Monthly Archives: June 2012

Namaskar India


Hurray! ……. flight to Delhi in an hour, completing the last leg of a two month journey …. family Sunday!!! …… still, a part of me will yearn for India, always ….. a country that fascinates and intrigues … steeped in thousands of years of spiritual history, with so many layers, tiers …. just when I think I am saturated with all things Indian, the memory of the energy created every single night at Parmarth during the evening prayers at Ganga Aarti surfaces and I know in my heart that I will return.

A next visit will surely include a volunteer posting of some sort, having discovered the innumerable charitable opportunities here. I have been slowly meandering through the information in Swamiji Chidanand Sarawasti’s book, “Drops of Nectar” …. it covers a host of possibilities for ‘seva’ .. selfless service/volunteering, from the lofty goal of spreading peace and harmony globally, to drafting up a ‘clean action plan’ for the Ganga River, to building and helping out at schools and homes for orphaned children …. The Swami is involved and invested in making life better for millions of people. The more I read, the more I understand why he is held to such high esteem at the ashram …. he is very loved …. another good person, doing good in the world.

While many of my contemporaries are very content to navigate to the desert communities in Arizona, California, Texas to escape our brutal Canadian winters, to live out their senior lives playing golf, tennis, bridge …… I continue to research other options …. probably because I am a lousy golfer and even worse at cards πŸ™‚ In all fairness to life in warmer climates, I have zero complaints about a month or two in La Quinta, especially with family and friends around …. but a serious case of wanderlust just refuses to fade into the sunset …… while others tire of travel with all it’s baggage, I look forward to the next adventure …. perhaps I am infected with a virus, ‘world studies’ or some variety of ‘travel ADD’ !! …. probably incurable πŸ™‚

Yesterday, the yoga instructor at Ananda, spoke a bit before class about Indian and Hindu philosophy in particular …. for a Hindu, there are basically four stages to life ….. only a handful of devout spiritual sorts, mostly the monks, sadhus, swamis etc., are able to fast forward from the first to the last stage …. each is broken very roughly into 25 year segments …

1. Brahmacharya ashrama ….. referred to as the celibate student stage of life

2. Grihastha ashrama ….. marriage, children, establishment of independent lives from that of their parents, acquiring a material life to sustain family, the only stage where acquiring material possessions, indulging in sexual pleasures etc. is encouraged

3. Vanaprastha ashrama ….. moving along to the hermit stage, slowly detaching from one’s children, allowing them the freedom from parental influence and freeing the older generation to explore their own spiritual lives, with no boundaries, a time to employ inclusive love, not exclusive attachment, a time to renounce most physical, material and sexual needs (hmmmm, a bit hard for a Western sort to swallow)

4. Sannyasa ashrama…. a time of total detachment from earthly goods, a wandering recluse, virtually merged with God …. this would accurately describe the 104 year old sadhu we met at the Parmarth! A rather spaced out character indeed!

Detachment is a big deal in Hinduism apparently. Ananda has a philosopher on staff who hosts an open discussion group nightly on the ancient philosophy of Vedanta … enjoyed the opportunities to learn about spiritual issues from a philosophical perspective …… as if the Ayurvedic treatments weren’t enough to entice a return to Ananda, the opportunity to participate in these discussions surely would …… hosted by Roan, an Irish student and devotee of A. Parthasarathy, author of the Vedanta Treatise. Roan is a former lawyer who came to India eight years ago and never left … visits his mum and brothers in Ireland occasionally …. another drop out from ‘normal’ life …… something in the air in India πŸ™‚ …. Certainly an interesting country for spiritual and religious study.

