I have no idea how to start this post and know without a doubt that anything I have to say or that I try to paint in word-picture form for you will not do any of the experience justice...but I must get it down and get it down quickly while it is still fresh in my mind.
So. Wow. To say this past weekend was life changing, altering, transforming...would be the most vast of all understatements, ever.
You may not even know what I'm referring to, so forgive me for jumping in. This past weekend, I was fortunate beyond previous imaginings of what luck and fortune are...and spent far too short a time in Kerala, India with a beautiful and amazing group of women on a Karma Yoga trip.
It started with a beautiful and inspirational soul belonging to someone I am grateful to call my friend. Neli is my yoga teacher in Abu Dhabi...she is an incredible being of light who brings joy to any situation she walks into. You may have heard me refer to Wednesday night yoga in the park....that's Neli. She's from Bulgaria and was in the banking/mortgage business and became a full time yoga teacher while here in Abu Dhabi...which she says changed her life for the way better. (no kidding, right!?)
To honor her passion for life, yoga, positivity, good health and for making right changes in diet, lifestyle, consumerism, etc... - she started offering free yoga classes on Wednesday nights at Khalidya Park about a year ago. You didn't have to pay, but if you wanted to donate, you could. All proceeds were to go to orphanages in India. When I first started going to Neli's classes in March or April, I didn't know what that meant and I didn't care. I wanted to go to yoga and free yoga outdoors sounded like a great idea and way to meet likeminded people.
I had NO idea....After I attended my first class, the energy and spirit of the people and my dear friend transformed my perspective. And about a year or so later...this past weekend, I was honored and humbled to be able to accompany Neli and 7 other beautiful women to Kerala, India for our karma yoga weekend visiting three orphanages and bring them clothes, toys, time, love and a bit of money.
For anyone unfamiliar with Karma Yoga...the wikipedia definition goes like this:
"The word karma is derived from the Sanskrit kri, meaning 'to do'. In its most basic sense karma simply means action, and yoga translates to union. Thus karma yoga literally translates to the path of union through action. However, in Vedantic philosophy the word karma means both action and the effects of such action. Karma yoga is described as a way of acting, thinking and willing by which one orients oneself toward realization by acting in accordance with one's duty (dharma) without consideration of personal self-centered desires, likes or dislikes. One acts without being attached to the fruits of one's deeds."Basically...it means doing good without asking for anything in return. Selfless acts...and such. But oh, we got so much in return. Much more than the kids at the orphanages. They gave us inspiration, love, light, beauty, gratitude, persepctive, bright beaming smiles, curiousity, and endless energy. For our souls and our minds and our bodies. Simply put. It was awe inspiring. Emotional. Tears of appreciation and amazement at these beautiful little souls and the people who care for them may now be a new daily constant.
We experienced so much in a short time which makes it difficult to encapsulate it all fully. The abridged version of our adventure is that we slept, ate, meditated, and did yoga in Amma's Ashram in Kollom. For those of you who have read or seen "Eat, Pray, Love"....this is THAT very ashram. www.Amritapuri.org for more info. Amma actually arrived on our last night there, so the place was magically (and loudly) abuzz with the energy and excitement of those who came to bask in her aura and to hopefully get one of her world famous healing hugs. We did not see her ourselves, and didn't attempt to as there were far more people who seemed in need than we. Plus, their devotion borders on worship and while I think she is a magnificent human being that we could all take some lessons from, she is not a deity. But the place truly did have a very special energy about it and I found I would like to go back and spend a month or so really exploring the other people more than anything. What stories and adventures they must all have to share (if willing). If nothing else, just being in the company of peace-loving, service oriented individuals is and would be quite powerful.
Over the course of three life changing days we communed with one another, we explored the temple, watched a monkey, got shushed numerous times by Ashram residents who did not find our enthusiasm amusing....slept on a 2 inch thick mattress on a bare floor, ate amazing indian vegan fare prepared by the ashram and by the orphanages (who treated us like honored royalty), took a rickshaw out to a beach to watch dolphins and actually SAW dolphins...did our own Karma Yoga photo shoot on the beach (pics to come soon once someone posts them), had an ashtanga yoga class on a rooftop lit by the red moon, (I am told I taught that class...I cannot agree as that would dishonor yoga teachers everywhere - but it really was quite an amazing experience...and I am pretty sure that Peter Askew would not approve necessarily, but would understand), we visited two boy's orphanages and 1 girl's orphanage and were fed by all of them, played with them, and were enchanted by their songs and dances. They were all so open and beautiful and eager to show us their talents and sing us their songs. Tears were abundant. We visited the site of an in-progress new girl's orphanage that we are adopting and may be hounding you for donations for soon, attended an ashram yoga class (yes - we like yoga...we're a yoga group....), took endless pictures of the unreasonably gorgeous Kerala countryside and people. Everyone we saw was beautiful and had a beautiful smile. Incredible. On our last day, we slept in a bit from sheer exhaustion and all went out to the beautiful beach town of Varkala where a fellow yogini and I got our noses pierced. So boho-gypsy are we, Michelle!! And my Outlaw. My love. You were with me every step of the way.
The love and honor and amazement I have for my fellow karma yoga travelers and our Bulgarian-yogi-earth-mother, Neli is not something I can measure with words, but it is indeed bottomless. Thank you - ALL. So much.
I could write volumes about each of you and likely will at a later time...but I carry with me now the images of tireless photographic dedication and the gorgeous smiles from Kathy...the tears shed by Angel at the very sight of the boys in the first orphanage - her generous and loving heart broken by the sight of their beautiful faces...the bounce and spunk (like Tigger) of Ouenn with her schmaltzy girl soundtrack that we all loved and sang along to.... the humility and curiousity of Rose (or is it Rowz?) whose unassuming and quiet nature calmed us all...Luisa's incredible tales of life in Portugal and the world with the resilient soul still trying to make sense of life...the endless facial expressions from Michelle that kept the kids (and us) laughing and earned her the very coveted new moniker "Mr. Bean" (best spiritual name - EVER!) and who also was my partner in crime for the nose ornamentation...and the lovely, tall, blonde peaceful warrior Britt, who gave us all space to be ourselves and to be authentic while imparting wisdom and kindness to everyone.
... to my Neli, our Neli....the honor of meeting you and traveling with you and constantly learning from you keeps my gratitude coffers overflowing. Namaste~
To the children of the Balasraman's we visited - you really did give us much more than we could ever give you. We have no idea what brought you to the orphanage...if your parents passed away or if they gave you up because they couldn't feed you, if you were unwanted, if you were abused...we don't know. What we DO know is that each and every one of you is so beautiful and touched my life so deeply and profoundly, (and I am certain the lives of the Karma 9 as well) that we are forever in your debt for the experience. Your songs and your voices were otherworldy. Your dances enchanting. Your smiles made us all fall in love. Your spirits are so pure and full, I wish you infinite joy and peace as you journey through this big, wonderful world. And to the people who care for you - your lives are an example of loving, giving karma yoga service to us all. Love, light, peace.
Till next time in Kerala...or perhaps sooner in Nepal...I look forward to any opportunity to share space and memories with each of you.