Nirav shares a recent event in his life where he had to overcome an unexpected challenge and find his way back to the present. A help was this quote, “Be the person who breaks the cycle. Vow to be better than what broke you – to heal instead of becoming bitter, so you can act from your heart, not your pain.”
Watching Notre Dame engulfed in flames was shocking and I certainly was deeply affected.
Less than 24 hours later, as over a billion dollar had already been donated by individuals, and as the French President announced on TV that the bells of ND would ring again in 5 years, I entered another state of shock.
How could the burning of such a monument bring so much passion and empathy and cash, when the 12th century city of Aleppo, World Heritage in Syria, almost completely destroyed under American bombing 5 years ago, has hardly started reconstruction because the first million dollar has not yet arrived!
Why hundreds of other historical sites over the world, from Afganisthan to Lebanon, as ancient and monumental as the Paris Cathedral, are facing such indifference? Why the world mobilise on unprecedented scale when 9 people are killed by a terrorist in Paris, New York or London, but the genocide of an entire population in the Middle East or the starvation of millions in Africa are not enough to even make it to the headline?
I visited Notre Dame a few years ago for the last time, and I certainly remember the outrageous beauty of it. But I also remember how sad I felt seeing those millions of tourists flocking in with their cameras, most of them not remotely connected with what this place essentially has to offer.
As I tried to make abstraction of the blood that thousands of women shed as they were burned alive in that Cathedral, as I struggled to forget the tortures and unimaginable suffering that took place there under the umbrella of the Catholic Church, I walked away with a churning stomach.
Last night again, the archbishop of ND de Paris was life on TV at prime time, and in between a few tears he had the guts to ask “ We trust in God, but I don’t understand why this happened to us, and why now”.
Again I chuckled. What about the millions of kids victim of sexual abuse and whose lives have been destroyed? What about the extraordinary cover up on the paedophilia ring in the Catholic Church? What about Lyon’s Archbishop Philippe Barbarin, who was found guilty by a French court earlier this month, but whose resignation was refused by Pope Francis?
What about this planet, the only Cathedral we have, and the unprecedented crises it is facing? As the global scientific community is warning of a 40 % chance of human extinction before the end of this century, and that the number one issue facing planet earth today is overpopulation, the Catholic Church goes on demonising even condoms…
Pope Francis made it clear last month that the Church is not responsible for the sexual abuses, and obviously for this fire also he won’t feel responsible.
Luckily the Devil is well alive.
Every cathedral will burn and be rebuilt, and then one day be gone forever.
Every living being will go through birth and the challenges of life, through diseases and accidents, will pick himself up, stand again, and then one day be gone forever.
Every planet, every galaxy, every black hole will go through the same process, in its own way, its own timing.
As cruel as it may seem
Impermanence is the nature of all
Remembering this is the only freedom
During the many months when I stayed in ‘Charu Villa’, Didu was usually living with us; she held an important part in the family. Her place in the home was so different from what I had known in Europe, where very rarely do grandparents stay together with children and grandchildren. I was just experiencing for the first time the extended family and initially it was strikingly awesome. How such a frail old lady could prompt so much love and respect fascinated me; she had a magnificent presence and she was constantly alert and was watching every move around the house.
Kakima’s younger brother, Dilu, was living in a small village in the middle of West Bengal, with his wife and daughter, and every six months he and Kakima would take turns taking care of Didu.
The first time I saw Dilu, he came and visited for a few days only, and when he went back Didu went with him; she would switch home and stay with her son for the next few months. Dilu was a simple and very lovely man; he was a clerk in the small post office in his village, and he insisted that I come and visit. I would travel with Rana and stay a few days.
And so one evening, after a very early start from Charu Villa and a full day first on the cycle rikshaw, then on the overcrowded bus to the huge Howrah station on the other side of the bridge spanning over the Hooghly river on the other side of downtown Calcutta, a 4 hours train trip, another bus and finally a ride on top of a cart pulled by a bullock we arrived right in front of Dilu’s small house. The sky had just turned into all the shades of red, the air was thick, thousands of mango trees were full and birds and insects of all sorts were going wild in the sky.