Posting a couple of my favorite moments from the last month including the ecstatic faces of some of our yoga group after our last class … we were all hot and sweaty but glad we stuck it out …. pared down to small numbers by then …. As I took the pictures, I told them it was their graduation photo, hence the big smiles πŸ™‚ ….. Our whole class pooled resources and bought a beautiful ‘sadhu orange’ pashmina scarf for Indu in appreciation for managing to get us all to complete millions of sun salutation asanas!! One random thought here … why do we call a pose, downward dog, instead of ‘strong mountain’ or just ‘mountain’ as they call it in India, where yoga originates??? So poetic, instead of the gross implication of the Western term …. I think everyone should illuminate their yoga

teachers about that πŸ™‚

Om santi santi santi


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This is slightly out of sequence as it did not post earlier, so redoing it:

Shortly after our Satsang with Pujya Swami Chidanand Sarawatiji, during our last ashram communal dinner together in the dining hall, an old sadhu who usually sits near the Swamiji during Aarti, starts chatting in English about yoga and that he once taught yoga at the ashram … he suddenly pulls up his orange robes displaying his concave stomach, and hmmm, his skivvies and the skinniest body I have ever seen …. (Rob O., you have competition although I hear you are hitting the gym these days and may lose your status) ….. to what end, we were not sure, although most likely, he is rather proud of his skinny self ….. he proceeds to turn himself into a pretzel, wrapping his foot around his neck (Rob, seems to me this is also your specialty …. perhaps you have a touch of old sadhu in you!) ….. this man, this sadhu is apparently 104!!!

He tells us he will give us a yoga class in the morning …. of course we are intrigued, and venture out at 6 am, despite a heavy monsoonish downpour that had just subsided ….. the marble on the ghats was slippery, still wet and ashram alley, a mud bath (well, mostly mud I hope) ….. but what we got was the old sadhu’s rather short discourse on longevity … (eat ten almonds a day, drink warm milk, practice yoga, pray, do Aarti everyday and be good people!!) yup, very concise, very short indeed …. he did introduce us to an interesting yoga master, who chatted about his own accomplishments and accolades in yoga instruction and the yoga organization he heads ….. humble he was not …… we caught him finishing his morning dip in the Ganga ….. but alas, no class … an entertaining morning regardless …. not a bad way to end my stay at the ashram! Madeline, Oleg, Aman and her husband Savi and I continued on to our favorite hang out, Green Cafe, to enjoy our last breakfast together before we all scattered … Posting picture of above as well as some of my favourite sadhus on ashram alley. Hari Om, Hari Om …..















Ananda …. The enchantment of awareness


I booked a stay at Ananda months ago, not knowing much about it … love surprises. Had I researched high and low, I could not have found a more appropriate spot in all of India to assimilate and reflect on my experiences of the past two months ….. to breathe them in …. and ah yes, work in some great spa treatments while doing so!! …. super way to move into this new decade. The owner of Ananda has worked hard to create a place where there is a sense of synergy with the environment …. it is an oasis of calm, as understated a spa resort as I have ever been to …. and the Ayurvedic treatments are outstanding …. they all start with a beautiful prayer, feet are washed in a copper bucket laden with smooth stones and warm aromatic water …. there is such wholeness to every treatment …

My ‘wake up call’ at Ananda is a steaming pot of their signature tea …. lemon/ginger/honey, delivered just before yoga stretches …. this is the Webb family tea formula when we have colds or flu but I am starting to appreciate it at Ananda as a healthy alternative to morning coffee ….. Madeline, who had a cold last week, drank it exclusively with our meals. As I walk for breakfast later in the mornings, a couple of peacocks are always near the door to the restaurant, peeking in and I watch and wait sometimes for five minutes before they flitter away ….. Certainly not your usual sight at any spa I have been to πŸ™‚ Ananda …. translates as bliss …. appropriate.













June 25, 1982 …. Sarah Liisa Webb was born at 2:23 p.m.


The month before Sarah’s birth I had turned 30 and remember having a silly thought that when she turns 30 I will be exactly double her age and that day has arrived, June 25, 2012! Nothing much, regardless of all the books, prenatal classes etc. one reads or takes, prepares you for the moment your first child is in your arms …. It is a moment of pure magic. A wave of tenderness and love takes residence in every fiber of your being ….. It is so extraordinary, given the pain you had just experienced during labor to deliver this little being ….. like a light switch, the pain disappears, replaced by a state of grace ….. my journey into parental love was launched. I honor Sarah Liisa Webb Overmann today on her 30th birthday …. a beautiful, kind and loving young woman, my daughter, now an amazing mother herself to Aliana Eeva. As I watched Sarah growing up, I was constantly amazed at what a good person she is …. when she was in her late teens, I remember telling her, that if she wasn’t my daughter, I would have wanted her as my best friend …. I have never in all her years, heard her gossip rudely or say anything mean about anyone ever …. Once when Sarah was around seven, she asked me why some kids are mean …… schooly exposes one to the ways of the world and to the cruel ways in which girls in particular, can sometimes behave … the cliques and exclusivity that starts early unfortunately … I remember having talks that started then, about how some people are just not happy in their hearts and they make themselves feel better by trying to make someone else feel unhappy, twisted as that is ….. we had many talks over the years about such issues but even today, neither of us still totally gets how someone can be unkind. As a mother, despite Sarah’s many many incredible accomplishments in every area of life, her kindness is still what I value the most … I honor the loveliest daughter anyone could ever hope for. I love you ‘my little girl’ ……

