Tag Archives: Rishikesh

Fresh Clear Eyes


In Buddhist meditation there is a lot of formal practice, often tedious and frequently painful. In the same way an athlete will excercise so too does a Buddhist spend time on their cushion each day. The athlete trains so that at the time of their event they can perform well. I trained so that I could be aware of the process of the mind creating opinions, judgements, stories.

Why did I spend six years training to be aware of the process of the mind? So I could be free of the unhelpful habits of my mind that (according to Buddha) are the cause of all misery.

I’ve moved away from formal Buddhist meditation but the training is still there. And every now and then it kicks in spontaneously. I will be fuming with anger about someone and then I suddenly realise I am furious not because of them but because of an opinion I was holding onto about them. In the absence of that opinion I don’t have a problem. By seeing the process one can step outside it – if that’s what you choose. Not everyone wishes to.

Even the old decaying concrete walls and piles of rubbish looked fresh and new. I suppose that’s what happens when I have fresh, clear eyes.

The Ganga River in Rishikesh

The Ganga River in Rishikesh


So I was in Rishikesh, India, and having a moment by the Ganga River. There was water, sunlight, buildings, rocks. There was no script, no story. Just the river and sunshine and my breathing. And I was aware of this moment and accepting of it.

I’d stepped out of the usual mental process for a moment. The next step is to not be sucked back into that usual mental process by automatically filling that space. And a part of me wanted to fill the space, fill it by fixating on something – sensations, memories or plans, it almost doesn’t matter what. Possibilities arose – I could dwell on the mundane (my bum is sore, i should get up and walk); to the sensory (i could eat those mangoes in my bag, they’d taste delicious right now); to the sensual (I wonder if she’d go to bed with me?); to the transcendental (it would be so cool to be enlightened!).

And the automatic response is to choose an option and become immersed in the drama! To go with a thought and weave a whole vivid and compelling story about this imagined future! One story might be “If I walk where will I go? What will I do?”. Or how about some minor pride over my purchase of mangoes, encouraging myself what a seasoned traveller I am? Erotic daydreams are another great way to avoid investigating the mental process that I find so difficult to step out of. And of course speculating on enlightenment is an ancient method for avoiding the cost of attaining enlightenment.

The complicated process of creating a reality to struggle agains

The complicated process of creating a reality to struggle agains

But in that moment the busy chatter of the mind became another part of the moment, just like the river and the sunlight. All those hours of meditation sent practicing a habit coming to blossom in a moment of spontaneous letting go.

This was a moment when i observed the habit arising in the mind and i side stepped it – let it go. There was a vivid sense of something bustling and writhing, looking to feed itself, looking to grow. Like a virus, wanting to hijack my energy, control me.

In that moment it was possible to stop the mental-virus before it gained momentum. And the resulting space in the mind was open to having an experience: the sound of the river; the pattern of leaves against the sky; the feeling of warm, rough concrete against my back.

There was no need for words. There was no need to do anything. It was enough to experience without comment, without judgement, without reaction. The Ganga’s waters made patterns of green and white as the rafters bobbed over the rapids, falling up and down with crazy turbulence as the river roared on, vast and inhuman. I actually saw the river: it was pure energy expressing itself as water. The buildings on the opposite shore amidst the trees and bushes looked as if they had popped into existence in that moment. Everything looked as if it had just appeared. Even the old decaying concrete walls and piles of rubbish looked fresh and new. I suppose that’s what happens when I have fresh, clear eyes.

Space, the only frontier

Space, the only frontier

Space. When I made that decision to not go with the habit of the busy mind there was a lot of space – in the absence of mental clutter the mind has an openness that can welcome and enjoy anything.

I look up and hear Rishikesh. Vividly. See it, smell it. Scooters dodging cow shit and holy men dozing by the side of the road, their beards and dreadlocks intricate patterns of follicles. There are children playing on the river sands, their bright red and green clothes flash like parrots in flight as the kids cry out and chase each other, with the adults walking slowly along after them, barefoot and benign.

Awareness: the path out of suffering

Prem Baba teaching

There was a Brazilian teacher in Rishikesh in 2013 whose name was Prem Baba and he was giving free talks at a large ashram on the banks of the Ganga River. He was talking about Awareness as his main practice. He said Presence was the goal – “truly being awake right now, not lost in some fantasy of the past or the future.” The room he taught in was light and airy, with over 100 devotees from all over the world listening to him speak Portugese or listening to the translator’s English words.

He said the main obstacle to Awareness was Inner Dialogue, the mental chatter. This comes from the unconscious wishes and fears clashing with the conscious ones.

“We can say ‘yes’ as often as we like, but if our unconscious is saying ‘no’ then nothing will change.”

He said the remedy was to take responsibility for the suffering and abandon the stance of being the victim. This is not the attitude of ‘this is my fault’ (which is still victim thinking) but rather ‘this is my opportunity for freedom’. My freedom is my responsibility – because who else can free me from suffering?


