The opportunity to go on a pilgrimage with our Guru

A little while ago, we were invited to join a group on a pilgrimage called Chota Char Dham. If I had Suraj’s support, I was pretty eager to be part of it. I didn’t think that such an opportunity would arise again, and I was sure that our Guru wouldn’t do it again. For me, it was about saying yes, and then surrendering to whatever happened afterwards.

What happened next? We signed up for the trip and began training for the up and coming treks. Suraj and I discovered that we really enjoyed taking long walks and challenging ourselves with routes that had sections with steep inclines.

Where would the pilgrimage take us?

The four (Char) places included Yamunotri, Gangotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath. The itinerary included going to Mana Village, The Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib too.

Lots of people tried to put us off the trip

We heard that many people were saying that we shouldn’t go on this trip, and that those who trek on a regular basis wouldn’t attempt it, thus a group of people ranging from as young as 11 to over 75; definitely shouldn’t do it! Some said we wouldn’t all come back alive. Others said that those who aren’t used to ‘roughing it’ shouldn’t do it. Some people I knew were concerned about me specifically, because I have some longstanding back issues. Funnily enough, some people thought we shouldn’t go because we may not get vegan food. I found that rather odd because we’ve been to Mangi-Tungi, Palitana and Switzerland with our Guru, and I don’t recall the issue of vegan options coming up then, nor do I recall it being a problem.

I showed the itinerary to my Pilates teacher. She asked me some questions but I didn’t have the information she needed to advise me accurately. We new that we would be travelling in Innovas, but we didn’t know which seats we’d get, or if the seats would recline. Thus she advised me to buy a wedge cushion to sit on. This would ensure that my hips are higher than my knees, and hopefully prevent any back issues. She also suggested I got something to cushion my neck. Other than that, she suggested some daily exercises, and way to alleviate any issues, if they arose.

How did the trip go?

Sitting in the car was fine. I could recline the seats, which helped a lot. A lot of the journeys involved driving fast on winding roads, and I soon learned that my body couldn’t handle it. I was sick. Luckily we were travelling in groups of cars, and one of the passengers in the car that stopped behind us, had some medication which help relieve the nausea. Unfortunately, I was sick again, so he gave me another tablet, which was stronger and much more effective. After that, when I knew we’d be travelling on similar roads for a long time, I took the tablet half an hour before we left, and thankfully, I wasn’t sick or even nauseous again!

Yamunotri

I have mixed feelings about this trek. I think the trek itself was fine, but there were simply too many people. There were also a lot of people who did the journey on a horse or in a doli. This was difficult due to the number of people on the path, the amount of space we needed, combined with the amount of space that the doli and the 4 men carrying it needed. Often they would shout ‘side’ which meant that we needed to move to the side, but we didn’t always hear it in time, and a few of us nearly fell as a result. Lastly, we set out for the trek thinking that it was 5km each way, but it was actually about 8km each way. The distance wasn’t a problem, it was more that we weren’t prepared for it. Thus we didn’t take enough snacks or water with us.

Photo sourced from – https://c1.staticflickr.com/9/8177/8056372536_00a53fe904_b.jpg

Gangotri

We got to Gangotri and I realised that being at a height of over 10,000 feet effected me. I hadn’t been up at such a high altitude before. I was walking much slower than usual, and after taking a few steps up hill or going up any type of stairs, made breathing difficult.

All I needed was a few hours to acclimatise. After that, I was fine!

We went and say along the River Ganges and witnesses various acts of devotion. It was amazing! The next day, a few of us took part in a Puja and we went to see Surya Kund, which was stunning.

Badrinath

Going to Badrinath was a good test for me. A test to see if I’d stand by my ethics and if I’d maintain a sense of calm. This temple was in huge demand and there were long queues. Some people tried to push in, others forced their way into an earlier part of the queue and there were times when we were invited to jump the queue too. I didn’t want to do something which would irritate others, so I went to the back of the queue instead of pushing in. I also didn’t want to be a hypocrite. I wouldn’t appreciate others pushing in front of me, so why is it OK for me to do the same? It isn’t!

