Dear Friends, Family, and Satsang,
Here’s hoping 2014 will bring us all ever deeper into Love…
2013 was a year of vast changes for me, and as I move on through this life without Shivaya, there are more changes ahead. I will be moving out of my apartment on January 12th, and leaving the next day for India for a few months.
My plan is to return from India April 15th, and to float a little between my sons and friends in Marin and Grass Valley for a brief time. I intend to take a road trip this summer, visiting friends and family, and attending the Guru Purnima celebration at the Taos ashram in July.
Beyond that, I have no idea what the future holds. (Not that I really know what’s coming today…) But I do know what my heart holds, and that is you, wherever we are.
From the very bottom of my heart, I send you the deepest love and gratitude for holding both Shivaya and me in such love throughout the time of his illness and passing. I don’t how either of us would have made it without your support. Please stay in touch, and I will be sending notes from India from time to time.
In all love,
I’m writing this from my hotel room in Bangalore, in southern India, at 2:00 a.m. The jet lag still seems to have me in its clutches, despite my having slept on and off around the clock since arriving two days ago. I suppose some of it is due to the exhaustion of packing up my apartment and moving everything into storage within a month’s time after the memorial service for Shivaya.
I knew that going forward after Shivaya’s passing would require some real retreat time, and I felt strongly pulled to do that in India, in an ashram setting. So later today I will be heading to Kerala, to Ananda Ashram, where Shivaya and I spent much time together over the years. The sadhana there is mantra practice, chanting “Om Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram.” I have had profound insights and healing experiences doing that practice there in the past, so it seems the perfect thing to do now as I contemplate moving on in my life alone.
Obviously, Shivaya’s illness and passing have already impacted my kirtans and workshops, and I can’t predict how things will play out from here on. But I do want to tell you that Rob has promised to keep the first Thursday of each month open for us at Open Secret, so we can continue in whatever way evolves.
While I am away and “unplugged,” Gangadhar will continue to host kirtans in our regular monthly time slot, beginning in February. He will invite different kirtan leaders, and you can continue to come to Open Secret on the first Thursday of every month to sing together. Janaki Brooks will be leading the kirtan in February. Janaki is a dear friend and guru sister who spent time with Neem Karoli Baba in the 70s. She has also studied Hindi and Sanskrit, so you can get pointers on proper pronunciation from her!
I will continue to use this list to send occasional updates on my own journey here in India over the next few months. I imagine that eventually I will start doing kirtan again in some fashion, and leading workshops and teaching classes again. But for now, my priority is just to take the time I need to grieve and to process the overwhelming events of the last six months, as well as to settle more deeply into myself and see where Life leads me.
I will share my journey, both inner and outer, with you as much as possible. Meanwhile, I will continue to hold you in my heart with love and gratitude for the support and blessings you have given me.
May 2014 bring all good things into your life, deepen your practice, and awaken your heart into the shining awareness of the One.
February 17, 2014
I have been in India just over a month now, and have settled into a little beach bungalow on the west coast of Karnataka state. I was at Ananda Ashram in Kerala for two and a half weeks, and then made my way here to Kudle Beach near the town of Gokarna. After all this time, I feel as though I am just now beginning to unwind, having been so busy moving, and moving around, since Shivaya died.
I’m keeping to myself for the most part, socializing only in the café next to my house, where I eat my meals. I spend a lot of time reading on my porch, but I also walk on the beach every day. Most days I go into the water, but a couple of times I’ve gotten too much sun, so then I take a day off and lay low until the heat in my body has calmed down.
At dusk the tourist population turns out onto the beach to watch the sunset. There’s never a dull one, or one that wasn’t worth coming out for. The folks cheer and clap when the flaming disc dissolves into the horizon. The hippie tribes convene and play music, and sell their handcrafted jewelry and other wares on the beach. There is usually a good show as well: jugglers, hula hoopers, fire spinners, and other entertainment. I usually come back, either to my room or to the café, before the show is in full swing. Not really my thing, however entertaining.
Somewhere around this time the wind begins to pick up. The days are generally very hot, so the strong nighttime breezes are welcome.
I delight in these breezes, day or night; I close my eyes and lose myself in them. Facing into the wind, I can feel myself unfurl, and sometimes I’m sure I can feel it blowing right through me, like a prayer flag releasing its sacred message to the heavens. Eventually I will become faded and threadbare like those flags, as my old life grows ever fainter in the distance. This is a good thing, the old prayers emptying out before a new flag is strung up, with fresh prayers for a new life. This is why I’m here: to empty out, to reflect, to honor and release the old with love before the new life begins.
I’ve been keeping a journal of sorts, which I’ve copied below. You’re welcome to read it if you like. I will stay in touch.
Love and pranams,
1/18/14 Ananda Ashram
I arrived yesterday at Ananda Ashram to discover that a fellow Vedanta student from the Bay Area is here, as well as numerous friends we have met here over the years. Word of Shivaya’s death had already been received, and needless to say, everyone was saddened by the news.
Our friend Margarete, who lives here six months out of the year—and whom Shivaya had known for many years—had heard the news from her friend Gina, who lives in Tiruvannamalai. Shivaya and I had met Gina on our last trip to Ananda Ashram in 2012. She happened to be at the Ramana Maharshi ashram in Tiru a couple of weeks ago, and met some of our friends from Marin who were traveling through there. They asked Gina for help getting to the holy mountain, Arunachala, and told her they were on a special mission to spread some ashes of a dear friend who had passed away recently. Gina wondered whose ashes they were. They said it was Shivaya, and she was shocked to learn the news. She called Margarete here at Ananda Ashram to tell her, and the news spread among the westerners here.
I had already been in touch with the main swami here, Swami Muktananda, before Shivaya died, to let him know he was seriously ill. And of course I let him know when Shivaya passed. Swami Muktananda had sent me several emails offering his prayers and blessings, and had sent comforting words from the archives of Papa Ramdas, the founder of Ananda Ashram.
