With just a few days left on Kate’s Indian itinerary, we were determined to wash away some of the slightly sour taste from the ashram experience and end our time together in style. With few options closeby, we decided to head back to the beach at Varkala and ended up having an amazing time.
After landing in the middle of the tourist mess of central Varkala, we turned on our heels and started walking up the beach and away from it all. We lugged our packs 30 minutes along the rocky coast, past rice paddies and fishing boats as the signs of Western influence slowly disappeared. We found a string of little ramshackle wooden huts perched atop the cliff overlooking the ocean with absolutely nothing around but swaying palms, hammocks and a few smiling locals. For 400 rupees (about $10 a night), we got one of the top floor huts with a little balcony and two chairs, where we dropped, let out a massive sigh and watched as the sun started to set over the Indian Ocean a stone’s throw away. We both just sat and smiled. Damn close to pure bliss.
Even better, at the base of that cliff overlooking the ocean sat two abandoned gazebos perched on the edge of the waterline.
I spent the next few mornings meditating with the sunrise and practicing yoga (here pretending I know what the hell I’m doing)
in the afternoon with Kate and a few other Sivananda ‘ex-cons’, watching the sunset, laughing and singing the chants we’d been so frustrated about just days earlier. Our own little version of group therapy..
Determined to hold onto those feelings of peace and contentment I found at the ashram and realizing I’d found some piece of the key to that usually elusive reserve of tranquility, I realized then that some mix of meditation and yoga I’d learned would be essential in my lifestyle from here on out.
For a long time I’ve felt like I’ve been at war with my own brain, worrying too much about unimportant things, focusing on minutiae, letting simple problems become big ones, being indecisive and generally thinking too damn much. But the combination of daily meditation and yoga I started at the ashram had accomplished something I didn’t think possible. The ever-present bird’s nest of chatter that usually sat in the middle of my mind was starting to fall apart, replaced with a calm and even keel I’ve been missing for a while, allowing me to gain a bit more perspective on my life, what I’m learning out here every day and how I want to live my life back home. It was wonderful and I didn’t want it to go away. If getting up a bit earlier every day to gain that center and wipe the slate clean was possible through something as seemingly simple as meditation, then I was in. It felt I’d just discovered something incredible, something simple that I’d been missing for a long time. Bring on the new age hippie bullshit!
Just as we were settling into this amazingly chill lifestyle in our little hut on the hill, it was time for Kate to head back home. We were both sad that it was all over, but amazed that our time together had gone so well. Looking back on it it seemed kinda funny that we’d decided to travel together at all. We hadn’t really known each other very well when we kicked this whole thing off in Mumbai for New Year’s. She had some vacation time and wanted to see India. And I was psyched to have a traveling partner after so much time on my own. And that was enough. It was like a grand experiment – throw two people who barely know each other together for six weeks of 24/7 living in a strange land and see what happens..
The four months I’d spent mostly by myself before we met up was an incredible, bizarre and very contemplative time. At about month two of my trip, hiking by myself somewhere in the rock and snow of the Annapurna mountain range in Nepal, the stress of my old life suddenly started to slough off. Finally. It was then that I started to feel like my mind was actually slowing down enough to appreciate what it was that I was doing – and reflect on what I had been doing, how I’d been living my life. My mental state was transitioning from my old life of work, stress and schedules to a completely new and free one without structure or expectation. It just took a bit of time for my subconscious to realize it. And that’s when the deep thinking and amazing realizations started coming (cue dramatic music). That’s when I started sending out all of those gushy emails about missing you all, appreciating my family more than ever, missing what I had at home etc. I was finally gaining some much needed perspective on my old life and analyzing the sources of a lot of the stress I’ve had over the years. Looking back now, I like to think of it as Phase I of this crazy mental journey I’ve been on lately.
By the time Kate showed up, I’d had 4 months worth of these thoughts built up. I’d done a whoooole lot of thinking but hadn’t quite processed it yet. When we started talking, a lot of it just started coming out – fast and furious. As if all of those thoughts were racquetballs bouncing around my head, ready to pop out. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around them on my own, but as we got deeper and deeper into conversations about our lives (mostly me blabbing a stream of consciousness), and in answering her questions was forced to actually articulate how I felt, that I realized.. how I felt. I haven’t experienced catharsis like that in a long time. It was amazing. It didn’t hurt that Kate and I are very similar people with a lot of the same views and hang-ups about life and that we’d had so much time to get comfortable with one another (no room for shyness on the budget travel road in India..) and talk for hours on end. I joked with her a few times that I should probably be paying her for therapy. I’ve never had an experience like that with anyone before – from 0 to 24/7 for that much time in such a foreign place and with such an awesome result. She is an amazingly compassionate, insightful, generous and understanding person and I’m damn lucky to have spent that time with her. And consider her one of my best friends now. Thank you, Kate.
So.. it was with a ton o’ sadness that we parted ways at the train station in Varkala. As I described to her in an email later, as I sat there watching her train pull away, I had this vision of how we all affect one another in life. As if the lines of our lives can be traced as we navigate our way through it all. As if her yellow line from San Francisco and my blue from Varanasi came together in Mumbai and became one green line for a while twisting and turning through the craziness of South India. And as she left, our lines separated again, mine with a tinge of yellow and hers with a tinge of blue. Back to our own lives but slightly changed by the other. I can’t wait ’til they come together again at the end of this mad journey.