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11. The White Monster

"Far, far away from the city lights
That might be shinin' on you tonight..." Far, Far Away - Wilco 

Dehradun, May 18, 2011

I am a white monster. When women see me they turn their eyes, children stare at me in fear and confusion, and grown men size me up as if at any moment I may rape their women and plunder their riches.

Ok, so maybe this is all in my head, but it’s hard not to get a complex when you’re a pasty Irish fella in a city of a one million dark Indians. As you may imagine, you tend to stand out a bit, and Indians have no qualms about staring at you to the point where you feel uncomfortable. I think, or at least would like to think, that in most cases they are staring at me not in a threating way (although sometimes it feels that way), but more out of curiosity. My presence may also be exacerbated by the fact that in a conservatively dressed country, I am generally wearing lightweight Ex-Officio shorts, a t-shirt, sunglasses, New Balance running shoes or flip-flops, and a wide-brimmed REI hat that looks like something the Marines wore in Vietnam.


A wild night of Carlsbergs, Oreos, and doing laundry in my hotel room in DerahdunLet me just begin by saying that I think it’s safe to say if you’re a tourist, you can avoid Dehradun. I can’t say I’ve found anything terribly redeeming about it, except for two new friends I have made. It is useful outpost, however, if you’ve been stuck in the middle of nowhere at an Eco-Ashram and you need to get an Internet connection, Oreos, beer, or you just want to hide out in an air-conditioned hotel in for a few days and order room service.

To get to Dehradun from the Eco-Ashram I caught a ride on the back of a motorcycle that took me to a bus stop about two-and-a-half kilometers away. Once on the bus, which was not much more than a metal box on wheels with some uncomfortable benches upon which to sit, I passed through a series of villages only remarkable in their unremarkability. The land we passed through was a scorched tinderbox waiting to ignite and wide riverbeds were as dry as the bones in a Georgia O’Keefe painting. Dehradun, in my opinion, is equally as unremarkable as the towns through which you pass, only it’s a city. It is the capital of the Indian state of Uttarakhand and it’s as dirty as the next big city in India. It is a snaking sprawl of cars, exhaust fumes, motorbikes, cows, and pedestrians, of course no Indian city would be complete without the constant soundtrack of car and motorcycle horns. It’s a wonder that the constant auditory stimulation does not make more people go postal, because I know I have been on the brink once or twice, but I would imagine Indians are completely desensitized to it.   

The luxury of traveling by government buses in India.When I arrived at the parade grounds in Dehradun where the bus dropped me off, I was completely disoriented and had no idea where to go. I started down one road heading south, only to turn around to head north, all the while dodging peddlers and aggressively begging children. The parade ground is a huge expanse of dirt and dust with about 30 buses lined up. I began walking in another direction (yes, I was walking in circles at this point) but the heat very quickly wore me down. I grabbed a Vikram and paid too much to take me to the north end of Raijpur Road in search of a guesthouse that sounded attractive according to The Lonely Planet. Instead of staying at the guesthouse, I wound up paying twice as much for a bit of comfort and air condition, and thus I camped out at Hotel Ajanta Continental for about five days, ordering room service in the morning, going to Café Coffee Day in the afternoons, and across the street to the Good Value Hotel for beers and dinners. This was my daily routine with the exception of one day when I decided to walk in the heat of midday to the Paltan Bazaar about 2.5 kilometers on the other side of town. The hoards of people at the this Bazaar were completely overwhelming, and on my way back to the north side of town, flustered and overheated, I slipped into McDonald’s for a bit of home cooking and air conditioning. I ordered the McChicken, and as it turns out, the McChicken in India is more chicken than I bargained for, so I took one bite, spit it out, and ate my fries and drank my Coke. Should I ever find myself in a McDonald’s in India again, I’ll certainly go with the McPaneer.

One afternoon, much to my chagrin, my Tata Photon, which provides my Internet connection, failed me. Apparently I had used up all my data so I huffed it down to the store to put more money into my account. As usual I was greeted with blank faces and curious eyes. I stood at the reception for quite a bit but was not greeted by the people behind the desk, and in the meantime the rest of the patrons just walked up and cut in front of me, so I decided to sit down and observe the protocol. One couple was staring at me and I gave a forced smile back at them. They kept staring, making me self-conscious to the point where I thought about giving them the evil eye until they said, “Where are you from? Are you from the states?”

“I am actually, yes,” I replied.

“Oh we love it there. We have been up and down the west coast and have been to New York and Washington, D.C. We have just returned from living in New Zealand for 3 years. Nothing in India is easy,” Ranjiv said.

As it turned out, Ranjiv and his wife were staring at me because as a westerner I was more familiar to them than the Indians who inhabited the shop we were in. They had only been back a week and even though they were more or less locals, they were just as overwhelmed as me. We got talking about what I was doing and what Ranjiv was doing, and as it turned out, Ranjiv was a sound engineer and had written a novel about a year or two back, but couldn’t find any interested parties. I told him I would send what literary contacts I had to him and they invited me to lunch the following day.

This was about day 3 in Dehradun, and before I had met them I was beginning to feel a little discouraged and lonely, but meeting them provided me with some relief and a smile returned to my face. The following day they took me out to lunch.

The rest of my time in Dehradun was spent in the comfort of my hotel room, taking warm showers, emailing and Skyping friends, enjoying the luxury of a somewhat quick Internet connection, and catching up on 60 Minutes episodes.

Swastiga Eco-Ashram, May 31, 2011

Lovely neighbors at the ashram. They mostly keep to themselves.If you asked the 18-year ago me (half of my life-ago, mind you) the question, If there are two things you can guarantee you will never do in your life, what will they be? I think I could have answered with certainty, “Two things I can say I honestly will never do will be 1.) Rubbing baby oil all over African children in the middle of Tanzania (as a volunteer at an orphanage, mind you, not as a pedophile), and 2.) Having two Indian men rub me down with oil while basically naked.

I am glad I didn’t make that bet, because I surely would have lost. Lesson learned; never say never.

And this is how my Tuesday started, having two Indian men rub me down. You see part of the Eco-Ashram is an Ayurveda center. Dr. Myrium is an Ayurveda doctor from France, and up until the following day, the ashram was offering massage.

The only other people that currently work at the Eco-Ashram are Doctor Myriam and four Indians from Kerala. They consist of Hari and his wife (who just found out she was pregnant) and Arun and his cousin Pramisha. The four of them, all in their early 20s, studied a very specific type of Ayurveda massage that is unique to South India. As a result of Hari’s wife being pregnant (and probably boredom) they are leaving to go back to Kerala and it was the last day to get a massage, so I said I might as well try it.

I really had no idea what Ayurvedic massage was. When I got into the treatment room I was told to take off my shirt and shorts. I was wearing the good old Ex-Officio briefs and I thought that was that. But they tied a string around my waist and in the front one long strip unrolled down to my knees. They told me take off my underwear and then wrapped this cloth between my legs, up through the behind, and tied it on the waste band behind me. Ladies, I don’t know how you wear g-strings. Don’t get me wrong—I appreciate them, and don’t stop wearing them, but I could never do it.

For the next hour plus the two men rubbed oil all over me while simultaneously working both sides of my body. Several times when I had to roll over, my frank and beans would spill out of this poor-man’s faux-g-string. I would try to adjust it without being too obvious, but it was a losing battle. I didn’t want to outright address it because that would have been potentially even more embarrassing for all of us, so I just went on like everything was fine, the better part of me hanging out and all. I’m sure this is not the first time this happened.

I have to say though, as far as massages go, it was probably the best one of my life. The only thing that could have made it better was if two Swedish women were rubbing me down with oil, but then I guess that wouldn’t have qualified as an Ayrvedic massage; that would be a Swedish massage.


All-in-all it was a big day on the ranch. Not only did I start my day with what many women and gay men with Indian fetishes fantasize about, but then I got to actually leave the premise and go into town with Myriam to buy some supplies. I spent almost $25 at a roadside store, which is a hell of a lot of money over here. Some of my necessities included; batteries for my flashlight, toilette paper, Lays Sour Cream potato chips (4 bags), Sprite (4), cokes (3), Oreos, Cadbury chocolate, Gauva juice, a can of a cold espresso drink, biscuits, peanut butter, processed cheese cubes, butter, and a few other things. One can only eat so much rice and Dahl before hitting the wall. It was beginning to feel like Ground Hog’s Day so this junk food provided some relief.

After I got back from town, I went about organizing my room. Since I had arrived 3 days prior, my things were just thrown about—on my desk, a coffee table, another bed, and two chairs. Similar to what Timmy Time might consist of at home, I rolled a Drum, put on my iPod, and began losing myself in the process of cleaning, folding, organizing, and sweeping out my room. Incidentally, I much prefer a vacuum than sweeping the floor with a bunch of reeds tied together.

The room was immaculate only three days ago, but due to the elements and the fact that the houses are more or less made with mud, dust and dirt from outside finds its way through the ceiling, doors, and windows, so daily maintenance is a must.

To give you an idea of my cottage, I have a tin roof, a fan, my showers are cold bucket baths, and I share my room with countless spiders, ants, lizards, and the occasional frog who finds its way in my front door—and those are just the things I can see. Although I haven’t seen the varmint yet, I also discovered I have rat as evinced by the rat turd that had fallen from the ceiling on to my shorts. But for the most part, I just tell myself these creatures are doing their thing and I’m doing mine. I just let myself believe that I am safe and secure underneath my mosquito net.

