River of the heart

13 Dec

It’s a cool rainy day in the village of Hilpartsau in the Black Forest of Germany.  Just days earlier we were driving up in the heights of the hills, covered with snow.  Now, snug back in the valley surrounded by the dampened green earth and the clouds hiding the winter sun.

Thanks to the generosity of my host, Michael, we took a small adventure or escapade in the hills of the Black Forest on Sunday.  I participate in the programs of a spiritual organization called The Art of Living.  Lead by Indian guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the Art of Living hosts a variety of classes designed to reduce stress and connect with our higher or greater self or spirit.  The organization came to New Orleans not long after Hurricane Katrina to be of assistance to those of us living there impacted by the stress and trauma of the storm and life after the Hurricane.  I found my way to one of their classes and learned a technique called the Sudharshan Kriya.  It is a practice I do on my own at home nearly daily and used to do in community in New Orleans. The Art of Living European Center is here in Germany in the Black Hills.  Less than an hour away from here.  I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stop by for a visit.

So with Michael’s willingness and the children packed up in the car happily listening to an audio tape on the Ice age…we were off.  As we ascended the hills the landscape changed from the cool greens of winter in the valley, to hills of pines accented with white fluffy snow.  There were slopes for skiing and the occasional resort hotel.  As the journey continued the landscape became more and more remote.  Counting on the guidance of Michael’s GPS, it finally directed us to turn towards our destination – Bad Antogast.  The turn was likely about a 150 degrees angel and the road was snow-covered, towards the edge of a hill, with no guide rails going down.  Hmmm… unexpected to say the least.  Sensibly Michael chose not to take this route and the GPS adjusted our direction.  A few more turns… a bit more winding descending downhill this time and finally… our destination.  The remote location of Bad Antagast and the Art of Living European Center.

The center was quiet and we arrived just minutes before long Kriya was to begin.  I arrived thinking that perhaps  I could stay for a while and catch a ride home… but after trekking our way through the lonely roads it was apparent that I must stay close to Michael as I would need him to find my way back to Hilpartsau.  He was gracious enough to stay around with the kids for about an hour while I stayed and participated in long Kriya.

Long Kriya is the community version of the shorter Sudharshan Kriya I do everyday.  It is generally led by a teacher of the Art of Living courses.  I was graciously led to the room where it was held, found my place and waited to begin.  It has been probably about two years since I have done the long Kriya and I felt a little clumsy at first.  A series of breaths and hand placements, breathing, long and short, for about an hour and then finally… rest on the back at the end…feeling all the goodness and release of the breathing work completed.  A few minutes given to come back into “the world” and then people began to silently find their way out of the room.  I went back downstairs to find Michael and the kids by the fire seeming pretty happy.  We grabbed an apple to eat and then… we were off!  The quick but good adventure to Bad Antagast to visit the European Center.

At dinner the other night we chatted a little bit about Mardi Gras, in Germany called “Fasching”  After spending 13 years in New Orleans,  I was surprised and impressed to hear that Germany too has quite a big celebration as well…weeks of parades and large crowds in costume celebrating and partying.  Michael and Imke mentioned that Cologne’s celebration is a bit more of the extravagant party celebration.  But even here in the quiet village of Hilpartsau there are big celebrations to be seen with traditional wooden masks.  The legend here is that the carnival comes to blow the winter out of the black forest.  Crowds of as much as 100,000 people gather for the celebration… candy and treats being thrown from the floats.

And today, well the rain, wind have cold have suggested that I take it easy today.  I have spent some time reading from a book that Michael and Imke gifted me for St. Nicholas Day.  It is called Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It’s a true story by a man who committed armed robbery, escaped from a high security prison in Australia, and moved to Bombay a fugitive… on the run.  I read a part today that really moved me… and thought I would share… “…the river of the heart, and the hearts desire.  It’s the pure, essential truth of what each one of us is.. and can achieve.  All my life I’d been a fighter… I became the expression of that fight and my real nature was hidden behind a mask of menace and hostility. The message of my face and body movements was, like that of a lot of other hard men, Don’t fuck with me.  In the end, I became so good at expressing the sentiment that my whole life became the message.  It didn’t work in the village (in India). No-one could read my body language.  They took me as a peaceful man.  I was a joker, someone who worked hard, played the fool for the children, sang with them, danced with them and laughed with an open heart…. Prabaker’s (his friend and Indian guide) mother called a meeting of the women of the village.  She’d decided to give me a new name, a Maharashtrian name…and because they judged my nature to be blessed with peaceful happiness, the women agreed with her choice for my first name. It was Shantaram, which means man of peace or man of God’s peace.  I don’t know if they found that name in the heart of the man they believed me to be, or if they planted it there, like a wishing tree, to bloom and grow.  Whatever the case…the truth is that the man I am was born in those moments… Shantaram.  The better man that slowly, and much to late, I began to be….”

Ah so beautiful and powerful!  That is all for now from the Black Forest…Until next time!  Namaste.

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