Didu is the first person I saw; she was squatting on the porch near the door, under the bamboo shade, in her same white sari and with the same smile as I had always known her. This was now her home for the next 6 months.
Charu Villa was located in a very organic and lively suburb south of Calcutta and it always felt extremely peaceful, yet alive with people and nature all around.
But here in Dilu’s village it was suddenly a completely different experience. There was so much space all around; the sky seemed to stretch to the infinite. We were right in the Indian country side and it was impressive. I loved it.
In Dilu’s home I slept alone on the veranda outside, on a thin mattress put over a bamboo mat, and of course under a mosquito net. I was in heaven under the open sky. There didn’t seem to be as many ponds as in Calcutta, but frogs were part of the night. I loved watching the stars before falling asleep, I loved the thick air of May, the abundance of night smells and sounds that were all so new to my system. I drank it all.
One afternoon I wandered on my own through the little village and headed towards the river. The land was slightly hilly and all I had to do was follow the path towards the sound of flowing water. I walked along with buffalos, a few stray dogs, some villagers and herds of goats and sheep.
The river was actually a meeting of 2 effluents of the mighty Ganga, and the sight in front of me was gigantic. As I reached the topmost part of the hill I was suddenly and directly overlooking the merging of the two rivers, and there on that special area was a gathering of people. I sat on a big rock with a direct and outstanding sight over the whole area, and I watched.
From further down were farmers arriving, probably from some other villages. I noticed that most of them were carrying some piece of wood or a branch of some sort. I could hear singing, drumming, and an energy unlike anything I had experienced so far in India. The atmosphere was grave and deep, and yet people were playing music, drumming, and dancing steps I could not understand. In the centre of the gathering was a stretcher carried by 8 men, filled with flowers. A corpse was covered with a white linen and the head of an older lady was in the open, in full sight. Someone had obviously died and was going to be cremated here on the bank of the river. “What a place” I thought to myself.
We were in the midst of the afternoon on a hot summer day, with temperatures well above 40 degrees Celsius. Sitting on that huge rock, absorbed in the nature, alone, I was about to witness my very first open air cremation.
In the decades that followed I watched hundreds of people burn in India; some were close friends, some were acquaintances, some were complete strangers. Each one would be a unique reminder of my own unescapable destiny and my own death to come. But in a similar way that I remember my first lovemaking experience under the roofs of Paris, this first direct encounter with death remains carved in a special soft spot of my heart.
Drums were being hit faster and harder, and the rhythm was increasingly maddening. It felt like people were going on a trance, connecting with the energy of the earth while opening their wings into the vast sky. Those villagers seemed to sink deeper and deeper while taking off into new heights. The pyre was just being lit, the rhythm of the drums intensified, screams filled the air, and smoke grew thicker and thicker. Even from the distance where I was sitting, I could feel the heat of the flames adding to the heat of the scorching sun. A warm breeze was playing with the smoke and the whole scene was out of this world. It took me a while to figure out what was smelling so unusual. I wondered if they had used kerosene to start the fire, or some kind of plastic, or maybe it was the wood of unusual trees? When suddenly the wind shifted and smoke flew into my face I did realise that I was indeed smelling something I had never smelled before; flesh, blood and everything that makes a human body.
The sun was slowly moving down behind the mango trees and the light in this late afternoon was outstanding. At this time the crows were competing with the volume of the drums, the breeze had stopped and the river kept flowing as if nothing had happened.
Everyone was so immersed in this cremation that I was left alone and unnoticed. As I sat there cross-legged on the rock for hours, absorbing the whole experience in my own time, I became aware of the extreme privilege I was being granted.
The sun was now setting on the other side of the river over a horizon of coconut and mango trees. Behind me, almost unnoticed first, a full moon was rising brighter and brighter, flooding the whole land with a light that kept pulling me inwards. I took a breath and relaxed, realizing that there was no hurry to leave now and that the night would be bright enough for me to find my way back to Dilu’s home.
The drums had stopped and the fire had left place to a mass of ashes.
