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Playing with Fate

Do you believe in fate? I now do, or at least the interception at some points in our lives from forces beyond our control...

I had landed in Jaipur in a haze. My over-night train screeched to a halt at 7 o'clock in the morning and the sun was just coming up over the already-bustling "pink" desert city. I instantly felt sick in the crowd of rickshaw drivers that swamped me for a ride, hoping to rip off the gora during the ride. Feeling ill and annoyed from the rikshaw driver following me, I caved and did something I never would have usually done; I took him up on his offer. "Take me to a cheap hotel, 200 rupees per night, close to station”.

The request was filled, but what I had gained in speedy service, I paid for in the worst 2 days I had in India. The two men, the rik driver and his friend, stalked me. They followed me into the restaurant and ate with me, wanted to drive me places I didn’t necessarily want to go, followed me into establishments, called me incessantly, and, as I found later, were telling anyone who could hear that I was their girlfriend. During those two days, I was taken to establishments where I was overcharged 3X the amount of gifts, slept in a hostel that had me fearing for my life and security each night, and felt trapped the entire time.

During one visit to the Amber Fort, I was asked by two Quebecers to take their photo. I asked of them the same. Chance encounter.

On the way down from the fort, I remembered the Tiger Fort- I needed to go because when else would I have a chance to watch the sunset? I asked the driver to turn around and take me to Tiger Fort. “No, no. Not possible, too far. We go tomorrow?” That’s not how it works in India- you give the directions and money, and they follow, else it’s disrespectful on their part. “I am going up there. If not with you, with someone else. Now.” I had stuck up for myself and was breaking free.

The two Quebecers were at the very top of the fort, overlooking the pink city below, currently bespeckled with pinpoints of light from the windows. Blaring Hindi music cut into the twilight, matched by the drifting laughs of children, singing from a festival, and the pounding of drums. That night was crucial. As my new companions and I sped through the night streets, after I had garnered the courage to tell the matachods to fuck off with no fear of the stalking to follow the next day, I made up my mind. I would cancel tomorrow’s ticket to Jodhpur and stay in Jaipur for a few more days, and commit myself to leave the city feeling good about it, rather than the sinking sour feeling I had at the time.

The following days were perfect. I did exactly what I wanted to do, stayed exactly where I wanted to stay, and felt free once again. I had no idea the coincidental events that were to come.

I met three more Quebecers the following night and they shared the Jodhpur hotel name where they had stayed and had an excellent time. “Make sure you ask for the not strong bang lassies!” were their parting words.

I arrived at Yogi’s guesthouse with no expectations, as per usual in India. I was pleasantly surprised, and found myself drawn to the camel trek that was offered. I wouldn’t have gone at the time, rather traveled to Jaisalmer, if not for the desert wedding incorporated into the trek.

The two Dutch guys and I left on the third day from that desert because of complications in planning and compensation. We arrived late into Jodhpur, couldn’t find a rickshaw (when does that ever happen?) finally managed to grab hold of one, literally, and asked to be taken to a hotel that cost 200 rs or less per night. The rickshaw screeched to a halt and I was out on the street. A guy stood in front of me, “Can I help you? I am a tour guide, practicing my English.” Right, at midnight, you just happen to be out practicing your English. I didn’t know then the special relationship I would have with this guy and his friends, and especially his brother. I was shown my room, I liked it.

After moving all of my belongings into the room, which meant one backpack and a handbag, I was out on the balcony for a smoke and chill before bed. I met a guy named Gucci and clicked instantaneously. I was sweaty, hadn’t bathed for three days, hadn’t washed my hair in god knows how long, and was sucking on a cigarette like an old hag, and this guy looked at me like I was the goddess Aphrodite.

The days that followed contain some of the happiest memories of my life.

If I hadn’t had that awful experience and met two people that encouraged me and put me onto the right path; if I hadn’t decided to stay in Jaipur for that extra few days; if there wasn’t a wedding that tempted me to go camel trekking and if Yogi hadn’t fucked us over, resulting in an early return back to the city; if our rickshaw driver decided to take us to a different hotel; if Sam hadn’t been standing outside of my rickshaw when I emerged…if all of these circumstances didn’t match up, then I would have missed such happiness and experience.

