Tiruvannamalai -part 1

For years Tiruvannamalai sounded to me like everything I dislike; dirty, crowded, traditional, full of temples, rituals, beggars, no fun, bad food… No one had ever been able to give me an answer that would turn me on enough to come here.

I had heard that not visiting Tiruvannamalai had been my Master Osho’s only regret in life, and when one day I was offered a house here I came for a month to check it out!

Since then I keep coming back, I keep missing the place unlike any other when I am away, and every time the same magic reveals itself, and the same mystery enters my every breath.     

Arunachala is the mountain responsible for everything that happens here. The huge Shiva temple in the city of Tiruvannamalai at the feet of the mountain, Ramana Maharshi and countless others spending their life and attaining Samadhi here, the millions of seekers who come here for a day or a lifetime… Nothing of this would exist without this mountain.

I have a long and rich history on the spiritual path and in self inquiry. I spent over 20 years meditating every day, from Osho’s active meditation techniques to 21 days Vipassana retreats to simply sitting for weeks in complete silence and isolation.

When I first arrived here, I went to the Ramana Ashram and found the meditation room adjacent to the main temple.

I just came from what was then Osho’s Commune in Pune and I was used to perfectly maintained, beautiful and spotless spaces. The Osho Auditorium where we were meditating was always perfectly air conditioned, smell free, without a fallen hair on the marble floor. The silence was always to be respected and even when hundreds of people would sit there together, the slightest cough would be enough to see you escorted out.

As I entered the meditation room, I spotted an empty cushion and sat on it in front of a picture of Ramana. In the middle of the room a dog was sitting; people were coming and going; some were sitting with eyes closed, others were moving around and someone was reading a book; the window to the temple was open and singing was happening on the other side; the fans were on, a clock on the wall was ticking, and the door was constantly opening and closing.

I closed my eyes. I opened them. I looked around. I looked inside. I felt the wind and the activity around. I could hear all those noises outside.

In spite of me, in spite of the sounds, in spite of the movements, I was drawn inward. I was being engulfed by something far greater than anything or anyone around, and my eyes were widening inside; a feeling of melting and letting go was taking me; there was a clear sense of Oneness, a clear vanishing of the Ego, a vast sense of Emptiness.

As I walked out an hour later I knew that my life was never to be the same again.

I made my way to the nearest chai shop by the side of a busy street, and grabbed the last half broken plastic chair. It was just before sunset and traffic was intense, exhaust fumes filled the air, rubbish was all around, and some beggars looked rather scary. I ordered my chai with half the normal amount of sugar.

I still recall that first day in Tiru a few years ago, sipping my tea in complete amazement. What the fuck was that!? How could I feel here closer to myself than I had ever felt before? How could my meditation be deeper here drinking a cup of tea on a dirty crowded side-walk than in the most modern meditation hall?

As I sat there, watching Indian life go by and slowly drinking my tea, I noticed how my mind had become so much quieter; my jaw was dropping, the sense of time was dissipating, concerns about past or future were appearing as rather vague memories; the present moment was shining and taking all the space.

The sun was slowly setting and I had just spent my first few hours in Tiruvannamalai…

Many more days and months would follow… and part 2 is coming soon…

Tribute to Meera, part 8

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Meera always told me that having zero background as a painter and having never been to art school was a gift in disguise. She said that so many people coming to her were so loaded with ideas and concepts, had too much baggage, and that she spent so much time trying to free them from their knowledge. In that sense I was free already.

Today when I look at my paintings I recognize that, and I am in awe every single time. Meera taught us very little techniques, almost nothing really. And yet I see beauty all around right now, I see mystery and depth, I see the wild cyclone in movement and I feel the centre of it. I see both my aching and my silent heart, the joy and the pain, this whispering longing taking me to the unknown…

As years are passing and I am slowly collecting knowledge, I can see how right she was. Looking at paintings I did in her trainings when I knew nothing, I often stop in amazement at a certain freedom I had then. Many times I realise that today I would not be able to paint with that magenta next to that bright pink, or to suddenly enter a heavy stroke of black ink in the middle of a beautiful light flowery painting. Staying in touch and alive with that innocence and that freedom is a constant challenge. That freedom has a beauty of its own and the taste of the divine.

