FIELD TRIP: GOA
My winter in Goa was drawing to a close, and with no firm plans and so much of India still to explore I joined the post-high season exodus to Pushkar, Rajasthan, the next pre-ordained pack track destination. Geared towards the tourist trade (it’s the site of the renowned annual Camel Fair), and serving as another Indian hangout for wayward hippies, it’s easy to forget that Pushkar is one of India’s holiest towns. And after months enmeshed in a world inhabited by hedonistic Westerners, blindly following the party crowd from Goa to Hampi to Pushkar and back, I was also forgetting the reasons I first came to India.
Unapologetically engaging in indulgent rather than spiritual and altruistic pursuits, I was adrift, sailing off course without a captain. Suffering from spiritual deprivation and drowning in an overload of banal bullshit, surrounded by drugs, alcohol and omnipresent trance music, I craved sustenance, substance. I was – or thought I was – in need of a teacher. I wanted a guru. After all, I’m in India. Everyone who is anyone had a guru. I beckoned the universe to manifest this as yet unmet guide and although I was told that one doesn’t seek a guru -- rather he or she will find you -- I thought it prudent to try to improve the odds by placing myself in more fertile hunting ground. Hence I headed -- for the first of several visits -- to Rishikesh, the reputed “yoga capital of the world” and central casting for both real and pseudo sadhus.
And it was there, at the tip of Ram Jhula with a view of the Beatles Ashram, that I met Blah Blah Baba, a dhoti-clad, prayer bead wearing expat American. Sitting serenely at a table in the propitiously named Last Chance Café and Guest House, Blah Blah wasn’t what I envisioned when I conjured my image of a spiritual guide. He wasn’t Indian and wasn’t a Hindu, as it is not possible to convert to Hinduism despite one’s desire or ideological devotion. But as I have learned in life, you can’t make special orders on God’s menu. I could relate with him, though, which was a good first step in trusting a teacher. He was from Los Angeles, and after a rough ride claimed to have found his righteous path. I naively believed he was serendipitously put in my life. Right time right place theory. He was shanty, not sanctimonious. He talked the talk, wasn’t hitting on me, and his eyes revealed secrets I hoped were keys to my unanswered questions. And, perhaps most importantly, he insisted that he was being “told to help me” by a higher authority. I was ready and willing. He was willing and able. The connection was made. But, having lived and worked in Hollywood for years, I should have known that some connections were tenuous as a frayed shoelace.
Nonetheless, we met again the following day for Blah Blah to open my chakras, a ritual I hoped would prime me for impending revelations. I had already taken my reiki initiation, had dabbled in tai chi, yoga and ayurveda massage techniques, so this was not a stretch for me. And I wanted – no needed -- to fulfill my expectations of a true Indian experience. Chakras opened, Blah Blah and I decided to venture further into the mountains to meditate and practice yoga. Away from the throngs, we would isolate ourselves in nature and I would discover my long coveted serenity.
Two days later we boarded a bus that for ten hours snaked its way over and through the scenically splendid peaks of Uttaranchal towards Josimath, location of an important Vishnu temple. But with my eagerness superseding logic, I discovered that it was way too early to head this high into the mountains. “Cold as a witch’s tit” is an ugly adage that comes to mind. Located close to a famous Indian ski resort, Josimath is, during season, teeming with visitors. But at this time of year, the small Indian town was devoid of charm – and heat. Along with the two other Westerners foolish enough to be here, we encamped in a basic guest house where I emerged from beneath the covers only long enough to quickly visit the Vishnu shrine, grab a hot chai and retreat back undercover. But, still, I was keen.
Yoga and meditation at 6 a.m. tomorrow my teacher decreed. But 6 a.m. came and went and teacher was still asleep. 8 a.m. ditto. At around 10 a.m. Blah Blah Baba joined me in the dhaba and said not a word about our missed appointment. He soon departed, not reappearing until late afternoon at which time he positioned himself within earshot of my room where I overheard him telling our Western friends about his immediate plans to move into the Vishnu temple complex to study with his own newly encountered guru.
That night I waited for him to tell me directly. Sitting beside me for an hour at dinner, he evaded the subject and avoided eye contact. I quickly determined that this Blah Blah Baba was not only self serving and full of shit, but also a coward. The next morning, freezing and disillusioned, I crept away at dawn, catching the first bus that would ferry me away from the frigidity of Josimath and the cold harsh reality that I was bamboozled by a sheep in sadhu’s clothes. I left no note and never looked back. Although my faith fleetingly faltered, I couldn’t help but laugh. At myself, at others and at the self-imposed myth that I need a guru to find peace and my own truth. The universe is my guide and life is my teacher. But fact is, I did learn from this experience. I’m grateful to Blah Blah Baba for reminding me to believe in myself, honor my instincts and to look beyond the veneer, despite my deepest needs to see what is not there.
India is full of learned and honorable holy men and women, I’ve no doubt. I am still fascinated and mystified by the principles of Eastern religions and their believers and practitioners. I still believe in fate and people and knowledge and legends and gods and God and India and sadhus. But the real sadhus and gurus are not lounging in cafes on the tourist trail waiting for a naïve and willing acolyte to validate and assuage their holy egos. The real ones don’t tell you they’re the real ones. They just are.