Karma Burning: Episode I
Karma Burning: Episode I
In my twenties, on a windy May day in New York City was the first time I experienced an unexplainable grand mal-like seizure. It was the beginning of a long, winding journey toward health and wellness, something I had taken very much for granted until that fateful day. Over the next five years, I had become so heavily medicated that my doctors were informing me that I would soon require monitoring for my liver and kidney function. The next shock came when I was told I would have to give up an unexpected pregnancy because the medications were teratogenic and I had not known early enough to stop them in time. It was so devastating to me that I was spurred into action to find a new way forward.
Yoga, a very strict diet, and nutritional supplements over the next few years got me going in the right direction but the seizures hadn’t completely stopped and stimulants like coffee and chocolate would set them off. In spite of that, I accepted a commission to paint a mural on a temple ceiling in India. I was ready for another radical shift, and boy did I get one.
I landed in Kerala’s Trivandrum airport in August of 1999. It was cooler than I expected, it was kind of like Florida in April. A dear friend had given me a suit salwar (a long fitted top with billowy pants to wear underneath and a shawl-scarf to drape over the shoulders) to change into on the plane, so I thought I was ready. Hah. I left the airport doors and was met by a throng of taxi drivers lobbying for my fare. Quietly pushing my way through, one driver approached with that calm, cool grace so many Indians are known for and asked me where I was going. “Neyyar Dam”, I said. “Oh, I know where the ashram is. I can take you.” Off we went.
The Commodore is a car out a history book. They are almost always ivory white with a design that hadn’t changed since the British brought them over in the 1940s. They are built like tanks and leave much to want in the way of suspension. He made this car his own by fitting it out with cheetah print upholstery and an array of dashboard-ready Hindu god figurines that were lovingly dressed with small fresh flowers and incense smoke burning from the ashtray. The winding and hilly dirt roads did not deter my driver from taking all of them on at top speed. Bouncing around, hitting my head on the roof several times, and rebounding off of almost every surface of the back seat was my introduction to getting around in the lush palm tree rainforest brought to life with a vibrant ancient culture wisking by my window.
The Sivananda Dhanwanthari Ashram was very quiet when I arrived. The call of unknown birds echoed through the vast gardens. I walked up the long path toward main building where the resident Ayurvedic doctor looked up from the plants he was tending to greet me. Jayaram had so much mischief all over his face from that first moment that I burst out laughing. “Oh, laughing already? For what?” “Nothing”, I said, ”I’m just jetlagged. Where is everyone?”. Once he figured out who I was exactly, it was clear I had missed the ashram van dispatched to pick me up. “They are waiting for you at the Centre in Trivandrum”, he looked at me rather crossly. “I’m very sorry. I really didn’t know about it. Is there any possibility of getting some water and a place to sleep?” Jayaram said, “Yes, that’s possible. You are looking very pale.” He gave my cheek a hard pinch and studied the result with a stern look. “Not just because your are so white already…what’s wrong with you?” “Nothing, really. I just need to sleep, please”. Unconvinced, grabbed my wrist, taking a quick pulse, abruptly released it giving me a penetrating look. Silently, he took me to a simple lovely room with a sweeping balcony that overlooked the jungle. I was home…at least for a little while.