 Painting with Meera in Osho’s garden, listening to Him and meditating every day, was a happening hard to describe. Osho’s presence is tangible in every word Meera utters, in every move she does, in every painting she creates.  Osho’s vision is the connection between Meera and me.

( Part 9 coming soon )

Tribute to Meera, part 7

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After the first season helping in Meera’s caravan I finally got in touch with the creative fire within and I just wanted to paint. Meera had been right and now she wanted me to keep going wild into unchartered places. When I told her that I now just wanted to paint, had no juice for helping, and would rather explore on my own outside the training, she offered me to come in the group and do as I wanted. I could even have a corner in the room, and as long as I was around she was happy.

And so, I spent the last few winters in the painting training, doing as I please, knowing no limit and no boundary. I was officially part of the staff, but I refused to work and help, and would immediately leave if pushed. Meera wanted me in there and so kept widening the exceptional status I had. I was certainly the source of much admiration, but also envy and jealousy. Clearly I isolated myself and became a freak. During the days off there was so much work for the staff, so much to prepare, but as my friends were busy from morning to night gluing paper, mixing colours, cleaning and deep cleaning, I would just sit there on the roof under the trees and paint all day long, forgetting to eat, only having two or three breaks a day to meditate in the Buddha Hall.

We were painting on Krishna roof those days, an amazing open space in the heart of the commune, under magnificent ancient trees with amazing greeneries all around. During the evening meditation, when everything stops and everyone gathers together to meditate with Osho, I again had a special permission to stay on the roof and paint if I wanted; and sometimes I would miss the evening meditation and paint till midnight, alone in that huge space, with all the lights on and music playing.

Those are the days when my creativity took off. I was intense and prolific.

Meera could see that I was flowering and she kept supporting me. She was obviously aware that this situation was not right, that my entitlement was an issue, and my dramas out of place. Over the years she asked her closest friends many times “Should I kick out Nirav?” No matter the feedback she always chose love over fear. She always chose Yes over No. She always focussed on the light and the expression of creativity. Against what made sense and what was right from a therapeutic standpoint she always kept my potential in sight and did whatever was needed to support it.

 

( part 8 …)

Tribute to Meera, part 6

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My journey with Meera had just started. A glimpse at me had in a way been enough for her to see my unexplored potential, and very soon she was reconfirmed in her intuition. She gave me everything, let me do all I wanted, didn’t set limits and kept showering me with her love. She took me in the staff for five years continuously, and invited me to her trainings abroad.

The problem was that not only I didn’t believe in my potential as an artist, but receiving so much unconditional love was not possible for me. The more she gave the more I pushed her away. Those five years were intense, extraordinary in many ways, and also extremely painful. I frequently exploded into intense emotional dramas, freaked out in the middle of the groups, challenged her and pushed her to her edge. As her book “ReAwakening of Art” was about to be published, I forced her to remove my name from it. Obviously my name would have appeared in a beautiful way, and this is one of the most painful things I ever did. My name was removed and the book was published.

Today a dedicated copy is by my bedside table, and whenever I try and read Meera’s words to me on the cover, my eyes instantly fill with tears.

Maybe this Tribute is also an effort to complete something between us and ease the pain in my heart.

( part 7 …)

Tribute to Meera, part 5

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It is now 9.35 sometimes in December 2000, it is a beautiful misty morning in Koregaon Park, and Meera’s painting training is about to start. This part will last six weeks and has to be booked as one course. Over sixty participants will soon be picked up in the Multiversity Plaza and brought to the group room. In the last three days, Meera’s experienced staff had been busy setting up the space, mixing hundreds of litres of acrylic colours, gluing papers together to create huge pieces of canvas, sorting out brushes and watercolours, and organising so many many details. I had just been part of the crew for two weeks and I knew what a major happening it was.