As the villagers were busy with rituals I didn’t understand, I could feel myself sinking deeper inside. I was left in a state of no mind I had rarely experienced, plunged into my destiny and my own death, contemplating a mystery I would certainly have to encounter one day.
As I stared into the pile of ashes, I thought of the old lady who was brought on the stretcher a few hours ago; she certainly had been alive this very morning, and I wondered what kind of a long life she had had. I wondered what was left of her now. No matter how I looked at it, I was facing myself, facing the fact that I didn’t know anything about the only certainty of my life.
Starring into a burning body is the deepest experience I know. It is diving into the mystery of life and encountering the only question worth asking. In many ways that afternoon by the river set a new pace to an already intense longing that was aching in my heart for as long as I could remember. Who was I? What will be left when I am all ashes like this lady today?
As I made my way back to Dilu’s home I knew that I would never leave India before those questions were answered.
Few people have influenced the course of my life the way Meera did.
As I look up and around right now, I see my walls full of amazing paintings, filled with leaves and trees and mysteries; filled with the taste of the unknowable. So much beauty and love and movement and silence in every stroke, so much depth, so much of the divine shining through. How I became the painter that I am today is a story that started in 2000 in Osho’s commune in Pune, India.
I was a bodyworker then. I was working in the Commune giving individual sessions, and I had spent basically every day of the last decade in bodywork and therapy trainings. Meera was a unique character in the commune, she was obviously full of Osho and she was around every winter leading her creativity workshops and trainings. I had often stopped by to watch her incredible demos in the Multiversity Plaza, and I had been to many of her exhibitions which she organized every year at the end of the season. But really painting was never my thing and to be honest I had never held a paint brush!
One day in November 2000, Meera was about to start her yearly two and half months painting training in Pune, and one of her participant had requested a French translator. I was finding myself in a gap then; I was going through a heartbreak and was getting tired of giving so many sessions. I was still very involved in the commune but sensed a wind of change. I approached Meera and we had a little chat. She explained that she never takes someone on the staff who hasn’t first participated in at least one of her groups, and that maybe I could do that. I replied that I had never painted and was not that interested, and clearly if I seemed to have unlimited money for heavy therapy and inquiry groups, I was not ready to spend a cent on something like a creativity workshop.
I remember that moment when she paused and looked so deeply into my eyes that time simply stopped. It seemed that she was seeing something I had no clue about, something like a hidden diamond I could not even dream of considering. I had often experienced this feeling of being seen so deeply and so totally, but right now it was something different. Meera was looking at something beyond my depths, something beyond everything I think I am, contemplating a potential I had no mean to comprehend.
Meera took my hand and broke the silence: “Wao… yes, come and join, this participant will only do the first part, it lasts two weeks, and it is Primal Painting! You will like it. Come. I will make an exception.”
We never talked again about this very first meeting. So much had transpired, so much had been said, and yet…all what remained was a mystery that left me deeply shaken.
The little village of Sust in northern Pakistan is the very last stop before the Khunjerab pass that stands gigantic at 4700 meters in the high Karakoram Mountains. It is also the entry point into China. This is the land of the last snow leopards. Within less than 40 miles a bird could also be in India, Afghanistan or Tajikistan. For me Xinjiang, in the Far East region of China is the aim. The pass is closed most of the year, lying under heavy snow at sub-zero temperatures, and on May 1st it officially opens. I am in Sust since a few days, sleeping on the floor in the kitchen around the open fire with at least a dozen others. This is a check post point and life is tough. It is cold, smoky, food is scarce. We are a handful of westerners, a few colourful people from Tajikistan and some traders from the nearby regions. We are all on our way to Kashgar.
An old bus with tinted windows is stationed there by the still frozen river; it will drive us to the Chinese border as soon as the road is clear. Every morning since a few days we inquire desperately as when we are going to move; and today is April 30th already. But the weather forecast doesn’t look good, the pass is apparently out of reach and so we must wait.
The next morning a couple of traders from Urumqi are engaging with the bus driver in a heated discussion. Impatience is in the air. They want to leave today!
What happened then I never knew, but I suspect that some baksheesh was paid and so the bus was suddenly ready to go.
We all got in and off we were.
