Jaipur, India – 2004. While it has been popular for thousands of years in the east, it is just over the past few decades that yoga has busted its asana into the Occidental world. It’s gone from being a fringe movement of far-out hippies to mainstream-totally-hip. In this action-packed and fast-moving world, more and more people are experiencing how yoga and meditation can change their life and bring peace of mind.
“Ahh yes, give me some shanti.”
This is a quiet neighborhood. Yet I sit here listening to the incessant racket of a jackhammer at the building project next door day and night. Environmentally unfriendly motor rickshaws rush past blasting their horns at every opportunity. Blaring music and exploding fireworks — from the weddings happening on this most auspicious day — fill in any tiny remaining gaps in my already overwhelmed visual and auditory world.
When I venture on to the streets, people wanting something continually accost me for money, for food, or for my bra. Some want to dance with me in the wedding procession amid the neon flowerpot lights.
The poverty is so dire. It is unfathomable in my world. No clothes, no mommy, no chapatti (flatbread). They are living literally in the middle of the busy, dirty and loud streets with free roaming cows that munch on anything they can find, from phone books to burlap bags. Some women beg, clinging to dead or dying babies. The reality cuts deep.
Then a camel cart nearly knocks me down and the smell of the air is pungent with manure. My cough is acting up again after nearly a month surrounded by exhaust, kerosene, dust and whatever noxious chemical they’re using to clean the floor of my room.
Washing hands more regularly than ever before is a necessity here. One step outside and I have touched everything, it seems. I don’t even have to come in contact with anything and I am dirty. I don’t wear flip-flops like most natives because my foot often slides or gushes down into things that, well, I don’t even want to know what they are.
Speaking of not knowing what it is: I was violently ill last week and have reason to believe it is from ingesting a popular sweet here that is called barfi. Ironically, it sometimes is misspelled without the “i.” It’s often used to mark special occasions or for prayers and sometimes has silver foil on top.
Barfi is like pasty sweet dough and unlike any Western food item that I know. So what else is there to eat? No. Please, God, no. Not another curry.
After a month of nothing else, how can I eat it again? Don’t bother ordering another type of food in one of the “multi-cuisine” restaurants with their endless menus claiming to specialize in North Indian, South Indian, Japanese, Mexican, Israeli, Korean, Chinese, American and European fare. You will be bitterly disappointed.
Meanwhile, my work is stressing me out big time. Every day I am waiting and waiting for something to get done and it isn’t getting done. I have to bargain for every little thing, whether for transportation or to buy water. I feel like I am slowly going crazy and I don’t know what reality is anymore.
Here I am all alone, surrounded by a billion people.
All of this is building up over time. It is the attack on all the senses and even sanity itself. I look and see the yogis and sadhus(spiritual seekers) in the middle of this and they seem pretty happy and grounded. How do they do it? And without even an occasional five-star upgrade?
Now it comes on so fast as if I’m Siddhartha Gautama receiving enlightenment under a Bodhi tree. This is why they invented yoga. Finding inner peace amid all of this. Learning not to worry, not to be stressed, figuring out how to take it as it comes and find the shanti inside because outside? Well, it isn’t going to happen.
My body is the tree and underneath, inside, is me — working on enlightenment.
When I see the other side it all becomes beautiful. The same scene, transformed.
The jackhammer has finally stopped. (Or is it just my new, enlightened self?) Soothing tablas play in the background, even at the airport. The sweet sound of cobra tamers charming their snakes and devotional chanting fills my ears at any time of the day or night. The sounds are so welcome now.
And the colors are divine. All the fresh fruits and vegetable are strikingly beautiful stacked up at the market, especially the combination of eggs, tomatoes and jalapeños piled together into pyramids. A spectrum of vivid red, yellow, pink, purple and gold streaks past as the women walk through the monotonous, sandy desert. Men wearing big turbans sit outside drinking chai and smoking bidis (leaf cigarettes). Beautiful eyes peer out of black burkas as I pass them as they perform their daily shopping ritual. Gorgeous historic palaces still stand throughout this city alongside countless temples. The culture here is created by a fascinating crossroads of people — from the masses of white tourists to the Muslim men in white and women in black, and from the decorated elephants to the Hindus in a rainbow of colors.
