An Indian love affair, that title will make a few people I know sit up and take interest! But it’s not about anyone in particular, it is about this incredible journey, about falling in love with life again, about maybe for the first time ever in my entire life trusting myself, my own judgement, my own instincts, my intiuition, its about falling in love with myself. It is about being able to say to myself, “yes, you’re doing ok.”
I am a prime example of what can happen. You can wholeheartedly believe that your whole life is in complete turmoil, things will never be good again, you have no idea of what you are doing or where you are going. In fact things are so bad and so totally chaotic that you have no other option remaining other than to hand it all over to the universe and see what happens. This time last year I was preparing to move into a caravan for some much needed time out. Little did I know that, one year on, I would be sitting on a beach in Kerala, South India, starting an India Yoga retreat business, working in a top Yoga retreat in Scotland, preparing to write a food book, and generally feeling the best I’ve ever felt in my entire life! How did I get here? I just let go…..
It sounds so simple, just letting go, its not. The trip to India was planned so that I could bring my deceased partners ashes to the great Ganga river in Varanasi, the oldest continually inhabited and most incredibly holy city in the fantastic subcontinent. I then planned to spend some time here, just seeing where the universe sent me, being totally open to whatever came my way and really embracing the idea of going with wherever the energy swept me. Right now I am am settled for a few weeks at an idyllic spot in Cherai, Kerala. I didn’t plan to come here, it just kind of happened. My whole journey here this last three months has been like this. When you’re travelling alone you have to trust your own judgment, I didn’t really consider this before I set off, but its obvious. So I’ve learned to tune in to my own intuition, to notice others behaviour and reactions, to notice my own behaviour and reactions, to make good sound decisions, to know if I make an unwise decision that I will live with the consequences, to truly listen to my heart but to use my intuition and intellect as well, to create balance.
I arrived in Varanasi, a cacophony of the most intense smells, sights, sounds, colours, bizarre happenings. The is where the dead come to be burned and scattered. Its believed that if you can end it all in the great Ganga then all of your sins can be dissolved and your Karmic future will be bright. This is why I came here, to help him. I won’t talk about this any more but I would like to say that the journey to this point, I mean the physical journey was incredible. The respect with which I was teated by Indian customs and people in general because of my purpose was quite overwhelming, and very beautiful.
My beautiful friend Trixy joined me and so after a hectic 48 hours in Varanasi alone I had a companion! We spent a fabulous emotional and wonderful week amongst the Sadhus and dead peoples ashes. Theres a real beauty in death being part of the cycle of life. Here it is viewed in a matter of fact way, that its inevitable, its part of life, so the sooner you get used to the idea, the more you can relax, stop worrying about it, and enjoy your life.Yes it is somewhat easier to say than to do it, but when amongst so many people who embrace this acceptance it is very powerful, and something to consider.
After Varanasi we hosted a retreat in Kerala. This was a ten day intense experience of Ayurveda in particular. The whole group went through a process of cleansing and purifying. If I was obsessed by Ayurveda before I certainly am now! The way in which the practitioners worked with us and the nurturing caring embrace of the entire experience was a very special time. I wanted to do it more. Then as if by magic at the end of the retreat a dear friend from the UK contacted me to ask if I would be interested in setting up more regular retreats in India with their support. More on that later. The universe it seemed was listening and was giving me a nudge.
I spent a couple of days on the beach nearby to relax before taking the night bus from the west to east coast of India, to Pondicherry, a French influenced city and the home of the Aurobino Ashram. I spent five days at the ashram on a course entitled ‘find your destiny.’ Ironically I had only gone to Pondicherry because it was nearby to a ten day silent retreat I was planning to go on, I found this course (no doubt by destiny) and after this I cancelled the silent retreat! Instead I went next to Auroville, a nearby utopian place where everyone truly does live in peace and harmony, from different nations around the entire globe people gather here. As a child I always dreamed of such a place, and even recall asking my father, if there was anywhere where people lived together happily, working and helping one another and where there was no competitiveness or money. Well, it does exist I found it.
Here is a quote from the Auroville vision:
“There should be somewhere on earth a place which no nation could claim as its own, where all human beings of goodwill who have a sincere aspiration could live freely as citizens of the world and obey one single authority, that of the supreme Truth; a place of peace, concord and harmony where all the fighting instincts of man would be used exclusively to conquer the causes of his sufferings and miseries, to surmount his weaknesses and ignorance, to triumph over his limitations and incapacities; a place where the needs of the spirit and the concern for progress would take precedence over the satisfaction of desires and passions, the search for pleasure and material enjoyment.
In this ideal place money would no longer be the sovereign lord; individual worth would have a far greater importance than that of material wealth and social standing. There, work would not be a way to earn one’s living but a way to express oneself and to develop one’s capacities and possibilities while being of service to the community as a whole, which, for its own part, would provide for each individual’s subsistence and sphere of action.
