Sunday, November 20, 2011

Yoga Retreat - Matthew- Mundax

I spent one night in Fort Kochin, and arranged with my travel agent friend that he would drive me to the Yoga Retreat. It was another four hour drive. It's strange how much I am trusting my own judgement and the universe. I found this retreat online, and then reviewed it on TripAdvisor. I knew nothing about where it was, or how it really was. It was a big risk but I was determined that I needed a retreat.

Also, the tour agent was a friend of the lady travel agent I met in Goa; and because of spending time with his driver, I trusted him. I am just very fortunate that I have been guided to wonderful people on this trip so far.

Amir and his brother picked me up in an air-conditioned sedan (a treat), and we left early in the morning. They didn't just drive me, but spent the whole trip telling me about the rubber tree farms, the local flora and fauna, life in Kerala, and about their family. Amir's brother is in the Merchant Marines, and his wife designs materials for saris.She was in Chennai planning a showing of her saris for Christmas. We went to their
beautiful home for lunch with his aunt, uncle, younger nephew, and his mother. His father died only four
months ago, and he was worried because his mother didn't want to see anyone or go out.The family was taking turns staying with her. I spent some time holding her hand, and assuring her she would eventually feel better. It was a very touching moment, talking with another widow in another land, and understanding each other perfectly in not perfect language. It seemed as if I was being asked to share my experience with another family who was grieving,and I did my best to do so.

Amir's family were rubber plantation owners previously, and he took me to their family home which was built, I believe, in the 1800's. It was so beautiful, as was his father's home. All the ceilings were carved cedar, with some rosewood (which is now protected), and everywhere there were carvings in wood and icons (Christian) and beautiful hand-made house items. There was a huge rice bowl at least 4 feet across, carved of some old wood, and made to feed the whole family in the times when they all lived on one compound. Both the homes were furnished for comfort with fine couches, and lovely rooms filled with tapestries. There was a upstairs sundeck in the father's house, and many bedrooms for all the family.

We also visited the shrine and tomb of Sister Alphonsa, who is the first Indian woman saint. She was a nun in Kerala, and performed healing miracles which were confirmed by the Vatican. There were a large crowd of Indian woman at this site, and I went in with them to kneel by the tomb. I was the only European who actually went in and knelt by the shrine,but I am baptised and confirmed Catholic, so I felt I was allowed. I placed my handson the tomb, and prayed for Amir's mother, my family, my friends, and Kent.Tears rolled down my face as I felt something I can't begin to describe. A gentle lightness and warmth of being. The women and I filed out of the tomb close together. I keep running into Christian saints here in India, but I think it is also because Kerala is very Christian; whereas Bombay is Hindu and Muslim, and Goa is a mix of Hindu and heathen. And it could be because (if I must find meaning to every event) I have an affinity for saints, and Kent who proclaimed for years to be atheist or agnostic, in the end sought comfort in all types of
religious symbols including pictures of saints. The specter of the end does have a way of converting or at least inspiring even the most cynical, when faced with the ultimate and inevitable vast unknown.

We finally made our way slowly up the mountain until we came to a very small rustic village. We had been calling and receiving calls from Matthew regarding our ETA, and Amir thought he knew Mathew's family which turned out to be the case. That was reassuring, that someone knew where and with who I would be staying. When we turned into the gated drive toward Matthew's, we saw a huge, beautiful white stone house; and Amir said, "that's probably not the place." I believe he was thinking, yoga retreat--hippies--mud hut, or something. Well, we pulled up to this beautiful house, and a very nice tall Indian man came out and welcomed us.He toured us to my room, which was a spacious, beautiful room with a door to a red tile
porch which had a view of mountainside garden from Eden. This room was my home for the next five days, and it was as comfortable a home as I've had in a very long time. I loved my room at the IstanbulInn, and I loved my room at the Yoga Retreat. It was cool enough in the mountains that I hardly ever used the ceiling fans, I had hot water, and the only negative was a very hard yoga master bed, which I did eventually get used to.

We had tea with Matthew while he introduced himself, and him and Amir agreed that they had friends in common in Kochin. He advised me that I would be the only person staying. He had two rooms in his HomeStay, and he took only a maximum of five people at one time. Of course, here I was in the middle of Kerala mountains miles from anywhere going to stay for five nights in a house with a complete stranger; so, yes, I did have some moments of "look what you've got us into now, Ollie!" Matthew was, I'm sure, very sensitive to my feelings and did everything he could to reassure me right away that I was in a safe, caring
place. It took me about half of the next day and a couple Yoga sessions, to feel completely secure
and by that time, I had "turned it over".