Two nights I came in at sundown and there were swarms of some sort of winged flies buzzing about the light bulbs. They were everywhere. I was not very happy about this the first night it occurred and wasn’t sure how I was going to sleep with them buzzing about, but when I came back two hours later after dinner, they were gone, and all that remained were their little wings on the floor and some very healthy looking lizards. The lizards are my friends. I’ve also been told there’s scorpions lurking about but I don’t think I need to worry too much about them in my room. Nonetheless, I try to make it a practice to shake out my shoes before I put them on.

The author at work in his clean, well-lighted room.The result of my room sweep is a clean and well-lighted place, as Hemingway preferred. I organized my gear, stacked my books, stacked my notebooks in another pile, made my bed, organized my clothes in their cupboard, washed my clothes, and washed the desk and coffee table with a baby-wipe. It’s beginning to feel like a home, although a very foreign and modest one.


I’ve entered a new phase of my trip, which is quite different than the first month. I have entered a phase where I am more living than traveling. It’s not quite as exciting and fast paced and I’m definitely not meeting as many people. I could leave what I’m doing at any time and begin traveling, but I do find listening to MC, observing him, and learning about his career quite fascinating. It’s not every day you get to work for someone who has the attention of governments and world leaders. He has a grand vision for creating an International Climate Change Center underneath the umbrella of the Mehta Foundation and I am helping him write some grants. Other things on his radar are plans to attack cancer, climate change, and population control in India, first by creating studies and data, then through litigation. These are the three issues I am working with him on at the moment. The first grant proposal I’ve created is nearly complete and is about the correlation between the rise of development and the rise of cancer in India, which I will post when it’s complete. If you know anyone or any foundations that can help, please pass them on to me or drop me a line.

The gist of the cancer study is that 30-40 years ago, India was an agrarian culture and cancer was all but non-existent. As India moved from a “developing” to a “developed” country, mass migrations of people moved about the country and life spans for men and women were improved. What also happened, however, is that the Indian diet changed drastically and industries began polluting the environment, rivers, and the water table, and essentially the food chain with the introduction of lethal insecticides and pesticides, including Endolsophan and DDT. “We copied a western model that does not work for us,” MC said.

These insecticides and pesticides, which have been proven lethal and cancer causing, are still being used because the laws are antiquated and promote business over protecting the farmer and the consumer. It does not help that I’m learning how corrupt the entire system is in India and how widespread mafia control is.

Why don’t the police or government just come in and put a stop to all of it? I naively asked. Because they are all getting a piece of the pie.

I find it rather interesting the national issues India is wrestling with as they develop. We have countless problems in the West as well, but despite the fact that India is becoming a world power and one of the strongest economies in the world, they are dealing with many issues we take for granted, or at least that we have started to tackle some years back, namely environmental protection and conservation. I’m not a doom and gloom person, but we as a world have a long way to go, and from what I am learning, perhaps not as much time as we think if we don’t get it together and act. The repercussions are going to be serious if we don’t all act collectively and we are going to see some unfortunate things in our lifetime. I don’t want our kids or grandkids to say, “They knew all about these things that were going on. Why didn’t they act?”

Rishikesh, Part II

Garden's at the boss's house. Bad lighting and the picture does not do it justice.I was only supposed to be in Dehradun for 3 days, but since MC was so busy, that turned into 5. On the fifth day, MC picked me up at my hotel and we drove around Dehradun for some time running errands and picking up things for the ashram. We wound up back at his house, which his wife’s parents have had in the family for many years. It is a beautiful 150-year-old house from the British colonial era. They have a small orchard on the property, a few farm animals, and many beautifully manicured gardens. At one time it was surrounded by nothing but orchards, however, ever since the state was split in two and Dehradun was declared the capital of the new state, rapid growth, development, and sprawl—in collaboration with zero city planning—has pushed the sprawl of Dehradun to the Mehta’s back door.

I unexpectedly had a late lunch with MC, his wife, and his 26-year-old daughter. It was interesting to see a subdued MC in this environment. Perhaps he was just running through all the things that he had to do in his mind, or more likely he was just simply exhausted.

His wife was very well educated and informed on the politics and corruption of India, and her artwork adorned the house from the days when she studied art in Paris. Her father was an ambassador to the United Nations, and so she spent her formative years from about 2-16 in New York City. It was fascinating just to hear his wife and daughter speak and debate about Indian politics and the elections that had just taken place, several of which knocked people from the seats of power they occupied for more than 30 years.

After lunch, since MC had to go to Delhi the following day, I elected to go to Rishikesh rather than the Ashram, and so he had his driver take me to the bus where he would wait with me until I got on the bus. As I have stated, I hate the traveling part in India. I like more the being part.

When we got to the bus stop, I said a silent prayer in which I said more or less, God, send me an angel to get me to Rishikesh safely and easily, whether it’s someone sitting next to me who knows what they’re doing or someone who can get me to where I need to go. Not two minutes later, a car pulled up, rolled down the window and said, “Rishikesh?” I got in the car and got a ride to Rishikesh for 50 rupees (a little more than a dollar), which was about 20 or more kilometers away for. Of course when he dropped me off within a stone’s throw of The Divine Ganga Guesthouse, he hit me up for another 50 rupees. He said more or less, “I thought you meant to the center of Rishikesh, not Laxman Jula.” Since I didn’t have any change, and since I was fairly satisfied with the ease of my journey, I gave him the 100 rupees, which is about $2.25. Travel in India is cheap, but it usually comes at a cost. The thing I dislike the most about India so far is that you are quoted one price (whether it’s a taxi, a hotel, etc.) and when you get there, they change their story and up the price. Most of the time you are arguing over dollars, but it’s not the money—it’s the principle and the feeling of being cheated you are left with.My residence, The Divine Ganga Guesthouse, while in Rishikesh.

When I got settled in my room, since I knew Maria was back in town from McLeod Gange, I went and found her. We caught up for a while and then she asked if I would like to join her at a nearby ashram for sadsang, which is morning and nightly prayers and chanting. It was a great welcome-back t o Rishikesh experience and full of joy and good vibes. We sat for about an hour—the men on one side and the woman on the other—meditated on and off, and just enjoyed the positive energy. Afterward we went to dinner and Maria told me that within the complex where we were there was a holy man who is considered a saint. She was meditating outside his room one afternoon when someone brought her inside to meet him, and from him she received a mantra. The man is very old and it is reported that most of his organs don’t even work anymore, so he is bed ridden. She asked me if I wanted to meditate there the next morning and so we agreed to meet up around 7:30am.

The following morning we sat in meditation outside his door. Being but a child in the ways of meditation, my mind drifted, imaging what the old man inside looked like. In that instant, as if a light switch was flicked on, my mind took me down a path I was not planning on going; my mind took me to where I was exactly a year ago.

A year prior I had just returned to Seattle after a visit to New Jersey to say goodbye to my mother. Sitting in meditation, I was an observer and I could see and feel everything I was feeling when I spent those last three visits with my mother. The fact that it was May was not even in my awareness, but it was as if my subconscious wanted me to confront this fact. With my eyes closed, I sat with these images for about 20 minutes as tears of nostalgia and longing streamed down my face; longing for the comfort, security, and companionship of the wonderful mother I knew before Parkinsons and dementia ravaged her body and mind. The experience knocked me off of my center for a bit and I finally brought it up to Maria over breakfast. It was good to get it out of me and share it with someone. Maria also sat with me that evening and watched a slide show I had put together for my mother’s memorial service. As sad as I was, it also felt really good to have her memory and presence so close to me while in the middle of India.

Back to the story. After an hour or so of sitting outside this holy man’s door, devotees began showing up and a small procession was allowed to walk through the his room. The saintly man stared off in the distance as if in paralysis or a trance, and one by one we were allowed to see him. One by one we knelt before him, touched his foot over a blanket, and asked in our hearts for his blessing.

Over the course of the next 2-3 days, Maria and I had a good time swimming and lounging and it was good to reconnect with someone with whom I had already had a connection. The time went by quickly, however, and once again it was time for her to leave. Once again someone was the pinball and I was the bumper.

Random night with three Israeli girls and a little yogi. This was taken with a flash in the pitch black because the power had just gone out.I met various people the next few days. Maria and Deanna were from Columbia and we spent a day and a half together, one of which included rafting down the Ganges. Another night I met 3 Israeli girls at the Little Buddha Café, and we wound up meeting a little yogi with high energy and enthusiasm who invited us into his ashram to have a smoke. It was a large structure and we followed him down into the belly of the beast until we wound up on steps that lead us to the foot of the Ganges. We could barely communicate with him but he was earnest and eager in his gestures and badly-broken English. We sat in his smoke room hanging out until the lights went out. When our time with him was through, we went back to the girl’s guesthouse to listen to music. I was having a good enough time and tried to introduce them to the National and some newer Radiohead, but when they connected their iPod and USB memory stick to play some of their music, that’s when it was lights out for me. “I have to go,” I replied. “I have a Skype conference call with my boss,” which was mostly true. The actual truth of the matter, however, was that I’m a self-admitted musical snob and I couldn’t handle their crappy music!

The in-between days when I had no one to pal around with, I explored the outskirts of Rishikesh and found a nice, secluded beach where I swam, read my book, and napped. It was secluded that is, until a couple of drunken Indian guys from Delhi showed up. One of them had been living in Australia for the last four years.

