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…

The falling of the veil

One day the veil falls and you find yourself out of the wheel, out of the dream, out of all you knew to be real.

Or the veil never falls, no matter how hard and how long you’ve tried.

Or maybe on the very last breath it falls anyhow, uncalled and in spite of you.

The veil may still be in front of you, or it may be gone. You may never have been interested in what could possibly lie behind it; or maybe you have been a spiritual seeker for decades, digging alone into your inner world and searching out there for someone to guide you.

It all doesn’t matter really. Who you are doesn’t care. Covered or uncovered, aware or unaware, free or in bondage it doesn’t make the slightest difference. Your essence, your true face, your original nature remains unchanged.

Being awake is who you are. Being awake is the ocean behind the waves. Being awake is the very stuff existence is made of. There is nowhere to hide. Even death cannot help you. Being identified with the dream and losing the connection with what you are is a very human struggle. It is part of a bigger unfolding where consciousness plays with all possible combinations. Consciousness is all there is and consciousness doesn’t care if it moves through Nirav or through a tree or through a lightbulb. Whether Nirav is aware or asleep and identified makes no difference at all. Consciousness couldn’t care less. In fact consciousness means that there is no one here to care. What an extraordinary absence!

In the fire of Arunachala- my latest encounter

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A few months ago I had been riding a beautiful and smooth wave for a while. Life was easy and generous. Not much drama or frustration, and I could feel myself sinking deeper inside. Maybe that was it. Maybe I was at last letting go. Each time I would contemplate on life or death I would find no fear nearby. Maybe I was finally at peace.

I went to Tiruvanamalai at the feet of the sacred mountain Arunachala, where I love to spend a few months every year. I soon started to get quite sick, and after about 3 weeks of severe headaches, high fevers and chills I one morning decided to go to the local hospital and give my blood. I ordered it checked for Malaria, Typhoid and Dengue fever, hoping they would find me positive for one of those and treat me.

The next morning when I went to collect the result I was pulled aside. The 2 doctors looked concerned. I was testing positive for everything!  Yes I could be cured and yes they could help me. I had however to stay here as my platelet count was well within the danger zone. I was given the choice to either go to a high end Hospital in the big City of Chennai 5 hours ride from here, or get hospitalized here and then. The risk of internal bleeding was high and going home on my own was no option.

From that moment onward, death had me by the neck and never let go of it for another week. It was a constant 24/7 connection. The overdose of Chloroquine they gave me in order to treat the malaria gave me petrifying hallucinations. I started to lose my eyesight. Death was once again knocking, checking where I was REALLY at, and scaring the shit out of me. Not only was I facing the possibility of dying here, but I was clearly going to go mad first. I spent those first two nights wide awake, terrified, convinced that those drugs were destroying my brain.

In my experience Arunachala acts like a mirror and will expose and burn whatever bullshit and illusions are still there.

I ended up healing completely, and the experience of those days and the weeks that followed is still with me today.

Those days were not only scary and on the edge. I was living completely moment to moment, breath after breath. In magical and strange ways really I was once again in touch with the divine. The biggest shock was probably to face the fact that death was still scaring me to the core. How could the only certainty in this fleeting life be such a terrifying prospect? How free was I really if a mild taste of death was still affecting my wellbeing and inner peace? So many questions got hold of my deepest beliefs and left me in state of inner chaos.

I am not sure if it burned to ashes, but the spiritual ego definitely suffered a major blow.  This experience connected me in the rawest way possible with my vulnerability as a human Being and brought precious humility into my heart. Although I would not wish that experience to anyone or to myself again, I feel deeply grateful for the disguised gift that it was.

Sometimes nothing works out

Sometimes nothing works out and I feel hurt, pissed, sad, angry, frustrated. I just want to sulk and hide under the blanket.

In those moments, I wonder where the joy in my heart has gone, what has happened with the ease and flow I was experiencing just a while ago?

Where is my connection with the divine, that space of total acceptance, that embracing of all there is?

I feel the dark side of the moon showing itself, the shadows of my inner world knocking on my door. I feel drawn into a space of discomfort, a space I had wished extinct, a space that challenges to the core who I believe I should now be.

Attempts to move out of that space and look for the light seem so futile; trying and change the situation seems utterly old fashioned, overdone, exhausted.

I feel trapped. I can smell the depth of the discontent, the darkness of the night, the helplessness I am in.

There is no way out. And now the way in too has been taken away.

Knowing that “this too shall pass” doesn’t help; understanding that in the world of duality everything has a shadow side doesn’t soothe the pain.

This pain is the yearning of the soul, the tearing apart of all the beliefs, the un- and rewiring of the mind. In those moments this pain is all there is, all there need be- it is all and nothing both. This pain is the remembrance that life is an eternal unfolding, a mystery to be lived, a mystery to die into, and a mystery to be celebrated in all its glory.

 

 

 

JOY

Joy is a feeling of oneness in my heart. Joy is trust, Joy is love, Joy is total acceptance of what is.

