Varanasi part 2: finding freedom

Oh Varanasi, your vibrant colors, your pungent scents, your unyielding cacophony of sounds... Varanasi, India

This mystical place was the backdrop to so much growth and transformation for me on my trip to India.  Our teacher, Dandapani or “D”, called us together for class a few times each day - to remind us of why we were on the spiritual adventure in the first place and to revisit Hindu philosophy and culture with us.  We discussed topics such as God, karma, energy, reincarnation, the yamas and the other 7 limbs of Yoga. D also issued us journaling and introspective assignments to complete during our time on the Ganges.  One of the most profoundly illuminating for me was when D assigned us to identify our greatest Fear - the one thing that consistently holds you back in life. We were to think of this Fear throughout the day, become intimate with its emotional content, and see where it prevented us from living fully.

The room silenced after our Fear homework was received, and I felt my face get hot, my heart beat a little harder, and a subtle moisture collect in my palms.  There was no need for me to contemplate what my greatest Fear was - I had lived closely in its shadow for as long as I could remember.  And as I nervously glanced around the room through tears quickly pooling in my eyes, I could see others experienced a similar emotional reaction at just the suggestion of recognizing their greatest Fear.

The day continued on with great adventure.  The group was privileged to visit a Priest training school where boys as young as 5 stay at the school until they are in the mid to late twenties and ready to take on the noble responsibility of being a religious leader in the community.  We ate delicious food and went on one hell of a crazy rickshaw ride through the congested streets teeming with bikes, beggars, peddlers, cows, monkeys, parades, and everything else your unbridled imagination could come up with.  Varanasi is a spectacle of life and absurdity!

Young Priests

Priest training school

Rickshaw rides are the best way to travel!

The lively streets of Varanasi

After an intense day of new experiences and laughing uncontrollably, the group reconvened for the continuation of the Fear exercise.  D instructed that we would meditate on our Fears, truly feel the experience of being directly in it, become intimate with the emotions surrounding it, taste the Fear, and infuse all of that energy, all of the qualities of the Fear into a floating candle boat made of flowers and leaves.  Once the candle held the energy of our Fear, we would release it into the Ganges - freeing ourselves of the unnecessary trepidation that weighed us down and restricted our growth.

Now let me pause for a moment for anyone that is rolling their eyes at the thought of “infusing the energy of Fear” into an object.  Dandapani says it so well and gives a great example, so I will try to paraphrase his words: If you don’t think that energy can be infused into something, consider this: have you ever received a card, a drawing, or a craft from a child? It might look like crap, but you hold onto it, right?  Well, why?  The answer is likely because “the child put so much love into it.”  You can see and feel the love they put into the card, right?  They labored over it and put love into it for you.  It is completely possible to put energy, an emotion, into something - just ask any parent.

So we all climbed into a boat with our candles in our hands.  We road out into the middle of the Ganges, delicately holding onto our boats with both hands in our laps.  Once the engines were cut and complete silence fell over us, D instructed us to think of our Fear, to be entirely consumed by it.  My Fear was so close to the surface, it took no time before I was watching full streams of tears run off of my chin and into my lap.  I felt it completely devoured by Fear - I felt my breath quicken, my heart banging in my chest... the pain I felt was so real, conjured up by this scared thought in my head that did not even exist in the present moment.

D allowed us to wallow in this darkness for a while before telling us to release everything we felt into the candle.  I visualized all of this grief, anxiety, tension, and dread drain out of my body and fill the little candle boat I held in my hands.  I swear it felt heavier in my lap.  I turned to the dark water behind me and leaned over the edge to release this candle filled with my torment into the Life supporting waters of the Ganges.  As the candles drifted away from the boat, the group sat in silence watching the twinkling lights float away, taking with them our Fears.

Releasing Fears

We honored the Ganges for her support in this practice by releasing our hopes and gratitude into the water with handfuls of flowers.  I wiped my face and couldn’t help but smile at the other illuminated faces in the boat - we all shared a new immeasurable Freedom.

Photo credit: Sonya Vanjicki