I had decided not to join and obviously Meera could not force me, but something in my heart felt heavy as I wandered around the commune. I watched all those people arriving, excited and ready to embark on a journey that would change many lives.

Meera arrived in her black robe, smiling. The plaza was packed. “Where is Nirav?” she asked one of her assistants.

Here I was, sitting on a table at the back, partly in shock, partly sad, but also deep down knowing that something was soon going to happen and change the course of my life. There was a sense of urgency, a bubbly intensity, and magic was in the air. We were in the heart of Osho’s garden, between His Samadhi and the Buddha Hall where He spoke for many years, and there was never a doubt as who was actually running the show.

The group was starting in less than five minutes and there was no more time for discussion. Meera walked over to me “Nirav, did you find the money and are you coming?” “No, I am not coming, sorry!” I replied. “Oh, Nirav, this is not possible. Come! You join the staff now, I will find a way.”

She gave me a hug, took my hand and pulled me with her to the centre of the plaza. She gave me a list and a pen which I ticked as she called the names of the participants.

I was silent as we all walked together to the group room. I was hardly realising what had just happened, and how I suddenly found myself here; but obviously a match had just been thrown into my inner chambers and fire would soon engulf all my ideas and concepts of who I stubbornly believe I am. Most importantly my creativity was going to explode into thousands of rainbows and transform the very way I experience life.

 ( part 6 …)

 

Tribute to Meera, part 4

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I had not understood how Meera could have seen my potential as an artist during our short meeting the week before. How she could now see my untapped possibilities on this paper is something that will probably remain unexplained till my death. The fact is that this was not a painting but a dark mess; it was ugly and it made no sense whatsoever; it was an energetic expression of those dark and primal forces inside; black and white paints were basically just thrown, most strokes were done with my hands and feet rather than with brushes, there was no mind, no urge to create, no desire for beauty, no one to please, no goal and no ego.

The Primal Painting group went ahead, and Meera encouraged me to keep going, to keep playing and exploring, to be myself and be wild.

This first part was soon ending and the Swiss friend I was translating for was not staying for the rest of the training. Meera’s training was in two uneven parts that season, the first one lasting two weeks, and the second lasting six weeks. Part 2 would among other things include water colours, nature painting, self-portrait…

Meera explained that I wouldn’t be able to translate anymore and that she would not take me as a helper for the next major section of the training; the staff was already full and since I had never participated in at least a shorter group of hers, joining the staff was simply impossible. She wanted me to join as a participant. I understood her point, and yet I was clearly not ready to pay for a creativity group. I honestly could not see the point. Yes I was enjoying the process and had fun exploring and painting, but No I didn’t feel that painting was my thing and this idea that I was a born painter was completely removed from anything I could feel or understand.

I told her that I would leave after the Primal Painting part. She told me that No, I could not leave. I told her that I was not a painter and that I was not that interested. She told me that I was a painter and had to keep painting.

The Primal Painting part ended, my Swiss friend left, and there was now a three days break before Meera’s creativity caravan would keep rolling for the next month and half. I was ready to call it a day and an interesting experience and I was completely unwilling to join as a participant. Meera could not take me in her staff for numerous very good reasons and was absolutely not ready to let me go. In the heart of Osho’s garden in Pune, those three days had the flavour of an arm wrestling match.

( part 5 …)

Tribute to Meera, part 3

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After a couple of hours, the music eased, lights were slowly dimed up and Meera gently brought us back.

We were all dumbfounded at the sight that met our eyes; those large pieces of paper now all looked like greyish chocolate and the room was a complete mess.

Meera ordered us all to go back to our painting and stand in front of it. Finding one’s own painting in this was quite a challenge but somehow everyone made a move.

I was still out of it from what had just happened in this session and was stumbling around trying to figure out where my painting could be, and quite frankly I had little clue what it did look like.