“Man, we were partying in Delhi and we just said, what the fuck! Let’s go to Rishikesh,” the leader said in his Indian/Australian accent.

Chillen on my not so secret beach.They had driven drunk for six hours from Delhi to continue the party in Rishikesh, which incidentally is a dry town. There are many things to smoke in the town, however, and they were imbibing, but I guess they had also brought liquor from Delhi. The leader of the group proceeded to tell me about how much he loved women and their anatomy, but I will not elaborate on those details for the fact that many fine, young ladies are reading this. The last two or three days I met a girl from Toronto, Canada and we just hung around town, swam, and took walks to Ram Jula (the part of Rishikesh that the locals inhabit). I also showed her some of the sites I had uncovered, such as my semi-private beach, and we drank Lemon-nanas and played Yahtzee.

On the last night I was trying to play a video on my camera but couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working. She began fiddling with the buttons and one such button switched the camera from the memory card to the hard disk. It was Saturday of Memorial Day 2011, and the pictures that showed up—pictures that I had no idea were on the camera—were from Hood River, Oregon, on exactly the same day, May 29th a year prior. It was on this day that my friend Chris Brookfield planted the seed in my head of going to McLeod Gange, India.


One of two places I have my daily smoke break.I was never a smoker and don’t plan on becoming one, but one of my few routines at the ashram is to sit outside my cottage door at 6pm, roll a cigarette, put on my India Sunset playlist I’ve been creating, and watch the sunset.

The following day I was out at the Ashram listening to my iTunes on random, searching for new songs to add to the playlist when a song I wrote came on. It was with the band I played in back in Seattle some years ago. (I mentioned the song in another entry.) The version of the song was from a practice session and it put a wide smile on my face as fond memories of creating something with some of my best friends washed over me. I went to my computer to find out when the practice was from and lo’and’behold—it was from exactly the same day, May 30th, in 2007. I remembered it because it was the Monday night after Memorial Day weekend.

I’m sure I could write five esoteric pages on these events but I’ll spare you; because chances are they would probably only make sense to me.

When it comes down to it, there’s not much you can about occurrences like this.
It just kinda makes ya’ think,
it just kinda makes ya’ smile,
sometimes it makes ya’ think you’re on the right path,
and sometimes it just kinda reminds ya’ of how far you can travel in a year or four.

Friday June 3, 2011


10. The Prana of the Ganges

“Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re trying to be so quiet. We sit here stranded though we’re all doing our best to deny it.” - Visions of Johanna, Bob Dylan

(This was written in pieces over the period of many days.)

May 10, 2011, 7:14pm

I’m sitting on the banks of the mighty Ganges as dusk settles upon Rishikesh. A haze of heat hangs over the river valley muting the sun's intensity and softening the edges that normally contrast the mountains, the river, and the horizon. The air is heavy and still as if a storm may rain down upon us later in the evening. A cool breeze slithers through the valley, snaking its way between the mountains, and for a moment the oppressive temperature drops a few degrees.
Sunset at the Eco Ashram

It is the hour when Indians gather on the banks of the Ganges. Indian men and woman wash themselves or come to pray, tourists dip their feet in the mighty river, and still others seek the stillness of meditation. Foreign chants of ages old drift across the river from temples on waves of sound, then continue down the valley. Pujas (offerings of flowers, incense, and candles) float down the river and above me upstream, pedestrians, motorcycles, cows, and monkeys move across the narrow, wire-framed Laxman Jula Bridge. As if held in place by the strings of an invisible diorama, a fingernail of a moon hangs directly above the town. In this hour, insects come for a drink of life only to find their own extinguished by feeding fish, and the great Prana of the Ganges inhales and exhales a timeless breath into all who inhabit its shores.

For the first time since I arrived in Rishikesh six days ago I’m truly alone. I’m sure this may get old to you, my dear reader, but not a day has passed where I am not completely amazed that I am living the life I am living. Perhaps it is simply a byproduct of the hyper-awareness that comes with traveling in a land that is so foreign to one’s native country. It’s as if you are so completely engaged in the present moment that you become the present moment, moving beyond the self and into a character in a novel or a part of the landscape in a painting. From the vantage point where I sit by the Ganges this evening, I can’t imagine being anywhere else. It’s as if I have been lead here by some divine GPS system—to India, to this moment, to the people who I have met and who have influenced me, to the experiences I have had.  


My time in Rishikesh has been a blur. It just so happened that the crew I was hanging out with were all staying in the Divine Ganga Guesthouse and so it felt very much like college or summer camp as we moved from one dorm room to the next, stopping by just to say hello and to see how each other’s day was going. We would convene at various points throughout the afternoon in someone’s room to make a plan for dinner, which most nights involved the Little Buddha Café, an open-air restaurant with a thatch roof that looks down upon the Ganges.

Three of the six of my crew left yesterday, and tomorrow I will be moving on from Rishikesh. The road calls me onward but I could spend a lot of time here. I did not want to leave McLeod Ganj and here I am in Rishikesh, and now I don’t want to leave here. These places could have been just any old town on a map if it were not for the friendships I’ve forged, which have made McLeod Ganj and Rishikesh not just destinations, but homes for the time I have inhabited them.

To rewind just a bit, I just have to say that the train ride to Rishikesh was miserable. To begin with, I had never ridden on an Indian train. Sleeper Car rang out Amtrak to me, but nothing could have been further from the truth. To add insult to injury, I was under the impression that I had a full sleeping berth all to myself, but in fact, since my ticket was not confirmed (I’m still not sure how to do this), I had to share my sleeping birth with someone else—and her son 8 year-old son.

To get to the train from McLeod was a beautiful, leisurely 3-hour drive through many landscapes I had not yet seen, from jungles to tea farms to scorched earth and dried riverbeds. I took a taxi that Gasha and Palla had arranged through their friend. When I arrived at the Chakki Bank train station in Pathankot, they told me to check the board so as to find out what car and seat I would be in. I was expecting some digital board that you might see in Penn or Grand Central Station, but actually—it was literally a roster nailed to a board, a print out from an old-school printer, perforated edges still intact.

The first train that passed was my first introduction to trains in India. The cars that were not reserved blew my mind as they had as many people as you could possibly fit into a car. It looked like a train full of cows going to slaughter. Indians were hanging out of the entrance and piled on top of each othere. Arms and limbs desperately reached out of windows as if trying to sip the last few drops of oxygen from the bottom of a glass full of air.

Gasha and Palla had instructed me not to eat or drink anything that was offered to me, either while waiting for the train or while on it. “They may slip you something and boom! You wake up and all your possessions are gone.” Sure enough, some slimy looking Indians were eyeing me up and offered to get me something to drink. My driver told me they were drunk, but I just stared at them stoically, doing my best to be a hard-ass. Most likely they are just curious because they don’t see a lot of white people around these parts, but you can’t help but be on the defensive when people are staring at you. I find myself in cities and while traveling in-between places on the defensive and ready to be on the offensive if need be. I’m actually a giant compared to many Indians, not only in height but the broadness of my body, if you can imagine that. I’m hoping, however, that I don’t have to ever use my ninja skills.

It was a mad rush to get on to the train and I got swept up in the panic trying to figure out what car I was in. My driver from McLeod Ganj to Pathankot was a friend of Palla and Gasha and they ordered him to stay with me until I got on the train. He had never ridden on a train before either, however, so he seemed more nervous than me. Several times he asked to see my ticket and disappeared into the crowd to check, double-check, and triple-check the board where my seat and car numbers were posted.

I spent a good part of the time on the train writing chapter 9, and spent the rest of the time fighting with a child for leg room and space, although he didn’t know I was fighting with him because he was sound asleep, sprawled out, legs and dirty feet touching, touching, touching me. Occasionally his mother would notice and wrangle the boy’s legs toward her but it wound up happening again and again that his legs kicked out towards me. And so when she wasn’t looking or had dozed off, I would push his legs into the aisle. Only once did he fall into the isle, but he was so sound asleep and startled when he landed that he had no idea I was the culprit. I could have taken him anyway if it came to fists. (Of course you know I’m joking—well, mostly. I mean, I did have about 100lbs on him and a good 16 inches. I know, I know…but what can you do? In a country of 1.2 billion people where there is no such thing as a line or a que, where many Indians seem to have little self-awareness of those around them, you have to fight for your own space.)

As a result of this all-night donnybrook between a sleeping, lifeless child and myself, I don’t think I slept a wink, and by the time I arrived at the Divine Ganga Guesthouse I had been up for nearly 30 hours. I chose the Divine Ganga Guesthouse because Garfield, my friend who was part of the documentary film crew for the Mt. Madonna School, was staying there with his friend Tom. Garfield saw me right as my taxi pulled up and we devised a lose plan as to where and when to meet up, but first I needed to rest. I hit the pillow at 9:30am and woke up around 4pm.

The rough plan was to meet Garfield at The Little Buddha Café overlooking the Ganges at some point in the afternoon. I figured I missed him so I sat down for a while, ordered some food, and did some writing. I was impressed with Garfield’s prowess because when he did show up, he had two cute girls in tow. As it turned out, the four of us formed the core of a crew who would hang out together for the next six days.

The following morning I had breakfast with Garfield. An Argentinian woman named Maria, who Garfield had previously met, showed up towards the end of our meal and she was absorbed into our conversation. As per usual, I had my own agenda for the day, which included some reading and writing, but when Garfield left us to go to yoga, Maria and I kept talking—and talking and talking and talking.