I am going to share my mantra for the year once again …. for Sarah’s birthday!

See for yourself
Go places
Seek out the good
Tread lightly
Worry less
Take chances
Face your fears
Do what you love
Give back
Make a difference
Laugh a lot
Breathe deeply
Know Peace
Enjoy the journey
Live while you live!






Om sahana – vavatu, sahanau bhunaktu


Missing the mantras and prayers …. Started my yoga stretches this morning with the above prayer playing through my brain ….. I know I am probably one of only three of our yoga class that actually enjoyed the prayers and chants and I miss it very much …. Prayers are essentially an expression from the heart and they sound so mesmerizingly melodious in Vedic verse …. the intonations can be a bit tough, so am glad I purchased the CD from Indu and can practice them at home!

Left Madeline at Parmarth ….. she stayed on for another day, before flying home Sunday night …… I had the Ananda Spa, higher up in the foothills of the Himalayas, booked for my last week, a 60th birthday gift … consists of several dozen acres of jungly terrains … the air so pristine, smells heavenly ….. the grounds, immaculate … I think the staff pick up the slightest piece of rubbish before it settles on the ground …. amazing, considering what the rest of India does with their garbage πŸ™‚ Perhaps the staff could train the country!!!

The spa reception and library area was once the palace and home of the Maharaja of Tehri Garhwal but think it was also used by the British Viceroy Mountbatten ….. Ananda in Sanskrit translates as ‘bliss’ …… very appropriate ….. I ventured on my morning walk and never once had to look down! I was able to thoroughly enjoy my surroundings!! …… nothing to dodge …. no cow pies, motor bikes, stampeding bulls, line ups of fake sadhus, piles of garbage, or people, people, and more people …… I ran into one other guest and a staff member!! ….. half an hour …. and only two people, numerous birds, bugs, a peacock, heard the frogs, but didn’t see any ….. Incredible …. this is definitely a first for me in India! Pictures tell the story ….. so will let them do their job ….. the first two pictures were taken out my taxi windows, two minutes from Parmarth, stuck and wedged in a jam between a cow, tractor and two cars, all before we had a chance to get into second gear!! Took us 15 minutes of maneuvering for everyone before we could move!

Some pictures are views outside my balcony, and various views from my exploratory walk through the grounds …… if you can spot another person in them, it would be a miracle …. three different times of day yet!! There is an actual nine hole golf course, with clubs available for guests …. (one hole right outside my window …. thought of Tim, who would love the location) Om santih, santih, santih


















Yoga ….. Union of the Self to the Divine


Two days ago, if someone had told me that an Indian guru’s mere presence could move me to tears, a skeptical smile would have been my response ……. I should know better, that just when I start feeling like I know so much and that nothing can surprise me totally, a curve ball will find its way, leaving me in a state of humble gratitude …. Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, or known as just plain Swamiji around the Parmarth Ashram, did just that last night. He did indeed keep his earlier promise and met with our yoga group right after Ganga Aarti on Friday ….. By then, we had shrunk to six, as many left earlier in the day to either drive or fly home. Shortly after every Aarti ceremony, Swamiji meets with various groups, often politically involved sorts, for satsang, a sitting together for a dialogue based in truth …. always figure that is a tough call for politicians πŸ™‚ Our turn finally came … Indu had requested this for us even though he is one busy guru but he somehow manages to fit everyone in …

