February 2002. Rishikesh, India


February 2002, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi ashram. Rooftop on which the Beatles composed a bunch of songs for the White Album in February 1968 (50 years ago this month). The bungalow and ashram were abandoned, so anyone, dogs, cows, peacocks, mahogany panelling thieves, etc, could freely come and go. Nice place for daily asana practice.

I was there in Rishikesh for a retreat with Eckhart Tolle. During a typical teaching session at Parmarth Niketan ashram, Eckhart would sit in a chair on a low riser. There were maybe twenty of us sitting around him on the floor, and the rest of the people behind us in white plastic chairs. As Eckhart spoke his words fell like snowflakes, sinking slowly like fish food into a deep, still body of water. What a powerful presence.

During the retreat I got to meet Eckhart privately, which was thrilling. The meeting happened to be on my birthday, February 16th. We sat next to each other on the sofa for a few minutes, during which I was speechless. “No questions?”

Our meeting finished with a hug and at the moment we said goodbye, I learned it was Eckhart’s birthday, too. He is exactly 12 years older than me.

After the Eckhart week, I taxied to the vipassana meditation center in Dehra Dun for a 10-day silent retreat (my second in the SN Goenka tradition). On that retreat, lots of aversion to work: my roommates were talkative Indians, and I suffered a lot of physical pain in the meditation hall. Loved it all.

More time in and around Rishikesh, walking to and from town along the sandy Ganga banks and winding mountain roads. I often visited the Sivananda ashram. At the time, one of Sivanada’s original disciples, Swami Chidananda Saraswati, was still alive. He was about 85 years old, having lived at the ashram since 1943.

At group meditations before dawn, it was a comic sight when Swami Chidananda padded into the shadowy hall wearing enormous, fluorescent-orange, industrial-grade rubber gloves over his thin forearms. It was winter after all.

While leading the meditation Chidananda implored us to adjust our postures: “The speaker must sit up straight too.” Totally humble, endearing saint.

That was the first month of three. Next, I was on the train down to Mysore, for ashtanga yoga and other adventures…

© 2018 Patrick D. Mitchell