Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Eat, Pray, Itch

After my brief criticism of folks who don't consider the cultural norms and social mores of places they visit, I managed to put my foot in my mouth today while in the lotus position.

But I get ahead of myself.

The boat tour of the Na Pali coast was to be the highlight of this trip.  (If it does, indeed, beat the amazing sights I've already seen, I'm really going to be impressed.)  I'd hoped to do this first but I didn't pre-book* so I had to settle for a trip on Monday, two days before my flight home.

After several calls and confirmation e mails, the tour company contacted me last minute to say they "forgot" that the entire boat had been booked by one party and there was no room for me.

Hmmmm.....   I suspect that one of the rich and famous who are fortunate enough to populate this island made them some kind of last minute offer they couldn't refuse.  Since Ben Stiller, Pierce Brosnan, Michael Crichton, Natalie Merchant, and Bette Midler all own homes in Kauai, this is not an impossibility.  Word has it that Mark Zuckerberg recently purchased as well.  Sigh.  No wonder I can't afford a shack on this island.

But I digress.

I was re-booked for Tuesday with a discount that assuaged my indignance.  But this change of plans left me with a free Monday. 

Enter Kerry.  A gal from North Carolina working her last day at Orchid Alley, a store in Kapaa that I visited on Sunday.

Kerry suggested that I visit the Hindu temple and monastery nearby, touting it's lush gardens and idyllic setting.  Checking it out online, the temple's website emphasized that parking was limited so, very early this morning, I set out along the back roads of Kauai with my trusty GPS**, arriving nearly an hour before opening.

The entrance was paradisaic.  Imagine every tropical house plant you've ever fussed over - philodendron, bromeliads, croton, pilea, orchids, etc.  Now imagine them on steroids.  The monks have tended the garden with an eye for design and color.  Hibiscus, ginger, anthurium, and more were arranged and orchestrated into a garden that sings to the eyes.

At the entrance is a six-sided gazebo where you may wait for the monks to open the gate - the latter wrought with lotus leaves and framed by a carved arch. Inside the gazebo sits a rose granite cauldron.  A sign on one of the support posts encourages you to write your challenges, confessions, and problems on a slip of paper and burn it in the cauldron.  A nearby plastic container provides all you need for this purpose.

I haven't been thinking of problems during my visit to this over-the-top beautiful island, but I found myself tearing up as I wrote down some concerns I have for our planet and my place in it. 

Soon, however, I had a more visceral problem.  It rained last night.  And I forgot the bug spray.  In the moist, dense air, with no one else in sight, I was the only show in town for hordes of mosquitoes. 

Mosquitoes love me anyway.  I think it's all the pasta sauce.  I've always felt they drank my blood thinking "Mmm!  Marinara!".  Whatever the attraction, I had to take shelter in the car.

At nine, I was surprised to see the gate opened by a female volunteer dressed in a sari (the monastery is all male).  It was time for puja, the Hindu worship service, and I could choose to join or miss seeing the temple interior.

A side note:  I took so may courses in eastern religion in college that I graduated a semester late.  I know about dharma, karma, moksha and reincarnation.   I've been in numerous Hindu temples in my travels.   

But I've never been to a Hindu service.

My son has tried to get me to meditate numerous times, but I stink at quiet.  My mental wheels are in perpetual motion.  But how could I refuse the opportunity to attend a peaceful Hindu service in such mystical surroundings?  Surely even I would find some enlightenment on the meditative process. Especially during a service that was going to last - gasp! - an hour and a half.

When I read Eat, Pray, Love, I chuckled at Elizabeth Gilbert's cramping from maintaining the lotus position, a posture that has always been easy for me.  But how was I going to fare for an hour and a half?   Was I going to be humbled in my smug flexibility?  

But I was not under the auspices of a guru's discipline and, observing some of the early devotees inside the temple, I noted more fidgeting than my bum knee was going to cause.  I felt confident that I would be inconspicuous despite my lack of experience.  After all, when you go to a new church you just follow what everyone else is doing, right?

The guru who was leading the prayers inside the sanctum had a wonderful, rich, hypnotic voice.  I was immediately happy that I'd decided to attend.  The symmetry and muted light of the room with its gleaming, black marble columns, side altars to Ganesha and Lord Karttikeya, and glowing crystal lingam in the center before the sanctum, put me in a relaxed state of awe and wonder.   The right and left walls of the room boasted three long shelves each, upon which rested 108 gold statues of Siva in various poses.  I was able to count and multiply to arrive at their number but it was impossible to be discreet about examining them to determine if any of their positions were repeated.  I doubted it and, considering the various contortions that a four-armed deity is capable of, I could easily see why Siva is Lord of the Dance. 

Everything went well for the first ten minutes or so.  Until I became aware that a mosquito had bitten the bottom of my foot.

If meditation is focus, then I was mediating on the burning, itching sensation emanating from my sole.   This was not the soul I'd hoped to inspire but, suddenly, the entire world was the bottom of my foot. The bottom of my foot was the Blue Light, it was the eighth chakra, it was the fiery red heart of a lotus blossom.  I wanted to scream. 

My mind raced.  I'm in a temple.  Is it inappropriate to touch my foot?  Is it considered disrespectful to the devas?  Crap!  I don't want to scratch my foot in public ANYWHERE.


As if the gods had answered my cry, the man in front of me started to play with his toes.  Only briefly, but enough to give me leave to scratch the hideous irritation that emanated from the welt on my sole.

This was not, however, to be my only conundrum.

After the guru finished chanting, he closed the sanctum curtains.  There were more songs and chants.  The curtain reopened.  He chanted and sang again.  And then - oh, no! - he came down from the sanctum with a container and offered it to the devotees.

Here it might be appropriate to tell you how SHORT I am.  The "follow what the guy in front of you is doing" method of not embarrassing yourself does not work if you can't see over that guy's shoulder.  Seriously, despite the long line of people in front of me, I had no idea what was going on.

When the monk reached me, I saw he was spooning out some sort of material.  I offered my hands and received a white, chalky substance.  I stalled, turned around to the guy behind me, and followed his lead.


No.  Relief was not yet in sight.  The monk returned from the altar THREE MORE TIMES with other liquids and substances.  Fie on my college professors!  All theory; no practice! Why had I never been required to go to a temple for a class assignment?  What was I supposed to do with this sweet smelling liquid?  What was this ochre colored paste for?  How much of this red stuff do I take?


I clumsily accepted the gifts and did my best.

Afterwards, I had a long conversation with the volunteer and learned more about the service, the purpose of the gifts, and the meaning of the chants and prayers.  

Hopefully, there will be other chances to visit this mystical space and redeem myself, other chances to see my beautiful Kauai.

And that was part of the prayer I offered in the temple when I followed the lead of others who were writing their petitions.

I got that part right.

View of the Wailua River and falls on the right from the back of the monastery.  This doesn't begin to demonstrate the scope.  I will zoom in on this photo hundreds of times in the future.

Monastery pond.

Absolutely magical meditation spot under and within a massive banyan tree.

*Note to Kauai travelers:  Book tours ahead.
** Note to travelers in general: You can often save money by renting a more simply appointed car if you bring your own GPS.

1 comment:

Irene said...

Great post! Wish I had been there, but this was nearly as good and closer than I will ever get.