Thursday, November 29, 2007

I recently finished reading "Indian Summer: The Secret End of An Empire." The book documents the end of British rule in India and the scramble to construct new power structures. The focus of the book is on the major political figures during the time.

The primary British figure is Dickie Mountbatten, the heart-centered but aloof quasi-royal viceroy who distracts himself with ceremonial pomp in the face of handing independence to 400 million people of warring tribes. Then there is his wife Edwina, a highly driven woman whose inability to connect deeply with any one man drives her to chase one affair after another in search of satisfaction. She finally finds it in Jawaharlal Nehru, a Kashmiri Pandit intellectual educated in England who just so happens to be the Indian prime minister . The love triangle of Dickie, Edwina, and Jawaharlal are three primary players in bringing stability to an inherently disastrou situation.

Other players include Muhammed Ali Jinnah, a secular Muslim who is one of the first to invoke political Islam as a tool to prevent a Hindu dominated state. And then there is Gandhi, a brilliant and often insensible leader whose satyagraha (nonviolent civil disobedience) played a major factor in convincing England to leave. He was so revered that he could make Muslims and Hindus stop fighting by refusing to eat until violence ended.

The book illuminates the fascinating interpersonal relationships that played a role in the creation of India and Pakistan.

What the book did not explain was the impetus behind the massive violence in the Punjab. The At the time the Punjab was comprised of pockets of Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims living amongst each other. These groups lived amongst each other. A cartographer was given pen and paper and told to create a border between India and the Muslim Pakistan. Pakistani Muslims attacked Hindus fleeing for India. Sikhs and Hindus butchered Muslims. Trains full of refugees were set on fire.

What I found especially shocking was the violence perpetrated by the Sikhs. Sikh jethas reportedly rode from village to village using their kirpans, ceremonial daggers that signify cutting through negativity, to butcher entire communities.

The partition and the subsequent violence illustrates the ability of the Piscean man to snap at a moments notice. Communities that have had good relations for years can be whipped up into genocidal frenzies at a moment's notice. The twentieth century saw it happen in Germany, Rwanda, and the Yugoslavian states. It is currently happening in Iraq.

I am left perplexed as to the root of this violence. I can only conclude that it results from holding a space of fear. And I pray that it is a remnant of the Piscean age.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Sadhana For The Adventurer

A consistent sadhana is at the core of the Kundalini yoga experience. Change occurs when one follows a daily regimen of yoga and meditation. The consistency chips away subconscious and physical blocks. Keep the sadhana strong and the universe will take care of the rest.

A daily practice is certainly feasible when one has a set schedule and location. Awaking before dawn to do yoga is practical if one has an apartment and a nine to five job. But what happens to the traveling yogi? What becomes of sadhana if one is at a 14,000 foot campsite in the midst of a howling storm?

I experimented with “sadhana on the road” while on a three month backpacking trip to South America last year. I traveled by bus through Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Brazil. Most of my time was spent in the remote Andean highlands where the elevation ranged from 10,000 up to 16,500 feet.

Maintaining my discipline was a challenge. I began the trip during the eighth month of a daily regimen of 31 minutes of Sat Kriya. This asana entails sitting in rock pose (with the buttocks on the heels), clasping the arms above the head with the arms straight, and pointing the index finger towards the sky. “Sat” is chanted as the navel point contracts, and “nam” as it relaxes. “Sat Nam” means “our identity is truth.” Some of the countless benefits of Sat Kriya include balanced sexual energy, a strong nervous system, and smooth digestion.

I flew into the nearly 11,000 foot former Incan capital of Cuzco, Peru from sea level. I awoke the following morning to a splitting headache and a complete lack of appetite. Two weeks later I found myself in La Paz, Bolivia with a case of dysentery. Fever and a weak stomach made the idea of Sat Kriya most unappealing. The symptoms lasted for several days in both cases.

I contemplated taking a break from the practice during both of these illnesses. Yet every morning I brought myself onto my heels, clasped my hands above my head, and began pumping the navel along with the mantra “Sat Nam.” The kriya circulated healing prana through the body. It strengthened my worn out digestive system. The repetition of mantra brought peace to my being.

Another challenge was keeping up in the outdoors. My primary reason for visiting South America was trekking in the Andes and the Amazon. I did not know how my sadhana would fit into a mountain man lifestyle, but I was determined that it would. One afternoon I found myself camped under a 14,000 foot pass in the Cordillera Real range of the Andes in western Bolivia. A hail and snow storm blew in as I was in my tent meditating. For a moment my ego jokingly pondered whether I had developed some siddhi that enabled me to call in a storm. The wind was bending the tent poles on my head.

I ate dinner with a friend and our indigenous guides before scoping out a spot for Sat Kriya. My hands shivered in the night air. I periodically opened my eyes to glimpse the lights of isolated villages amidst jagged shadows of the Andes silhouetted by the moon.

That trip took me up and over the Andes and into the Amazon Basin. The freezing ice storms of the Andean highlands gave way to the world’s largest forest. My heart raced during Sat Kriya as my mind interpreted unknown sounds as prowling jaguars.

Fitting in Sat Kriya became part of the adventure. Finding a way to meditate amidst mountain gales, damp jungles, and interminable bus rides was an adventure in itself.

As I have grown in my practice, Sat Kriya has become sustenance. It has become less of something that I do, and more an aspect of my identity. When I was sick it brought healing. When I was exhausted and overwhelmed it brought strength.

Sadhana is not an impediment to the traveler. Rather, it is a companion that nourishes the journey.