1/22/14 Ananda Ashram
After all the craziness of the last couple of months following Shivaya’s passing—sorting, purging, and packing up my whole life and putting it into storage—it’s nice to be able to stop.
I’m very much in observation mode now, just sitting in myself and watching the world go by. This is my first time in India alone, and I had some apprehension about making the trip by myself. It has been fine, though, and I am cautiously gaining a sense of confidence about being able to handle it. I’m keenly aware that I am only able to do it because I was here with Shivaya so many times. Whatever I have learned about how to navigate the culture and customs I gained by watching him, and relying on his vast experience living and traveling in India.
On some days I am happy to be on my own. I feel a sense of freedom I’ve never experienced before, and I am feeling my way into it. But so many times a day I want to share something with Shivaya, tell him the news of the day. Simple things, the kind of everyday things we would ordinarily share:
The taxi ride down to Kanhangad from Mangalore was exquisite! There are endless villages all along the way now, but it is all still jungly and gorgeous, with those fantastic ocean views … Mani is growing into a real Indian “mensch,” working hard and taking care of his family. He says I will have to come to his home … You can actually get chai without sugar at breakfast now!!
… and so forth. It is strange to think of him and not find him here, not even reachable by phone. Yes, I still feel him, but feeling him on subtle planes is very different from being able to reach out and touch him physically, or hear his voice on the phone.
Or share daily routines around the house. Those last couple of months before moving out of our apartment, I still expected him to come into the kitchen every morning, singing the silly song he made up about “Mister Coffee” to the tune of “Mister Sandman.” Shivaya had a song for everything. Hanging around the house, he would burst into song at the drop of a hat. Usually he would make up his own words to actual songs, but he would also make up his own tunes—about whatever was going on at the moment. He had his moods like everyone, but he was generally easy-going and pleasant to live with. He kept me laughing.
1/30/14 Ananda Ashram
I’ve been here almost two weeks, and although I’ve gotten accustomed to the ashram rhythms and routines, my body is still on its own clock. So I’ve been taking it very easy and allowing myself to acclimate to the time, recover from the remnants of jet lag, and adjust to the intense heat. I am on a healing journey, so I am not pushing myself, but nurturing and surrendering to the needs of my body and psyche so a natural balance can occur.
The ashram is a very interesting environment, a mixture of old and new. There is something very satisfying in washing my laundry by hand and hanging it on the line, just as it is to take a “bucket bath” each day. There are no showers, only two spigots coming out of the bathroom wall, and two buckets. One of the spigots is supposed to supply hot water, which it does sometimes, if you let the water run long enough. In years past there was only a cold water faucet, and if you wanted hot water, you would take a bucket outside to one of the designated hot water pipes somewhere on the ashram grounds, fill it, and bring it back to your room for a hot “bath.”
This year I have bypassed the whole process by using a heating coil to heat my bath water. It’s a much larger version of the small coil you put in a cup to boil water for tea. The fun part is that you have to suspend the coil in the water by hanging it on a stick that you place across the top of the bucket. You have to go outside and find an appropriate stick! I felt very clever when, in the process of packing up my apartment to move, I found some small bamboo garden stakes. They are lightweight and very straight and strong, so I tossed one in my bag to use with the heating coil when I got here. The hassle is that there is only one electrical outlet in the room, which is by the front door. So in order to plug the coil in, I have to push a chair over by the door and put the bucket of water on it. I can’t leave the bucket on the floor to do this, because the cord on the coil is not long enough to reach the outlet, which is at about chin height!
Of course, I could just take a cold bath…but I find it very comforting to bathe in warm water, and I am indulging myself.
A few days ago I took the day off from everything, and instead left before dawn to take some of Shivaya’s ashes to a beautiful, watery network of rice paddies where we liked to go together. One person accompanied me: Hari Das, a young American man we met here several years ago, with whom Shivaya and I became fast friends. We hiked through a plantation of coconut palms and banana plants in the pre-dawn light, emerging onto the tranquil waters of the rice paddies as the sun was painting breathtaking pink streaks of light across the sky. We crossed via narrow berms that are used by the local folks, standing aside several times to make way for farmers to pass with their cows.
As we came to a point in the crossing where the water vista opens wide, I said a silent prayer and opened a small packet containing some of Shivaya’s ashes, and sprinkled them over the water.
Once across the water, we walked along a road for about 20 minutes until we came to “Guruvanam,” the jungle ashram of Bhagavan Nityananda. There is a cave here where Nityananda often stayed, and I sprinkled another packet of ashes inside, with another prayer honoring Shivaya’s sadhu years in his early days in India.
Returning to the ashram, I was very, very tired. I have had trouble sleeping for several nights, lying awake until the wee hours. So when I got back to my room, I lay down and fell fast asleep. And I dreamed of Shivaya.
It was a short dream, but very real, and very profound. Shivaya looked the way he looked just before he died—extremely emaciated. But he also had the same presence, utterly loving and sweet, and radiating light. It was the same experience we had during those last months, of being in a bubble of pure love together, and it was as if no time had passed. It seemed that the cancer had been only a close call, and that we had made it through, and he was on his way back to good health. I said to Shivaya, “I’m glad you didn’t die.” Having uttered the words, I then became confused, wondering how we had gotten to this point, because I didn’t remember making it through the healing crisis. And then I remembered: “Wait a minute. You did die.” And I woke up. The dream was gone, and with it, the precious vision of my beloved. But the love remained, a kind of booster shot of our love together, and I sat in that heart-communion the rest of the day.
A thousand times a day I catch myself turning around to say something to Shivaya, or I experience something, or hear or see something, that I know would interest him, and I think that I want to remember to tell him about it. I know this is normal when someone has died, and I’m not trying to stop it. But each time I do it, it brings to mind again the reality that he is not with me in that way anymore. And each time, I get a little sinking feeling in my heart. Sometimes the moment passes quickly, and other times the feeling lingers. Sometimes I’m fine, other times I tear up, and sometimes I just let go and have a good cry. It is going to take some time to get used to this.
