I used to attend a Sunday mass at this spiritualist church, which was essentially a place for people to come together in the celebration of life, meditate and help one another grow. Plus, there were mediums, and some interesting perspectives came from the sessions there. I’ve never been sold on that kind of intuitive ability, but I never dismissed it either. I’ve always held the firm belief that the mind is a powerful tool, one that we don’t yet fully understand.
One week before I was contacted about the tour, I found myself in the church getting a reading from my friend, Angel Lozada. And if I were to believe entirely in that form of intuitiveness it would be because of him and this day. During this session, he reached out to me with a reading. “Andrew, may I come to you?” he asked. I nodded and he continued, “Soon you will be taking a trip to India, where you will find yourself in a holy city by the river. There you will meet, be invited to meditate and smoke the marijuana with some Yogis.” The church burst out in laughter, as many did not believe in substance use, but my mother turned to me saying, “They don’t know how right he is about that one.” “This will be a very important life-changing experience for you and one that you will never forget,” he added, and I thanked him.
I’ve always wanted to visit India, and the holy city of Varanasi, but who knew how long it would be; I had very little money and definite plans to go elsewhere first. The following week, I was contacted by Mike Mancuso of ProTown BMX with an offer to tour India performing for Coca Cola. Without an established team prepared, I signed my name. At this point, I hadn’t told anyone about the offer, as it felt still up in the air until I secured a team, even though I was already legally obligated at this point.
Upon entering the church the following morning, I was stopped by another friend, Greta Lilek, who regularly provided me with very sound advice. “Andrew, I have something for you if you’re interested,” she said confidently in her strong English accent. “Of course,” I replied. Greta continued, “You will be going on a spiritual adventure to India very soon. I’m not sure if you already have the plans, but I feel that it will be happening quite soon.” I replied with a smile, “I just found out this week actually.” “Oh, that’s wonderful to hear. I’m sure it will be incredible!” During the service, when the time came to share the news with the others, I announced the fact that I would be going to India. Everyone congratulated me and told me I would have a fantastic time, and to bring back many pictures and memories to share. Unfortunately, Angel was not there that day. He was out giving readings at a little shop in Shadyside, so I messaged him the news on Facebook.
They both were right. I was in India, but at this point, I hadn’t felt like I was having any profound spiritual experience. I found myself in Varanasi, the Hindu holy land, but unfortunately, Nick and I were extremely ill with gastrointestinal infections and were bedridden most of the week. We managed to visit Sarnath and jump on the Buddha’s temple, something I feel the man, Siddhārtha Gautama, would have been all too accepting of. Well, maybe not, since two injuries occurred: Chris missed a stride and flipped over a block landing on his back and Nick reopened the stitches on his knee. Sorry, not sorry, Buddha.
The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.
However, it wasn’t until my last day that I was able to really see Varanasi. Even though we would be leaving at 6 AM for Kanpur, I decided that I would make a late-night trip to the Ganges, the holy river that runs through Varanasi, the temples alongside the river and the Ghats that led down to the waters. On my way out Mujahid Habib, the replacement we had for Chris, told me he was coming with me, as he wasn’t letting me travel alone. I honestly wanted to go alone, I feel I take in things the most deeply when I have the time to sink into them undisturbed, but being as it was his last day with us, I invited him to join.
After catching and negotiating a rickshaw price that Mujahid found to be acceptable (the man asked for 70 rupees and we agreed to 50), we took the 5 kilometer ride down to the water. The only thing I could think about on the ride was the fact that I’d just asked another human being to pull two people in a cart 5 kilometers for less than one dollar. At the time, the rupee was priced at 54 to the dollar, and 12 or so would get you one bottle of water. In a day and age when resources are so readily available, why should people’s struggle only get them 4 bottles of water? What if they’re providing for a family? That simply isn’t enough. And so the thoughts of worldly injustice flowed through my mind and continued even once we reached the place I was looking forward to visiting.
Once at the Ghats, I saw a fire in the distance and wanted to head in that direction. Mujahid said he saw nothing, but I convinced him that I saw it and that it was the direction I wanted to go. The sights of poverty were strung the whole way down the Ghats. Hundreds of people slept along the river with the many unloved street animals and holy cattle that roamed the road, digging through piles of rotting garbage and cremation sites for food.
After walking for about 20 minutes, we came around a small bend, and there sat the fire down by the edge of the water surrounded by a group of Yogis meditating. I approached, as I was intent on joining them, but was stopped by a stray dog, one who looked as if it had never really been shown any love. His body was frail and his demeanor calm. I sat down with the pup on the steps, just a few feet from the fire, and, although I did not have any food, I gave him the only thing I had to offer: love. The yogis broke from meditation and one of them, sitting on the furthest side of the fire, pulled out a pipe from a very finely crafted bag, lit it and began to pass it around the circle. As I continued to pet the pup, I looked up and noticed one of the Yogis had been watching me. He looked at me, looked at the dog, and then directly into my eyes. Instantly, there was this connection; it was sincere and full of compassion and understanding. We both smiled, he nodded and turned back around. And there it was: the invitation. Before I could get up to join them, Mujahid approached, complaining of his exhaustion from the performance, his slowly growing boredom and that he simply wanted to get back to the hotel for some sleep prior to our departure. As I began to stand, the Yogi looked back over his shoulder to see me leaving and I nodded. He replied, and we made our leave.
I hadn’t really thought about Angel’s premonition until I returned to the hotel. But it hit me, whether the event was destined to happen or I had somehow manifested this exact occurrence into reality, a fragment of that event had actually occurred. I know one thing: India beckons and I will heed that call, returning someday, not to finish anything left undone, but with no expectations to receive all that this intriguing and beautiful place has to offer.
If I became a believer in something, it’s that we really don’t know and being open to the possibilities is the first step to truly understanding.
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