As it turned out, Maria led expeditions in Patagonia and Antarctica and is the mother of a 14-year-old daughter. Like so many other people who find themselves in India, she had an undeniable and unidentifiable calling that she could not ignore. While some teenagers can be clingy and needy, her daughter supported her in this urging and stayed at home in Patagonia with her ex-husband.

As it happens when you’re traveling, before our lingering breakfast was over, we had covered vast swaths of the territories that our lives have taken us, including the shared experience of having mother’s with Parkinson’s Disease and what that has taught us.

“Just so you know,” she said in her Argentinian accent, eyes twitching from dry contacts, “I don’t usually just tell strangers these things.”

“Well that’s good,” I said. “Because I’m not a stranger anymore.”

I had planned to meet the rest of the crew that afternoon for a walk to the Beatles Ashram, but as the protons and neutrons of Maria and my connection organized themselves, we found ourselves first having lunch together, then meandering through the crowded streets of Rishikesh, and finally on a sandy beach, where under her tutelage I took my first swim in the Ganges. Well, let’s call it more of a dip. As Martin Short said, “I’m not a strong swimmer,” and so I didn’t trust the deceiving current of the Ganges, especially since several people have told me they’ve seen dead bodies floating down the river. You must respect the Ganges; as much as it can give life, it’s currents and whirlpools can also take it very easily.

“The Ganges is supposed to purify you with its waters,” Maria said as we waded knee deep in its waters. “And so when you immerse yourself in its waters, you’re supposed to make an intention of what you want to be rid or purified of.” Each of us thought about it for a moment, closed our eyes, and made an intention. When we were both ready, we held each other’s hands and slipped beneath the surface of the Ganges in the hope and faith that when we emerged, we would be cleansed of things we both felt we no longer needed.

Maria and I went back to the Divine Ganga Guesthouse and sat on her balcony as we watched a storm come over the mountains, the concussion waves of the distant thunder becoming ever closer. We watched as sheets of rain moved through the mountains and towards us, remaining on the balcony as long as we could until we could almost feel the electricity of the lightning. When the storm shifted into high gear, the wind picked up and began blowing rain at us despite being underneath shelter, so we retreated into Maria’s room, fighting the wind to close the door.

“I know this doesn’t look good but don’t worry,” she laughed as I entered the room and she pushed the deadbolt into the locked position.


The next few days I spent with Garfield, from Vancouver, British Columbia, Hannah, from Brooklyn, New York, Camilla from Sweden, and Maria, from Patagonia, Argentina. Tom, Garfield’s friend who is also from British Columbia, was at a meditation retreat but joined us the last two days. He did not miss a beat when he joined our group, but I suppose that’s because we had already heard so much about him. For those few days we all spent together, we walked, we ate, we talked, we ate, we swam in the river, ate, swam in the river, and drank many, many Limon-nanas, a refreshing frozen drink made of lemon, ice, and muddled mint.

Meditation huts at the Beatles Ashram. There were perhaps a hundred of these all over the property..One afternoon, since the group didn’t make it previously, we went for a walk to find the Ashram that the Beatles made famous with a visit in 1968. Being the clueless white folk we are, we walked a few kilometers past it on a remote jungle road, the only inhabitants we passed being monkeys. And of course, being clueless white folk, we set out in the height of the day’s heat and failed to bring with us any water. After walking and walking up hills we were each within a few hundred feet of saying “screw it” when a police truck passed us. We flagged them down and luckily they offered to drive us to the Ashram. Now normally I don’t feel too comfortable in the back of a squad car, but as good fortune would have it, I was just a lost tourist and didn’t have the bracelets on me.The artist's rendition. I think it speaks for itself.

The police dropped us off near the ashram and when we finally found it, we had to pay 50 rupees to get in (a little more than a dollar).

At one point, with not much more than dust lining our throats, Garfield said, “You know what would make this place awesome?”

“What’s that?” I replied.

“A Starbucks,” he said.

“I could definitely go for a Frappuccino right now,” I replied. “You know what would be even better?”

“What’s that?”

“If there was a parking lot so we could have driven here.”


Exactly one month to the day of arriving in India, I once again met up with M.C. Mehta. I was to meet him at a hotel in the outskirts of Rishikesh, which he instructed me should cost no more than 50 rupees to get from my guesthouse to the hotel. As it so happened, when I went to the Virkam stand (eclectic rickshaws) they asked me to pay 400 rupees. I made a fuss and immediately displayed my dissatisfaction.

“Are you kidding me? The hotel was going to charge me 150 rupees.” To which I expected some sort of negotiation, as is the way in India.

“Then go! Go back to the hotel!” he said aggressively to me. Not how I imagined our exchange would go. Note to self: lose the angry, defensive posture, speak softly, and smile.

I was a sweaty mess at this point and decided these bastards weren’t going to get the best of me, and so in 100+ degree heat, I headed back to my guesthouse, backpack and possession in tow. (In hindsight, this giant pain in my ass was the difference of about $4. It’s the principle though.)

And so I went back to the hotel in a huff to call a Vikram, which as it turned out took 45 minutes to arrive. In the meantime, M.C. was calling and texting to tell me he was there and to inquire as to where I was. I think it was more out of concern than impatience, though his wife was also sick and in the hospital, not to mention he is a man of strong demand. In the past few weeks there have been large protests in Hardiwar to protect the Ganges, a holy city right on the Ganges. MC is a figurehead and leader to these activists and is always asked to speak or lead.

When the Vikram finally arrived, after the hotel attendant called three people because they said they would come in 5 minutes and then never came (such is the way in India), I jumped in the Vikram and we drove past the Virkam stand where I had been rejected. It took every, EVERY ounce of restraint I tell you, not to yell out “F*%K YOU!” But the look of disappoint on their face as I passed—that they challenged me and lost my business—was rewarding enough. I simply smiled at them and gave them a taste of their own medicine; the infamously ambiguous Indian head bobble.

I have to say that the only uncomfortable moments of my travel so far have been when I am actually traveling. My feeling and excitement level each time I move from one place to the next is like that of a rising stock. For instance, the longer I stayed in Rishikesh or McLeod, the higher the stock climbed, but each subsequent time I moved, the stock takes a massive hit. It’s not so much the fact that I have to move on; it’s more of getting from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ and the adjustment period that ensues. I suppose with a little more time and distance, these uncomfortable moments will be fond memories and growth points, but right now they’re more like a pimple inside one’s nose; somewhat painful and hard to get to.


Judging from M.C.’s office in Delhi, the Eco Ashram is what I would expect from an environmentalist who has won not one, but two equivalents to the Nobel Prize (The Magsaysay Award in 1997 and the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1996). He also recently had a documentary made about him entitled, “The Man Who Saved the Taj Majal”. The Eco Ashram is low impact, low energy consumption, and bare bones. The first day I arrived, I said to myself—as I usually say when I find myself in a new situation—what have you gotten yourself into this time?


This walk is quite long on a moonless night.After getting to know one another over dinner, I retreated to my room on a very dark night. It was only about a 200-yard walk from where we ate and where Myrium’s room and the kitchen were, but in the pitch black it felt like an eternity. It is a wild place where the Ashram is, surrounded by forests and mountains. A while back M.C. had said something about leopards and elephants in the area, and so as I was walking to my room, I was expecting to see gleaming eyes looking back at me. (It’s also noteworthy that the road leading to the ashram goes through a national park and the road is closed at night because elephants have been known to surround cars, pull out the drivers, and use their trunks to kill them by slamming the people into the ground.)

I stayed up that night working on a first draft of the third podcast. No sooner had I put my head on the pillow around 1am than the wind picked up and whipped through my room. I closed the windows as the distant thunder grew ever closer, followed by rain and more wind. The power had gone out and I curled up in a ball underneath a mosquito net—headlamp next to me—watching the flashes of lighting through the outline of my thatched and slate roof. As the storm picked up I began to hear the slate tiles ripping off and so I curled up tighter into a ball and tried to protect my head. At one point, the wind blew open my door bringing the storm into my room and causing me to jump out of bed. It also just so happened that earlier in afternoon, one of the workers had peeled back part of the slate to tie up the mosquito net, and exactly where he did, which was right above me, the roof began to leak—directly onto my forehead. I moved the bed and settled in for the night, half expecting either a Tiger to jump into the room or Thor to kick the door open and split me in two with a lighting bolt. When the storm finally died down around 3:30am, I was wired, so I took a half a xanax and slept until 11am the next morning. No matter. There is not much to do at the Ashram except relax and read.


Friday, May 13th, Eco Ashram

Tonight, for the first time since I have been at the Eco Ashram, I ventured out in the darkness of night into the courtyard outside my room—all of 20 feet, mind you. I rolled a Drum and smoked it down while looking out in awe at the monochromatic night; the half moonlit landscape in the foreground, the silhouettes of the foothills in the background, and the sparkling diamonds of the Northern Hemisphere above me. And I feel very peaceful. There is no anxiety within me (at least for tonight), but rather on this evening I am a reflection of the stillness of the night. I am a part of the painting. I have no uneasiness about the future or the past—just the contentment and ease of the present moment. Since I have been in India, I find when my mind wanders to the fictitious place of the future or the written story of the past, I have been able to view it with detachment, like watching a movie. Perhaps that’s an outcome of age, maturity, or a lot of work to control the mind and its wild, unpredictable emotions. When I do become so engrossed in that movie and it takes me too far to one of those places, I try to adjust my inner tuner and bring it back to the present moment. It’s kind of like using an electric tuner to tune your guitar; you make adjustments until the needle comes to the center, letting you know the strings are no longer too flat or too sharp.