My routine was up at 7:30am with coffee on the upstairs lanai overlooking the mountains. Yoga at 8:00am. First a session of quiet to connect with my energy/center. Then a series of standing exercises. Then a rest lying flat on my back. Then 10-20 minutes of meditation.We would then have breakfast of eggs, roti, fruit, yogurt, honey...all fresh local foods.There was a shy little man who cooked, and all the food was prepared deliciously. We began at the first meal talking. Matthew encouraged me to share anything that was on my mind, and he shared about his journey to this place in the mountains. We had some very personal and helpful talks during meals. At first it was a bit awkward opening up to this new person, but I had made a deal with myself to be completely open to this experience, and to gain all I could from where my journey had brought me, which I knew was no coincidence.

The rest of the day I spent reading, writing, reflecting, doing chores, napping, taking walks, and sitting on the lanai. I had no Internet the first few days, no TV, no distractionsreally. Just me and yoga.We had lunch at 1:00pm, with more conversations and sometimes just a quiet meal together. At 4:00pm another Yoga session exactly like the one in the morning, with dinner following. Dinner was Kerala rice, different kinds of roti's including a special Kerala one made of rice flour that I really love, fresh green beans with coconut, okra with coconut, cabbage with coconut, vegetable curries, vegetable masalas, and apple bananas. It was the best
vegetarian food I have ever had, and was never boring or unappetizing. I did not miss meat,
chicken, or fish while I was there.

It doesn't sound like a very exciting way to spend five days, but it was one of the fullest times in my travels, and was exactly the time and space I needed to catch up to some intense feelings of grief I was still having. I also think I was just over-whelmed with all the people, places, events, and traveling I have done in the past few months. It has been a lot of changes, and it was time to stop for a bit and catch up to myself. The first few days I had several times when I started crying. I was so grateful when Matthew was completely at ease with my feelings, and shared some of his own personal experiences with health issues, and loss. In one Yoga session I actually started sobbing during the meditation with memories that came back from the past.

Slowly and patiently, every session he repeated, "be here now, pay attention to your breath, let go of the past, let go of the future, just experience this moment." And by the third day when he asked me how I felt, I could answer that I felt lighter, freer, and the knot of sorrow in my chest was lifted. I feel as if pockets of sadness that had settled in the nooks of my body were released. The rest of the days I spent feeling more and more centered and whole. So much more happened during this time, but it was all very internal and very personal. I have not made any promises to myself about continuing the routine, but so far since I have returned to Fort Kochin, I have done the same routine every day at 8am and 4pm. Matthew helped me copy the exact body movements in words on my computer, so I can remember them, and I have been doing them. I feel better, and am able to "go with the flow", which is a must in India and for the rest of my trip in Asia. I also feel this centering has allowed me to let go a little bit more of my past, and move a bit more into my own present.

One of the things I loved most about the time I spent with Matthew was that he was not in any way pretentious or striving to be "spiritual". Be where and what you are, gently move yourself in new directions. I was very impressed by this approach, which did was not a doctrine or self-righteous rant. I never once felt like I was a lesser being, or that I was being "taught". My views, needs, and limitations were completely honored and valued. One of the things I noticed is that my sadness causes me to be irritated. It's a general
type of irritation that comes out or flares up randomly and equally at people I love and strangers. I had noticed this before, all during Kent's illness and after when I was grieving, but no matter how much writing I did, or letting go of specific resentments...this general irritation continued. It was very clear to me during these days of reflection that I was irritated because I was sad. I hated being sad, and that irritated my spirit. Then it was like a hot coal only waiting for a slight wind to flare into fire.

Another epiphany I had was that I still felt some guilt over two incidents that happened during Kent's illness. They were both very minor incidents, but ones which I couldn't let go of. I was finally able to repeat what happened and again, forgive myself for being human and remind myself that I had done all I could lovingly to be of service. It'samazing how hard I am on myself, and how little credit I give myself for the good I do. It
is also amazing how determined some thoughts are to stay stuck in our consciousness, and it is usually the most damaging thoughts that are the hardest to release.

A lot of time was spent talking about the mind, and how thoughts are not reality. There is more to reality than what we think in our minds. Learning how to discipline our thoughts, which I've already spent many years doing, is one of the most valuable tools we have in order to have clear, peaceful, and real communion with ourselves and the world.

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