The ride is one of the most spectacular I have ever experienced. I was used to sit on the roof of buses during my journey north in Pakistan, and it was an intense yet delightful place to be during the peak of the March heatwave; but here there was no chance. It was dry and cold, snow was covering everything around and we were slowly moving above the 4000 meters line.
After a couple hours the bus suddenly stopped and we were all told to get out.
That was it! The road was actually no more accessible, and in fact we should never have left in the first place. Snow was getting thicker and we had no choice but walk the last bit!
How long was the last bit we had absolutely no idea.
And so on May 1st 1989, I wrapped myself with all the clothes I had and covered my head with a yellow Shiva scarf. Of course I was a hippy and the idea of sunscreen or sunglasses or a hat had never even occurred to me. I put my pack on my back and up we walked. We were less than 20 people, from such different places, on such different trips, but here we were, moving step by step, up and up and up. I remember an English man who was travelling with his Hong Kong girlfriend. She seemed so exhausted and unhappy and she had 2 suitcases! He was a big guy and I still see him carrying that luggage on his head leading the way while his girl was threatening to just stop and sit on the snow. I remember an older lady from some remote village in Tajikistan; she had come to Pakistan for some medical treatment and was now on her way back home through those high mountains. Two men were taking turns to help her up. It was totally surreal and I felt in a movie from a different time. The air was getting painfully thin, the sun was bright and blinding, but the nature and the high pics all around were so absolutely breath-taking.
I cannot remember how long we walked. It was one step at a time, one breath, another step, and another breath…
This very moment was all there was. How we got here was a mysterious unfolding that only the divine could possibly make sense of. I recall the feeling of being completely one with life and the magic it is made of. I recall that sense of being in the hands of something infinitely bigger than my little self. I recall the awe in my heart in front of so much beauty. As the amount of oxygen was diminishing with every step so was the holding of the mind; everything became lighter and a strange sense of emptiness was pervading the air. Life was being lived, fully and dangerously. In that moment there was no thought about tomorrow and the feeling that I could die here and then was an obvious possibility; and yet in that moment I felt more alive than ever, more present than ever and in touch with something that clearly would never die.
We finally all made it to the top and crossed over to China. By foot. On the snow. At 4733 meters above sea level!
The long overnight trip to Kashgar was excruciating. I was snow-blind.
It’s a chilly but sunny morning here in Corfu and I am pulling out my favorite sweater, a navy blue cardigan that has followed me everywhere since that morning 10 years ago, when I had just checked in and was settling in to my room on the 17th floor of my hotel in Bangkok.
Although I certainly have the Money Line, cash is something that I always had to work for and create. Except maybe that one day!
Let me backtrack a few hours and take you to New Delhi where I had just arrived from an extended stay in the Himalayas. It had been a long bus trip down from the mountains; we’d been delayed by a few landslides and a punctured tire, and it was near about midnight. I had a flight to Thailand the next morning and just needed a room for the night.
Exhausted, I made my way to the Paharganj main Bazaar that I knew like my own pockets. I hesitated between a couple of places as the rickshaw zoomed through the night, but “Take me to Hare Rama Guest House” is what came out of my mouth as we approached the bazaar. My words were met by a “Yes Sir, no problem, Sir,” and my driver soon stopped in front of the sleepy guest house. Hare Rama was a cheap den, rundown, gloomy, but I knew that their two rooms upstairs were usually available and that the bed was comfy enough for the night.
Indeed, room number 502 on the fifth floor was available. After the usual formalities, I walked up the steep marble staircase with my backpack, opened the door, turned on the fan, locked the door behind me, and fell on the bed delighted to finally be horizontal after a long journey…
I was pleased with my room; it had no windows, no a/c, no nothing, but the bed was as I remembered it, rather new and unusually comfortable. The white sheets and the pillow were also nice. I got up and took a cold shower. I could have easily called Reception and asked for “hot water please” and magic would have probably happened and hot water would have finally run through my shower – but how long it would have taken no one knew – and I could not be bothered.