As I sit here tonight somewhere in north India beneath a waxing moon, for some reason my thoughts drifted to a spring night in Baltimore when I was a senior in college. There was nothing special about this night, in fact it’s a scene that’s played itself out countless times in my life—and I can’t really tell you why my mind drifted to this particular scene. But I remember standing in front of the mirror for a long time having no idea who the person staring back at me was. I wondered why he was here, now, in this body, born to the parents he was born to, in this particular part of the world, why he had the brother and sisters he had, why the people who were a part of his life were a part of his life. I wondered what life held for this young man whose inner sadness was dense, heavy, physical, and real.

The person staring back in the mirror wanted to take off into his future like a rocket, fueled by an inner thirst for truth—his individual truth and the truth of the singular intelligence that united of all life. He wanted to see the world, drink voraciously from the cup of experience, but the present moment felt like shoes of concrete keeping him firmly rooted to the earth. When I look back on that person, I can see that beyond the trials of having a mind over which he had no control, it was the present moment he feared most.

I don’t know if that inner sadness that accompanied the present moment was something that was born of nature—passed to me through the DNA strands of my ancestors; if it was nurture—an experience a highly sensitive kid internalized; or if it was simply the first moment of self-awareness, when consciousness determines that it is separate from what is. Regardless, I seem to have outgrown that sadness as I have gotten older, shed it as a chrysalis sheds its former self—or perhaps the better word choice is "transforms," because only when the caterpillar wraps itself in a cocoon and looks within can it find the inner strength to transform to a butterfly, and only when it finds that form is it truly free.

All of the questions that haunted me from when I began writing at 17 through my late 20s or early 30s were like memories of a dream from the night before—a series of hazy, nonsensical images that were familiar but distant, arising from the subconscious to give me clues about my life. I think the difference between that younger person and the person I am at this moment in my life is a growing inner strength, the illumination of a light that has always been, and the recognition that my consciousness—the I that is the observer—is not separate but rather an extension of a greater consciousness, and that the world (and all who inhabit it) are part of one living, breathing organism of which each single expansion and contraction of breath may last thousands or millions of years.


In the stillness of nights like this, where your mind and being are in communion with nature, there’s no telling where your senses will take you. As the observer of my life tonight, I found myself stretching out my past as if I were viewing a series of stills on an old filmstrip. It made me think of something Paramahansa Yognanda said in The Autobiography of a Yogi;  “One’s values are profoundly changed when he is finally convinced that creation is only a vast motion picture; and that not in it, but beyond it, lies his own reality.” In 1930, Sir James Jeans, an English physicist, astronomer, and mathematician wrote, “The stream of knowledge is heading toward a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine.” Perhaps this motion picture we are a part of is but a thought within a dream of the Creator.

If you were the executive producer of the film of your life, how would you edit the motion picture to tell your story? There is a structure and story arch to each of our lives, a rise and fall of action, perhaps a singular climax or multiple ones upon which the story is built. As I think about my story tonight and how much more is to be written, I think about the structure that holds it all together. The structure is the relationships of my life—some that are gone, such as my parents and the people and relationships I have lost along the way—but mostly tonight I’m thinking about my family and friends. Tonight, in the darkness of this Indian night, I can feel all of your light.


Light. While I am not a physicist, among the billions of physical laws of the cosmos, perhaps the most mysterious is light. I’m sure my limited knowledge of the universe is outdated, but from what little I know of the physical laws of the cosmos, unlike sound waves, whose transmission requires air or other material upon which to be carried, light waves pass freely through the vacuum of space. At the center of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, he proved mathematically that light, moving at 186,300 miles per hour, is the only constant in a universe of flux. The only other constant I can think of is the mystery of why we’re all here. Marconi, the great inventor said, “The inability of science to solve life is absolute. This fact would be truly frightening if it were not for faith. The mystery of life is certainly the most persistent ever placed before the thought of man.”

As my travels—and the corresponding experiences that are born from the experience of my travel arise, I am falling more deeply into this mystery, and unlike that young man who was so burdened with questions so much larger than himself, who looked in that mirror in Baltimore and had now idea who he was, I’m comfortable with my place in the mystery, for I know I am not separate from the mystery, but a part of it. This is no great secret, and perhaps the ancients were more familiar with it than we are, but somehow along the way we lost the truth. Some things in life can’t be known through science and experience, and that is where the miracle of faith becomes alive. I just read something the other day that said, belief is what man thinks is perhaps truth; faith is what man knows is truth.


The innocence of childhood is a beautiful vessel. It’s the law of life and experience that somewhere along the way, that vessel begins to crack, and eventually it shatters and breaks down, and we as adults (or sometimes earlier) are forced to figure out how to put the pieces back together. As I get older, settle into this body and this world, and begin to put the pieces back together to create a new form, I no longer feel the need to figure out the mechanistic structures of creation; instead I am merely engaged in a playful game with a conscious universe that is aware of its own creation, a universe that responds to the creations of Its Creation. As the part of creation that has been given the most highly evolved brain of all species, we have been given the gift of thought, feeling, and emotions, and these intangibles are the foundation of our reality—they are what dictate the strength, creative potential, and ultimately the response of the interactive universe.

When I was a child, my mother used to warn me to guard my thoughts. She said that you can sin simply by thinking impure thoughts. These words came from the worldview of very fearful Catholic woman—and thinking I knew more than she did, I scoffed at her. But in her devote wisdom she was on to something. At its most simple element, our thoughts are part of the law of attraction; like attracts like—what we put out in our thoughts—which is wave energy—is what returns to us. Our thoughts, this internal drama that plays itself out, are the most creative or destructive forces of our life and reality. This is why the ancient masters and the saints of our current age say that to develop the mind and control over the ego should be one of our highest aims. I, by no means, am even close to this ideal, but merely a student in the world’s classroom, sharing what I’m learning along the way. India seems to be a very fruitful class, however.

I’ll leave you with one more quote from Sri Yukteswar, yogi and master to Paramahansa Yognanda. “There is a deeper astrology not dependent on the testimony of calendars and clocks. Each man is part of the Creator, or Cosmic Man; he has a heavenly body as well as one of the earth. The human eye sees the physical form, but the inner eye penetrates more profoundly, even to the universal pattern of which each man is an integral and individual part.”




Podcast 3: Soundscape of McLeod Ganj featuring Juliana, Gasha, and Palla

Chillen with my boys Gasha and Palla on the steps of their store.I decided to devote the third podcast of Tales of Urban Living to the sounds of McLeod Ganj. If you have ever visited McLeod Ganj, no doubt a few of these sounds and songs will be quite familiar to you as they are constantly played on the streets and in many shops. I hope you enjoy it, as I thoroughly enjoyed creating it and thinking about my time spent there with my new friends.

As you'll find in the three conversations that weave throughout this soundscape, conversations about God and spirituality are something that people speak of quite often in India. These conversations are not reserved for an hour or two on Sunday, such as in the west; they are a part of every day life. Whether you are Islamic, Hindu, or Buddhist, a part of your daily life is designated to prayer. Perhaps it is the mystical quality of the land or perhaps it is just engrained in a culture that has produced saints, mystics, and holy men for milleniums.  

Mountains above McLeod Ganj.The first other-worldly sound you will hear after the opening song is the chanting of monks outside His Holiness, The Dalai Lama's Temple, in protest of the Chinese Government. Other things you will hear in this podcast include:

  • Palla's thoughts on the day Osama Bin Laden was killed, as well as on President Obama
  • Juliana, a Brazilian model and actress turned lawyer
  • The Dharamkot waterfall
  • Palla and Gasha discussing hospitality, girls, Kashmir, and Islam
  • A candlelight vigil of monks and Tibetans praying for their fellow people 
  • My 20-year-old friend who is teaching himself guitar
  • Tibetan children's from the Tibetan Children's Village performing traditional songs
  • Street sounds and street music
  • Car horns and traffic, which there are a lot of in McLeod Ganj

Music: Lit Up by The National



9. On the Train From Pathankot to Rishikesh

“You were sewn together with a tapestry of molecules, a billion baby galaxies and wide-open spaces. Everything you need is here, everything you fear is here and it’s holding you up.” – No One Said It Would Be Easy, Cloud Cult

The Morning
On Monday morning I went to the Green Hotel for breakfast where I broke the news to a guy from South Carolina that in a nighttime raid in Pakistan, the United States Navy Seals got Bin Laden—not far from where we were as the crow flies. Everyone seemed to be pretty happy about this, from the Indians and Tibetans to the Americans.

Since I was out of commission for several days being sick, I felt I hadn’t done enough exploring and so after breakfast I took a long hike to a waterfall about two hours away. It just so happened to take three hours because of a wrong turn, but that’s another story.

After hiking for several hours, I found the Dharamkot waterfall, a dramatic waterfall whose water source began far beyond anything you could see, and which continued to cascade down a valley carved out by a glacier many millenniums ago. Between the two towering mountains the waterfall made its way down the valley, much like one would pour champagne into a pyramid of champagne glasses; the water began at its source, filled small wading pools, overflowed, and continued it’s way down to the next set of glasses.Dharmakot Waterfall - sideways

Instead of just settling for the first pool I came across, I scooted up some boulder fields in search of the perfect wading pool and a flat rock to rest my weary body. When I finally found the spot, I laid out my things to settle in for a few hours of relaxing. No sooner had I gotten into the icy glacial run off—helplessly barefoot and vulnerable in my underwear—than a huge eagle appeared above me. It swooped through the canyon in grand circles, specifically circling me. Then it would catch a breeze and hover above me, leering down at me with the eye of a Predator Drone. Again and again it made giant sweeps of the valley like an airplane in a holding pattern and I was the airport.