There were about twenty or so other people allowed in the room in addition to our group of six. His American female right hand lady seems to field and answer most of the questions …. they appear to work as a very efficient team on more formulaic questions. After she addressed issues from these various people, the Swamiji took the microphone and graciously welcomed our yoga group into his circle, asking if we had any questions for him (he is well educated and speaks many languages fluently) ….. after far too long a delay, I realized incredibly, that no one from our group had a question for him or were too shy to ask! … I had two seconds to think of something, not wanting such an opportunity to pass us by and quickly asked him if he was ever overwhelmed with such a demand on his time, for appearances all over the world and where and when did he have quiet time for himself? Nothing in my life could have prepared me for my reaction to this rather simple question …. He has the most intense eyes I have ever ever ever seen ….. they were like warm beams of light shining through and piercing into the softest, most vulnerable parts of me. I felt totally exposed, with no where to hide. He held my gaze completely and would not allow wavering. I do not know for how long, as I totally lost track of time ……. his eyes, his whole demeanour were so full of kindness and love as he spoke …. tears gently started falling ….. somehow I held the gaze, despite these happy tears ….. he softy spoke about the silence that is inside him always and in all of us and that it is just a matter of accessing it, regardless of our outer circumstances, noise or congestion … the rest of his words are a blur ……. It was like truth was staring deep into my soul and words became unnecessary and cumbersome …. the kindest, most loving kind of truth …… I tear up even as I type, remembering …….. words always seem inadequate when it comes to matters of the heart, of love, of purity, of truth.

I came to India to learn about yoga and so I did. Yoga is really all about becoming good kind people ….. I just had no idea that perhaps the most important part of the lesson would come from the gaze and grace of an Indian guru, Pujya Saraswatiji, a small humble man, draped in sadhu orange and saffron robes, Rudraksha beads around his neck ……










Because we shared two weeks of rather intense time together pretty much all day, everyday, (I referred to it more than once, as a yoga boot camp!!!) one goes through a few stages in the development of friendships in rather quick order ……. Initially we all ‘like’ each other in that well mannered superficial way people do, dictated by an ancient code of civilized social behavior …. but sometimes, like a precious gift from heaven, we click with someone instantly …….. and with others, once the early stage has passed, we become aware and sometimes annoyed by each other’s quirks and personality issues, and we all have those quirks, whether we acknowledge them or not …… eventually for most, not all, an acceptance of each other sets in, with more authenticity and honesty, facilitating a more meaningful and deeper level exchange. I have learned over many decades to be patient and wait for that stage to occur …. it is lovely when it does ….

We flew and drove from all over Northern India and various other countries, from different backgrounds, cultures, traditions, all with differing agendas but somehow, like a good family should, we learned to move in the flow of life at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh. I feel honored to have lived with this group of ‘trainee yogis :)’ these past few weeks. We have shared and learned much under the tutelage of Indu ….. She is a lovely human being, married to a beautiful gentle soul, Somesh Sharma. Indu’s Mataji (mother) is just as lovely a woman, with a soothing, beautiful voice. Indu shared a little of her life story with us one day after class …… she refers to her mother as her guru, which intrigued me, so I asked about it …. She was adopted as a young child by Sadhi Abha Saraswati, (Mataji) and raised in this very spiritual environment of the ashram, where every day rituals of celebration and gratefulness are preformed via chants, prayers, singing. Sadhi is a highly revered senior member of the ashram, often singing the prayers and chants during the nightly Aarti ceremony ….. I doubt I have ever been in the presence of anyone who shines with so much kind gentle energy ….. I wish I had taken a picture to share but alas, she left Rishikesh recently and will not be back before I leave 😦

There have been many moments of humor as we navigated our way through asanas, yogic breathing techniques, chanting prayers in Vedic verse and just life in general, both within the walls and outside of the ashram …. Daily treks out to the street that parallels the mighty Ganga (never referred to as the Ganges as we Westerners call it and the pronunciation is NOT ‘gang ah’ but guhngah using a hard ‘G’.) produce even more humor at times such as yesterday when Madeline and I walked to Laxman Jhula for lunch …. Busy chatting away, I turned back to Madeline as we walked along the narrow road … almost always single file, given we are constantly dodging people, motor bikes, vegetable carts, cows, and looking down frequently to avoid stepping in the pies or other undesirable refuse …… well, I walked smack dab, with a fair amount of impact, into a cow, most definitely surprising the cow ….. Madeline was hysterical with laughter … Thank God for small blessings it was the cow’s head I butted not the other end, about to lay a dump πŸ™‚ … or worse, a bull! Madeline feels sorry for the cows and feeds them some veggies later in the day πŸ™‚

On a more serious note, we heard recently that a veterinarian who is researching the eating habits of cows in India, has preformed surgery opening the stomachs of various cows and discovered pounds of garbage in their intestines, including several plastic bottles!!! At the risk of sounding repetitive, India must address the garbage problem in their country …. It is beyond abysmal.