Joy is what’s left when the false sense of separation disappears, for a moment or forever. Joy is the unhindered movement of life, the beat of the universe going wild in complete freedom.

As I write about my inner journey through life and recall all those stories, as I notice with amazement how dangerous a journey it has been and how death has been so close on so many occasions, there is constant Joy outpouring.

This Joy has nothing to do with some kind of light or happy life; it is about presence, about connectedness, and about the complete embracing of everything. What is being embraced is in that respect irrelevant. Accepting and welcoming your darkness will bring Joy. Living a so called happy life without presence or gratitude won’t bring any.

When Love and Freedom meet there is a spark. That spark is called Joy. It is the stuff the Universe is made of. Joy is your innermost nature, and it is closer to yourself than any thought originating in your mind; it is what connects you with everything you think you are. Joy is your very heart.

The New Delhi Happening

Part 1-

It is 18.15 on the corner of the Paharganj main Bazar just opposite the imposing New Delhi Train Station. It is rush hour and the market is buzzling with millions of people. In less than 30 minutes my train will depart and take me to the City of Agra, just a few hours away from here. My pack on my back and my drum around one shoulder I am waiting while my friend is collecting some pictures from the photo shop.

As I am looking over the crowd gathered there, here she comes, smiling. Yeah! The pictures are ready! As I try and ask if the pictures look good, something feels weird, really really weird!

Only half my mouth is moving. I am suddenly paralyzed on one side of the body!

Here in the midst of the New Delhi’s madness, stoned, with all my possessions in a little backpack, and a train in now 25 minutes! This is absolutely surreal!

We are in December 1989, and I am not travelling alone anymore. I had met Shelley 2 months before on the southernmost point of Crete where I was living naked under a Tree. We had fallen in love and she was now following me on my well known hippie trail around India. We had just walked around the Annapurna Sanctuary for 4 weeks in Nepal, and were now going to zoom around India for 6 months. But first I was going to show her the great Taj Mahal!

How stoned, unconscious and fearing nothing we must have been that evening is still beyond my imagination. I clearly just had a major incident in my brain-possibly a stroke.

But we made it to the station and got into our train! I was stubborn and changing plans was against my philosophy. The train ride was intense. We were both 23, we had long dreadlocks, we looked wild and we were wild! With only half my body moving the other passengers thought that I was completely drunk. The train was packed but somehow someone gave me a berth and I could lie down.

We arrived in Agra late that evening, and after the usual struggle with rickshaw drivers we finally managed to find a cheap guest house.

Two weeks later we were still in Agra. I was now lying on the bed of a local hospital, under drip. I had been misdiagnosed since days, no one knew what my problem was and all the antibiotics I was taking didn’t help at all. I had just spent 24 hours in Coma a few days back and my condition was obviously serious and getting worse. But somehow we didn’t realise and trusted that life would take care. We were doing our thing and were moving along.

The Agra hospital had certainly no intention to have a foreigner die on their premises, and so before sunset they sent me to the Apollo Hospital in Delhi.

The train to Delhi took forever, but finally at 2 am we got a rickshaw to drop us in India’s largest hospital with our dirty backpacks. By then I surely looked really sick and like a skeleton, but the emergency room looked like hell, filled with blood and screams and people looking far more impressive than I did. Someone’s head had a hole in it. Someone’s leg was on a table next to his stretcher. A doctor finally had a quick look at me and told me that I was okay. He gave me another antibiotic pill and off we were again on the streets of Delhi.

It was now 3 am on a Sunday morning, and this was going to be my last day in this body.

 

Part 2-

After a few hours’ sleep we are waking up somewhere in Carol Bag in a much fancier hotel than I was used to. There is carpet on the floor. We got scammed by the rickshaw driver as we left the hospital in the middle of the night. But this is all irrelevant at this point.

It is around 8.30 am and Shelley goes down to the reception and calls the French Embassy. It is early, and it is Sunday, and yet she can smell that this is very soon all over for me.

Less than an hour later a young French doctor arrives in the embassy’s car. He is shocked. I have been in this condition since more than 2 weeks, without a diagnosis and without proper treatment. This is the first time that someone really looks at me since I became suddenly paralyzed on the street. He takes his time and I feel hope and trust again. I am in good hands. We will do tests he explains, but first he has to guess right and act now. Results would come too late.

His first hunch is that I am suffering from Infectious Mononucleosis and that an Oedema had developed in my brain, explaining the coma and the paralysis. He is right and this will save my life. I look so unlike anything he ever saw that he also suspects that I could have at least Aids and another tropical disease as well, but luckily he will be wrong on that one. He injects me with a good dose of cortisone, pays the hotel bill, gets us into his little car and off we are through the busy streets of Delhi to the reputable East West clinic.

I am given a room there and my girlfriend can stay with me. It will take a week to get all the tests done and get the pressure in my brain down to a point where travelling by air can be an option.

Finally one evening at around 8 pm, the van from the embassy arrives at the clinic and 4 officials from the French embassy knock on the door. They have organized tickets to Paris, and we are leaving now on a direct Air France flight. There is a chance that my brain doesn’t cope with the flight and so the doctor has to sit next to me.