2/2/14 Ananda Ashram
Being here at the ashram has been a different experience for me this trip. The obvious reason is that Shivaya is not with me. I have felt less inclined to be involved in the daily ashram life, and have been spending a lot of time alone in my room or on the porch. It has been lovely to be here, though, and I have connected with old friends and new.
I have been reading a book given to me by a friend before I left home, At the Eleventh Hour: A Biography of Swami Rama. I mentioned in the updates I wrote during Shivaya’s illness that I had been reading Living With the Himalayan Masters by Swami Rama to him. This is the full story of Swami Rama’s life, written by one of his devotees, and it goes into much more detail than the other book, and answers a lot of questions that were raised about Swami Rama’s life and sadhana. It’s fascinating and inspiring, and I’m enjoying every word.
It’s only 6:30 pm, but I’m already bathed and in bed, reading my book and tucked in for the night. I got up at 3:45 this morning to pack up and catch a 5:55 a.m. train to Gokarna. I was rather nervous the last couple of days about making the trip, for several reasons: It would be my first time on the train alone; the train only stops for about two minutes at the station, so you have to find your coach quickly when it stops, and jump on hastily with your luggage (there are no porters there at that hour); and once on, you have to be vigilant about watching for your destination, because the stops are not announced, and, again, the train only stops for two minutes!
Also, I was not immediately able to get a ticket when I went to buy it last week. I was wait-listed, and the adjustments are not made until the day before departure. So the day before I was (hopefully) leaving, there were numerous phone calls and a couple of trips to the railway station, until I finally got a confirmed seat at about 8:30 pm. A wonderful new friend, Mary (who was staying in the room next to mine at the ashram), got up and came to the train station with me, just to lend moral support and help me get on the train. Mani, the ashram’s main rickshaw driver, was a real hero, jumping through hoops to get my seat confirmed, picking me up at 5 a.m., finding out where my coach would stop and taking me to that very spot, and loading my luggage onto the train for me.
The train arrived in Gokarna around 1 p.m., so I quickly got a room in town, had some lunch, and hiked up and over the huge hill that stands between Gokarna town and the beach we love. One of the cottages Shivaya and I have stayed in on previous trips will be available in a couple of days, so I’ll stay in town at night and make the daily hike to the beach in the meantime.
It’s extremely hot here, but the sea breezes are sublime. Not to mention the stunning ocean views, the lovely temperature of the water, and the fabulous food in the cafes! The place is packed with tourists now, and more to come as Shivaratri draws near.
So it has been a very long and exciting day, and I am so happy to be here again. I will be glad to get finally moved into the cottage, so I can unpack for good and begin the next phase of this journey of healing.
Someone referred to my trip as a “pilgrimage” to the spots that Shivaya and I loved. I agree: it does indeed feel like a pilgrimage, an honoring, as well as an ending and a new beginning.
I checked in about the beach cottage today, and found out they have one ready for me! It’s actually not the one I had hoped for, but it will be fine until that one is available. The owner, Mari, was so kind when I came strolling up. He embraced me and told me my cottage was ready, and that they are going to take good care of me. I was so touched, and more than a little relieved to feel that there is someone around who is sensitive to my situation, and who understands the vulnerability that I am experiencing. They loved Shivaya, and were very sad to hear of his passing.
So I have arranged for a rickshaw to pick me up tomorrow morning, along with a strapping young man who will carry my large bag from the top of the hill down to the cottage on the beach. There is no road access to the beach, which makes it wonderfully quiet and fume-free. But it’s tricky to get there. The rickshaw can only go to the top of the hill, and then you have to walk down a steep, somewhat treacherous path chopped out of the red, rocky earth. Or you can take a boat around the hill, from the beach in town to the other beaches along the coast.
I spent several hours on “our” beach today, Kudle Beach. The tourist season is in full swing, and over the next few weeks the place will fill up with thousands of pilgrims (both Indian and foreign) who come for Shivaratri. This year I’m staying away from that spectacle, since a few years back we got caught in a near-stampede with a couple of thousand people after the big cart-pulling event they do each year. (More about that at a later time.)
The general tourist population on the beaches is a kind of Rainbow Family crew of hippies, mostly young folks, replete with dreadlocks, tattoos, and other symbols of personal identity. This year there seem to be many, many more of them, and they are wilder in their physical expression than ever. I usually enjoy the colorful show, and despite their appearance, the people are generally very gentle, creative, and fun-loving free spirits. It felt a little different today, without Shivaya. We always laughed a lot here, and had our running commentary about the drama and display. But it’s different to be alone, and although I still enjoy the passing show, I imagine this will be much more of a retreat for me—which is what I was planning, anyway.
2/8/14 Kudle Beach
I’ve been in my little retreat space for two nights now. The cottage is really just a bedroom and bathroom, with a little passageway between. But it’s a free-standing building with a lovely porch that looks out onto a sweet little garden of tropical plants.
My first night here was a rude awakening to the changes that have taken place in the last year. A field behind the walled garden that encloses this group of cottages has been turned into an area for concerts and parties, apparently with a stage and several huge speakers. There was a concert that night that lasted until almost 4 a.m., and it was really LOUD! (And lousy music, too.) I fell asleep finally a couple of hours into it, but was woken up again by a pounding bass that startled me so, I thought I was having a heart attack!
But of course, all things come to an end. Waking up the next morning, I felt disappointed about the noise, and what I interpreted as the decline of the beach “scene.” Whereas in the past, the people who gravitated here always seemed spiritually inclined, I didn’t necessarily feel that way this time. But as the day went on, and I connected with a few people in passing, I felt very different. The next night was quiet, except for the sound of the waves lapping the shore.