In short, it would be a place where human relationships, which are normally based almost exclusively on competition and strife, would be replaced by relationships of emulation in doing well, of collaboration and real brotherhood.”
From Auroville I travelled by night train back to the west coast to Kollam, where I got a tuk tuk to the Amma ‘hugging mother’ Ashram in the heart of the Kerala backwaters. I was there for three nights, I received two hugs and a personal mantra from Amma the hugging mother herself. The energy there is incredible and I found there also an acceptance of all nationalities, a peaceful and all embracing atmosphere, not dissimilar to that of Auroville. I began to realise that there are these pockets of community all over the world, if we just know how to find them. Small and sometimes not so small places where people really do live peacefully together with a peaceful altruistic common purpose. My heart began to feel distinctly lighter.
Through yet another series of serendipitous events I then found myself travelling to Kathmandu, Nepal. Here I spent time with old friends and new. It is a crazy, polluted, beautiful and totally cosmic place that’s a way of seeing right into your heart and deep down inside of your soul. This means it is not always comfortable! After a week in a lovely hotel I went to a Yoga retreat in the hills outside of Kathmandu. I stayed for two hours. Firstly it was freezing cold, but I actually felt incredibly uncomfortable and challenged there. I cannot say exactly what was that created this emotion in me, but I felt fearful, ill at ease, it is difficult to explain. The Guru there said I had unresolved issues (and yes I probably have) and that I should confront them. On that particular day…..I just couldn’t bear it, so I went back to the cosy warm safety of the hotel room and watched Pulp Fiction in bed whilst eating momos on room service! I am only human after all so it seems.
Two days later and I went to another retreat also on the hills outside of Kathmandu. It was cold, but I was prepared by now. There I found a familiar, to me at least, routine of morning cleansing, Yoga practice, daily massage, sattvic food, time to rest, walk, read, write and just be. I spent a whole week here, practicing, self nurturing, observing myself and my bodymind. I was exhausted, especially the first three days, I slept and slept. I ate all the nurturing food, yielded to the massages, eased into the Yoga, sat in the meditation and watched and watched. I had headaches, blocked nose, sore throat, my whole bodymind was letting go, or at least thats how it felt. Finally on the last day I felt more energised, peaceful, rested renewed. I felt strong and focused once more. Just as well as the Guru on the last morning, with myself as the only student, gave a long speech about sexual freedom and how we should all have as much sex with who we want when we want because it regulates our hormones, and then proceeded to hug me rather enthusiastically. I can handle this kind of inappropriate behaviour but I do wonder for those who are more vulnerable and less savvy than I am. However I had really benefitted from being here and so I went on my way, with a free neti pot (never to return).
I had planned to leave Nepal mid February but the emotions I had felt had been so intense that I decided to leave earlier. I spent just a couple more days in Kathmandu, in Boudha, a very special and spiritual part of the city full of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and with a very tranquil atmosphere. The pull of Kerala and the coast was in me and now I think it always will be. I have returned here and it really is paradise. A relaxed easy place to be, the warm sun and ocean, delicious fresh food, the best Ayurvedic treatments, time and space for Yoga, whats not to love? Fate had taken another turn when I booked a beach house in Cherai Beach for a couple of nights. I was completely unaware that the host was a friend of the Ayurvedic retreat we had used in December! I’ve been here for almost two weeks now, living the dream. I will be spending a whole load more time here with my new India Yoga Retreats and sharing it all with wonderful souls every winter! (See plug at the end of this blog, I had to!)
I have gone from one year ago with no home (still the case but now I like it this way and now I have at least a base in Scotland), all my belongings in boxes scattered in various locations, about to live in a caravan and no idea whatsoever where my life is headed. Plus a whole load of grief, loss, childhood issues to address that I didn’t even yet know existed, no money (still the case but now I don’t care about this either!) to starting up a retreat business with a dear friend, meeting the most incredible Ayurvedic practitioner to work with in Kerala, about to start living and working at a top retreat centre in Scotland as their chef (thanks to yet another amazing friend). It really is quite incredible, because I did not plan any of this. I just let go, and it happened. Yes there has been immense emotional pain, tears, sleepless nights, lots of thinking and thinking about everything and anything, but it’s ok, that’s what life is for isn’t it? It’s ok to be a little crazy sometimes, it’s more than ok to fully express and embrace all that you are, its definitely ok to be totally authentically beautifully yourself and to live life on your own terms, to be happy and to be free. So you see, I have had and will continue with this Indian love affair, with the universe, with life and with myself.
So, my new India Retreat link is here! https://theyogaretreatindia.com