Kedarnath

Unfortunately, I ended up with severe diarrhoea the night before we were due to travel to Kedarnath. I was well enough to travel the day after but the tour company couldn’t organise the transport for us, so we only managed to complete three of the four places.

Mana Village

The walk to and within Mana Village was pretty cool. There was a variety of things to see, as well as, the opportunity to hear about the history behind the caves, sources of water and there were even some stories about the rock formation.

The Valley of Flowers

It rained heavily for a number of hours before, and on the day that we planned to walk to the Valley of Flowers. For this reason, it was cancelled. However, we managed to watch a presentation about it. It was interesting to hear how the area was discovered and the, often multiple, medicinal uses of the huge number of flowers that grow within the valley.

Hemkund Sahib

The trek to Hemkund Sahib was amazing. Here’s why:-

  • there were less people
  • there were hardly any dolis or horses
  • there was a calm feel about the place
  • the people were calm, friendly, inspired and encouraging
  • the views were stunning

Another reason that this trek was an achievement for me is because I ended up doing most of the trek on my own, without having access to water. I had a backpack with a hydration pack, but soon realised that I would struggle to do the trek if I was carrying this bag too. I spoke with Suraj who said that if I gave my bag to one of the porters who was with out group, I could simply drink from his water. It may seem obvious, but I didn’t want to slow him down by asking him to stop, so that I could have a drink. Also, we’ve realised that Suraj finds it easier walking up hill, whereas I find downhill easier. Thus during the treks, he walks on when we’re going uphill, stopping every now and again to check I’m OK, and I do the same when we’re walking downhill.

At the beginning of the trek to Hemkund Sahib, we came across a horse, which seemed to trying to make a run for it. Unfortunately it was running towards Suraj. He was stuck, because if he moved forwards, he would have collided with the horse, and he couldn’t go backwards, because there were rocks behind him. He tried to move sideways, lost his footing and hurt his foot a little. He said he was fine and continued. I continued, on the assumption that he’d catch me up, as he finds trekking uphill easier. After that I remained ahead. I stopped and saw Suraj a few times. Each time he gestured that he was fine and to continue, so I did. After a while, I realised that he wasn’t in sight at all. I stopped a number of times but couldn’t see him. Other members of our group passed me, and they said he was close behind, so I continued. During this time, during four of the times that I stopped, I managed to see the porter, and grabbed a drink from my bag. However, after that I didn’t see Suraj or the porter at all. I could have bought some water, but my money was in my bag.

After about an hour or more, I was thirsty and could see that there was a lot more to walk. However, I kept going and had a sense that everything would be OK, and it was! I passed someone who offered me water. Soon after that someone else offered me some glucose, and just as I was feeling that I needed something, another person gave me some glucose powder. I kept going, and made it to the top.

At the time, I was a little concerned about not being able to find my group, and didn’t really take in the majestic view, but there’s something about it that has stayed with me ever since. Whenever I think of it, and visualise it, I get a feeling of calmness, stillness, peace and beauty.

On my way down, I saw someone who told me that Suraj had made it to the top and that he was fine. Both of us had made an internal resolution that we wanted to walk to the top and back again, and we were over half way through achieving it.

Funnily enough, although I usually find walking downhill easier, I found it quite tricky because the path was uneven, and although I was being quite careful, I lost my footing and slipped a few times. Nevertheless, I made it to the bottom, and this time I wasn’t on my own. I met different friends during different parts of the route, and enjoyed their company whilst we were together.

Hemkund Sahib is at an altitude of 15,200 feet and the trek is about 13 km in total. That was the last feat, after which we made our way back to Delhi, and then on to London.

What were the best parts of the trip for me?