So, except for that wild night, I have been enjoying being here immensely. My body is very happy to be eating great food (healthy, even), walking in the sand, playing in the water, and soaking up the sun, which is so deeply relaxing.
The water is warm and silky, shallow quite far out, with gentle waves. We are in a crescent-shaped cove about a half-mile long, enclosed on both sides and all around the back by red, rocky hills covered with palm trees and other lush vegetation. The sun turns into a bright red ball in the evening, and slowly sinks toward the sea, usually fading into the gray mist above the horizon before touching. The evening air is warm and balmy, with wonderful breezes, and not many mosquitoes so far.
It’s still strange to be doing this trip alone, and yet in a very odd way it isn’t strange at all. It feels perfectly natural, as if I’ve always done it. Clearly, I have had to push through minor fears about how to deal with some of the things that Shivaya always handled. Being here was so easy for him, having lived and visited here so many times. He was great at haggling with shop owners and negotiating good prices, for instance. That is one activity I really dislike, and I am not good at it!
2/13/14 Kudle Beach
Now that I have been staying on the beach for a week, I seem to be dropping a little deeper, releasing the schedules and routines, relaxing from the huge move and the major changes in my life over the last six months. As I slow down, I begin to feel the physical effects of the trauma of losing Shivaya. I hadn’t really considered that it had been a trauma. But finding myself in casual conversation with people, I notice that I feel very fragile at times, very sensitive, and unable to deal with melodrama and trivial banter. So it’s good that I stay alone. I seem to be spending a lot of time on my porch, reading and just being quiet.
I had an ayurvedic massage yesterday that was wonderful. But I have felt extremely tired ever since. I’m aware that I was holding a certain amount of tension as I struggled to maintain focus during the big push to move out of my apartment and make my way to India. (Not to mention the cumulative tension of nursing Shivaya through his illness.) And the massage helped me begin the process of releasing it. My plan is to have a massage each week (if my budget continues to accommodate it).
I also hadn’t considered the loss a trauma because of the natural progression of Shivaya’s illness and passing, and the strong sense of connection I have continued to feel with him. His death was not a shock at the time it happened, but a powerful and humbling event in the flow of time. But of course I miss his physical presence terribly, and the constant reminders of that loss throughout every day are jarring, if only in a subtle way. Just writing these words, I realize that I made the right decision in coming here, because I would not be able to relax to this degree or maintain this level of solitude at home.
I’ve been attempting to send this email out for a couple of weeks now. But due to very slow and unstable internet connections at the beach, I haven’t been able to get it out. I’m now back in Bangalore, a short stopover on my way back to California, and there is a good strong connection here. I have one more batch of journal entries after this, which I will send when I’m back in the U.S. I look forward to being back and being in touch with everyone.
Sending pranams and much love,
I’m now in the countdown, with less than two weeks left at the beach here in Gokarna. A few minutes ago I said goodbye to my younger son as I watched his taxi pull away, headed for the airport and back to the U.S. He was here for three weeks, having decided to come when he could take the time, however brief his stay here was to be. We had a beautiful visit together, although we did our separate things, stayed in different places, but met up every day for chai and a meal, and some hangout time.
Today as we huffed and puffed up to the taxi stand at the hilltop, our friend Ishwara, who had arranged for the car, told us that today is a holiday in India. We wanted to know which one. Ugadi, he told us—the first day of spring, which is celebrated as the New Year in some parts of India.
When he said “Ugadi,” I felt a jolt as I flashed back to the early spring of 2007. Shivaya and I had been to our niece’s wedding near San Antonio, and were driving back to the airport the following day. We had left some extra time so we could check out a Hindu temple that we had seen signs for. We found the turnoff and followed a road up a very steep hill, which landed us at the entrance to an incredible South Indian-style temple with many deities carved in white marble on top. There seemed to be something going on inside, so we walked in and sat down. We were just in time for the puja celebrating Ugadi, which I had never heard of. The temple was astonishingly beautiful, housing several huge murtis, which were honored one by one with lavish offerings, mantra, and song. Afterward, the priest gave a talk explaining what Ugadi is, and the story from Indian mythology where it has its basis. The story was the wedding of Uma and Shiva, which the priest told in flowery detail! He wound up his talk by saying that it was an especially auspicious year, and that on this day anything asked for with true devotion would be given. I heard myself thinking that I wanted to go back to India, having only been to India once at that time, and it had been a very short trip eleven years before.
Apparently that prayer was heard, because within a few months, somehow things had magically worked out, and Shivaya and I were on our way to India for a six-month journey! That was when we discovered—and fell in love with—Gokarna and Kudle Beach, a place we would return to again and again.
And where I am now. I have a strong sense of things having come full-circle as Ugadi signals the end of my trips to India (or anywhere) with Shivaya, and heralds a new year and a new life going forward.
It seemed an auspicious day for Jay to return home, and for me to begin the last phase of my amazing journey of reflection, remembrance, and gratitude for my life with Shivaya. So now I am alone again, going back into retreat mode for a short while longer, before heading home and seeing how life opens out into a world without my love.
I have continued to write from time to time about my inner journey, and have pasted those entries below. You are welcome to read them if you are so inspired. I will leave here on April 12th and fly to Bangalore, where I will spend two days before coming back to the U.S. I will probably send the last of my journal entries from Bangalore, and then will check in after I return home. Meanwhile, as Shivaya used to say, “We’re always in touch.”
3/9/14 Kudle Beach
I have received some happy news: my son Jay is coming here to Kudle Beach this week. He has been here several times before, but this will be the first time we are here at the same time, except for a one-day overlap a few years back. He will stay until the end of the month. So I took on a little mission for a day or two, to arrange a ride here from the Goa airport, and to find him a room to land in. I’ve decided to ride up to Goa with the taxi to pick him up, because I’ve heard it is a beautiful ride along the coast. I’ll be leaving here shortly before sunset, so it should be quite a ride.