As I got myself ready for bed I did something I don’t recall ever doing before – and something I would never fail to do after that night… I put my two hands under the edge of the mattress and lifted it. I don’t know what I thought, maybe I was just checking the quality of the mattress or was curious about the wooden plank it was sitting on. As I let go and the mattress fell back into place, a vacuum was created and one paper note swirled out and fell on the floor. I scratched my tired eyes, hardly believing it – it looked like a 500-euro note. I lifted the mattress again and whooooosh… here flew another 500-euro note from under the mattress.
Now, flabbergasted, I lifted up the mattress again and kept it in the air, properly checking what was hiding there underneath. Another perfectly flat, crispy, purple note was lying there. I inspected it with the other two more closely – yes, 1500 euros in total.
Hardly believing my luck while already dreaming of more, I searched on the other side of the bed also. No, that was it. “The previous person probably left in a hurry and forgot his stash,” I thought. Hippies like myself staying in this cheap part of town were famous for carrying cash, sometimes the full amount of what they needed for a six-month stay in India. And of course those 500-euro notes were extremely convenient and lucrative when exchanged on the black market.
It was getting late and I decided to get the sleep I needed and keep the bills on the bedside table until morning. I looked at them again, dazzled yet aware of the many thoughts running through my head, from “Maybe I should take them down to the reception now” to “Maybe I should hide them in case someone comes looking for them.” Leaving them there until morning felt like taking a smart middle way, and that’s what I did and I quickly fell asleep.
A knock at my door woke me up in the middle of a dream. “7 o’clock sir, your taxi is waiting,” said a voice on the other side of the door. Oh, yes, I remembered that I had ordered a taxi for 7:00! I sat on my bed, turned the light on, and quickly assessed the situation. The three notes were still there on the little plastic table, my bag was basically ready and I had plenty of time to get to the airport and catch my flight to Bangkok. I would have a coffee and something to eat at the airport. “Ok, I will be down in 10 minutes,” I replied.
I stood up and got ready, put on my pants, secured my money belt around my waist, and looked at those three big notes again, thinking… I put them in my pocket, planning a final spontaneous decision in the next five minutes. As I reached Reception, haggard, with my pack on my back, I was handed a small cup of sweetened tea and asked to sign the entry book with my time of departure and next destination. As I filled in the details I looked a few lines above mine to see who had been in room 502 before me. Gunter Schmid, check-out yesterday at 8 pm, next destination Frankfurt. OK, I thought, the owner of those notes was probably airborne to the West, and keeping the cash felt the only sensible thing to do. It was a gift from Existence, and I sighed in relief with a smile in my heart.
I paid my 350-rupees hotel bill, the taxi driver put my pack in the boot, I waved everyone goodbye, and off I went to the airport.
A few hours later, still exhilarated by my good luck, I was sitting in a full Thai Airways aircraft en route to Bangkok. The trip to the airport had been smooth as Thai silk, the flight left on time and I was now looking forward to my next adventure. Thailand was always my favorite place to hang out for a month or so while I renewed my Indian visa.
Sitting in a window seat, enjoying my lunch, a beer and the delightful Thai hospitality, I reflected upon that weird find in the Hare Rama Guest House last night. I couldn’t help but imagine the story behind my discovery, what had happened to that mysterious Mr. Schmid and if he had yet realized… I imagined him about to land in Frankfurt, short of 1500 euros. I also recalled the times I’d kept my own cash under the mattress and had to leave a hotel room in a hurry, maybe not yet well awake after a short night’s sleep. Had I ever left something behind?
“We are now flying over flooded Bangladesh,” announced the captain over the speakers, bringing to a standstill my fantasizing mind in full swing. I guessed that we were already halfway to Bangkok and it was time to stretch my legs. I stood up and slowly made my way to the back of the aircraft. The four toilets being occupied, I opted for another stroll. I remember feeling my money belt under my shirt and already planning to look at my three unexplained purple bills while in the lavatory. Somehow I was still in a kind of wonder and a part of me probably expected them to no longer be there.
Back at the lavatories. Above the doors, two lights were green, two were red. Hmmm, I thought, which one? Without time to inquire into the process that would see me push one door rather than the other, I pushed the one on the left.