I did not want to take my eye off of the small pterodactyl because there was no telling what it might do in its defensive state. We were engaged in a mental battle of wills and I was half expecting him to come down and grab my bag just to mess with me, waiting for the perfect moment when my awareness of its presence lapsed.

The magnificent bird of prey was being aggressive and so I finally got its message that I was in its territory. As I was packing up, the second I let my awareness of it lapse, I felt it’s shadow come over me. He swooped down and in one swift instant of pure, calculated genius, and with the precision of a stealth bomber, dropped a massive turd on my shoulder. “What the f…!?!” I yelled jumping back, unaware of what hit me.

I put my hand to my shoulder and there, dripping down my back and neck, was the impact of the eagle’s cluster bomb. If it was not such a magnificent act of courage, defense, and instinct, I might have been bothered, but in fact I was more freaked out. OK, this bird means business. I’m outta here. As I was leaving, I saw it return to its nest where no doubt it was protecting its lineage.

A magnificent beastI dropped down to another pool of the waterfall and the bird stopped circling. Only once did he come back, which enabled me to get a picture of him. Incidentally, they say getting pooped on by a bird is good luck. The last time it happened to me I was in Saint Peter’s Square, in Rome, and that day went on to be epic, so I wasn’t too hindered or perturbed by some bird shit—or even a lot of it.  


When I left the waterfall a few hours later and reached the top of the mountain, I was feeling incredible gratitude and expanding joy. I could literally feel it coming out of my heart. I thought to myself – OK, so many amazing things have happened all ready. Now is the time to surrender even more. I imagined myself falling more deeply into the protective folds of the great mystery so that when the most mundane or the grandest ideas took form, I would be equally amazed and surprised. I suppose to further elaborate, what this means for me is to continue to focus my attention on opening my heart to let more possibility, gratitude, and love seep into my being. It means surrendering any fear that stands between my experience of life and my true nature. What it does not mean is the elimination of desire or want.

It also got me thinking that perhaps I need to start thinking bigger, creating bigger, removing all mental and fearful limitations so as to really put this whole experiment in surrender, creation, and mindfulness to the test. Because that is really what this journey is about for me—a grand, personal experiment in consciousness. I have no idea how it all will turn out and I don’t claim to hold the keys to the kingdom. I am simply relaying my experiences and sharing with you the thoughts of my internal world as I zip through the Indian night on a packed sleeper train from Pathankot to Rishikesh.

The Evening
The sweet light in McLeod GanjAfter a shower and relaxing in my room, I set out in the sweet light to go meet the boys at the shop for tea. There was a candlelight parade of monks and Tibetans marching through the streets and the sun’s angle was setting Tibetan prayer flags and the jagged mountain peaks that loomed over the town ablaze.

After tea, I took a walk with Palla and as per usual, every girl we passed he said, “What about her? You like her? She is nice, right? No?” Since Palla talks throughout the day to almost every girl that passes his shop, he generally already knows her story. “What about her? She is from Brazil. She is very nice. Very beautiful. She come in my shop today. Come on bruther. I introduce her,” and with that, off he went chasing down this strikingly beautiful, statuesque Brazilian woman, myself in tow.

She was nice enough to strike up some street conversation but was eager to keep walking on. A few meters up the street we came upon her again at a jewelry stand where she had met up with a few friends. It happened to be across from the boys’ shop so the next thing I know, Palla invites everyone inside. When Juliana, the Brazilian woman walked out of the shop, Palla said to her friend, “My friend here, he likes your friend very much.” I looked at him with an expression on my face that said, did you just say what I thought you just said? I’m quite sure I turned bright red because I never actually said anything of the likes. It just so happens that Palla feels the need to take my love life into his own hands. When both of the Brazilian women stepped out of the shop for a moment, Palla said, “So how did I do? You like what I do?”

“Well,” I said. “It’s not exactly my style or approach.”

Nonetheless, as fate would have it I found myself having dinner with a group of Brazilian and Portuguese men and women who were in town for two nights on a meditation tour. Now this is not exactly the type of meditation tour that you might imagine many of the hippies and seekers in this town are on. This group was part of an organization called They travel around to different parts of the world and meditate together to raise the vibration of that area.

Someone in Juliana’s group wanted pasta so I suggested Nick’s Italian Kitchen in McLeod Ganj. At first I wondered, what have I gotten myself into? My plan for the evening was to just go home and work and write, and instead I found myself in the middle of a group that was barely speaking English. They did their best to include me, however, and finally brought me into the fold where I learned more about what they were doing.

“We meditate to raise the frequency of places. You know how when you get a certain number of electrons together they just line up? How when something meets critical mass it takes a new form? We are doing the same thing. We are trying to align minds, so that when enough people are awakened, the tide will shift and wake up people all over the world. We have to do this now. The world is in terrible shape.”

They first started explaining to me what they were doing in a very elementary fashion, but soon realized that I too spoke the same language of energy, surrender, and creation—just in a different dialect.

“Do you want some energy work right now?” Juliana asked.

“Sure,” I said. “I’ll try it. Let’s do it.” So Juliana and I turned our chairs toward each other in the middle of the restaurant and she said, “I am going to clear any blocks in your chakras, especially in your forehead and crown. Don’t worry. You’re in good hands and you have these wonderful, powerful people supporting you too. So just stare here,” she said, pointing to the place in the middle of her forehead, right above her eyes.

She closed her eyes, folded her hands, and immediately went into a place of deep stillness, while I just stared where I was supposed too. The others were focusing intently on me as well. “Try not to think. Just be open,” the group said to me. And so I did. And for a few moments, I felt the energy in my heart spinning.

(Sidebar: I just saw a rat run through the train.)

After dinner, our group splintered and Juliana and I went back to have a few smokes on my balcony. We started sharing our stories, and as it turned out, she was formerly a model and actress and I was quite familiar with one of the shows she was on. These are the situations that prepubescent dreams are made of, I thought. Only in India would my path have crossed with this woman.

After her modeling and acting career in her early 20s, she went back to school to become an attorney and ever since has been practicing in Brazil, but just recently she passed the bar in Miami. (So if there are any attorneys reading this in Miami, I know someone who is looking for a job.)

I could not have written the script for how the night evolved, from when I was having tea with the boys to sitting on my balcony with Juliana, nor could I have foreseen the places our conversations would take us.

“So many people are sleeping. It’s time for us to awaken and to remember who we are. As human beings, we are much more powerful than how we are living.”

Julian looks at her life, her being, and her purpose as a spiritual experience. “Before man, before the big bang, before everything, there was just God or whatever you want to call Him or Her. There was just pure consciousness,” she said, explaining her worldview allegorically. “God wanted to experience Himself and so He created different things to help him feel and experience his creations. The creation in which he experienced Himself the most was in human beings. Each one of us is a hand of the Great Artist. We are all God, we are all one, we are all part of a greater consciousness, and so I see God in everything.”

She continued, “My job here is to experience, to love, to awaken to the memory of who I am. I am not my mind and I am not my thoughts. I am an observer. I am a soul that is part of the eternal, and I am a part of the greater consciousness and intelligence through which all of life flows.” She then began to laugh. “I love life, I love my life, and this is where I want to be. I imagine that up there, after you die and once again become part of the greater consciousness it gets rather boring. I want to be down here creating and experiencing!”

She took a pull off of her cigarette and continued in her most endearing Brazilian accent. “Ever since I was a little girl, I asked God to let me work in the light, to let me help people here awaken to the light.” I told her how since I began writing at 17, I have asked to be an instrument of peace, and I shared with her the Prayer of Saint Francis, which was the mantra I repeated when I first began to meditate.

“There have been so many serendipitous things happening to me on this trip,” I told her. “People, chance meetings, and events are showing up everywhere in my life—like you tonight, for instance. I know at my deepest level that these meetings are not coincidences. I know they are all connected somehow, but I’m not sure how yet. The beauty of it is I don’t need to know now because I’m just along for the ride. When the time is right I’m sure I’ll see it all with clarity.”

“You know,” she said, “All of the things that are happening to you—you chose this before you came to earth. We all have chosen our paths, from the child who dies at a young age to the older person suffering from cancer. There are lessons to be learned in each of these life events, both for the individual and for those around you who you teach in the way you suffer, endure, and rise above your conditions. Maybe that child has a very short time here on earth, but he or she came to experience what they needed to experience at that part of their evolution and to teach their parents necessary lessons in their evolutions. And so the child comes back in another life to learn something different. This life is a very small thing in the overall picture of the evolution of our souls.”

“One of my favorite quotes is by a French Jesuit philosopher, poet, and paleontologist,” I shared. “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”


This is how I see an awakening occurring, and by awakening I simply mean that I believe that people everywhere are beginning to look within for the answers, as opposed to outside of them. Rinchen Kandho, head of the Tibetan Nuns Project who I will speak of shortly said, “The best thing you can do for the world, the best way you can bring about peace, is to develop yourself.”

Since I began writing at 17, I have written that the next revolution that will occur will be a spiritual revolution. The way I see it there is nowhere else to turn. We have been moving outward in a quest for resources, materialism, status, love—looking for others or something outside of us to make us happy. But in observing the current state of the world, this outward approach seems to be clearly failing us.