3/15/14 Kudle Beach
Jay arrived several days ago, and is settling in after a horrendously long trip. I did ride up with the taxi driver to pick him up at the airport in Goa. The other option would have been for him to take a series of buses from there to here (which would have taken many more hours), or catch a taxi from there and pay a much higher fare. But he had already been over 40 hours in transit and was very grateful to climb into the back seat of the car and crash for the three-hour drive back down the coast to Gokarna.
It was a gorgeous drive to the airport. I had never been to Goa before, and there is a fairly new highway all the way, running through lush, beautiful forests with occasional openings onto the coast with wonderful ocean views.
A curious thing happened the first night Jay was here. We arrived at the beach about 11:30 pm, and he was completely exhausted from the trip. I had arranged for him to stay in another of the cottages in this little garden, just 20 feet or so from mine. About 4 a.m., I heard Jay cough, and without hesitation I jumped up out of a deep sleep and ran to the door, intending to rush over and see if he was okay. I opened the door and suddenly “came to,” realizing what I was doing. He is 32 years old, and has not lived with me for many years, but somehow I was like a mother with a newborn again, hearing her baby cry. I was astonished at how that instinct kicked in—I don’t even understand how I heard him cough from this distance, through walls and doors, and in deep sleep. He did, in fact, cough, because I heard him cough again as I stood at the door. In his jet-lagged state, he had indeed woken up at 4 o’clock, and had coughed lightly a couple of times.
The feeling was so reminiscent of how it was with Shivaya those last few months. Every time I heard him shift or make the slightest sound, I was immediately on my feet and moving to see what he might need. It was the same kind of response, just jumping up without thinking, some sort of protective impulse.
Maybe that’s why I woke up when Jay coughed. Spending so much time, so recently, tuned in so sensitively to Shivaya’s needs, I guess that the response is still at work. I hadn’t thought about it at all, but being so fine-tuned to Shivaya’s condition was very much like the way the maternal instinct operated when my children were small.
3/16/14 Kudle Beach
I miss Shivaya.
3/17/14 Kudle Beach
I have felt very sad for a couple of days. Two Indian men, brothers, drowned on Om Beach, the next beach to the south of this one. That makes five drownings since I’ve been here. Three people drowned during a festival, about two weeks before Shivaratri, on the main beach in Gokarna. And one woman had drowned a few weeks before I arrived.
All the people were Indian, and possibly with the exception of the woman, all had been drinking. Many Indian people don’t know how to swim, but when they come to the beach they can’t resist jumping in. I’m told that the Gokarna beach has quite a strong undertow all the time, and at certain times there is a strong one here on Kudle Beach. Young people from the big cities come here for the weekends and holidays to party and swim. Unfortunately, they tend to mix the two.
Apparently the woman who drowned had been standing on a large rock formation at the end of the beach, and a powerful wave washed over her and swept her off.
The three men who drowned at Gokarna beach all washed up on different beaches. One was swept back to the same beach, but one washed up here on Kudle Beach, and the third washed up on Om Beach. Because of that, it was first thought that five people had drowned, until the bodies were identified and found to be the three from Gokarna Beach.
They are still waiting for the bodies of this latest drowning to show up, which may not happen. There are policemen walking the beach every day, watching the water. I’m sure they’re doing the same on the other beaches.
I have felt so sad for the families of these young people. I think that losing a child must be the worst kind of loss. And losing anyone suddenly is so traumatizing. I feel blessed that Shivaya and I had our time to come to terms with the fact that he was dying, and to prepare ourselves. And he had time to say goodbye to friends and family. When someone dies without warning, neither of those things is possible, and the shock and grief of such a loss are greatly magnified.
The last time Shivaya and I were here together, our very dear friend Geoffrey Gordon had just died. Every day as we sat quietly watching the waves from our porch, one of us would say, “I can’t believe Geoffrey is gone.” It just seemed impossible that he wasn’t coming back, impossible to find a way to process that information. This was a good place to be with that sadness.
Now here I am, back at the same beach, thinking the same thing about Shivaya every day. Geoffrey’s wife, Sandy, is my very close, deep-heart friend, and has been the most wonderful support to me as we both navigate the turns of life without our beloved partners. When Shivaya died, I was telling her how we had sat here and said every day that we couldn’t believe Geoffrey was gone, and now I was saying, “I can’t believe Shivaya is gone.” She responded, “I can’t believe we’re having this conversation!”
3/18/14 Kudle Beach
I had a wonderful dream of Shivaya last night. As I’ve written before, I tend to play Solitaire for a while at night, and I often have a sense of Shivaya’s presence while I play. I’ve found that my mind will drift to some particular phase of our time together, and I often have a mental conversation with him about it—reminiscing about something, or analyzing some difficult period we went through, and how we handled it. In my dream, he was being wheeled into some kind of healing facility, although he looked very strong and vital. I was walking alongside him, and he was telling me that he is in a healing realm, very close to our dimension. I asked him if he really hears the things I say to him, or if I’m just having conversations with my own mind. He said, “I hear every word,” and told me that he is staying near so he can look out for his loved ones.
However that gets interpreted, it makes me very happy.
In light of that, I was remembering the last night that Kabir Das was here. We were having dinner together at a nearby café, and we were talking about Shivaya. Among many other things, we were talking about his “trademark” greeting, “Jai ho.” It’s something he picked up back in his early years in India, something that the old babas apparently said in greeting. At one point Kabir remarked to me, “I can’t believe you’re laughing and happy and having a good time.” We agreed that it seems that something has been lifted from me, that by some grace I have been spared any depression or heavy grief after losing Shivaya. As we continued our conversation, the song “Jai Ho!” from the movie “Slumdog Millionaire” began to play loudly.
