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Settling

 

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photos westcoastwoman 2020

Know then that the body is merely a garment. Go seek the wearer not the cloak“.  Rumi
   

Settling

Eyes that could navigate
the tears of others
back to their headwaters,
spoke to mine.

Settle”

Her hands cupped, filter
words, pain, bewilderment,
spilling from mouths
unable to contain the flow.

You need to settle

Those hands deliver
to the waiting current,
grief, loss, prayers,
power, control.

Settle. You need to settle

Palms open, eyes open,
reach upwards, release,
lower with grace, reverence to
touch and comfort the earth.

Settle

westcoastwoman 2020

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photo westcoastwoman 2020

 

 

 

 

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VARANASI

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photo westcoastwoman 2020.    the ghats at sunrise Varanasi

“Last night, on the banks of the Ganges, I finally learned how to pray.”   Michael Allen

 

VARANASI          by Mary Oliver

Early in the morning we crossed the ghat,

where fires were still smoldering,

and gazed, with our Western minds, into the Ganges.

A woman was standing in the river up to her waist;

she was lifting handfuls of water and spilling it

over her body, slowly and many times,

as if until there came some moment

of inner satisfaction between her own life and the river’s.

Then she dipped a vessel she had brought with her

and carried it filled with water back across the ghat,

no doubt to refresh some shrine near where she lives,

for this is the holy city of Shiva, maker

of the world, and this is his river.

I can’t say much more, except that it all happened

in silence and peaceful simplicity, and something that felt

like that bliss of a certainty and a life lived

in accordance with that certainty.

I must remember this, I thought, as we fly back

to America.

Pray God I remember this.

 

Mary Oliver
A Thousand Mornings
(Penguin, 2012)

 

Acknowledgment to Ken Chawkin of The Uncarved Blog for bringing this poem to my attention after reading my last piece “Hotel on the Edge of the World” I am a huge admirer of Mary Oliver but had never before come across this poem.

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Hotel on the Edge of the World further travels in the Year of Corona

 

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photo westcoastwoman 2020.     street scene Varanasi

Hotel on the Edge of the World

 

A mother has set up a tightrope for her young daughter to walk and balance upon.  There is no net…..not for the daughter or the mother.  We are all walking a tightrope here, no net.  I find it difficult to look or to look away at this point, some things I have seen I find it hard to find context for.

Illusion of safety no longer exists on any level, unsure of when I surrendered to that fact. One by one we all surrendered in our own time and in our own individual ways.  The travelling road show we have been a part of for the last two weeks has arrived at our last place of shelter ‘The Ganges View’ in Varanasi. The Hotel on the Edge of the World is how it feels to me.  In reality it is a converted palace full of treasures and art and secrets from the past.

We have heard stories along the way of Varanasi (our final destination) they have ranged anywhere from descriptions that portrayed either ‘Pearly gates, Mordor or Oz’ others described it as an LSD trip.  It is all of those things and none of them.  Varanasi will change you forever but only from the place you are when you arrive.  We were warned it could shatter you, I was suitably shattered by the time we arrived ……in some indescribable way this would bring it together.

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photo westcoastwoman 2020  one side of the river ‘everything’ the other ‘nothing’

Those who know Varanasi need no explanation, those like myself who knew little of the city before this voyage will need some introduction. Kashi/Benares/Varanasi is India’s holiest city.  The Mecca of the Hindu world , the city where every Hindu wants to come to die.  Hindu scriptures state that dying here and being cremated along the banks of the Holy Ganges (Ganga) river allows you to break the cycle of rebirth and attain salvation.  Up to 150 bodies are publicly cremated every day, 24 hours a day on the banks of the Ganges. The remains are offered into the river.

Every morning and throughout the day there is the life, people bathing, washing clothing and living their life on the banks of Mother Ganga.  Everything playing out all at once.

On our last evening we headed out as a group for dinner.  Our walking route took us past one of the cremation ghats on the river………four bodies were burning, in attendance were family members, passing public and various other onlookers. Bodies are burned in a wooden pyre and all four were at various stages of disintegration.   I saw a foot hanging out of the fire, I looked at my walking companion and she had also seen it. We walked on in silence for a while, finally she said “only in India would you see such a sight on your way to dinner and it would just be part of a day in a life”.  She was right.

My experience of death in North America has been hidden or  more usually “celebrated” without the celebrant.  Life and death in India is just business as usual no safety net or  illusion of safety.  Raw in your face life and death playing out second by second.

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photo westcoastwoman 2020    train station Jaipur our luggage being portaged

I have been changed in ways I have not begun to process and as difficult as some of it has been there has been great strength and love I have felt and assimilated from the people I met. I have been taught about religion by Swamis and scholars and shown a way of life I did not know existed. Visited Tantric Temples,  Buddhist Temples, Hindu Temples and the Temple of the ‘Street’.

Someone told me before I left that “When it is your time to go to India, you go to India”
It was my time and I went. It is with much gratitude that I put my hands together in prayer position bend forward and with more understanding and from a deeper place in my heart say to both the country and the people “Namaste”.

