It was as if Nature was watching a calendar. On June 1st, the sky opened up and the rain began to fall. We had been hearing that it was raining in Kerala to our west, and since this is the time of year for the southwest monsoon, we knew it was coming our way. (In October, the bigger monsoon starts from the Bay of Bengal to the east and sweeps up the country in a similarly predictable wave.) Overnight, the entire climate changed. The temperature dropped dramatically (I’d guess it’s 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night now), the wind picked up, the usual dryness in the air disappeared, and clouds took up permanent residence over the mountains. Every day, there are at least two or three hard showers, usually more. The rain is broken up by spells of bright surprising sunshine – in fact last week we had several solid days of sun – but the mist returns, inviting introspection and long periods of gazing out the window.
Somehow, three whole weeks have passed with me just sitting, mostly quite still, inside these four walls. Ras returned to the States last week, and Lynn left a few days ago. Emily is still here, right across the hall with her mother who came from New Mexico a few weeks ago to do pancha karma with her. The flavor of the days changes partly due to which treatment I have, and partly no doubt due to what I’m processing physically and mentally (and if we need more evidence of the intertwined nature of these two aspects of our being, I am definitely feeling it). Being alone and still is not generally difficult for me – the bigger challenge is not getting entirely ensconced in my head by virtue of being alone and still. I have been trying to maintain a balance of attention and presence in my heart and body here. It supports my efforts (and adds to the challenge of my natural tendencies) that they discourage reading or using the computer for long stretches of time. They say it’s to avoid straining the eyes – and they also purposely put in dim light bulbs. There is a certain design and intention at work here.
Why is it such a challenge to simply sit still, without doing anything, beyond a few minutes? Everything in me revolts. Not at the theory – I am all for sitting still theoretically. But after a few minutes of sitting and watching the sights outside my porch, my mind drifts towards action. My intrinsic focus on accomplishment leaves me almost cringing each evening: “What have I done today? What can I strike off my ‘Pancha Karma Projects’ list?” (That’s not a figure of speech – of course I arrived with such a list.) While I recognize that my prioritization of achievement is wholly conditioned, that doesn’t change its remarkable power over me and the seemingly organic sense of “wrongness” that bubbles up after I’ve been unproductive for some time. The culture of pancha karma counteracts this sense of wrongness, gently asserting, “You must also make time for not doing, for contemplation.”
So I must regularly remind myself to stop what I’m doing (usually reading or writing) and go sit on the porch for awhile. I watch the lizard who appears on the fence at the same time every day (unless it is raining) to do his push-up routine. He has a magnificent prehistoric head with a crest and wattles under his chin. Sometimes he’s a dark lizardly green, and sometimes he’s dull yellow with orange along the crest and stark black legs. At first I thought there were two different lizards, but now I’m pretty sure he’s the same guy because I’ve never seen the two together, and he takes up the same position on the fence regardless of his color and does the same push-ups.
When my imposing presence is not on the porch, four soft brown birds fly in, one at a time, and announce their arrival with exceedingly loud song. They take advantage of the reflective window glass to fluff themselves up and shake furiously and contort into wild little bird positions, stretching one wing out at a time and bending their necks at odd angles. They preen themselves and each other for up to ten or fifteen minutes at a time, several times a day. Apparently, all this rain can really do a number on a set of bird feathers.
Around 11am and again at 4pm, a chai wallah arrives on his motorbike and parks down at the entrance of the driveway to bring outlawed caffeinated chai and fried samosas to the staff here (you can’t find such indulgences in our kitchens). The high-pitched drone of his horn wafts over the palms, and the staff slowly emerge from various corners of the property, coming out from the gardens or behind the cowshed or from inside the patient buildings. They gather in small groups to enjoy their contraband snacks. Slowing down has provided me access to a whole series of activities that have been going on unseen right under my nose for the five months I’ve been here. I know that is true all the time, that life is unfolding in countless layers and variety while we’re looking the other way.
The other night, after the sun had set and my eyes actually were feeling strained and my head was achey, I guiltily closed my book and looked out at the darkness– there was nothing even to watch. I was tired in my body and mind, but it was far too early to go to bed. My mind searched for something to think about, a thinly cloaked attempt to continue doing, to remain in charge. Nothing. It felt like something in me had been worn down, and there really was nothing to do. I lit a candle and turned on some music and took the candle outside. As I absently sang along, the candle flame gathered up my attention and just held it, like one holds a baby, and gently rocked me until the music ran out.