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Madeleine Kelsey Light and Shadow

Full Moon in January

A few days ago, I was deeply depressed.

I felt like my life had no meaning. I felt suddenly old. Weak. Uninspired. Pointless.

I felt like I had forgotten everything that I used to know. And I was just this zombie going through the motions.

But little by little, I started to thaw. And feel inspiration again. To make a decision. Any decision. To commit to anything. And work harder. And take better care of myself. Because I had this idea in my head…

Wow. Oh wow! It’s a full moon right now as I’m writing this! Oh that’s perfect. Of course it is. Perfect. Oh, it’s gorgeous. Like magic. I wish you could see it.

Anyway, I had this idea in my head that I had to go far away from my life to fix my life. That I had to change everything to change. When I started to let that idea go – and realized that that was an excuse to not change. An excuse to not work. That’s when I started to feel better.

I’m not perfect. There’s A LOT of things I want to change. There’s a lot that I’m unhappy about. And I still want to run away. I still want a new life. I still have that feeling that this isn’t the “right” life. Like I’m not in the right place.

But there’s a quote from Marianne Williamson about how foolish is this idea that we as humans have to come up with everything on our own. That we have to think of the right way to do everything, the right way to live our life. When in reality, it’s not up to us! Very little is up to us. And that’s good news for us control freaks.

I ended up here because of all my past experiences and teachers that led me here. Because of all the times I said yes and the times I said no. So of course I’m in the right place. For right now.

So – why doesn’t that feel better? Because that’s hard. That’s a really hard thing. To give up control of your life. To give up control of the idea of what your life should be.

Wow. The moon is totally covered by clouds now, you can’t see it at all. My god. Its disappeared completely. Like, I looked up at precisely the right second to see a beautiful full moon and if I had looked up earlier or later, I wouldn’t have seen that. And it might not come back now, but it doesn’t matter because I’ve already seen it and I know it’s there.

So. The next time I fall into depression, an anxiety riddled month when I feel like I have nothing good going on in my life and I feel like I’m not good enough for anything or anyone. I gotta remember this moment I just shared with the moon. Remembering that I saw it once and it’s real, just there under the surface. Even though for whatever reason I can’t see it right now, doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. That’s really hard to do. But that’s my lesson right now.

The moon still hasn’t come back. My work is to not be affected by that. To remember it’s just temporarily hidden by some clouds. And then let my dog try to cheer me up by licking my face.

* * *

All my love,

“Ohm Away From Ohm”: Part 1

One: The Root
The base chakra is concerned with survival, foundation and grounding. It is most connected with the physical body.

* * *

I stepped off the tiny plane into my mother’s worst nightmare. Alone, at an airport in Western India, almost at the border of Pakistan. The climate was arid, vast desert. The air and heat were heavy, consuming, but I hugged my thick, fleece jumper closer because a t-shirt suddenly felt too revealing. Lots of men in turbans and women in scarves stood outside the airport. I felt so comically out of place, all I could do was remind myself to breathe. The taxi turned to the outskirts of Amritsar. The city centre is home to the Golden Temple, a magnificent Sikh pilgrimage bringing travellers and pilgrims from all over. For now we avoided the busy city and went farther into the desert. This desert rocked my sheltered ego; I had a fairly naïve perspective of the world despite (or because of) my extensive Western travels. Rows and rows of makeshift tents sat on the side of the road, dirt and trash filled every empty space. This was what American television had told me war-torn Middle Eastern villages looked like. I had only been in India two minutes, and everything I thought I knew was wrong.

They say India is about extremes. That first day, I saw two tough policemen with massive machine guns slung across their backs affectionately hold hands. Every text from a traveller in India explains the chaos, and confusion; intensity of colours, vivid smells, inescapable noise, or the confusing sight of a five-star wealthy hotel positioned next to a desperate slum the kids call home. “I’m not an exception to this rule”, I thought to myself as we drove into something more similar to the Swiss Alps. The air thinned so I could finally inhale the Himalayas. Northern India was all “coolness and colour” (as V.S. Naipaul agreed). The lush green mountains grew out of nowhere, sprouting thousands of trees. The base of these mountains was mostly inhabited by goats, cows, and grumpy monkeys. Indians like to drive dangerously, leaving only the tiniest space for a “road” on the side of the cliff. Without a ledge or rail. Oh, and it was two-way, including massive trucks. But not to worry, the lanes would switch direction without notice, and honking solved everything.