Afterword

A note about the Corona Virus, in order for the group of us to get through this journey we had all personally assessed the risk we were taking from the news reports at the time and decided to go forward. We had access to WiFi off and on during the journey and sometimes we would get the ‘Corona report’ as I came to call it.  Carnivale in Venice cancelled, outbreak in Italy, bits and pieces of the outside world getting through. We criss crossed paths with others …Germans….Brits in planes, hotels and temples along the way. It seems we were all wanting minimal information, nothing we could do about it anyway.  Turns out we were a week ahead of the Italian travel group that tested positive 16 out of 22 members that are now quarantined somewhere north of Delhi. ( a truly terrifying thought) Timing, decisions, being in the right or wrong place at any moment in time…….illusion of safety, no net.

I am not sure given the current situation I would be choosing to head out on a tour of India today but I am grateful I did when the time seemed right.  The wild and sometimes eccentric group of merry travellers I shared the experience with will always be close to my heart.

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photo westcoastwoman 2020      early morning at the Temple

 

 

 

 

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Same planet, Different world

 

This is written like a journal entry, it is the only way I can think to come close to expressing my impressions of India.

I had often heard the expression “assault on your senses” I realize now that I had never really experienced anything close to what India is capable of doing to the senses of a first time North American visitor.

Landing in Delhi is probably a rough way to start but the group of twenty coming from all over the world assembled there just over a week ago. We are a rather strange and eclectic group and after sharing a week with them in Delhi, Udaipur, Jaipur and now Agra it is starting to feel a bit like a travelling Agatha Christie novel. The cast of characters complete with a flamboyant Swedish actress with tales of many lovers, a scholar and Mystic and various other bit players and guest roles.

In some ways just allowing yourself to look and take in what is presented you by the mass of humanity that passes by each day is almost too much to comprehend. There is a post apocalyptic feel to what you are seeing and experiencing. The air is unbreathable, the water undrinkable but there is a fullness of life that is unmistakeable as cows, dogs and people coexist in ancient streets and deplorable conditions.

As we slowly make our way from airport to train station to luxury hotels i see and feel my white privilege and need to understand what that really means. I feel more gratitude for what I have and the people in my life than I ever have.

India is not just a place on the map, it feels like an entity that is ripping open my heart and allowing me to see things that would have been impossible to see any other way.

This morning as the sun was rising I stood in front of the Taj Mahal with tears streaming down my face. I have never been so moved by seeing a structure in my life.

……

 

 

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Mating in Captivity

Haida Gwaii
photo westcoastwoman 2014

“Humans are liminal creatures. We exist on the margins of the wild. The idea that we might exist in perfect bliss entirely within the wild is rich, romantic fiction. The idea that we might ever exist entirely outside the wild is equally fatuous. It is a witch tale rather than a fairy tale: a dystopia disguised as an ideal.”

                                                                                                                          Robert Bringhurst 

 

Mating in Captivity

Our containment born of
song, film, illusion
we mate in captivity.

Caged on the edge of  a civilization
lost, on its way to where?.
a question or answer.

This destination with no map,
hovers above liminal space
feet dangling, legs pumping.

 Swinging

a pendulum of humanity
drawing in, releasing
breath, body, spirit,

Eyes searching, meeting,
knowing, it’s All or Nothing
one final sweep and we are

“All In”

Hoping for the perfect River card.

©westcoastwoman 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dreamtime

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©westcoastwoman 2020

“We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our       purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love…and then we return home”

Australian Aboriginal Proverb

Dreamtime


Moon

Light  crosses  pillows

Wake from your dreams

Rise to capture

Ice crystals and moonset,

Creep into darkness

Still the moment.

Life moves in phases

‘sets’ morph to ‘rises’,

Dreamtime

inbetweentime  

wake and sleep

time marked not

by day and night

but new, full,

waning,

secrets revealed

so many moons ago…..

 

©westcoastwoman 2020

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Old Maps

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Artwork Doug Van Houten

“It is a strange and wonderful fact to be here, walking around in a body, to have a whole world within you and at your fingertips outside you. It is an immense privilege, and it is incredible that humans manage to forget the miracle of being here.
Rilke said, ‘Being here is so much,’ and it is uncanny how social reality can deaden and numb us so that the mystical wonder of our lives goes totally unnoticed.
We are here. We are wildly and dangerously free.”

John O’Donohue   quote from Anam Cara

 Old Maps

Just over a year ago I posted one of my favorite Joyce Rupp poems   “Old Maps No Longer Work” on this site.

For reasons that are still a mystery to me, the link ended up at the top of the search list on Google for that poem. Every day since,  at least one person somewhere in the world read it on the site. The constant attention given to the piece prompted me to reread it many times over the last year.  Each reading took me deeper into understanding what it meant to be ‘off map’ or ‘mapless’.

As the decade comes to a close I feel compelled to let go of some of my “well travelled paths” with gratitude to where the twists and turns of life have led me but
now “It is time for the pilgrim in me to travel in the dark” and “wait for the stars.”

For the next year when I find myself at the inevitable crossroads we all have to face in life, I will repeat the following lines:

The Map is not the Territory. When Map and Terrain differ, follow the Terrain.”

Wishes for a New Year of Peace and Understanding.

 

 “We are here. We are wildly and dangerously free

©westcoastwoman 2019