I entered the cubicle. Aircraft lavatories have always fascinated me; the striking contrast between the tiny physical space and the considerable sense of privacy they provide. Aside from doing the obvious, here is a space where you suddenly can, as if by enchantment, make faces in the mirror, rearrange your balls, and check your wallet. I opened my money belt and pulled out the three notes I had carefully placed behind my own stash. There they were, still. I smiled, looked into the mirror and mumbled, “I am really lucky, I wonder what comes next?”
My eyes suddenly fell on something greenish behind the plastic hand cream dispenser. I reached out. Five notes nicely folded. 500 dollars in total. Now this was too much! I looked around and behind, looked on the floor… but that was it. No wallet, no ID, just those five notes. Had the passenger before me sorted her money and forgotten it there? Who was it? What to do now? What was going on?
Had it been in a wallet or with an ID next to it, I would have certainly taken it to an attendant, I thought, but just cash? I considered… Someone knocked on the door! I guessed I had been in there long enough and that it was time to go out. Was it the person whose cash I’d found? I put the five notes into my pocket, opened the door, looked at the man about to take my place and said, “Did you forget something?” I still remember the look on his face and his “No, I just need to shit.” OH? OK… sorry for asking such a question. I went back to my seat.
The rest of the flight was uneventful. I didn’t get up again but kept my senses open in case someone was looking for their lost money, and I decided to keep my treasure until someone asked for it – but eventually no one did and I landed in Bangkok with 500 extra dollars in my pocket.
I finally arrived at my longtime favorite condo just 10 minutes from buzzing Kao San Road. The lady at Reception simply gave me the key and told me to get the lift to the 17th floor and find my apartment. I would need to bring my passport down later, she explained, but there was no hurry. The flat looked delightful, with a large window and balcony overlooking the Chao Phraya River. It was beautifully clean and the floor was still wet. Someone had obviously checked out not long before.
I jumped on the big cozy bed. Wow, what a journey, I thought, so happy to be here! I would have a good shower and head to the streets in search of fruits and coconuts, and I would eat a green curry. It was my ritual on my first day here. I was hungry.
Coming from India, Thailand was a delight in many ways, and one of them was the safety box in each room. There it was, between the huge flat screen and the fridge. This one had a number lock, which meant one less key to carry and to lose. I fiddled with the door and the numbers, bent down, reached inside with my hand and there… a bulging wallet, huge, full to the max. I looked more carefully inside the dark metal box, went over the black velvet and emptied it. A few elastic bands and plastic pins and a pencil… otherwise nothing else but this wallet. I opened it. Travellers cheques, credit cards, dozens of big notes in Euro and US dollars, a bundle of 1000 Baht notes. Herr Rolf Honegger. Berlin.
A few crazy thoughts went through my mind, but I closed the wallet and put it back where I’d found it. I would keep it there as if I had not seen it, put my own valuables somewhere else and see what life had in store for me. I could not understand what this was all about. Was it a test? A gift? An omen?
For the third time on such a short trip, money which didn’t belong to me had appeared in front of me. Had this ever happened before? No, never.
I was so absorbed in my thoughts, staring at the safe and its mysterious wallet, feeling my rumbling stomach and floating in the magic of this inexplicable happening, that I almost didn’t hear the phone ringing.
“Hallo Mister!?” I recognized the voice of the lady at the reception.
“The person who checked out this morning just called,” she continued. “He was on his way to Ko Samet, but forgot his passport in the room. He will come back very soon. Do you mind if we come in with him when he arrives?”
“Yes of course, no problem,” I replied.
“Thank you, Mister, see you soon.”
I looked at the safe. “That is a lot of money in there,” I thought. But this time there wasn’t much to cogitate, the owner was on his way and would soon knock on my door. I emptied my bag onto the bed and started putting my few belongings away. As I opened the cupboard to hang my shirts, there was a gorgeous navy blue jumper neatly folded on one of the shelves. I looked at it, tried it on, and immediately fell in love with it. Perfect fit. I folded it back and put it where I had found it.