Life seems to have relaxed into slow motion on the beach, as the temperature rises. Shoes are now a necessity on the soft sand that is untouched by the water, if one hopes to avoid burning soles. Near the water, the compacted sand is cool and soothing to the feet. The water itself is like a lukewarm bath, just the ticket on a hot summer day. The sea breezes are wonderful but deceptive, making it possible to burn easily if you’re not paying attention and stay exposed for too long.
The tourist population has thinned out considerably, and today we heard of the first café that is closing as the “season” nears an end. It has been one of my favorite places to go for chai—partly because they make great chai, and partly because they have a wonderful, shady spot with charming rattan sofas and tables facing a perfect view of the waves. More and more of the cafes will now begin to close, as fewer people hang around. As April nears, only a few diehards will remain, and by the end of April pretty much everyone will be gone except the locals who live here.
Apparently I will be one of the diehards this year. At this point my plan is to leave here on April 12th and go to Bangalore for the last few days before I fly home. I’ve considered many possible scenarios for my last few weeks here: go north to Rishikesh and the Ganga; go to an ayurvedic healing center in a hill station near Coimbatore, to meet up with friends who will be there; visit Hampi, where I’ve never been but always wanted to go. I even thought of spending a whole week in Bangalore, doing some gift shopping and hanging out in my air-conditioned hotel room with TV and free wi-fi. Then I came to my senses.
What I have decided to do instead is move into the next bungalow over, which faces the ocean (instead of into the garden, as my current room does, away from the ocean). That one gets the full-on breeze, and it will be vacant in a few days. It has a huge porch on the ocean side, shaded by an awning (as well as coconut palms and other tropical trees), but is still enclosed within the walled garden. The wall is low enough, however, to see out to the beach at certain spots through all the foliage. Out of all the times Shivaya and I have stayed here, that was our very favorite cottage. And since the season is ending and fewer people are coming (also because we are longtime customers and friends with the owners), I have been offered a very good price for those last couple of weeks. I can also put my mattress on the porch with a mosquito net, and sleep outside!
My son is here for about two more weeks, so I will have another two weeks after he leaves to finish up my time in retreat mode. He has taken a hut at a prime spot on the south end of the beach, with fabulous beach views and panoramic ocean vistas, and the greatest breezes of all. We are both doing our own thing, but we meet everyday for chai or a meal, or to walk into town together. It’s lovely to share this time with him, especially in such an amazing location, and without the constraints of work schedules, etc.
3/21/14 Kudle Beach
It is REALLY hot now!! “Full hot,” as the locals say. Today is overcast, which is nice, and there are actually a few dark-ish clouds hanging around. It’s very humid, and my hair has become thick and curly with the moisture and salt in the air. (Wish there was a way to preserve that for my vanity…)
Yesterday Jay and I walked into town. We ate at a café he likes, and there is a funny little ongoing storyline happening there. As he was leaving there with friends one day recently, someone commented on how sweet and beautiful the Indian girls are who work there. They happened to be passing the woman who owns the café, and one of Jay’s friends playfully said to her, “My friend wants to marry your daughter.” She looked aghast and threw her hands up, saying, “Not possible! Not possible!”
The next time Jay and his friends went there, the mother saw him and said excitedly, “Okay! Okay!” as if she had changed her mind. He was regaling me with this story as we neared the café, and we decided to play on, as if he was bringing his mother to check out the intended wife. It was clear that it was all in fun, and everyone had a good laugh.
Good thing they knew it was a joke, since Jay has a very beautiful and wonderful girlfriend at home who he has no intention of trading in!
We did a few things in town, and then went our separate ways. I bought several books in anticipation of moving into my new room next week. The trip into town is getting more difficult as the heat increases, so I’m trying to stock up on everything I need in order to cut down on the number of outings.
As I exited the bookstore, I heard a band playing, and saw a procession of priests coming up the street. They stopped at the giant Shivaratri cart that is parked, seemingly permanently, at a certain spot on the street. They had come to begin repairs on a broken axle, which must be preceded by prayers and rituals.
Each year on Shivaratri this cart is pulled from its parking spot several hundred yards to the end of the street by a rope that is about six inches in diameter. The cart, which is made of thick, heavily oiled wood with many deities carved into it, is about six stories high. I have a photo of Shivaya standing in front of the wheel a few years back, and his head is about level with the axle, which makes the wheel itself about 11 or 12 feet high. The top of the cart reaches about two stories high, and above that loom several more stories of a skeletal wooden structure in the rough shape of an egg, on which hundreds of colored flags are hung, giving the whole thing the look of a gigantic cart on wheels topped by a colorful balloon. On the appointed day each year, the local priests climb up into the cart, bringing with them the Shiva murti from the main temple in Gokarna. At the end of the street is a smaller cart, maybe half the size of this one. As I understand it, the large cart represents Lord Shiva, and the smaller one represents Lord Vishnu. People clamber into the street to participate in pulling the Shiva cart by the rope, which moves haltingly and slugglishly along the street to where the Vishnu cart stands. When it reaches the smaller cart, it is said that Shiva is bowing to Vishnu. The large cart then gets pulled back to its resting place. Thousands of people fill the street to take part in the celebration, tossing bananas up to the priests in the cart, who offer the fruit to the deity and toss it back down as prasad.
This year, just as the Shiva cart was beginning to roll toward Vishnu, an axle suddenly broke, and the festivities came to an abrupt halt. Fortunately, none of the men who were beneath the cart, guiding it with large wooden beams, were hurt. The whole thing could easily have collapsed onto them. One of them was the gardener who cares for the plants here where I am staying.
The next day, the newspapers were full of the news, and speculation on whose fault it was—the group that prepares the cart each year, or the organization that inspects and approves it for the celebration. Some people laughingly said it was because a seemingly confused—and naked—white man, possibly on drugs or mentally ill, had jumped into the street as the cart was preparing to move, and ran around it several times before disappearing again into the throng.