  • the time to reflect
  • the opportunities to notice people behaving in ways which would have surprised me, irritated me, or upset me before; except that didn’t happen or was much much milder than that in the past
  • for the most part, not getting consumed by various experiences in the body
  • making it up to Hemkund Sahib and back again on foot
  • feeling calm and having faith whilst I trekked up to Hemkund Sahib alone
  • precious moments/interactions with my Guru

I’d love to hear your experience of this pilgrimage, or about a similar type of trip you’ve made.

Have you ever TRULY listened?

by Heena Modi on April 27, 2017

I suspect you might be thinking “What a strange thing to ask! Of course I’ve listened before!”

Defining listening

Listening can be defined as “to pay attention to someone or something in order to hear what is being said, sung, played, etc.” but what do I mean by truly listening?

Background noise

When you’re ‘listening’ to someone do you ever catch yourself wondering? The following list shows some of the forms that ‘wondering’ may take.

  1. “What will he say next?”
  2. “I knew that would happen!”
  3. “I wish she’d hurry up and tell me the bit I am actually interested in!”
  4. “Please talk quicker so I can share what I think. I’m worried that I’ll forget!”
  5. “Hurry up, so that I can ask you my questions.”

I can listen and think at the same time!

I have heard many people argue that they can listen and think at the same time. They can appreciate, be attentive and create a list of things they want to explore further, whilst actively listening. The belief is, that the ‘wondering’ doesn’t stop one listening.

Do you think it’s possible for the mind to be so noisy, and not have any impact on what we hear, or how we listen? Until recently, I would have said that there was no impact, but that was because I hadn’t consciously been involved in a conversation whilst my mind was silent. From what I recall, there was always some sort of nattering going on, whilst I was ‘listening’! I often wanted to take a step back, really listen, and NOT think or preempt what was coming next, but it was so difficult. The mind always won!

Listening completely, attentively, silently

Recently, someone who wanted to share some news with me, and also talk through the pros and cons of what they were considering. I found myself listening and that’s it! I was JUST listening! What an experience! I felt unbiased, light, calm, and like I’d truly helped.

I don’t think he was used to it, and so he tried to push me for an opinion about what he should do. The thing is…not only did I not have an opinion, but I didn’t want to have one. I was happy and content, to have actively heard him, trust that he’s already thought about it enough, and that he will get/has received, enough guidance from the other people who he’s spoken with so far.

What did truly listening mean in this instance?

In this specific scenario, it meant that…

  • I was impartial
  • I wasn’t thinking about how his decision would effect me
  • I didn’t make assumptions about how it might effect him
  • I didn’t imagine, assume or foresee the joy that might come of it, and get excited and convince him to do it
  • I didn’t see the possible damage that might be done, and try and put him off as a result
  • I didn’t judge him for thinking about it
  • I didn’t assume that I knew better
  • I let go of any expectations of what he should or shouldn’t do
  • I didn’t listen with the intent to hold him accountable to what he said
  • I remembered that I don’t behave consistently even when it’s about something that means a lot to me, so I can’t expect others to be any different

I feel heavy just thinking about all of this, I’m so glad I didn’t go through it while he was talking and I was listening!

A work in progress

It isn’t easy and it has taken me a while to get here, but it’s definitely achievable!

Here are some ways to help quieten that noisy mind, so that we truly listen

  • Meditate
  • Reflect on the times when you have experienced an uninterrupted focus, and the mind has been quiet; to remind yourself of what it’s like
  • Identify the situations when the mind is noisy and you can’t focus and try and work out what caused it
  • Acknowledge the types of things you were ‘wondering’, the last time you ‘listened’ with a noisy mind
  • Analyse those thoughts and try and figure out what the motivation was behind them
  • When you enter a conversation, tell yourself you’ll try and listen with a quiet mind, and don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t happen

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11 February 2017

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15 January 2017

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Why can’t they just get on with it, get over it, or find a way around it?

30 December 2016

Have you ever come across a situation and wondered why it’s a big deal? Why can’t they just suck it up and get on with it? Dismissing how someone feels Recently, I’ve realised how easy it is to dismiss other people’s feelings, and make what they’re experiencing appear insignificant. I have witnessed and felt some of the […]

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