Mike and Petra’s 2014 Christmas letter

Hi Everyone,

Season’s Greetings from Kaivalyadhama Yoga Hospital in Lonavla, India, 90 miles inland and 1,200 feet above Mumbai (Bombay). We wish you a very merry Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, or whatever holiday you celebrate this time of year. Along with it we wish you a great 2015.

2014 has been a year of continuing spiritual exploration in India. When we came we had that goal in mind; but we also thought about walking pilgrimages here, in particular, the very long traditional pilgrimage walk around the length of the Narmada River, mouth to mouth. That is now only a remote, very remote, possibility. We have morphed the trip into an inner pilgrimage to stay in places longer and explore Indian philosophies, theologies, and practices. We continue along those lines.

We have been situated in and passed through several places in India, Nepal and Germany this year. There is a detailed listing of our itinerary this year at the end of the letter for those interested in such details. If you have not already done so, you can read more about our passing through many of these places by going through the links on our India page here on Pilgrimage Creations. We have also our India Blog with descriptions and details of our wanderings. The blog is also a good place to find out where we are at any given time. The following are some of the highlights of the year.

In January we took part in a Vipassana meditation in Chennai. This was an intensive ten days with 11 hours of sitting meditation. Mike had resisted it the other times we were in India but this time surrendered to it. It turned out to be a very liberating experience for us both. When it was over we sat like happy, almost giddy kids in the back of the cab on way back to where we had a room to stay.

Petra at Buddha's birthplace. Click to enlarge.In March we visited places where Buddha walked 2500 years ago: Lumbini, Nepal (his birthplace), Bodhgaya, India (where he had his enlightenment), and Kushinagar, India (where he died). All were filled with Buddhist temples, holy places, and a lot of pilgrims. While in Lumbini, we took part in another ten-day Vipassana meditation, this time with both sitting and walking meditation. Mike was much more at ease with this Panditerama version of Vipassana though it had the same 4:00 am to 9:30 pm schedule with only two meals at 6 am and 11 am. In the photo at the left, Petra and a Tibetan monk meditate near the birthplace of Buddha. Click on the picture to go to the full-sized picture and others in Lumbini.

Varanasi (Banaras) was the hub of all this wandering Buddha's home turf. We stopped three times staying for a total of 14 days. Varanasi is one of the world's oldest continually inhabited cities. It is a warren of streets and alleys and an amazingly alive place. People who are cremated on its ghats (stairs) along the Ganges River go directly to heaven (in their case to a state of no more reincarnations). I had always heard about the burning ghats of Varanasi and envisioned them being all along the river. In fact, the burning ghats take up only two locations about 100-yards-long each. The rest of the ghats are merely paved, stepped banks of the river with a myriad of activities happening on them.  Morning on the Ganges in Varanasi, India. Click to enlarge.Varanasi is a bustling city alive with powered and human rickshaws, too-big cars, piles of garbage, blowing dust, and so many people. We had enough of it. We said we didn’t want to return. But at a distance of nine months now, Varanasi is an intriguing city, one worth seeing again. The picture at the right captures Varanasi and the Ganges at six in the morning. Click on the picture to go to the full-sized picture and others in Varanasi.

We returned to Panditerama again in April to do a 40-day meditation. As we did an external pilgrimage in 40 days on the Camino de Santiago, we wanted to do an equal length internal pilgrimage. But our retreat lasted only 24 days. Before going there, Mike contracted typhoid and/or malaria (or ?) in or around Varanasi. He didn't know it when he first arrived for the meditation. He got sicker and sicker until it plagued him with heavy fevers and chills twice daily. On Petra's birthday in April, she had to take him to a local hospital. Finally, we went to Kathmandu to a western clinic where they stuffed him with antibiotics for three days. It drove out whatever he had. Tests didn’t confirm anything.

Kathmandu was not the place to recuperate from whatever Mike had. So we flew to Petra’s mother’s home in Germany. He spent a lot of time the first month sleeping every day. It was a big chore to walk only three kilometers (two miles) to and from the center of town. He slowly got stronger and began to put back on the 18 pounds he had lost. By the time he returned to India at the end of July, he said he was almost like new (though he surely wasn’t completely so yet).

Petra with her friend Renate in Köln. Click to enlarge.It was fun being back in Europe and enjoying rain and cold weather (it wasn’t all cold). We had just gone through six months with no rain and temperatures often above 100 (39 C.). What a welcome change!

