smiled a lot. Then Unny gave me a lift to Mahadevan’s house (because I didn’t trust myself to remember where it was) where smaller rituals of learning were being enacted at the Sanskrit school, and where I was made to read something and given a short lesson before being fed festive lunch, with everyone looking on in fascination at the foreigner eating (India is not a place to be self-conscious).

Dazed and jet-lagged that first week, I felt as though I was falling in love with everything and everyone I encountered. It was a genuinely surprising sensation, and exactly that same overwhelming heart-opening melting I’ve felt when falling in love with a person. But fundamentally much safer and quite probably more satisfying.

Of course, this honeymoon period wore off, and I got down to the daily business of training and studying, continuing my work online, still hampered by the damp heavy exhaustion with me since Nana’s death. Things fell into a rhythm and started to shift. For my first few days Sathya treated my back, which had gone into dramatic and excruciating spasm shortly before my arrival, with daily massage. He gave me some stretches to work on and I was instructed to apply a particular oil daily. I’m to have further treatment before I leave, but as that involves full rest from training, I think the plan is to do what we did in the past, and save it for the very end of my stay (because you have to take an equal amount of time off training after as during treatment). In the no-nonsense, pragmatic way of the kalari, there’s a sense of being looked after.

Rajan drills us every morning, politely correcting my forms, fiercer at times when it comes to the long stick (I would try a saint’s patience). “I will take a stick and beat you”, he half-joked on my first try back with it. Of course he would do no such thing; however clumsy I may at times be, he is unfailingly precise. “I give many corrections but I must have perfection.” And then in all that quiet dignity and occasional ferocity, an occasional gleam of mischief, like this morning, my first back in the kalari after three weeks away, when he called up to me as I was leaving: “Lucy, I stole a piece of chocolate from the fridge!” and we both laughed.

Sathya teaches us very occasionally, being general taken up with the clinic but I pay very careful attention to whatever he gives. Invariably I’ll be working on something I feel I’ve achieved a reasonable standard with and he’ll introduce a degree of subtlety and rigour that has me puzzling and struggling literally for years to come. Such as my elephant posture some weeks back, when he came up to me. “Like this” with the feet, and adjusted the grip of the toes, and “try to stretch this tendon here”, and adjusted the rotation of my thighs, “and a little more low” and something fired and worked in my pelvic floor no yoga asana has yet touched.

I took three weeks off in December because I decided it was really time to put myself through another Vipassana and there’s a new centre at the mountain Arunachala in Tamil Nadu, said to be the embodiment of Shiva as fire, and one of the places I’ve wanted to visit. So I planned a little trip, starting at my friend Irene’s in Chennai, who with her parents and husband always spoils me rotten, then onto Tiruvannamalai for ten days of 10 hours a day meditation and total silence, and then a chance to visit the temple and the Ramana ashram, and then onto Chidambaram, where I’d heard all sorts of things about its “secret”, before a return via Bangalore, to catch up with some dancer friends there.

The Vipassana was its usual challenge, though I loved the setting, for all it was still a building site. Stories from that to follow.

The first few days were their usual ordeal of extreme boredom for me. At one point I gave up entirely on forcing my mind to the extremely dull task it had no interest in and just sat in silence and re-worked all my plans for the coming year in some unforeseen directions. Boredom has its uses. By day 6, the instructions were getting subtler, which I found much easier and less painful. At the end of it, a friend of Irene’s arrived to escort me on an extraordinary adventure, which, with hindsight, might have been a little extreme straight out of 10 days’ silence and sitting.

Here’s some of what I posted on social media:

27th December at Parvata Malai:

After a 3:40 wake-up bell (because 4:00 is a lie-in) and the closing meditation and whatnot of the Vipassana course, a friend of a friend arrived at the centre in a car with a group of friends (I think we're all friends now) to check me into my hotel and take me up to a temple built crazily tip-top a mountain. After a 3 hour trek up, the last part essentially hanging onto spikes and ladders on the side of a mountain - did I mention my terror of heights?... Anyway, after 10 days of the most austere meditation I know, no exercise allowed, 10 hours sitting a day and not much food, there I was all sweaty, strenuous, adrenaline-spiked and light-headed, crawling rather less gracefully than the monkeys that kept jumping us on a rockface. And after those 10 days where all rites, rituals and prayers are strictly forbidden, I found myself ushered into her little sanctum to perform the abishekam for the goddess. Intimidating? Just a little... From there into another sanctum with the lingam for another series of rituals. The temple's brahmin was very gracious and seemed very pleased to see me, sending me back down (almost as terrifying as the way up) with lots of information I can't read (but the Tamil and the pictures look pretty). I don't think they get many foreigners up there, stunning views notwithstanding. Certainly one of the lime-soda seller's children looked terrified of me on the way up but had mustered the courage to wave on my way down. 3 hours up, 3 hours down, 2 hours in the temple. To say I feel peculiar is an understatement. All that time in silence focussing on sensation and then vibrating like a tuning fork with it in the mountaintop temple. "Temple? Arunachala?" asked the shopkeeper in the foyer of my hotel. "No, Parvata Malai," I answered. He was impressed enough to inform the hotel staff and now they're all being very nice to me. I'm recovering with two cups of tea and a possibility of calming myself down practising some Sanskrit. And bed.

the Shiva lingam post-abishekam up the top of Parvata Malai

29th December in Tiruvannamalai:

