14 May 2008

Ready for what's next

Me on my new Bajaj Pulsar 180cc motorcycle stopped on a drive around Macloed Ganj.

Well Folks,
I've been in Macloed Ganj almost a month now, I check out of my apartment in 3 days, pack up the bike, and head off on the next phase of these India adventures. I'm driving over through Manali and into Vashisht where I'll meet up with Dylan, a friend from Bend, and his family. He and I will head up the Rhotang pass, high in the Himalaya, and climb some mountains, as well as relax in the hot springs in Vashisht. After that I take the high road up through some of the biggest mountains in the world to the remote region of Spiti Valley, all the way to Kaza where I will be based for the next two months. What am I doing in Kaza for two months? WORKING! I have been lucky enough to be given the opportunity to volunteer with the Spiti Ecosphere organization, a NGO company there running eco-tours and initiating sustainable development in the region. I recommend stopping by their website, www.spitiecosphere.com, to get a good idea about the region, the culture, and the company. What is my job exactly? I'll be helping train locals as guides, teaching basic first aide to them, helping with conversational English skills, and photographing the whole experience. It's really exciting, and I'm happy to be of service in this land that's given me so much.
In the two weeks since my last post most of my time was spent at a ten day Vipassana meditation course. The course is challenging for a number of reasons, but in those challenges lie its numerous benefits. First, ten full days are spent in silence, no talking, to ensure you do not speak any untruths. Personally, I really enjoyed ten days without speaking. Also challenging is the schedule: wake up at 4:00 and begin meditation at 4:30. Ten hours of meditation practice are scheduled through the day, plus a 90 minute discourse each day. I managed to sit for about 8 hours each day, but meditation itself is no peice of cake. From the outside it appears that just sitting all day might be easy, but trust me all that sitting around is really hard work. You are working to focus your mind, to develop awareness, attention, and equinamity for every minute sensation you experience. With my overactive imagination and ADHD tendencies, progress wasn't rapid. Within these ten hours of scheduled meditation are three one hour "sittings of strong determination" where you are expected to sit in absolute stillness, eyes remaining closed, for the duration. At first this was really hard, but by the end it was no problem. With so much sitting my small behind got really sore by day 5, especially the left side, such that it felt like I was sitting with a golf ball in my back pocket all the time. So although these one hour sittings could be very painful, they were also where I had the most progress with meditation remaining the impartial observer of all my pain sensations, and by the end of the hour my mind would be very quiet. To learn more about Vipassana you can go to www.dhamma.org or just google Vipassana. I would recommend a ten day course to anyone with an open mind and an interest in meditation.
On a side note, I was strolling in one of the outer villages last night and who do I run into other than Miss Ashley Stone. It was a totally random, chance encounter with an old friend from Oregon- a kind of random, chance encounter that seems to be totally normal in Oregon. I joined her for dinner and made some plans to check out a local waterfall together soon. It's really refreshing to swap stories with someone from home.
OK well, to those of you whose address I have from one place or the other can expect a little something in the mail in the next couple weeks. And those of you who never sent me your address have missed out for now, but don't worry maybe you'll have another chance in a couple months. For now, please enjoy these new pictures from around Macloed Ganj.

What if we had a hunger strike in front of the capital building to protest the war in Iraq? Or until we got suitable healthcare reform? Or to protest corporate corruption in politics?

You can't see her face, but this woman is old, and she prostrates herself, from her knees to lying face down, over and over at the main temple at the Dalai Lama's complex. They pray for family in Tibet, for the many imprisoned and missing.

All day burning oil candles at the main temple, another symbol of prayer.

Westerners aren't the only tourists coming to Macloed Ganj. Indians are also traveling all over their country, usually in large loud groups, taking pictures with their cell phones, and often being fairly obnoxious from my point of view. Then again, it's their country. Here is one fairly typical group gathering for a picture in front of the main temple in Macloed.

These prayer wheels have the inscription "Om mani padme hum", the Sacred Six Syllable Prayer, and every time they are turned good karma is sent out. The wheels ring the perimeter of the inner temple, and you will see Tibetans making lap after lap turning the wheels in devotion.

Sveta from Russia, my most curious photography student. I had many questions for her about Buddhism, about which she was really knowledgeable, and she asked me a lot about taking pictures, about which I'm only too glad to help.

As I wandered around the temple complex looking and waiting for shots, a group of nuns began putting down cushions and before long began chanting beautifully.

They were also lighting candles, and the whole scene felt very powerful.

I love all the colors, the vibrant orange, the deep red, that are so representative of Tibetan Buddhism.

I only wish I could photograph the sound of their chanting and the deep feeling that resonates inside anyone who hears it.

Me, Sveta, and Raki the Punjabi on the beautiful high balcony of a guest house above Macloed. Raki loved to share his culture and showed us pictures and videos from his home in Punjab. He's a funny guy, friendly, with typical Indian enthusiasm, but in spite of these attributes I was, admittedly, mostly interested in Svetta.

Here I am with my English conversation students for the hour, four men from Tibet. We talked about meditation, yoga, thangkas, Tibet, Buddhism, my job, and how I paid too much for my motocycle.

And this is the Hope Center where the conversation classes occur every day at 4:30. I always try to tell other travelers to go, at least one day, for the experience. It's really fun.

Well that's all for now. Once again, thank you everyone for your continued interest in my pictures and stories. I am really grateful for everyone's support. All the best to each, and much love to all,
Thank you,