I now reflect on those Jodhpur days as pivotal. I opened up; something that had been reserved and feared by me now emerged with such ease. I learned once again how to love, to trust, but most important of all, I discovered a new wonder for life and an inspiration that I am certain will follow me for the rest of my life.


Ventures into "om"

Mondays are not the most popular day of the week; another 5 days of work, another 5 days of class, more waking up early and less staying up late. But Shambhala Meditation Centre of Toronto offers a way to stop dreading Monday, with one-hour meditation sessions meant to relax and promote “mindfulness-awareness” in your life, or just to get you through the week. The center’s practices are based off of traditional Tibetan Buddhist tradition and belief. After speed-walking down 15 city blocks in the damp heat, I could use something to help me relax.

The hallway leads to an 8 seat “practice” room where I am one-on-one with Helmfried, one of many community members cum volunteers, who eases me into meditation. The room is peaceful enough; unadorned white walls, save for a blown-up image of water, and various elements set up against the side wall, such as a piece of drift wood and sand with a mirror reflecting the entrance (feng shui, anyone?)

Still, after my jaunt to get here and realization that an air-conditioned subway ride would have taken much less time and sweat, I am finding it hard to settle on the square red cushion and ease my legs into a relaxed crossed position. Helmfried asks questions to gain an understanding of why I’m here, he wants to accommodate my visit. I just want some peace of mind and rest from the stress in my life, I explain. Don’t we all.

He explains that I need to focus on my breathing, but not to try and manipulate it. Oh, and to clear my mind. Easier said than done. For the entire 10 minutes of complete silence as Helmfried spaces out, I fidget, fret, adjust my numb left leg, scratch my fingers where my rings have irritated the skin, and think about everything I am here for, all to the jingle of my recently acquired bangles. How was anyone supposed to sit completely still for any allotted period of time and not think about anything?

I know I’m doing the meditation thing wrong, so I ask my guru what he would suggest. “Don’t force anything; it doesn’t have to turn into a battle within yourself if you don’t want it to be.” I wish I could say that I had a revelation and something subconsciously clicked, but all I felt was a bead of sweat pass from my hairline to my eyebrow.

It’s time to move onto the next level and enter into the main meditation area.

The next room is spacious, and air-conditioned, windows open to let in a well-received breeze. Over 20 people sit cross-legged on their own red mats and square red pillows (I later learn that red is an auspicious color in Buddhism), eyes closed or semi-open, staring into nothingness. Joining them, I again feel the frustration I experienced earlier and, as a result, find it increasingly hard to focus on not focusing.

I stare straight ahead at the simple but captivating altar, two flames dance and I find myself slowly entranced in their play. My thoughts lead away from the room and wander to everything that I was just 5 minutes ago taught to subdue; “recognize the thoughts, realize you are thinking them, and then put them away for now”. I remember good times in India, the freedom and joy of traveling solo, the people I had left behind, my new waitressing gig that was slowly eating away at my soul, the bit of weight I had put on recently, my lack of funds, my anxiety that I would never make it as a journalist in this world… and so on. My throat chocked up.

When people think negatively, they often repress the thoughts, unbeknownst or otherwise. We don’t let the thought soak in, but rather let it attack us often and sporadically, chipping away at our confidence and happiness. To distract our minds, the t.v. is turned on or the phone is picked up or the runners are laced up. In that quiet room, surrounded by people and the rain pattering on the hot pavement outside, I began to slow down and question my irrational thoughts. Just like that. It began with a simple question in my own mind ‘why are you close to tears about your own thoughts?’ The process of questioning and understanding began.

My reaction to the session was seemingly different from the other members. “Meditation is more than just closing your eyes and relaxing. It’s learning to deal with discomfort,” explains Paul, one of the volunteer organizers for tonight. I can attest to that, as many newbies would, since the lack of distraction forces you to deal with all the crazy thoughts in that brain. One of the newer members, Kitty, disagrees “for me, it’s a way to relax and to forget about worries.” The only problem she encounters is a physical one, as her lower back often becomes sore during the session. We both want to take our experiences during meditation into everyday life, hopefully approaching future situations with a new “shanty” attitude.

Whether you like trying new things, experiencing something different, or need some help with the stress in your mind, let meditation put a little “om” in your life.

Open meditation sessions every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday 7-8 p.m. free, donation encouraged.

670 Bloor Street West, 3rd Flr.