So the little parade of priests I saw yesterday was announcing the puja that would be done before repairs were to begin on the broken axle.
I had not attended the Shivaratri celebration this year, so I did not witness the incident. The one time that Shivaya and I watched the cart-pulling event, we were caught in a crush afterwards, as thousands of onlookers poured into the narrow street to join those already there, and began moving toward the ocean. It was a terrifying experience—bodies were so smashed together that I don’t think my feet were even touching the ground at times; I was just being carried along by the crowd. People were freaking out; women holding babies were screaming and trying to pass the babies along to someone standing on the side, in case things escalated to the point of stampede. Other people, like Shivaya, were laughing and having a grand old time as the wave of densely-packed humanity transported us along. We were in that situation for about 45 minutes until the movement of the crowd finally emptied us out onto the beach. I remember just pulling my attention inside and focusing on my breath, tuning the whole thing out until it was over.
I was not anxious to repeat that scenario this year—or ever again!
I have been back in California for two weeks now, and I’m feeling fairly adjusted to the changes in time and climate. The rest of life feels different, though—a sort of collage of familiar elements mixed together with new. The biggest change, of course, is that I am here without Shivaya. In some ways that feels stranger as time goes on, and in other ways I’m getting more used to it.
Being back in the U.S. is a mixed bag. It’s great to be in a place that’s so clean, where I can brush my teeth with tap water, and where people obey traffic laws. Or rather where there are traffic laws! But I do miss the ease of being in India in other respects, the slower pace and nonchalant way of life.
I’m staying in Grass Valley for the time being, with my older son and his family. Other extended family live nearby, so I am close to several grandsons, and very happy about that. I will stay here until mid-June, when I will begin a cross-country road trip that will include a visit to the Neem Karoli Baba ashram in Taos, New Mexico in July. At the celebration of Guru Purnima on July 12th, another memorial service will be held for Shivaya, as well as for other beloved satsang members who have passed away recently. This will be the 40th Guru Purnima celebration since Maharajji left his body, and many of the old devotees who were with him will be there. It’s open to all, so if you feel to come there, it promises to be a great party. (Be sure to book a room nearby well in advance…)
Before I leave on the road trip, I hope to finish the CD of Shivaya telling his stories. I’ll let you know as soon as it is ready. I had hoped to have it ready before I left for India, but life was such a whirlwind at that time that I couldn’t get it done.
I am also planning to be at Open Secret in San Rafael, CA on June 5th for the first Thursday kirtan. It will be the only kirtan I will lead there before going on the road. Amazingly, it will be one year since the last kirtan I did there. Shivaya began getting sick in June of last year, and I ended up cancelling pretty much everything at that point. I hope you will join me, rusty though I may be. We won’t have Shivaya there to tell us stories of his adventures in India, but I’m pretty sure he’ll be there in spirit, and we will take some time to share our memories of him with each other.
Before leaving India, I made a few more journal entries, which are below. You are welcome to read them. I hope to see you soon, at the kirtan, the ashram, or somewhere else along the way as life moves on in this beautiful and unpredictable way.
With love and pranams,
4/2/14 10 days left at Kudle Beach
Yesterday began the last phase of my ten-week beach retreat. Not only am I counting down the days, but all the guesthouses and restaurants are winding down as well. Several cafes are now just a collection of upright bamboo poles, having been stripped of the palm leaf panels that formed the walls and roofs. The poles are slowly coming down, too, and soon there will be only sand or concrete platforms where there were once busy eateries buzzing with tourists.
The beach is empty, with the exception of a few local people hurrying here and there, and a handful of lingering tourists—of which, of course, I am one. I’m lazy and comfortable on my large shady porch, with a nice breeze blowing in from the ocean, about 200 yards away. This is a blessed relief after quite a few scorching days with temperatures in the high 90s, and no breeze at all. My movements are exactly opposite from when I first arrived here. Initially I was spending as much time as possible on the beach and in the water, hurrying to get out there every day to soak up as much of this exquisite atmosphere as I could manage. Now I am spending very little time out in the sun, trying to avoid the burning rays and blistering sand, in favor of shade and fans and frozen coffee or coconut milkshakes.
I have been sleeping outside under a mosquito net at my new cottage, where I have been for a week now. Those hot windless days last week dragged on into sweaty, sleepless nights, and every morning I debated whether I should move my mattress back inside, where I would have the advantage of the ceiling fan. But of course there was always the possibility that the next night would be the one when the air began to move again. And I didn’t want to miss that. My resistance paid off, and I have had two cool, comfortable, and gratifyingly restful nights. It’s impossible to say whether this will continue, but I’ll take my chances.
So, after three lovely weeks with my son, I am now on my own again, dropping back into myself, inspired and supported by the beauty of this idyllic setting. My sadhana, I have realized, is simply sitting in myself and accepting what life brings in each moment—not a difficult task here. Having spent years keeping up a practice every day to the best of my ability, the form of my sadhana began to change as Shivaya’s health deteriorated last year. Eventually there was no more morning practice, or afternoon singing, just tuning ever more finely to his evolving needs. And after he died, I was in a whirlwind of packing up our apartment in order to move out on time, as well as packing for three months in India. And then suddenly here I was, in India. Wow.
I had some semblance of mantra sadhana for two and half weeks at Ananda Ashram, but being still dazed by the huge gap in my life where Shivaya used to be, I was less inspired to participate as much in the Ram Nam practice than in years past. Then, a few weeks ago after reading the books I mentioned about karma, reincarnation, and mantra, I felt inspired to pick up my morning practice again. But I realized quickly that this is not the time for anything formal, because I am still releasing and reflecting. Not the time to force anything.
I have hardly sung at all since last August. I had hoped to bring a harmonium with me here, but I didn’t have time to find a small enough one to travel with, and the one I have at home is too heavy and cumbersome to lug around. In any case, I just haven’t felt much like singing in all this time. People have asked if I was singing to Shivaya while he was sick, and the answer is no. We were, for the most part, happy sitting in silence for all those months.