A knock on the door. “Excuse me for disturb,” said a middle-aged gentleman, “I forgot my wallet this morning, my taxi is waiting downstairs, do you mind if I come in?” I let him in and he walked straight to the safe, bent down, put his hairy hand inside and pulled out the wallet. “Here it is, thank you so much and enjoy your stay.” He must have trusted me because he hardly went through it.
“There is a blue jumper in the cupboard,” I added. “You must have also forgotten it.”
I took it from the shelf and handed it to him. “Oh, yes, but I don’t need it. You can keep it; it is brand new.”
I shook his hand, wished him a lovely trip to Samet and closed the door.
One morning of January 1987 I arrived in Goa for the very first time. I had been travelling in south India for 4 months. I wanted to crisscross the southern states as much as possible and rarely spent more than a couple nights in one place. I had a very low budget of 50 rupees a day for accommodation, food, and transport. This is the only time I ever travelled with a guitar, which is quite difficult to believe considering that I hardly knew how to play and that I was so very uncomfortable with my voice; but I did! I knew about 5 songs and that was enough to play the hippy game. I had a small bag with all my possessions and that was it. I had spent those months moving from what was then Madras, to all the main temple towns of Tamil Nadu, to the hill stations, to the southernmost beaches, to Kannya Kumari at the very bottom of India, where I managed to arrive on a full moon night and see the Moon rise over the Bay of Bengal while the sun was setting over the Arabian sea; then I came up Kerala on the backwaters, a boat trip of indescribable beauty and peace that has remained carved in my cells ever since.
I had just now travelled a long night on a local bus from Hospet, the little town used as a stepping stone to Hampi where I had spent a few magical days. The only places to stay in Hampi then were all windowless boxes without beds and I still remember those sleepless nights in such stark contrast with the outstanding days spent by the river and the austere yet grandiose ruins of what once was the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire.
After a cup of tea in the buzzing market town of Mapsa where I waited for another bus to the ferry in Siolim, after crossing the river to the northern part of Goa and another bus, I arrived in Arambol.
Arambol was a small fisherman’s village with just a few houses and one little guest house with 4 rooms. The owner and his family had their own house nearby where they could accommodate one more guest if needed. His name was Shankar, and during the winter months, he built a shack on the beach made mostly of bamboos and palm leaves. “Om Shankar” was the only shack in Arambol, and there we could get basic Indian food, but also chips and amazing super fresh local fish, usually Kingfish! There were 2 or three tables. It was wild and completely paradisiac.
And yet the unique and special attraction of Arambol was the sweet water lake, and it is where I headed to with my bag and my guitar. From the main beach, it was a half hour walk over rocks. There wasn’t a path and it was steep and rugged, especially at night when we would walk with a candle inside an open coconut to light the way. The sweet water lake was a unique, magical, completely untouched natural happening. Outstanding in beauty, surrounded by so much greenery, it was created by a little river that came straight down from the jungle above.
Between the lake and the mighty sea there were no more than 50 meters at the most, and sometimes during the full moon the two would meet and merge their waters.
A few hippies were already settled there as I arrived, and it looked like everyone had chosen a tree near the lake and made a home. Spring water was available a 20 minutes’ walk upstream, basic food could be cooked on wood, and of course we could always walk back to the main beach and eat at “Om Shankar”.
I found a flat spot under a coconut tree on the left side of the lake and made myself home. I hid my guitar and my few valuable possessions under a big palm as I went out, but there was hardly anyone around and the place felt safe. Indeed I ended up spending 3 weeks in that spot and never lost anything.
At sunset, the whole hippy community came out and gathered together on the white stretch of sand right between the sea and the lake. We were about 25 and we would form a circle. Chillums would go around. And around. And around.
It was all so wild, so untouched, so extremely beautiful. We would take healing mud baths on the far end of the lake and swim naked in those waters. I felt in the hands of the divine.
Later on, as it was dark already, we would usually walk to “Om Shankar” and hang out there, eating fish and rice and curry. We would smoke more chillums as we listened to the crashing waves and counted the stars.
