Rishikesh 2018. Sober Reflections


Oh the anticlimax that is Post Christmas Post New Year Britain. Especially when most of the population are morbidly hungover, financially challenged and the lack of sunlight and energy only adds to those free floating waves of anxiety and hopelessness, and the guilt of prematurely broken resolves.

Which is why I always book two weeks out in January to get away. And so this year I went to Rishikesh again. I love it there. Well I don’t love it in the sense that I love the South of France- or somewhere that’s as warm and fragrant as it is beautiful. But whenever it gets to two or three years and I haven’t visited I get pulled back to Rishikesh by something. There’s a magic there. It’s in the skies, in the water, in the very atmosphere of the place. Getting there is a Royal pain and leaving there always feels easier. But between that and actually being in the holy city, practicing Yoga and going for long walks real magic happens.

In 2016 I quit drinking. This was quite a big deal as you can see from my last blog. I had a very long relationship with alcohol but after my 40th birthday I could feel that every time I drank I was making this choice of my own free will. The choice to anaesthetize. The choice to be in Narnia with my own characters. The choice to be alone with wine when I was way too tired to engage with people. The choice to stay single that almost developed in me a Howard Hughes frigidity/aversion to intimacy. That teaching Yoga can make you tired and antisocial and frigid to a degree is a little weird but actually it can. Anything can when you are out of balance and do too much.

So I completely quit drinking at 41 and came to all kinds of realisations in that first year. When I sorted the work/life balance a little and stopped being so reclusive. And got very much into meditation. I’ve always meditated but it’s a whole other level without the voices of alcohol in your system.

Because for me, and I do only speak for myself on this one, alcohol really affected my state of mind. Even one to two bottles of wine a week which many people consider moderate really left me feeling anxious once the initial euphoria wore off. And tired. And when I stopped drinking completely I was in that pink cloud state of happiness for quite a few months. Because once I took it off the table and didn’t quibble around with ‘moderation’ it became very easy. Even going to the pub is easy now. And pleasingly cheap.

So this was my first trip to India as a properly established sober person. My first trip 10 years ago was basically a drying out excursion after being left heartbroken and then drinking very heavily for several months in Brighton. And since then on the whole I have never drank on my Yoga trips away but I still had that habit at home. So I would do Yoga and ‘detox’ for 1 to 3 months then go home and the water would invariably turn back to wine. Its far easier to change a habit when you are out of the everyday.

I stayed at my usual place near Tapovan. With a balcony looking out over Shiva’s landscape. The first thing I did on every day this trip was meditate. Meditation has really become my thing since 2016. If my body’s tired and I don’t feel like Yoga asana practice I sit. And actually the North of India is pretty chilly in January so I would cocoon up in shawls and just sit. That silent space was such a gift. When I meditate it’s in silence with no agenda; I just observe the breath, and as I detach I become aware of the workings of my mind. And sometimes I keenly feel the echoes of other people’s energies around me. I can hear and pick up on these voices like radio waves. With sobriety this increased sensitivity has come because I’m no longer so wrapped up in my own shit. And meditation has become as necessary as having a shower because I need to let go and loosen all the energy that’s accumulated around me like dirt in the days.

I was also reading Yoga texts again which I like to do when I have time to be quiet and digest them. Revisiting Ahimsa. Non harming is so multilayered. Protecting your own energy is SO IMPORTANT. People can – and do- vampire it. They may not mean to but they do. When these people get into your head they can siphon it off, especially through anger or jealousy and all those negative emotions thus creating a kind of sludge around you. This keeps you low. It makes you vulnerable to addiction and being stuck. Really stuck, unable to find a way out.

I’ve written about this before. People do this to each other all the time on many levels in many ways. I can’t say that I’ve never done it. But I really notice when it happens now. These forces of darkness move through us, using our emotions like tangleweed and we get embroiled with each other. Especially (!) in the world of Yoga. Endless arguments over what’s real, true, authentic. What is good what is bad, what is right and what is wrong. Or the world of Facebook, who’s a narcissist and who isn’t who needs help and who doesn’t and its all shit. It really is. Where there is desire to be right Ahimsa cannot exist. Ahimsa is the ultimate expression of vulnerability. Not attacking whoever you perceive to be on the other side. And definitely not comparing your life experience to theirs.

And so I was re reading the Sutras and wondering how on earth we can overcome all this. How can we intelligently respond to circumstance without giving into the very human desire to create dramas? I was walking around Delhi on my last day, where there are no pavements, rickshaws flying at you from every angle, dirty air, people shitting in the streets and EVERYONE shouting and wondering how on earth people can develop Ahimsa if they are born into this? Because that’s another thing sobriety has brought me, this anger at injustice in the world that hasn’t really been there since before I ever started drinking. I even googled “Why does India have to be such a shithole?” to read essays written about its socioeconomic history to try and understand why, why WHY do most people in India not even have access to safe drinking water? India is disappearing under a sea of plastic bottles and filth and no one seems to care.

So this wasn’t a trip where I walked around in a post-asana high smiling at the picturesque filthy people on the streets reflecting on how great it is that I have such good karma and they don’t. Not that I ever did but New Age spiritual bypassing is always a danger. I just felt ridiculously happy when I got home and could drink straight out of the tap. Young bright Indian people that could turn the country around just seem to leave. I went to the Museum of the history of India’s fight for independence at the Red Palace and it occurred to me that there doesn’t seem to be anyone in India that’s listened to the way Gandhi was.

However, this trip wasn’t all darkness. I went to 2 Yoga classes every day and can heartily recommend the Vivekenanda Yoga School especially the teacher Shankar, whose classes were inspiring as well as beautiful. Prashant, a visiting teacher I met shared my obsession with the role of the foot in Yoga and his were some of the physically hardest classes I have ever been to but they were wonderful. And he may come to the UK to do a workshop in 2019 just watch this space! We need to make it happen.

I met a beautiful Italian woman, Kore, who inspired me big time and became my travel companion on the way home. She works for Amnesty and has been just about everywhere. Eyes and heart wide open. I maintained my Ashtanga practice alongside Hatha classes which felt so good. And I love the purity of Hatha classes in India, the wooden blocks and the lack of fluff suits me.

I also ate many great parathas and street food, especially aloo tikki. Indian food makes me happy. I sat on the balcony of the Beatles cafe and ate ridiculously wholesome vegan meals. I drank a lot of raw juice at the Ramjhula juice bar and devoured a pile of books. I particularly recommend Sadhguru’s “Inner Engineering, a Yogi’s guide to Happiness”. BRILLIANT. Kind of like Osho but Osho always feels a little smug to me whereas this was very accessible. And I was heartened to see that it’s been on the New York Times Bestseller list. Maybe there is hope for us yet.

I had a deep tissue massage and a steam bath at one of the Ayurvedic places and lost my aches and pains. My body feels stronger and more open than it ever has been. My heart and mind feel calmer too these days. And I bought Tattwa incense in bulk so that my house can smell of roses and jasmine for many many months to come. I met a handsome Cancerian astrologer from Ibiza and had mystic chat with him overlooking the river. I slept more than I ever thought possible and stayed out of the Ganges this time, so I returned home Giardia free.

Two weeks in Rishikesh really stretched out in a good way. To borrow a Dylan Thomas line,’ time seemed to swelter and melt’ and on my return I felt as though I had been away for a very long long time.

Until the next time Rishikesh.

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