Critical mass awakeningIndulge me here as I have this visual in my mind of how the critical mass awakening occurs. Imagine looking at a map from space of any continent when the sun is on the other side of the earth. As night falls and darkness sweeps across the continent, you begin to see the illumination of cities, and these cities are connecting to other cities through suburbs and highways to create light. This visual is what I feel is happening in the world in terms of people tuning in to a new awareness or paradigm, whereby when we awaken to the truth within ourselves, we each become a light not only unto ourselves, but to those around us.

It’s undeniable that the tides are changing in the world at the most accelerated rate in our history. From the individual to the revolutions of the masses that are exploding throughout the Middle East, something new is being created.

The universe, or the quantum field, is an information machine. Science is beginning to merge with spirituality and it’s beginning to tell us that our thoughts actually affect our reality. We are moving from the Newtonian Model of the physics of cause and effect, to a Quantum Model, where in fact our thoughts and energy are the cause—not the effect—that shapes reality.

From our actions to our thoughts, everything vibrates with energy, and when minds and hearts tune in and turn on, it raises the vibration of our collective consciousness. Light in the hearts of men and woman are going on all over the world like cities on a map at night. I can tell you this because I am out here traveling throughout India, and I am meeting like-minded individuals from all over the world who share this sentiment. And whether they already had this point of view or picked it up here, they are taking it back to their countries.

Another image that comes to mind is that of plugging in the tiny bulbs on a Lite-Brite. I am not sure what the picture on the Lite-Brite is yet—but the best part is that I don’t have to and I don’t care. As a writer at this point in my life, I am trying to create what I can with what I have been given. I am trying to share the experience of my internal world because I know I am not special, but rather a reflection of us all. If I were a painter I would do this in images and colors, or a musician—with the vibrations of notes, sounds, and chords. But I am an artist and a writer and so I must convey what I feel through thoughts, words, and images.

I think the highest purpose of art is to bring forth the internal experience of life, to create something relatable that brings us together as human beings or enables us to have a shared experience or understanding of our humanity. We all have an internal world, which for most of us is probably more real than our external world, and yet we don’t give it much attention. Instead it spins out of control, undisciplined, wild like a stallion that has yet to be broken. It runs the show and we believe the mind to be the self. But it’s not; the self is an observer.

It is my hunch that at the core of each of our internal worlds, at the core of our beings, we are all more similar than we are different. We all want the same things; love, peace, prosperity, joy, health, and happiness—for our friends, our families, our communities, and ourselves. But I don’t think we can elevate ourselves to our highest potential as human beings unless we are elevating those around us as well. An Argentinian woman was telling me last night about the former leader of Brazil, Luiz da Silva, who is perhaps the most celebrated politician in the world. He was a truck driver, moved up through the unions, and became the President of Brazil. Brazil will host the next World Cup and the Summer Olympics and is charging forward as an economic power house because da Silva brought 30 million people out of poverty. Can you imagine that? I said to her, “I wish we could do that in the United States.”

She said, “You can not, and this is why; because you lack social consciousness.”


What I am trying to do at this moment in my life is to bring awareness to the people who are attempting to bring about positive change in the world, and in turn who are experiencing the same thing in their own internal world. As I surrender more deeply into this process, every day I am continuously more amazed at the beauty and complexity of this Divine Orchestration we call life.

As I said earlier, I don’t claim to have the answers, but I have a hunch the truth comes from mindfulness, slowing down, surrendering, and answering to the call of our own individual truths. In this process of developing our internal world, we recognize that we are not the voice in our heads, that maybe the voice in our head that says I can’t or I never will or I’m too scared was actually our parents voice or someone else we heard along the way, but we never slowed down to recognize that that wasn’t our own voice. Maybe you’re in a career for money or because it’s what’s expected of you, but your truth, the voice you push down that calls you into the direction of the unknown, you can’t hear because you are too busy distracting yourself.

I have a friend who explained jumping into this new shift and trusting in one’s truth like standing under a waterfall; it is uncomfortable at first, but then in the showering down upon you, you find great pleasure and relief. I liken it to experiencing a new favorite piece of music; it plants a seed in your heart the first time you hear it, but with every listen you fall more deeply into the piece. Your ears “awaken” and you begin to hear each individual instrument, you feel the power of the collective movement in the composition, and each time it takes your soul deeper and deeper into a more profound experience of the music. When you begin to fall more deeply into trust and surrender, you begin to have a more profound experience of life.


I have always found the great mystery of life to be the ultimate dichotomy. Under the microscope we are made up of atoms, which have organized into matter. The particular organization of this matter has created a thinking organism with the unique attribute of self-analysis. We have labeled this amalgamation of attributes ‘human beings,’ a collection of physical, mental, and emotional experiences sandwiched between two dates in history—our birth and our death.

And yet the great mystery is that we have this spiritual side as well, this connection to the earth, a connection to that from which all of life was brought forth, and from which all that is, is. All of the great minds throughout time have said in their own voice, when you feed this part of the self and nurture it with the right conditions, it blossoms into a garden of abundance. That is why the garden within must always be attended to. No matter how much you nurture this garden, each soul goes through its seasons and sometimes I have spent entire years in the bleak lifelessness of winter. In this moment, however, I am fortunate enough to be living into the metaphorical verdant vitality of spring. I know nothing on this plane last forever though, so I am enjoying it as best I can by living in each and every moment.

Between the dichotomies of the physical and spiritual, I personally feel at my deepest level that our true nature is that of spirit; eternal, immortal, pure consciousness that is connected to all of creation, that is connected to all through which the organizing intelligence of life flows—the intelligence that keeps our cells structured, our blood flowing, and our hearts beating. I feel like this body is merely a costume we wear for a while at the grand masquerade ball of life.

What is the balance or connection between these human and spiritual selves? I don’t believe it is to deny oneself, to turn your back on the earthly pleasures and renounce all that is of the flesh as I was taught as a young Catholic, and as many dogmas of religion preach. Rather, I believe it exists somewhere in the balance of the two. I am coming to the belief that the true path towards joy, which perhaps is one of the highest emotions of spirit, is something that His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama has said; “Let go of your own suffering in the service of others.” Which takes me to what I’ve learned from the impressive people I have been fortunate enough to come in contact with on this journey. 


Late in the morning on April 28th, I sat down at my table and looked out in gratitude over His Holiness, the Dalia Lama’s Temple. The first thing I wrote was, “Today I intend and create to meet His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.”

I did not get much beyond that thought because I realized that due to my illness, I had lost track of the days and that I was supposed to meet Ward Malliard the previous day.

Ward is a high school teacher from Santa Cruz, California, who was taking his senior class to interview His Holiness. When I realized the date, I ran to my computer, connected to email through my Tata Photon Plus, and grabbed his contact information. I called him in a panic but the call dropped twice (AT&T has nothing on India’s cell network). I finally got a hold of Ward and as it turned out he and his entourage were staying a few doors down from where I was at, The Kareri Guesthouse.

Ward was gracious enough to invite me to lunch, along with his wife and a photographer from The Santa Cruz Sentinel, Shmuel Thaler. From the get-go, the conversation was philosophical, pedagogical, scholarly, and engaging, and so I put my microphone on the table to capture all he had to say. He reminded me of a high school teacher I had named Ed Powers, who always said, “Confusion is a wonderful thing. Don’t ever be afraid of it.” I never understood the teachings of Ed Powers, or for that matter of fact, many of the dedicated instructors I’ve had in my life until I was much older. I’m sure Ward’s students will only truly understand his teachings and the power of his dedication in the future, that place that gives us the gifts of wisdom and reflection and allows us to see new perspectives on life. I suppose that is the way of the youth, however. But here I was, in McLeod Ganj, India, fortunate enough to be with the archetype of my favorite teachers in my life. Here I was in the presence of a man who is dedicated and integral to molding tomorrow’s minds, and that in itself gives me hope.

You’re probably asking yourself, how the hell did I link up with this guy?
Back in February, I was surfing around the Web and found The Tibetan Nuns Project, located in Dharamsala. After a brief survey of their Web site, I noticed they had an office in Seattle, and so I called them and chatted with a wonderful, accommodating, firecracker-of-a-woman named Susanne Peterson. Susanne asked me what I was looking to get out of my trip and I told her a little bit about what I was attempting to do. She was so accommodating that at the end of our conversation I decided to just throw something at her. “Well Susanne, this is kind of out there but since you seem to be connected, I’d really like to be involved in a documentary or a film crew.”

Photo credit: Shmuel Thaler/Santa Cruz SentinelSusanne thought about it for a moment, and then said, “You know, I might have something for you. I want you to contact Ward Malliard. He’s going to be taking a group of students to interview his His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, and he’s going to have a film crew with him. I’ll send you his email.”

Several months later, while I was a day late for the interview with His Holiness, the following day I found myself in a van on my way up to the Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV) with Malliard and a group of high school students from Santa Cruz, California. It was the second time I had been to TCV and again I was impressed with the organization, both in scale and in its mission.

Ever since the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1957, millions of Tibetan’s have been killed in mass genocide. This is in fact, continuing to happen, and within the past week, the Chinese invaded a monastery of 2,000 monks in Tibet. It is still unclear as to what happened there and if the monks are still alive or not. And why is this not being reported on in the western world? The world should be outraged, but it is so far removed from our daily lives that “Free Tibet” has simply become a brand and a slogan on western t-shirts that college kids and hippies seem to gravitate toward.

