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Giving a Cow a Bath, and Other Happenings in India

A man drives a rickshaw for a living. Does he like it? Does he have community? Does he support a family? Does he work long hours to barely afford food? Is there a thrill to it, whipping around turns? Did he dream as a child of racing cars and find his way to the next best available thing?

I am almost always only questions, though I make statements like I know something.

Today's breakfast, one of the many flavor bomb variations of curries, ciapatis, veggies and rice we get to feast on twice a day.

This morning, eating breakfast. Nine dark wood and marble tables, six seats each. Cold feet, bird sounds, heavy fog, metal spoons to metal trays, getting-last-bite sounds. No sun yet, white gray through the spaces between the vines tied in bundles to make pane-less windows. Paper ball lights hanging from the thatched roof that slants to let the rain pour off when it comes. When rain comes, mud flips up onto the backs of my calves. Usually the sun breaks through by late morning, though, making hot to the touch every part of my skin.

DO ONE THING FULLY. This is my new first mission. No more missions allowed. Maybe soon I won’t need to be on a mission. I will just be eating. I will walk, I will read, then I will. Then.

The rice paddy fields in the left-turn direction outside of the ashram.

Three days ago I strange-strained a rib muscle doing a belly-down one-armed back bend during class. I felt the little muscle roll over a rib, felt it get tense and stay that way in protest. I’ve had to go easy since, but haven’t gone easy enough—today it’s worse, pain even in laughter. Yesterday I cried about it, a purging of a two week well of emotion that was bound to come out somehow, so today I feel more optimistic. Sub-mission: learn this lesson of what there is for me in the Not Full Force, in the sitting back and having to watch instead.

What really did my rib in was last night’s swim in the river (arguably worth it). Our teacher cut our evening practice short so we could walk as a class down the right-turn dirt path out of the ashram’s gate toward the river. Big trees along a mucky creek flowing slow. We padded over leaf debris and dodged heaps of cow dung as the trees parted and showed us wide golden rice paddy fields lit by late sun.

At an intersection of dirt roads we right-turned and looked left as a hard of kids, some on bikes and some waving badminton rackets, barrelled toward us in giant smiles. “Chocolate?!” they hollered. Incidentally, the exact thing I’ve been longing for.

The little village spot down the road, from where the kids come a runnin.

Our right turn road dead ended at the river’s edge. One of our teachers challenged everyone to a rock skipping competition—no one beat his six skips. The dusk was so calm and still held warmth from a day of sun. I took off my snakers and socks and waded into the water, dressed in the appropriate Indian swimwear of full clothing.

Two other student-friends came with while the rest watched. Enamored with the view and the freshness of moving through water, it wasn’t till the nagging rib pain worsened that I considered the herculean task of resisting the weight of an entire river, and that it might be too much for my chest. Hardest was actually convincing myself to swim back, climb out.

I rung out my clothes the best I could while wearing them and walked back dripping, happy. The kids were there again as we left-turned at the intersection, again running at full speed from the cluster of pastel pink huts down the way. “Hi! Hi! Chocolate!”

This morning, nursing the stronger ache in my right chest, I went for another walk after my breakfast of curries and breads and okra (on which I dump an almost black amount of deep green spirulina cuz GREENS PLEASE). I turned left this time, and was alone for the first time since the course started two weeks ago (not counting daily Western toilet bathroom time).

I passed a man washing his cow in the stream. A calm cow, content cow, maybe a given-up cow, no protest as the owner scooped for new buckets of stream water and poured. They seemed to be getting along well.

I walked to the edge of a rice paddy, past a bike, an old rusty thing held together at parts by twice wound around and around. Past big knuckled trees to a wide view. A small pink temple in the distance, rows of crops and their sprinkler spigots, more square pastel huts far off. Yellow, red, and orange flags stuck into the ground of the crop fields, marking I don’t know what but seeming to say “Hooray! Success!” despite the quiet, the seeming lack of cause for celebration.

I turned around at a red flag. The man was frustrated with his cow now. They must have gotten into an argument while I was gone. The cow was grumbling and tugging its reigns while the man resisted and commanded the cow with stern single words in a language I didn’t recognize, a local tongue. Stop, maybe. Love me, maybe. I will abandon you, sell you to the highest bidder, maybe. Why do you forsake me now.

And the cow: I’ve been patient long enough. Admitting, I was faking it all along I never loved you, maybe. Or asking can we please just go play now I’m plenty clean I so hate bath time you KNOW this…

The ashram's pet dogs come with me on every walk. They appreciate the cow washing spot, too.

Back in the ashram, chest still hurting but ok, I am struggling with what this means—that I may not be able to practice for a while—and also remembering that I am not here for handstand skills. I think I’m just here for whatever happens. Rib wound or play fun or bath time. Chocolate, or snakes in the classroom (really happened). Conversation with the rickshaw man. Learning to be in, work with, this body, this one, today.

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