I was not alone in this case and a few other friends were also without their painting; Meera meanwhile collected the unclaimed papers.

I still remember that moment, the space, the energy, Meera standing in the middle of the room, and about seventy people obviously shaken and out of their minds.

“Who painted this?” Meera asked, starring into one of the paper that was yet without owner.

She seemed to have forgotten everything else and was completely absorbed in this horrible grey mess. “Who painted this?” she continued… “Who?”

She stopped the music, turned the lights to the max and called us all around. I had no idea what she was doing and why she suddenly seemed so frantic. She was staring at this painting, ignoring everything else and kept repeating “Who painted this?”

I was still looking for my paper, and I came closer to the one she pointed to. To me they all looked the same. Litres of black and white acrylics had been poured in all possible ways on all those papers, and really, I was unable to see any value or beauty anywhere here.

After a few moments I figured out that yes this was mine. “Me, I painted it”.

She looked at me, looked again at the paper lying on the floor in front of her, and nodded her head in her very unique way. There was a long silence in the room as everyone gathered around starring at this mysterious painting. I looked at it, looked back at Meera; I was completely blank, puzzled, and I had no idea what was going on and what she possibly could see in this. After such a wild high energy session, this silence was such an unsettling contrast. Meera would keep the suspense and the energy in the group moved inwards. What a magical moment! What a divine spontaneous happening was unfolding in front of us!

Meera was obviously startled by what she had just seen. I certainly had no idea what it possibly could be and why it seemed such a big deal, and looking around at my friends I suspected that no one really had more clues than I did.

She finally said in a grave voice “Nirav, you are a born painter! “

I was in shock.

We had been in that underground chamber the whole afternoon and it was certainly high time to get some fresh air, clean up the mess and get ready for the evening meditation in Osho’s Buddha Hall; but instead, Meera gave us a five minutes break before spending the next hour explaining why that painting was so special. I had no idea what she was talking about, and I felt more and more uneasy being put on the spot like that. I guess that some of my advanced painter friends present could follow and be touched by what she shared. I didn’t.

When we finally came out of the chamber the sun had set long ago, and the full moon was shining bright.

( part 4 )

 

Tribute for Meera, part 2

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I didn’t know that then, but Meera had just gotten hold of me and was not about to let go. She would only let go years later, tears running, when I would push her so hard that she had no more choice.

Primal painting? I had done so much primal therapy work during the last few years, and I loved the intensity of it.  Primal Painting sounded deep and dark, and I suddenly found myself excited.

Meera’s creativity caravan started, and this year I joined her staff of a dozen people. It was a big group with at least sixty participants, and as a translator I was participating for free but was also helping the crew. Helping with Meera was intense; we were fully involved in the process and on top of it we were taking care of the whole set up and cleaning, mixing colours, preparing brushes and paper… It was an incredible happening that would last for almost three months.

The Swiss friend I was translating for was rather good in English and my job was easy. I joined this unbelievable caravan and started to paint and play with colours and energies. It was fun and intense and I enjoyed what Meera was offering; but still, I clearly had this feeling that I was wasting my time and that painting was not my thing.

Halfway through this first part Meera brought us all to a dark and soundproof room deep underneath the commune; there we would explore our darkness. We got given a very large piece of paper each, big brushes and 2 buckets of acrylic paints, one black and one white. Music was bumping loud and Meera was guiding us to connect with those hidden places inside. We danced, we moved and we played with those large quantities of black and white acrylics. We were encouraged to dive into our darkest corners and express with movement and paints. It was one of the wildest and most intense session I ever experienced anywhere, and except from a few candles burning in the room we were practically painting in the dark with mostly black paints.