While in Germany, we visited friends both near Petra's mother in the north and in southern Germany where we had lived 2005 to 2007. It was good to be back again. We even had a car for a while. We house sat for a friend and used her car while she was gone. The car allowed us to wander much more around the area. In the picture at left Petra stands with her friend Renate in The Tibeten Nyingma institute in Köln in the coffee house Renate built and ran. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

On 12 July Mike had lived one day more than his father. It was something psychological that he was a bit apprehensive about and then when it passed, he almost didn't notice it. His father died on 13 March 1983 at 71+ years, 26,110 days old. An interesting thing happened with his death. Mike was working on his computer, one of the very early personal computers. Within a few seconds of the time he died 30 miles away, the computer stopped. The power supply blew. Mike didn't know about his father's death for a couple hours. When he traced back the time and matched the two events, he decided that his father must have come by to say good bye and put his hand on the computer not knowing he had more powers than before and just blew the power supply. So now, on December 21 Mike has lived 26,272 days and have many more to go. He keeps saying it will be 120 years in total before his life ends, if he endures.

Kaivalyadhama Yoga Center. Click to enlarge.As we wander India for the fourth time now, we continue to meet people we have met before. We walk into a new place and there is someone we have met the previous year or longer ago. We even met a woman last year in Kaivalyadhama we had not seen since 2005 when we were in Esalen in California.

Besides Ayurvedic treatments and yoga here in Kaivalyadhama this time, we came to attend Swami Anubhavananda’s lectures on The soul and beyond. It was a very informative week about Vedantic cosmological and theological mythology. We added a chunk of understanding about who they say we are. You can learn about Swami Abundhavananda (The Happy Swami) at www.BeHappyInc.org. We like him and his style a lot. We plan on attending two more of his lecture series in January.

We have read a number of books during the year. Our Bibliography and links page lists books we have read, books we intend to read, and others that have been recommended on the subject of India or Indian spirituality. The page also lists links to sites on the same subject. You may find something interesting to you there. This page is always being updated. I notice two or three more books and several links that are missing as I write this.

One of the big things we have come to realize and clarify this year is that Yoga is more than exercises (asanas as they are called). Yoga is a way of life meant to lead to enlightenment. Asanas are only one of eight parts of yoga. Other parts include diet, ethical rules of conduct, breathing practices, meditation, and more. The asanas, the exercises that everyone does in the West and equates with all of yoga, were and are meant originally as a means of loosening up the body and getting it in shape for meditation. Though there were asanas before, the aerobic exercises and excess gymnastic contortions that you see practiced as “yoga” were really developed by northern Europeans in India at the end of the 19th century at the request of the ruler of Mysore as a means of training young men for driving out the English.

A cow in Lonavla.

It has also become clearer that we are one with the Divine, that we are all one. In the Christian tradition, Jesus says, “I and the Father are one, just as you and I are one.” It can only mean that we are one with the Father also. The Indian Vedantan and Buddhist traditions say essentially the same with different words. We are all one immersed in the Divine. We are the Divine.

All cows are holy to the Indians. As such, you never slaughter them and eat their meat. They wander where they want, often in the middle of heavy traffic. The buffalo cow at the left was walking with her companions on a busy side street in Lonavla near Kaivalyadhama. She has blue eyes! I had never seen blue eyes on a cow. She did not seem blind.

Next year’s wanderings are looking like this: two more lecture series by the Happy Swami; Sri Lanka or Thailand; Jaipur; Amritsa; Rishikesh; Germany; Switzerland for Petra and Ethiopia and/or Eritrea for Mike; and Mike has started autobiography he plans to finish. [Everything is subject to complete change!]

Once again have a great holiday season and a wonderful new year.

Peace and Joy,

Petra and Mike

Petra in Auroville. Click to enlarge. Mike in Auroville. Click to enlarge.

Our 2014 itinerary: Since we arrived in India in October 2013, we have been here 365 days as of 21 December 2014. Here are this year's major stops in time order: Munnar; Madurai; Auroville; Chennai (Vipassana); Lonavla (Kaivalyadhama); Varanasi; Lumbini, Nepal (Buddha's birthplace); Kushinagar (Buddha's death place); Varanasi; Bodhgaya (Buddha's enlightenment place); Varanasi; Lumbini (Panditerama meditation); Kathmandu (clinic); Germany (3 mo); Auroville (4 mo); and finally Kaivalyadhama at the beginning of December. See India page and the India blog for details.

Added: December 2014.
Copyright © 2014 Mike Metras, www.PilgrimageCreations.com