My body began to suffer sensory overload. I’m the biggest fan of solo travel; daydreaming about the next adventure always gives me butterflies. There’s nothing so romantic as boarding a plane by yourself, armed with a tiny rucksack and endless possibilities. But India was different. I was extremely alone. And worried too. For the first time in all my travelling, I read the strange sexist travel advice that floats around the internet; “wear a fake wedding ring, say your husband is meeting you somewhere, don’t use public transit, avoid eye contact with men, don’t show any skin…” And the infamous Delhi rape case had happened only months before my departure. That seemed enough to put anyone off travel. But something pulled me to India. Even through my anxiety, my crippling anticipation, I knew I had to throw myself off balance to find what I was looking for. I searched for happiness and experience, of course, but there was something else; something like enlightenment, or truth, or that thing I couldn’t even name yet. And India could show me. Even if she made me suffer a little in the process.

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“Ohm Away From Ohm”: Part 2

Two: The Sacral
The second chakra is related to our connection with the outside world; relationships, friendships, family, and openness to experience.

* * *

The buildings of the village were in an amazing state beyond repair. It was clear things here were used until they literally ceased to exist; nothing was wasted. The energy of the village was pure and safe; but I was freaked out. Interestingly, and sadly common for intense travel, my mind had planned an amazing journey and my body was fighting it. I couldn’t eat or sleep for the first week. The biggest spiders made me jump. I was convinced the scorpions would attack when I fell asleep. And someone told me to watch out for the mean monkeys; they stole sunglasses off peoples’ faces. I worried India was too much for me after all.

After a sleepless first night in this new “home”, I woke up early to a crisp sunrise over the Himalayas. At 6:00 am, we gathered around a gorgeous tiny temple for the Bodhi Tree International yoga school’s traditional opening ceremony. The temple perched on the side of the mountain, with a classic brightly coloured Hindu roof and clean white pillars. Inside a statue of a goddess sat awaiting our prayers. We wore all white. Three of the male teachers from the school performed chants and gave the statue tokens of rice and water. This lasted forever. We let the prayers, sunshine, and cool morning mountain air wash over us. Eventually, we stood to receive a handful of warm rice and a red thread tied around the right wrist. The thread connected us to each other, our teachers, and our journey; it was a sacred memento that I would cherish.

The students stayed in guesthouses, a quirky combination of hostel and ashram. Later that day, sat in front of the main guesthouse, eating breakfast, I felt like a kindergartener dropped off for their first day at school, except all the other students were cool grown up travellers. And just to truly solidify this metaphor, my mother, after not hearing from me for a few days, somehow managed to find a lecturer’s phone number online. He came to the breakfast table and said, bemused, “Um. Madeleine. I don’t know how, your mother in America found my mobile number and called this morning… She wants to know if you’re okay.” It took every ounce of restraint to not burst out sobbing in front of all the cool kids. In reality, I was by far the youngest student on the course, and they all thought it was sweet of my mom to worry.

Bhagsu is a tiny village on top of the world. We ventured to the village centre. It was a funny mix of hippies, gap years, yoga teachers, and young wanderers looking for cheap drugs. This bubble of bohemia had somehow become a mecca for students of spirituality. The crowded and hectic main road happily catered to Westerners. An Israeli café sat atop the hill, a remarkably familiar pizza shop across the way called University Pizza (which was surprisingly delicious), and a cool café, with floors and walls of cushions, known as the only safe place to order a salad. The Magic Tree coffee shop became my favourite – consistent wifi, amazing lattes, and a Nepalese barista with dreadlocks, who liked me for my own unruly locks. The secret local Bhagsu was around a corner from this main stretch, suddenly no Western pizza or lattes. Tiny shops pushed as much fabric in the entrance way as possible. Savoury scents of Indian and Tibetan food, especially dumplings, were pungent. Women yelled prices for anything as I walked by the market area. I watched the local men enjoy the outdoor community pool, in tiny speedos, while their women and children watched on the side. I was making an effort to mentally capture everything about this village scene, but I’m not the first person, or the last, to learn it’s impossible to fully grasp India’s incredible chaos. There was a long path to the Bhagsu waterfall; a famous tourist attraction. Every onlooker had a camera out to save the moment. The Indian tourists asked to take pictures with me. Maybe because I had crazy curly hair or the palest, freckled skin they had ever seen.

