• Cassie Stockamp

The contrasts...

A few days ago I was in a bikini swimming in the ocean and today I have my knees and shoulders covered. And it’s supposed to be 100+. Heaven help me. It feels oppressive. Not just the heat, but the restrictions on the dress. I struggle reconciling why it is ok to see a bare midriff and the bodice of a bra on the older women that wear saris, but a visible shoulder or a knee is unacceptable. How can I do an Amanda Kingsbury inspired cartwheel while all wrapped up!? Seems like I have to chalk it up to cultural differences, man made rules and leave it at that. Or maybe I don’t...

I wonder how many western cultural norms I accept that make no sense or are restrictive of which I am unaware...

And how do I describe this ashram? It’s called Kanha. Green Kanha. The countryside around us is arid, flat and brown. A hot breeze blows across the barren land, and did I mention the temps?! LOL. They have planted over 1,000 trees, flowering shrubs, budding plants on this 300+ acre plot and are turning it into a peaceful green eco centered haven - a place to pray and come together as a community focusing on heart centered meditation. I learned that the water levels of the wells went up 70% after the trees were planted. Amazing.

The Indians are yet another beautiful people with jet black hair, smooth dark skin, small in stature and seem to possess an ability to withstand the heat. In conversation I’ve learned that they have learned to accept the difficulties in life with grace. Very few places have AC so the afternoons slow w a y down. You have to slow down. There is no way to be outside in the oppressive heat and sun. The construction workers sleep under shade trees in small groups and start back to work around 5:30pm. I am in the shade as I type and there is a breeze. It’s tolerable.

I was assigned my sleeping quarters when I arrived, and found my way to D, F3, 65. It was building D, First floor and when I walked to the F3 entry door there was a placard that read: Beds 1-185. I had bed 65. The overhead fans were swirling and it was a bit, well, sultry. And that was at 10:30am. I wondered what it was going to feel like at 10:30pm... At 9:30pm the little kids were fussy, the teens were chatting and many of the lights were still on even though lights were supposed to be off at 9:30pm. I put on my eye mask and put in my ear plugs, rolled onto my back and didn’t move. I slept. Hard.

I spent the afternoon of the first day volunteering at the canteen selling fruit (there seems to be a pattern here) where the other volunteer was a young man from Mumbai. When I asked how big Mumbai was, he did this funny back and forth of the head motion (I’ve watched this head shaking by many others and can’t figure out if it means ok, no, yes - LOL) and answered 20 million. Holy shit that’s a big city. I asked how many were in the slums and he paused and answered, “1-3 million.” Holy shit again, that’s more than all of Indianapolis. In slums. I asked if it as improving and he said, “Yes, slowly.” We talked about his business and managing employees. He owns a small advertising company and is tasked with buying TV time, etc for corporations. I can’t imagine the number of choices that must be available....

I’ve been teaching the 5am and 4pm yoga classes which are followed by 40 minute meditation sessions at 7:30am and 5:30pm. We sit under a permanent canopy lined with plastic blue chairs with capacity for 5,000 meditators putting off 98.6 degrees adding to the rising heat of the day. As we sit, an occasional breeze flows over the crowd making it cool enough. On Sunday there were 3 weddings as part of the morning meditation. The ceremony lasted for 2 minutes. No exaggeration. 2 minutes.

And you know it’s hot when you find yourself zig zagging down the sidewalk in order to stay in the shade...

And what I’ve noticed is the contrast.

As I sit for the evening mediation I can feel the beads of sweet start to gather at my brow, on my forearms and across my upper lip. What I also notice is the amazing gratifying sense of relief when the wind blows across my body. I can’t describe how instantaneously tantalizing the gentle movement of air feels. It’s as if I’ve never noticed a breeze before. It seems that in our western society we keep ourselves wrapped in a pretty tight environmentally controlled bubble limiting our exposure to extremes. As I’ve been in these extremes, I’m beginning to think there is merit in experiencing them. I wonder if the logic is the same for the Swedes that jump between a hot sauna and a frigid bath.... The body is shocked and the contrast can be exquisite... I know, it all sounds a bit strange.

So now... here is the deepening of my practice. And the humbling. And the development of patience.

When I arrived in India after traveling all night, I was picked up by a driver who didn’t offer to help with my backpack that felt like it weighed 220 lbs. and walked 10 paces in front of me. I was a little surprised, obviously tired and it put me a bit off kilter. At the registration room I was flagged down by a kind older woman who asked permission to talk to me. Uh oh... Now mind you she was in a sari with a bare belly and midriff shirt that form fitted her bosom. She asked if I could put on pants as my sun dress was too short. The women self police the other women keeping in place (what I perceive to be) a restrictive belief system. My knees were showing. I was almost in tears. Kind of funny when I think about it as not much gets to me, but exhaustion and pure frustration played a part in my over reaction. And then... I was kicked out of my bunk that very first night as I was readying for bed by an older woman who said the bed I was assigned was actually for her daughter who was arriving in a couple of days. That put me in a slightly grumpier mood, and I wondered what I had gotten myself into. I had to very deliberately take my mind to gratitude (it worked) and now....

I sat with the Ashram manager on the second day and was moved to tears several times. The purity of this place’s mission is simply to help us, “Become what we ought to be...” The operations around it are a bit flawed, as are the humans running it, but that is kind of the point as they accept all people regardless of where they are on their path. He said that he had to learn to trust as he was brought up by a father that was a policeman, and was taught that there was something to fear lurking around every corner. He said couldn’t believe that the teacher he met over 30 years ago had no hidden agenda other than to help him find his spiritual center. He said he now trusts that it is true, just as I feel the heart centered truth of becoming what we out to be. I feel it right now in my heart and throat - the constriction that comes from that aha of truth.

So my year of travel is to find out what’s next. To find out how I ought to be.... That notion more than resonates. What is my calling....? Another cog in the wheel.

To live how we ought to be...
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