( part 3 …)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rabbit

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 This is a story that happened a few days ago in the Mercantour. The Mercantour is a place in the Alps that I particularly love and where I have spent quite some time over the last 2 decades. North from Nice and the French Riviera and bordering Italy, it is very wild and high altitude, and the winters are extreme. Four legged animals are the marmots who hibernate during the whole winter, and the chamois and bouquetins who are uniquely designed to survive on high, rocky and barren lands. Over the years I have seen hundreds of those and never ever seen any other mammals there.

Last may I went up there on a beautiful clear day and set up to do an 8 hours walk I had done numerous times. Not a cloud as I started early morning. By noon I reached a plateau at 2600 m and decided to have lunch by one of the magnificent lake. A few clouds started to gather. By 1 pm the sky was getting dark and I moved further up. Within minutes I was in the midst of a snowstorm, unable to see one meter ahead, and reaching the top of the mountain from where I thought I would walk 700 meters downhill in less than 2 hours. I realized that this north face was thick with a few meters of snow and plenty of ice and that walking down blindly was a risk I had not taken in a very long time. Walking all the way back instead, not seeing what was ahead was equally risky. Those few minutes where I weighed my obviously thin options smelled of death; the 2 hours that followed certainly contain the essence of living.

At 5.30 pm I was on a beach between Antibes and Cannes, still shocked at the miracle that had just happened and at how it could have unfolded so differently, but I enjoyed a memorable swim in the big blue.

Not many places on earth offer that possibility, and this is one of the many ways the Mercantour is so magical.

I just took my Japanese friend Toshan there again and we spent an extraordinary week walking all day and sleeping under the stars every night. Day 2 had been so magnificent; we had walked up 900 meters, swam in 2 different lakes and saw so many marmots and chamois.

Exhausted and deeply fulfilled we laid down looking out for shooting stars as soon as the night set in.

I decided to make up a bedtime story. It was about a little Japanese girl who found herself alone in the wilderness of the Mercantour, and with whose only inhabitants – the marmots, the chamois and the bouquetins- she had nothing in common. But by miracle she met a little fox…and then a little rabbit…both also foreigners in those high barren lands.

My eyes felt heavy as I caught a last shooting star, and I started to fall asleep. I quickly wrapped up the story: “the little Japanese girl, the fox and the rabbit became best friends and lived happily ever after”. Good night beautiful. “Oh, really, wao, that is a sudden ending…”

And we both woke up 9 hours later with the first morning light.

After a swim in the ice cold river and some food we set up for day 3. A long day was ahead as we started across a wild raspberry field; we were headed for a lake at 3300 meters and it would be a hot steep climb. After about an hour we had a little break and I reminded my friend about last night’s story. She smiled. And then I asked “if you had to spend the rest of your life with one of them, who would it be? The fox or the rabbit?” The answer was clear and instant, “the rabbit!”

And off we were again. After about 20 minutes Toshan says “Nirav, look behind you! “

Ok I thought, probably a chamois, or a bouquetin, or maybe a marmot.

I turned around, and there just behind me, starring at Toshan, was a grey rabbit!

Never in my long life in those mountains had I seen a Rabbit.

Before I could grab my camera, the rabbit run away, and astonished I asked Toshan if I had just been dreaming. She said that no I had not, that the rabbit had indeed been starring at her and that to her it made complete sense and that she got the message.

My eyes are closing as I recall and write this story, so please excuse the spelling mistakes.

You don’t have to figure it all out

You don’t have to figure out the mess in your head. You don’t have to make sense of your confusion, your thoughts, your ideas of what is right and what is wrong.

You don’t have to manage your emotional turmoils. Your feelings, all of them, can just be there, un-interfered with.

And who says it is a mess? Another voice, another thought, another feeling.

That mess is your life force taking shapes; it is your fire, your passion, your love and your freedom. Let it be. Rejoice in it all. Let the mess giggle at you…until you giggle back.

Who you are doesn’t need any figuring out; who you are could not care less about the traffic in your head or in your emotional body. Who you are is at peace, beyond peace, always and forever.

Rest here; where every thought and every worry takes form, where every feeling is born, where all is possible and where nothing matters.