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“Ohm Away From Ohm”: Part 3

Three: The Solar Plexus
The navel chakra is our source of energy. The ego, our self-esteem, and confidence live here.

* * *

India is the birthplace of yoga. The birthplace of the studies of energy. A sacred land that is somehow closer to spirituality. I went to study yoga, the union of body and mind, in the place that invented the very idea. I went to understand the universe a little more. And I would only study in a space that felt authentic and real.

Our school routine commences with a rigorous daily schedule of yoga practice, lectures, workshops, more yoga practice, and group meditation. The first few days were exhausting and invigorating. We covered several types of yoga and my anxiety-fuelled mind immediately loved the quick dancing type of yoga called Vinyasa; there’s no time for pesky thoughts to wander in. Our first teaching workshop, Dylan was my buddy for physical adjustments. I brought my hands above my head in prayer position. “Whoa. You’re totally lopsided,” Dylan exclaimed as gently as possible. He was right. I have minor scoliosis, which is hardly an issue in everyday life; no one is completely symmetrical. But as a new teacher, I desperately wanted to be perfect and straight.

The walk from the yoga studio to my guesthouse was a narrow, rocky path down the mountain, past other little houses teetering on the hillside, and littered with the common contradictions of India; flowers and birds of paradise, trash piles and cow droppings. One day, I found two girls sitting inside the gate, singing with a ukulele in hand. They were practicing a goodbye song for two Australian friends. When I told them I could sing and play the ukulele as well, I was in. We practiced out in the sunshine until it was show time. And that is how the Ukuladies was formed; a three-piece girl band based out of a former ashram in Bhagsu, India. Word of the Ukuladies spread quickly. We were booked (meaning volunteered) to perform at the birthday party for a beloved owner of a local guesthouse, Ashooka. I was a little nervous, but Michelle and Lauren wrote an adorable, loving song about this family. Ashooka, his wife, and their daughter sat on a bench in front of their guests while we performed. Their infinitely happy smiles beamed in the dim light, and I thought this was one of those moments only travel and adventure can create.

The girls from the course had gotten comfortable in the village and went into shopping mode on our free Sunday. High up in the Indian mountains, everything had a Tibetan and Nepalese influence. Sadie, a Hawaiian woman, had been in a scarf shop for at least an hour choosing dozens of gifts for family back home. She hopefully called me over to help finalize decisions and I unhelpfully told her I liked all 20 shawls. The shop owner was attractive and dangerously charming. Educated in England and Germany, he wanted to swap European colloquiums we both might find funny. I was clearly reluctant to spend money on anything, but he gently urged me to try on some beautiful scarves for fun. I wrapped an expensive and luxurious scarf around my shoulders; it was intricately and lovingly hand embroidered in a place called Kashmir, even farther North in the Indian mountains. “This scarf couldn’t belong to anyone else now, I feel like it was meant for you,” he said sincerely. I modestly agreed, but left it on the shelf.

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“Ohm Away From Ohm”: Part 4

Four: The Heart
The fourth chakra is our home for love, compassion, and forgiveness.

* * *

The intense yoga schedule was making a difference for my body. I felt healthy and strong. Waking up early each morning, eating amazing home cooked Indian food, and being away from the technologies and stresses of modern life was also nourishing for the body; like a month long detox. Karo, co-founder of the school, repeated one main philosophy for our yoga. Yoga should never hurt. Yoga makes people feel better. Ahimsa; to not injure. We don’t injure ourselves by contorting into a crazy pose just to look impressive, and we don’t injure our students by making them feel they need to impress anyone, including themselves. This theory liberated me to just push myself the tiniest bit each day. And by going slowly, I improved without even noticing. Suddenly one day, my arms were stronger and I could do an arm balance; a pose I had watched more advanced people do for years. And with certain ease, a lack of struggle, I had learned to balance my whole body on my newly toned arms.