Anger isolates me from being Present

“So I try to be simply Aware of what is happening, without blaming anything or anyone.  Without blame there is no sense of injustice, no taste of bitterness or resentment.”

For instance, perhaps there is anger; be with that anger without identifying with the anger. Even if only for a few moments; this is being the witness, not the victim. If the justification for being angry arise try and witness that too. Be Aware of what is going on without believing any of it. If we don’t feed these sparks of madness they don’t become flames.

“Similarly, be  with the inadequacy, the betrayal, the hunger, the despair. Accept their presence rather than look to assign guilt for their existence. Resist the habit of putting toxins in your mental environment! This is the moment by moment process of liberation.”

By witnessing – by being Aware – we see more and more what the real nature of these painful minds are. Before I avoided them by weaving a fantasy of blame: blaming myself, my family, my friends, society, God, the devil… an endless process of avoiding taking responsibility.

I am Happy

“I am happy in my soap opera! Leave me alone!”

Now by accepting and being present – being aware – the nature of my pain becomes clear. I slowly bring what is unconscious into the light. And this awareness itself naturally leads to letting go.

It’s a moment of discovery of a world I am usually oblivious to because it’s so often drowned out by my internal soap opera. I am left with the simple reality of what I am actually  experiencing, the unadorned and naked moment. The sounds i was too engrossed in ego to hear; the colour and pattern of the curtain in my room; the feel of water on my skin; the taste of a cup of tea.

Presence gives everything a feeling of sacredness.

Walking the Mean Streets of Rishikesh

This is the start of regular blog posts! After a long period of gestation I’m ready to tell stories. This first one is a story from my 2013 India Trip Journal.

Me and Shiva, both of us looking totally cool.

Me and Shiva, both of us looking totally cool.

“It is an hour before my graduation from Yoga Teacher Training. The afternoon sun is warm but not stifling – dappled, thinly-leaved trees take the edge off the sunlight. I feel run down and my lumbar is sore – the wear and tear of 6 weeks of yoga boot camp taking its toll.”

I’m curled up in a corner of the concrete walls that lead down to the Ganga river. I have been out to buy mangoes for the graduation for reasons that I’ve since forgotten. The routine of a timetable over the last 42 days has put me in a good space, despite the aches and pains. I feel lighter and less cluttered. I have a good feeling about the future, and it’d been a long time since i had that uncomplicated sense of rightness in the belly.

“I’m Aware of all this.” I was very big on Awareness at that point. Seemed a good thing to obsess about. “I enjoy the sunlight on my skin.” I write and write on my iphone, “trying to distil the moment into a takeaway so I can practice this insight, learn it so that one day I don’t need to learn or practice and can just spontaneously live it.”

… And then the universe gave me a Boo!

Mango seeking pleasure machine.

Disappointed Mango-seeking pleasure machine 🙁

As I was typing about awareness and space and Being a huge brown shape suddenly lurched into my personal space. I felt it before i saw it. This weird brown leather wall with an eyeball. I jolt back and look up and there’s this cow with a head the size of my chest right in front of me. I was sandwiched between a concrete wall and a cow – a bull actually – big enough to squash me like a bug. Scary.

It was a startling connection with the unanticipated: genuine, unedited Awareness.

In that space there was clarity. The cow had smelt the mangoes in my bag and was heading towards them. I was in his path. He was simply pondering the physics of the situation: and this is a complicated process for a creature with a tiny brain. Their wits aren’t their strength, bless them. Their main function seems to be manure production and disrupting traffic. He wasn’t being aggressive, he was just someone looking for happiness in a very slow, bovine sort of way.

So I – being in possession of quicker wits – looked for happiness in my way. I dodged this slowly moving piece of street furniture and escaped with the mangoes.

A cow and a man

A cow and a man face off, a common occurrence

As I walked away from the disappointed bovine I carried that shock of awareness into my body, felt my limbs push and my torso hold them and push back, and suddenly I’m experiencing walking… and then just naturally slowed down and suddenly I’m enjoying walking. To walk very slowly with good posture is a wonderful thing. I’d been doing a lot of yoga for 6 weeks after all, so my body had found a few good shapes by now. Shoulders rolled back and down, spine relaxed and vertical, head up, belly soft. It was delicious.

I felt this cool.

Good posture even feels better than Disco!

It struck me that this is the body language of confidence. I felt confident; I was sure of the space I occupied. It felt strange to be walking towards a group of men and feel an urge to hide, to curl the shoulders in, bow my head and avoid eye contact. I kept the pose and walked slower than my sense of fear was comfortable with.

And I walked like a king. I felt like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, doing his bad-ass swagger down the mean streets of New York. I was Aware as all hell, and it felt great. I walked off into the sunset to my graduation, with two delicious mangoes and a world buzzing with life.