Managed to meet the Swamiji tonight, albeit very briefly ….. apparently he is a somewhat famous spiritual leader in India and heads many charities, hence his busy travel schedule and of course head dude at the Parmarth Niketan … our group was supposed to have an audience but unfortunately a handful of politicians trumped us, dropping in unexpectedly and ‘took our spot’ so we are booked for tomorrow night after the Aarti instead …. Aman’s husband managed a quick photo before we were ushered out ….. see below …. will see if he keeps his promises tomorrow …. there must be an equivalent term in India to ‘maΓ±ana, bukra Inshallah, or a Greek shrug, with regards to keeping promises ….




















Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Meditation Center


Have not been to many places in the world where I receive a warning such as this …… “do not go to the old yogi center at night, as tigers often wander through in the late evening and sometimes, wild elephants” ….. Hmm, yes, we decided on an early morning walkabout and we did indeed see some elephant scat as we walked inside the dilapidated, rather sad looking abandoned ‘Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Meditation Center’ a ten minute walk from our ashram …..

Once a thriving meditation center that could hold 1300 …. virtually a small town, complete with the Maharishi’s own rather large, once luxurious home, now in shambles. A large red post box was still standing, various meditation halls, individual meditation domes, kitchen buildings, accommodation blocks, all beautifully laid out on several acres of lush jungly forest, where yes, one could easily imagine a tiger stalking through the thicket! …. Rishikesh, and the Yogi Centre is where the Beatles once came to study meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the late 1960’s. It was here that Paul McCartney and John Lennon wrote most of the songs and music for both the “White Album” and Abbey Road.

Ironically, both Madeline and I have at one point in our lives, studied at a Maharishi Meditation Center in Alberta, Madeline in 1971 and me in the late 80’s …. For meditation, I still sometimes use the mantra I was given after completion of the course ….. so it was kind of cool for us to walk through the grounds, given our history with the Yogi.

The Yogi, often referred to as the ‘Giggling Guru’ by journalists because he, well, giggled a lot during interviews, left India sometime in the seventies, moved to Holland, and continued traveling the world, setting up meditation centers everywhere he could, and the Rishikesh center was eventually abandoned. In that timeframe, the 40 year lease the Maharishi had on the land expired and because it sits right in the middle of a National Park, it is unlikely to ever be restored ….. the costs would be prohibitive as can be seen from the pictures below ….. must have been a great joint in the 60’s!

Madeline and I introduced Little Buddha Cafe to our yoga troop last night …. Nice change from the predictable utilitarian ashram food and we had really been craving to go back … It was fellow Canadian, Nicole’s 29th birthday, so a good enough reason to go out and celebrate …. No candles or sparklers available but we did find incense sticks for the cake!! …… Kind of a match for the place :).



















My precious grandchild, Aliana Eeva …..


FaceTime is great, yes, but as wonderful as it is, I am often left in tears, the waves of homesickness invade for hours …. when little Aliana touches the screen, probably thinking she will somehow touch my actual face, it breaks my heart and I yearn to hold her in my arms …. Two months is just too too long to be away from my ten month old grandchild!! A revision for my future travel plans is in order, certainly for the next few years! … Aah well, less than two weeks and I will be hugging and kissing the little munchkin πŸ™‚

I love this picture of her that Sarah posted on her baby blog …. I like to think Aliana is “wondering if my grandma will soon be flying home over that big ocean”? :).


The Sounds of Silence …. No classes for the weekend!