In the aftermath of the genocide in 1957, around 100,000 refugees followed His Holiness, the Dalia Lama, into exile in India. Among the war ravaged were thousands of orphans and destitute children suffering the psychological devastation of losing their families, their home, and their countries. His Holiness realized that the future of his people and their culture depended on future generations, so with this in mind, and out of concern for the suffering of so many children, His Holiness proposed that a special center be established for these children.

The good, dedicated, Tibetan people who are acting as foster parents at TCV are fighting to preserve perhaps one of the most important and endangered cultures on the planet. It is a culture of peace, family, mindfulness, and service, and to truly grasp what it is about you need to look no further than their leader, a self professed humble monk, His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama.

It makes me wonder what we as Americans are preserving or pushing out into the world. Like Ward said in my interview with him, I believe that the American people are good people who want to serve, and who want to bring about positive change in the world. But our message and the bright light that once shined is being drowned out by consumerism, false advertisement, greed, divisive politics, and perhaps the greatest disservice to all of us—the media, which has an insatiable 24-hour appetite for skewing facts, creating rumors, highlighting the difference of our politics instead of those things that bring us together, and making money off of war, devastation, and tragedy.

As I was saying, TCV in Dharamsala is home to 2,500 boarders and 500-day students. Not all of these children are orphans, however. Many of the parents of these children have made the ultimate sacrifice to smuggle their children out of Tibet so that they may receive an education, because the Chinese are trying to keep the Tibetans poor, uneducated, and powerless. Across India there are more than 14,000 children in several Tibetan Children’s Villages. The weight of the separation and resulting pain from their divided family is immense, but as any Tibetan will tell you, it’s for the greater cause of Tibet.  (Click here to learn about sponsoring a child at TCV).

For the second time in a week I found myself again on my way to TCV, this time part of a cultural exchange where the senior class of Mount Madonna High School met some of the teenagers from the senior class of TCV. We first watched Tibetan children put on traditional songs and dance for us, and later there were breakout session where the Tibetan students and the American students discussed what it means to be happy and to be of service. After the breakout sessions, each group merged into one circle, where everything that was learned was discussed—something that Ward calls the “conversation of gifts.” It was truly something special to witness.

Afterward a ceremony was performed where each of us received Tibetan prayer shawls, and tea and cookies were served followed by a basketball game. I was wearing flip-flops but I couldn’t just stand by as the Tibetans were racking up points. I can’t help but not get into a game if I’m watching one, and even if I have the intent of taking it easy, my instinct and competitive nature takes over. And so I asked one of the American high school students if I could borrow his dress shoes, which were about two sizes too small. No matter. No Tibetan high school girl or boy was going to get the best of me. Now I don’t mean to toot my own horn here, but I think my addition to the team helped sway the momentum, and the Americans came from behind to pull out the victory, despite gasping for air at an altitude of 7,000 feet.

The following morning we interviewed Rinchen Kandho, the head of the Tibetan Nun’s Project. There are few people that I have met who have such clarity of thinking, poise, grace, centeredness, and hope—hope in the face of a situation that is larger than herself, larger than her culture, and larger than her government. What is at stake is the very existence of her people.

What impressed me most about her was her take not just on her people’s situation, but on the current state of humanity. “We suffer as a people from short sightedness and a lack of moral courage. If you have a voice, you must use it,” she said.

“We have wasted so much time organizing our religions and laying claim to who we are in our religions. You don’t have to call yourself a Buddhist, a Christian, a Jew, or a Hindu. Call yourself a human being,” she said. “We lose so much when we cling to ideas.”

She went on to speak of the beauty of Buddhism and its simple wisdoms, “But to be simple, you need a lot of perseverance and courage,” she said.

“It is just a fact when women are involved in movements, they last longer,” she added.

She left us with, “Choose the right partner not for money, not for fame, not for status, but for values,” which is something my mother used to always say to me.

A New Direction - Rishikesh
Without even realizing it, I had become somewhat antsy in McLeod Ganj—although the thought of leaving had never crossed my mind without having a specific reason beyond the approaching monsoon season. But I met a girl a few nights previous who had to leave India because of her tourist visa and she asked if I would be interested in going to Nepal with her. I initially turned her down and then upon closer investigation thought, why wouldn’t I? I even put it to my Facebook audience and the unanimous decision was to move on.

No sooner had I decided to head to Nepal than I hit refresh on my email and received a message from M.C. Mehta asking if I was still interested in coming to see and work with him at the Eco-Ashram. Much as the Godfather made so many decades ago, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. To be honest I have no idea what I will be doing for him. When I first spoke to him in Delhi, he said he had only told me about 2% of what he does. But to be of service is something I asked for on this journey, to use my skills as a writer for someone, a cause, or an idea, so I must answer the call, or at least explore it.


I am grateful for the opportunity to work with M.C., and despite this train ride being less than ideal, what I am most grateful for are the people I have been privileged to either meet or interview. I have met four extraordinary human beings. They are; Ward Malliard, educator and learner, Zoe Magoney, painter and teacher, Rinchen Kandho, head of the Tibetan Nuns Project, and M.C. Mehta, Indian Supreme Court Lawyer and Environmentalist.

These people are inspiring to me. The thing about inspiring people is that their light shines brighter than any of the conditions around them that try to cast darkness upon them, whether it’s a system, conditions we are born into, a government, or going against the way a collective group of people think. Inspiring people always also seem to answer to an inner call and vision, and in the process of finding the source within them that casts this light, they have the uncanny ability to illuminate those upon whom they shine. They also have the uncanny ability to turn the spark within us into a conflagration, and when their passion connects with like-minded people, it’s like they are throwing gasoline on the smoldering fires of those around them. There is a light that shines so brightly in these people that it can’t help but illuminate. Come to think of it, maybe that is the purpose of art—to create light that reflects, magnifies, and illuminates the darkness of this world. Come to think of it, these people are all artists in their own right.

Each one of these individuals have taught me something different; Zoe has taught me the power of initiative and gratitude; Ward has taught me humility and the importance of citizenry; Rinchen Kandho has taught me the power of hope and the strength of character; and M.C. Mehta, although I have only spent about 2 hours with him, has taught me about fortitude, perseverance, and fighting for a cause. At the highest level, there are four things these people share in common; they all radiate joy from within, they all have placed their lives in the service of others, they are all committed to their cause, and they all possess moral courage.

What is moral courage? Because it is a word I heard a lot from Rinchen Kandho and Ward Malliard. Ward said it best when he said, “Education is a practice. Part of the practice of education is learning to have a voice, because there are so many things we need to speak up for in this world; the poor, the underserved, the underprivileged. We have a voice and we have power, and we have to use the power of our voice to speak for those who don’t have power.”

Where can you use your voice? At this, one of the most important moments in history, we need smart, dedicated people to step forward and lead, from the scale of government to our communities.

Rishikesh, India
May 9, 2011


An Interview with Ward Malliard, Teacher, Educator, and Founder of Mount Madonna Center in Santa Cruz, California


"You don't teach curiosity, but you create the context in which it's important to show up. Because staying curious is the best way to learn, it's the best way for self-development, and curiosity is connected with compassion. When you judge people there's no compassion in it, but when you're curious about people there's a possibility of understanding who they are." – Ward Malliard

Photo credit: Shmuel Thaler/Santa Cruz SentinelToday I got a chance to talk to Ward Malliard. Malliard is part teacher, part scholar, part general, part coach, and part subversive, all in the name of educating not just tomorrow’s students, but tomorrow’s citizens.

He is a teacher not just by profession, but perhaps by archetype; a learned man steeped in the theories and art of pedagogy. It’s my personal belief that a man of his mind and intellect should be in the upper echelons of the educational system, but instead he has chosen to affect change at the most leveraged part of the system, directly with the students.

Speaking of—his former students have gone on to become doctors, lawyers, educators, leading global scientists, and powerful change agents in various social arenas. In addition to his former students, one of hiscurrent students has become a Gates scholar, an academic grant that pays for college, graduate school, and a post-graduate degree.

Photo credit: Shmuel Thaler/Santa Cruz SentinelA few days ago I was privileged enough to tag along with Malliard and his senior high school class from Mount Madonna School in Santa Cruz, California, a class of just 15 students. Over the course of his career in teaching, Malliard’s students have interviewed leading global thinkers and world leaders across several continents, and during this trip alone, his class has interviewed Timothy Roemer, U.S. Ambassador to India, Mani Shankar Aiyar, a member of the upper house of parliament, Samdong Rinpoche, the Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government in Exile, Rinchen Kandho, head of the Tibetan Nuns Project, and His Holiness, The 14th Dalai Lama. His students were poised, intelligent, and mature, while at the same time they managed to retain the youth and innocence of adolescence. 

As the son of United States Congressman, he “went over the wall,” as he says, but never strayed too far from his upbringing. He is driven by political awareness and social service, yet at the root of it all is his desire to do good in the world and “to be on a journey that I don't know how it’s going to turn out.” Photo credit: Shmuel Thaler/Santa Cruz Sentinel

Additional links:
Mount Madonna Center
Mount Madonna School
Values in World Thought Web site
Blogs from the students during their travels
Project Happiness
More Photos by Shmuel Thaler

Music by:
Luna (I Love You Tracy)
Clem Snide (Chinese Baby)
Nick Drake (From the Morning)




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