Monday, January 08, 2007

Brief Note from Tiruvannamalai

It's been a long time between blog posts. I got on a computer briefly in Trichy during our tour of the large town in the southern half of Tamil Nadu, India, but only was able to check my email. I've much to say about our six wonderful days at Shantivanam Ashram but not now, when I'm still feverish from a bronchial infection and waiting (hoping, praying) for the antibiotic I've been taking to kick in. Today was a day of rest, while the rest of our group celebrated mass with Fr. Cyprian at a nearby Lutheran church (ecumenism at its best), hiked up the holy mountain Arunachala to visit the caves in which Ramana Maharshi lived become coming down to let them ashram here be founded arounded his self-realized presence. This evening they're at a concert Cyprian is giving at a hotel down the road. I am sorry to miss it.

We arrived in Tiruvannamali late yesterday afternoon after a 6.5 hour journey in two buses from Shantivanam, stopping off half-way for a lunch of talis at a truck stop restaurant. Our travel agency was unable to book us all into an ashram guest house, so half the group had rooms next door at Sheshedri Ashram. Getting everyone into their rooms along with their bags from our buses was too much for my system which had been struggling with chest congestion along with night sweats and a fever for severl times. I felt my temperature sore. But all was well (except from some at Sheshedri who decided their rooms were "filthy" and opted for accomodation at the above mentioned Lutheran church two blocks away. The rest, I suppose, were grinning and bearing it. I was chagrined.

I took a single room in the asram guest house several blocks away. I couldn't have found better place to be sick. It had almot all the comforts of home: an indoor toilet and shower (cold), two plugs for charging my iPod and camera battery, adequate lighting that did not frequently flicker off as it did at Shantivanam. I added to the recovery mix the antibiotic given me by Dr. Jerry, a jar of Excedrin given to me by Fr. Raniero, biscuits contributed my Lewis, and a good mystery, Sue Grafton's S is for Silence. For soothing entertainment I listened to my jazz vocals selection on the iPod. My room was at the back and there was almost total silence, even though I was relative near the frantic and almost manic energy of the Sri Ramanasramam neighborhood where you can find almost naked sadhus, beggars, businesses catering to westerners, and even not one but two German bakeries. My only food today was a rock-hard cinnamon roll bought last night from one of them and the biscuits contributed by Lewis.

I'm not the only pilgrim that has fallen ill. Sr. Michele, all the way from St. Gertrude's Monastery in Cottonwood, Idaho, is suffering much the same as I in the room below me. We are both taking the same antibiotic and I promised to get her a sweet roll from the bakery next door for her to take with her pills tomorrow morning. I have little appetite but I should find something to eat. More presing is somethng to read. I finished Grafton's book and now I'm counting on the bookstore across from the ashram entrance around the corner. In Bangkok there were lots of places selling used mysteries left behind by tourists and backpackers.

I've taken lots of photos but haven't the energy to try and load somthing from this country where the USB port is not in evidence. I also want to write about our stay at Shantivanam. Swami Sivarupananda decided to stay there until her flight on the 16th. Valerie will leave with Raniero on Wednesday to return to Shantivanam while we continue on to Kanchipuram, Mamallapuram and Pondicherry. They will also rejoin us on the 16th.

So our little band of pilgrims gradually shrinks. Did this happen when people sent out for Canterbury in the Middle Ages, or Santiago de Compostela in Spain? I told everyone early on, from the wealth of my experience as a two-time pilgrim to India that, while we make the same journey, everyone's pilgrimage is different, depending on what they encounter. Mine has something to do with dealing with sickness, not my favorite task. It occured to me that everyone (but Lois who came to Shantivanam two years ago) is on a voyage of discovery while mine is a voyge of remembering. Everywhere we're going I've been before (except for the riverside collection of mini-temples and priests cross from Trichy that I hope to write about in a later post. This journey has not been very "spiritual" for me, but it has caused me to rexamine what I mean by that word, and what the way to God might mean for my life.

I can see that this post is not very brief. But then I have hardly spoken to anyone for an entire day.

I'll be back.

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