A weekend silence blew in like a welcome warm summer breeze, allowing for many quiet, reflective moments ….. starting with sleeping in! …… meditating on a ghat along the Ganga River, dangling my feet in it’s cool holy waters, a walk along the forested road behind the ashrams, and savoring, rather than rushing through a morning coffee ……

As I walk the streets absorbing the scenes that are such a big part of life here and similar in many ways to the various places I have traveled to throughout India …….. there is a steady stream from early morning to late evening, of bathers at the River Ganga, the men with sarongs and towels, the women plunge in with full sari, an age-old ritual of washing away sins …..wonder if dipping my feet counts …. maybe a few sins will be absolved, surely πŸ™‚ ….. there are the roadside food stalls, where the sight and scent of various battered food such as deep fried pakora, or onion bhajis cooking, fills the air, the varied fruit and vegetable carts, where ‘always in season mangoes’ rule! (heaven is surely Alphonso mangoes year round!) ……. or the least enjoyable …. the stench of the ubiquitous cowpies!! …… or the noisy motorbikes squeezing everything out of their way, horns blaring, always blaring, the sight of saffron robed sadhus lined up, holding out their tin begging pails, pushy people all trying to make their way throughout the busy day, the many street sellers and their transport carts, cows trumping everything and everyone ….. they are the symbol of Hinduism, the bull is seen as the vehicle of Lord Shiva, the cow, referred to often as the ‘mother’ ….. ‘as a mother feeds her young from her breast, so does a cow provide it’s valued milk to humans’ …. In my humble opinion, they belong in fields not tiny ashram streets or the ghats, where they pick their way through garbage along with various fruit and leftovers fed to them and then pooping anywhere and everywhere, but I remind myself I am not in Canada and not of the Hindu faith, but am in India where one has to learn to live with cows if not love them ….. I enjoy learning about other cultures complete with traditions, rituals, and such but I certainly have no need or desire to embrace everything πŸ™‚ ……. particularly delightful are the smiley friendly children and their parents, so eager to become friends with us, the foreigners ….. the shop keepers selling their wares … water bottles, toilet paper, wet wipes, dettol, now wave with familiarity as I walk by, calling out, asking if I need supplies today …. the contrasts are so pervasive in India! …… the rubbish strewn streets and countryside …… garbage carelessly thrown out car windows, or dropped wherever, even when a receptacle is nearby …. amazes me, given these highly environmentally sensitive times we live in (education followed by strict fines would be of benefit but then, that is a western sentiment … must remember, this is India :)) …… such is the mishmash scene of my everyday reality here …… a mixture of good, not so good, creating the ambiance that is this ashram Mecca of spirituality in Rishikesh …

The Parmarth Niketan, it seems, is rather a commercial ashram … this week alone, PN was host to a convention of religious chanters, (I fell asleep one evening as they chanted for hours right under my window … woke up to the chant still resounding in my head πŸ™‚ ….. Not altogether unpleasant!!), an American student group here on a study program, a political party convention, numerous large family reunions and of course our mini United Nations group of yoga students πŸ™‚ three Canadians, Madeline, Nicole and I, Kate an American, Oleg from Latvia, Shamy from Mexico, Mirjam from Holland and Atul, Neera, Anchit, Jagat, Aman, Jitendra, Aysha all from Delhi and area, or Punjab …. Jagat, from a small town nearby ….. Madeline and I are the old sages of the group …. most are in their twenties, thirties and early forties…. oldest but not necessarily the wisest πŸ™‚ Oftentimes, it is the youngest who provides the simple words of wisdom (similar to those that pop out of my son Tim regularly …. we called them Tim’s tidbits when he was a toddler) ….. In this case, 23 year old Shamy from Mexico, a sweet, kind young lady, wiser than her years …… with a very adventurous spirit. Mirjam leaves Friday to join up with a girlfriend in Delhi … they had their BMW motorbikes shipped there and will ride home to Holland through India, into Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, with plans to arrive home in two months …. a harrowing journey, if I have ever heard of one …. another brave young woman!! The unusual is the norm here at ashram alley.

The late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi once remarked:

“If you wish to know something about India, you must empty your mind of all preconceived notions. Why be imprisoned by the limited visions of the prejudice? Don’t try to compare. India is different and exasperating as it may seem, would like to remain so ….. it is a vast mix of races, languages, customs, traditions, where two diametrically opposing views could be perfectly true! This is the secret of India, the acceptance of life in all it’s fullness, the good and the evil.”