I was dressed head-to-toe in red yesterday, not because of the colour but because I thought there might be some quibbles letting me into the temple and that wearing my most traditional ensemble might help. Even by my usual standards, I elicit strange reactions here. One old man (and he wasn't begging) on my walk to the temple, jumped up from his walking stick, clapped his hand to his heart, looked me straight in the eye and shouted "Om namah Shivaya" very loudly as I passed. (Why me and not every other passer-by, I'm not sure.) I'd noticed on the climb up Parvata Malai the previous day some women dressed in red but beyond asking why (a Shakti cult, apparently) I'd not thought much of it. As I arrived, coach-loads of women in red were filing into the temple, every one of them in a sari (which I wasn't). Again, I didn't think much of it but took my time meandering around the various courtyards. On my way in for darshana, I was grabbed by a group of red-clad ladies on their way out, plonked firmly in the middle of their group photo, all of them trying to touch me at once, the older ones pinching my cheek. On the slow queue in, another group adopted me, one wanting to swap her sari for my very ordinary kurta and bottoms. Well, I went in without a murmur, so I wonder if my clothing choice wasn't a lucky coincidence. I've not had any trouble getting in anywhere so far on this Tamil Nadu trip. Jayaram had joked he'd walk out in protest if they didn't let me in to the temple he and Irene took me to in Chennai, but there wasn't a murmur (I read later in my guide book that they don't let in non-Hindus). Off to Chidambaram later today to visit Shiva as Lord of the Dance (appropriately), so let's see how I fare...

Nandi guarding the Arunachala temple at Tiruvannamalai
The last few days have been full of lucky coincidences, from yesterday's fortuitous wardrobe choice to the timings of my impromptu Ramana Ashram visits. Yesterday I arrived quite by chance just as the intricate and beautiful evening ceremonies were beginning and today I walked in for the chanting that preceded the first of a week of special discourses. And so beautiful that discourse was too, of the small-explosions-in-my-heart-tears-in-my-eyes variety. Quite effortless to sit still on the marble floor for an hour and a half. Then somehow I was carried part-way up the mountain. Tough little battered foreign feet it turns out I have. Thicht Naht Hahn advises us to walk as though our feet are kissing the earth. On Arunachala, they are literally kissing Shiva. A few of my life-plans have shifted these last two weeks. I suspect I'll be back (please).

some of the 30 or so brahmins, young and old, chanting during evening ritual at the Ramana ashram
Shiva Nataraja Temple Gopuram, Chidambaram
30th December, Chidambaram:

Now I am on my overnight bus, I feel better placed to recount my Chidambaram Shiva as Lord of the Dance Temple adventures. First of all, it's a quite extraordinary place - just pulsing. I spent 3 hours there this morning, somewhere between lost and not, last night's dinner persuading me that the light-headedness I've felt for days has nothing to do with lack of food. I found the temple tank at one point and began a slow circumambulation. On the far side, away from the various small groups, was a brahmin performing ablutions. Initially I thought he might just be a visitor, as his hairstyle was rather ordinary, but given the quantity and complexity of ash covering him when he finished, I think he belonged to the temple after all. I'd stopped by a metal walkway that went out into the water, at the end of which long metal poles formed a square on the water's surface. The brahmin interrupted whatever he was doing (I'm not sure what because it feels very injudicious to be gawking at men bathing as a white woman on her own) to come over to me. He only spoke slightly more English than I do Tamil (I know the words for water, no and if not) but it wasn't a problem. He led me out onto the walkway, warning me to be careful because it is lethally slippery with algae. He then explained that under the water under the square is a Shiva lingam, which on occasion they drain the (huge) tank to perform abishekam for. He then left me alone to peer into the green water, and really, it felt quite appropriate that nothing was steady underfoot. Some time later, I was back in the inner sanctum on the edges of a crowd gathered for a puja. The (beautiful) embossed silver doors were shut to us onlookers as the priests went about the ritual. Then, with great fanfare and clanging of bells, the doors opened to reveal the lingam - which is Shiva as akasha, space, and so not visible. If you've ever been to a Hindu temple, you'll have some idea just how insistent the pushing can be and I was in no mood to resist. After all, whether I can see or not, isn't god everywhere? As the doors opened and the pushing began, not only was I not pushed away, but I was pushed by the crowd right into the centre, to the very front, head spinning in space, feet in a puddle. So it is my day of invisible mysteries and blessings. Even my bus was invisible tonight, though I somehow got on it at the last minute. So here I am, on possibly the most comfortable bed I've lain on for weeks, jolting my way through this night to Bangalore. Blessings, visible and invisible, to all. Lxx

the temple tank - under there is the submerged lingam

So now, after my adventures, I am joyfully back in Trivandrum, in my quiet little life of kalari and slow Sanskrit study. Things shifted in those three weeks away. Bizarrely, hardly moving at all bar a few strolls around temples and one arduous hike up a mountain and back, I seem to have lost weight when I don't think I much did during the preceding two months of daily kalari training. And that damp stodginess has lifted - let's hope permanently - and with it that endless sense of exhaustion. If I'm tired or weak, it's through lack of sleep or food rather than that awful sense of systemic weakness. Hurrah for miracles.

Looking back at this past year, I see so much grace, however fierce the transitions.

So grace - hopefully less fierce - and light and joy to you in 2016.
From Lucy, with love xx

because it's the temple of Shiva, lord of the dance

No comments:

Post a Comment