I took an adventure to the bigger town near our village called McLeod Ganj. Home of the Dali Lama, as well as being the Tibetan capital of India, meant this little city attracted plenty of tourists. After the calm village, McLeod Ganj was almost unbearable. People tried to fit way too many cars on small roads. The honking and yelling was so loud, I couldn’t hear myself think. The “sidewalks” were made of metal grates placed over open sewage or trash. There were limitless treasures for sale on the streets; the most gorgeous leather bound notebooks seemed a perfect travel-writing souvenir. There were Tibetan prayer flags strung from buildings, and amazing shops filled with singing bowls and meditation beads of lush stones. And there were Tibetan monks, wearing traditional robes, begging people for money. Comparing Mcleod Ganj and Bhagsu further epitomized the disparities of India. The peace and chaos, the ugliness and beauty.

Some of us students wanted to let loose on Saturday night, and went looking for the hotspot in our Indian village. I ran into cute scarf guy, and after a sufficiently awkward greeting, one of the girls invited him to join us for drinks. We entered a small family restaurant with live local music. It was festive; full of middle aged people dancing around tables, and one or two other Western visitors, and we all smiled at each other. Scarf-man sat next to me and we talked the whole night about similar interests, cross cultures, and how the guitarist in the local band had taught him once. He told me to close my eyes for a second. And draped the special turquoise scarf around my shoulders. “It’s a gift. Really, I want you to have it. It deserves to be loved.” I was moved, and wanted to accept his beautiful gesture, that clearly had no expectation or motive. My classmates were skeptical and this sparked a small debate over what women should accept from men. Maybe the rules are different when travelling. Or maybe I just had to trust my intuition that this man was a generous, unassuming friend.

* * *

“Ohm Away From Ohm”: Part 5

Five: The Throat
The fifth chakra controls communication, including our speech and knowledge. It is where we express truth.

* * *

The Indian monsoon was due in July. Us wishful travellers arrived to a hot climate, with a cool mountain breeze, and absolutely clear skies everyday. Perfection. By the middle of June, dark ominous clouds that looked out of an apocalyptic film rolled in, and the temperature dropped overnight. The monsoon rain was different than English or American rain. It was loud, constant, and demanded to be noticed. All the buildings had tin roofs, which smartly amplified the pounding rain. Only an issue when I couldn’t sleep or we were trying to listen to a lecture. The village lost electricity almost once a day. Our teachers romantically taught us by candle light, and comically had to shout over the rain. These dark mornings were strangely some of my favourites; we put on layers, hung our wet socks to dry, huddled under Tibetan blankets, and sipped hot chai.

One day I was reflecting on the whole India experience, especially my struggle at the beginning. Sat against the cool wall of the yoga studio, I told Sareet I had a really tough time adjusting and was just now starting to feel okay in India. She replied, “But this isn’t really India? So what are you really struggling with?” I had no idea if this village and our school was truly India. But I could see immediately that she was right in a sense; our paradise in the mountains had so little of the Indian madness down below. What I saw glimpses of in Mcleod Ganj. And the place was a mecca for spirituality, a perfect place to come, to question, to re-find one’s self. I was forced to admit my struggles had always been more about myself than about India.

The time had come to prove what we had learned at school. I nervously prepared to teach, choosing basic poses and trying to add some exciting things to stand out. But teaching was surprisingly hard. My heart was beating so fast, standing in front of everyone, waiting for me to tell them what to do. It was especially difficult to keep a calm voice. I was, after all, teaching yoga; it’s meant to be somewhat relaxing. But I passed, we all passed. I received lots of compliments on my class – that I shyly accepted, but didn’t quite believe. And that was my own journey as a teacher; to try to ignore my ego when it’s being mean, and trust in what I’ve learned.

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