And so on a freezing morning just before Christmas 1989 I landed in Paris, walked through the airport corridors with my doctor on one side and Shelley on the other, got picked up by my Dad, and was brought straight through Normandy to the emergency room of my hometown Hospital. That same afternoon, on the 18th floor, I slid into the tunnel of an mri scanner.

 

Part 3-

Completing this chapter isn’t easy as I have to omit the juiciest parts.

I was 23 at the time and I just had my first significant encounter with death. I came very close. Most significantly, it marked the end of my hippie life as I had intensely known it. I never touched drugs again and I instead would soon discover meditation. Out of this I would soon meet Osho and be absolutely ready and open for what He was about to propose.

As I left the hospital on Christmas 1989, I was prescribed a year of convalescence; but instead, after 6 days at home with my parents, I bought a ticket to Western Africa. I would spend the next 2 years living naked in caves on the Island of Gomera and in Senegal. Life was easy, wild, and completely in touch with nature. I had a beautiful girlfriend and we then moved on slowly all the way to New Zealand.

What had happened in Delhi had shaken me to the core. What was I after? What was I running from? What did I really long for? I was aware that I was now doing extra time, that another chance was given, and that sooner or later death could take me back, and this time keep me.

Those years travelling in the wild were a time of convalescence indeed, a time of chilling out and of transition. Those were golden days, insouciantly living a freedom somehow long gone, and I was getting ready for a new adventure, an inner one this time. I was getting ready to open up, to feel, and to say Yes.

(…as this chapter is closing, a new one is about to open. More stories coming soon…)

Tiananmen Square, Beijing, May 1989

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After 4 days and nights in a train from Urumqi I arrived in Beijing. I had left Calcutta 3 months before and was travelling overland, slowly making my way to Berlin. I had spent days on the roof of local buses up along the Indus River in Pakistan under the scorching April heat, had hang out in the most extraordinary Hunza region of Kashmir, crossed the Khunjerab pass by foot at almost 5000 meters, then entered China and the oasis town of Kashgar where I recovered from snow blindness in a welcoming Uyghur family.

The sun was rising as I walked out of the station.

During this last month in Western China the only news we had was from the English edition of the “people’s voice”, a daily newspaper that we often got a week after it was published, and as I remember all was really good and happy in this great country.

Stepping out of the train already something felt odd. I soon found out that there were no buses or subway, basically no traffic, demonstrating students everywhere, and that the huge 6 lanes streets were jammed with … bicycles! I can’t remember how it happened and it does sound surreal today, but I got a bicycle here and then, sat on it with my pack on my back and off I was through the streets of Beijing looking for the cheapest guest house!

The cheapest Guest House I found was a 5 star hotel. On the top floor and overlooking Beijing with breath-taking views, was a restaurant under renovation, and there we could sleep on the red sofas and keep our luggage on the thick carpet between the tables. “We” included a few dodgy Polish business men and a bunch of hippies on the same trail as I was. We were all ultimately going to be on one of the Trans-Siberian trains that were running twice a week between Beijing and Moscow.

The tension in Beijing during that time, the energy on the streets, and the creativity people were showing was just something so outrageous and that I have never experienced again. After about a week, I moved out of the restaurant and joined a group of students in one of their buses stationed in a corner of the great Tiananmen Square, where I was anyway spending most of my time.

We all hang out together, ate noodle soups, drank tea, and at night we all were working under a kerosene lamp at the back of the bus where I would be translating pamphlets into English, French and German.

After so many weeks travelling on my own I had found a family. We were smoking lots of Pollen and everything and every breath was out of this world. I actually had little idea what this student revolution was all about, but I loved hanging out with those guys my age, I loved driving my bicycle for hours without holding the handle and get lost in this mind-blowing city- I loved the buzz, I loved the madness and I loved being high.

I had no idea at the time that those very days in this particular square were going to be carved in history forever. Even more unthinkable that it would be carved with so much blood, the blood of those I had shared such precious moments with.

As far as I was concerned and as far I understood there was no sign that something bad was going to happen any time soon; in fact it sounded that the movement was picking up, that more and more were getting involved, that the government was going to fall and that victory was coming soon. The energy was rocketing, it was just unbelievable.

I could easily have stayed an extra week, but on Wednesday May 31st 1989 I found for 30 dollars a trans-Siberian ticket on the black market and left that very evening. The trip to Moscow would take 9 days.

Only upon reaching Russia a week later did a newspaper find its way to the train. I remember staring at the picture on the front page. Tiananmen Square filled with tanks and corpses. In shock and denial I was mumbling “where are all the people, where are my friends?”

Some survived, some were jailed, some were killed.

Those weeks of freedom on the pavement of Tiananmen Square were an extraordinary time in history. A time that may never happen again. A time that impacted me in more ways than I understand, that changed the course of my life, and for which I am forever grateful.

I dedicate this chapter to those who lost their life standing up for their freedom.

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