My happy senses are sweetly aroused by the rich scent of roses and jasmine flowers. Incense also graces the airways, masking less desirable odors.
In the bazaar, I caress the soft, luxurious silks and want to dive into them and float away into a deep dream state.
The hotel manager recommends a South Indian restaurant to me. Suddenly the world becomes a new place. Those southern spices and masala dosas brighten my day. I’ve also been a regular visitor to the Lassiwalla, a specialist in lassis (yogurt smoothies) which nearly taste like home or even better. I remembered that I brought some Belgian chocolate with me in case of emergency and to help ease the pain of being away from my true love for a whole month. Luckily, it hasn’t melted.
Women really do need chocolate, and barfi is no substitute.
Yesterday I met my new best friend, the bicycle rickshaw wallah, Ganpat. He tells me he is from the village so I can trust him. He has a nice face and I agree with him that his rickshaw is, as he says “veddy veddy comfortable, madam.” No longer alone, I can practice some Hindi and joke in broken English. Some of my work samples are finally getting finished, too, and it feels at last like I’m getting somewhere with my work. That is the best feeling for me — working hard AND something actually gets accomplished.
Above all of this, I start every day with yoga and it brightens up the rest of the day. I exercise my body, align my chakras, soften my eyes, breathe, and ‘savasana’ myself into daily happiness.
India is a country filled with fantasies and contrasts beyond our wildest imaginations. The most beautiful and the most disgusting coexist side by side. A land of riches and poverty. Opposites are evident everywhere. Yin and yang, one could say. Now it is only a matter of finding the balance. It doesn’t surprise me that so many people have come to this country in search of something bigger than the self. If we were to find it anywhere, it would be here.
True enlightenment is finding and maintaining peace in everything. Loud or quiet, dirty or clean, squalored or majestic. It is seeking home no matter where we are, even if it is in India.
I’m learning something from all of this and feeling more serenity, but I’m still going to spend a night of luxury at the Imperial Hotel. Ahh yes, give me some shanti.
About Crystal Water
Crystal is the daughter of India Supera, founder of the Feathered Pipe Foundation, and Laughing Water, who started the Real Food Store in Helena in 1975.
Her fairly unconventional childhood was spent at the Ranch where she got to meet interesting people who came to study and heal from around the world. She is spoiled forever because her first yoga classes were with top teachers like Judith Hanson Lasater and Patricia Walden, first nutrition lessons with Dr. Bernard Jensen and Dr. Andrew Weil and first massages with incredible body-workers who have worked at the Ranch.
International travel has also been a regular activity for Crystal starting at about 2 years old when India took her to meet Sai Baba in India for the first time. India was a firm believer in education through exposure to other countries and cultures. School was something to do in between trips. Crystal got the travel habit and continues to take her family on world-adventures.
Many people fall in love at the majestic Ranch, but Crystal had to make her way to Argentina to find her true love, Johnny Feron, whom she met in an anything-but-majestic cheap hostel in Buenos Aires. In 2006, they were married on painted elephants in India. They live with their three children in the Netherlands and spend every summer in Montana.
Her work at the Ranch began with 10-cent foot massages on the front lawn and selling splash paint t-shirts, then took the natural shift to cleaning and cooking. For the past 20 years, Crystal has been running Shanti Boutique, her own business in jewelry design and imports in addition to non-profit work with the Tibetan Children’s Education Foundation.
After the death of India-who never could truly retire from her life’s work-Crystal hopes to carry forward India’s vision of the Feathered Pipe Ranch to be a place of healing, love and inspiration for many. Anyway, what can you really do with a Bachelor’s degree in Theology but work as an Executive Director of the Feathered Pipe Foundation?