On the other side of Arambol was a very long stretch of beach passing the little fisherman’s villages of Mandrem and Ashwem, and ending at the mighty river in Morjim where the Olive Ridley Turtles came to nest in massive numbers once a year. It was a beautiful wild beach and for almost 10 km you would hardly meet anyone. I loved to spend the whole day walking all the way to the Morjim river, naked, singing, in complete harmony with nature. There was only one other shack on the way and it was called “end of the world” and there again I could get some food.
Sleeping around the lake was peaceful and profound; I felt in the hands of nature, taken care in a way I had never been before. I felt cocooned between the depth of the starry sky, the silence of the sweet water lake and the wildness of the ocean.
The mornings were a unique delight. As the first light rose and the crows filled the air with their melodies, we were woken up by Rahul, a young boy who came down from the jungle with a big tray on his head and a large pot of hot chai around his shoulder. “Boom Shankar” he would shout again and again. And he would make his way from tree to tree where all the hippies were slowly waking up. Nature was dense around the lake, and unless you knew where people were hiding it was not obvious. Fresh coconuts, bananas, pineapples, bread rolls, boiled eggs, butter, and even honey… Rahul had it all. The chai was always very sweet, which I loved. I remember drinking a cup of tea while he was serving me breakfast, and getting another cup for later. Of course, I had no cup or bowl, but just a spoon and a coconut that I had taken days to cut and polish into a perfect enough mug.
I had my first chillum of the day with Rahul, and I always wondered how he managed to go up the hill after serving breakfast to all of us. It reminded me of the postman in my childhood who in the villages could hardly refuse to come in, have a coffee with the shot of Calvados, before delivering the mail to the other neighbours.
One day around the end of January, Shankar told me that the season was now over and that his guest house was empty. We had become good friends and he offered me a room in his family home.
And so I left my haven of peace by the lake and moved to a room with the comfort of a bed and a mosquito net. Village life was intense and I loved the new stimulus on my senses. The sounds were particularly exciting and their combination unusual. Women washing laundry by the well; birds chirping and crowing and singing; chicken, pigs, and kids running and chasing each other; an occasional sound of a scooter.
Shower was outside by the well, and toilets were behind a wall. Indian toilet is an art by which I was now well trained, but this was something so unusual that I would not have been able to make it up even in my wildest dream. Behind the wall, you simply squatted on the ground and shat, and soon enough pigs would come and clean it up better than any modern toilet would. It was certainly extremely simple and efficient but it did take me by surprise the first time; I was hardly finished that a big pig came rushing towards me and I thought I would lose parts of my cheeks. I slowly learned the fine art of doing my business in a relaxed way while sending the pigs the message that their time had not yet come. I came to love those toilets. But I never to this day tasted Goan pig delicacies.
One day, I packed my bag, put my guitar around my shoulder and walked to the bus station. I slowly made my way to the main port town of Panajim where the next evening I would take a ferry to Bombay.
Creativity has nothing to do with you. Creativity is the very heartbeat of the universe; it is that which is prior to all your ideas of what is right and what is wrong, what is beautiful and what is ugly. Creativity is what was bubbling before you came in, what remains when you are not, and what will be here long after you are gone. Creativity it the stuff that fuels every breath you take, every feeling and thought going through you, everything that happens within and without. Creativity is the beyond in action, every moment and forever. The starry night in a movement beyond the speed of light, or that magic in your heart, it is what keeps you not just alive but thriving. What this universe is about we have not the fraction of a clue. Creativity is the unknowable manifesting itself.
Teaching creativity is a contradiction in terms, and the concept of getting somewhere on the path of creativity is a fallacy. There is no path and nowhere to go. Some advertise “meditative art” but art is always meditative, because art only happens when you have disappeared. Anything else isn’t art. It is vomiting, and the modern art galleries all over the world are full of just that.
What I want to convey and share through painting is my experience of the divine, what I want you to maybe get a glimpse of is the space beyond who you think you are, what I can maybe point to is the magic of existence throbbing through your every breath
A taste of the beyond, the slightest disengaging with the illusion of being someone at all, and creativity shines in a million rainbows.
Forms and shapes appear and reveal the ever-present mystery of life and death. Explosions of lights and colours are bound to destroy your false identifications and bring forth the ecstatic nature of who you really are.
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…