4/4/14 8 days left at Kudle Beach
Tomorrow begins my last week here at Kudle Beach. It would also be Shivaya’s 72nd birthday. I have saved a packet of ashes to sprinkle in the ocean for the occasion.
There was only one other year that we stayed this late at the beach, and that was so we could celebrate his birthday here. We knew it would be hot, but by that time it was ridiculously hot! We only left the shade and comfort of our porch in order to dash across the sand as quickly as possible to get to a café to eat. We could barely breathe during the few minutes it took to get from here to the one place that was still reliably open. We couldn’t chance racing all the way to another café only to find out that this was the day they had decided to close for the season, or that all the workers had abandoned the job to watch a cricket match on television (and believe me, that happened).
That year, we had intended to make a trek up a jungly hill to a little Shiva temple at the south end of the beach to celebrate Shivaya’s birthday. But when the day rolled around, there was no question of schlepping across the blazing hot sand and trudging up the steep hill to the shrine. We were happy just to sit and watch the waves from our shady porch.
So, being lazy, we never actually made it up to the Shiva temple. I thought I would try to make the climb at some time during this trip to sprinkle some ashes (but not as late as his birthday!). As it turned out, my son was going up to the temple almost every night for the sunset puja while he was here. He was happy to take some ashes with him one night, and he sprinkled them at the temple at dusk, offering his own prayers for the Baba as the puja was being offered to Shiva (which essentially consisted of twirling some incense, saying some mantras, and lighting a candle—just the kind of puja Shivaya liked!). Jay and Shivaya had a beautiful connection, and I think Shivaya would appreciate that he made that offering.
A little mystery that Shivaya and I used to ponder here concerned a local man who came out of one of the restaurants just before sunset every day, wearing the same blue-gray lungi and a cloth wrapped around his head. He would walk determinedly toward the south end of the beach and disappear up the trail. Then we would see him a short time later coming back and entering the same restaurant. We would see this when we went out to take a sunset walk, and then sit on the beach as the light began to fade, watching the hippies gear up for their campfire kirtans. It was just an amusing little game we played, speculating about where he went so religiously every night.
As it turns out, Jay had the answer. The man owns the restaurant and guest house we saw him leave each evening. He is also the pujari who goes up and does the puja in the Shiva temple at sunset every night. One of those little pieces of personal trivia I would love to share with Shivaya.
4/10/14 2 days left at Kudle Beach
On Shivaya’s birthday I took a packet of his ashes out to the ocean at sunset. Watching the sun go down was a daily ritual for us, as it is for everyone here. The sky is huge and wide and breathtaking, and the sun fairly consistently turns into a bright red ball as it descends gently toward the sea. Our friend Mari, who owns the property where I’m staying, was standing nearby, and when I told him what I was going to do, he said, “I’ll come with you.” Then he showed me how to make the offering. He told me to cup my hands together and fill them with water. He opened the packet of ashes and poured them in. The ashes dissolved into the water. I held my hands to my forehead, said a prayer, and then tipped them forward, pouring the ash water into the sea as the sun slowly faded into the horizon. It was a serene and beautiful moment.
Tomorrow is my last full day here. On Saturday morning I will take a taxi to the Goa airport and fly to Bangalore. The last couple of days here are always bittersweet, as I try to drink in as much of the atmosphere as possible, in hopes it will linger long enough in my psyche to carry me through the transition back to life in the U.S.
This has been an amazing and wonderful journey of reflection, gratitude, and contemplation. When I consider what I was doing this time last year, the shift in my life and perspective is dramatic. But it has all occurred so organically that it just seems natural, although I still can’t envision what shape my life will take as I continue onward. In so many ways, it is still the same as when Shivaya was ill. There is only the moment, and no way to second-guess what is coming next. There is something so free about living this way—and easy to do when you’re on a tropical beach. I’m sure life will fill up with its overabundance of details as I move back into “normal” reality—but hopefully not enough to obscure the brightness that shines quietly in the heart in the midst of it all.
Well, I did it. I actually left the beach. This was the latest into the year I’ve ever stayed there, watching things close, seeing the beach emptying out, and feeling the temperature rise higher and higher. A few tourists were staying on even longer, but definitely moving at a much slower pace in the heat.
So I am in transition now, spending time in the city before heading back to full-on American reality. I have had a truly amazing time in India. Coming here was the perfect decision after Shivaya passed. It was the only decision, actually. As Shivaya neared death, whenever I would consider what my next step would be, the only possibility seemed to be to move out of the apartment and come to India. My mind just wouldn’t go anywhere else. It was such a powerful thought that I was aware I was seeing how prarabdha karma pulls us along—there was simply no question of doing anything else.
I’m so grateful to have had this time in India. I have had a little ashram time, a lot of beach time, some quality retreat time, some socializing, and even some family time. I‘ve eaten fabulous food, read a lot of books, played a lot of solitaire, met some wonderful people, and deepened friendships with folks I had met here before. I’ve laughed, cried, reflected, meditated, and simply stared into space. I’ve tried to challenge myself in small ways to move through some of my fears, and I have also allowed myself to take it as easy and be as big a sissy as I pleased.
Now I’ll go home and see how it all settles in me, and where life leads me next. I’m pretty sure I’ll eventually get back to leading kirtan and giving workshops and teaching again. I’ll definitely continue my Vedanta studies, and maybe I’ll come here again. But I’m sure you can understand when I say it is a whole new world without Shivaya. Mostly, right now I want to get back to my kids and grandkids and all of my extended family and friends, and spend as much time with them and pour as much love into them as I can.
One thing that has become clear, for sure, is that life is so ephemeral, so short and so awesome. We truly don’t know when we—or our loved ones—will be leaving this plane of existence, and how much preparation time we will have. This is our preparation time.