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Ayurveda - Breaking the Rules Without Breaking the Principles

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The Shaman’s Death

A few months after my husband died, I traveled to see a man in my search for the meaning of life. I had heard from a friend of a friend in the States that this man was renowned as a proper “holy man” who could look into your soul. I was warned if I went to seek his counsel, I should be prepared to face my greatest fears. I scoffed it off. My greatest fear had already come true: I lost my husband. I had become a very different person since the accident because I no longer had another person by my side to live life with. I was confused about what I was supposed to do next. So when I learned there was someone who could help me, I didn’t waste any time in seeking him out.

Illustration by Krishna Kataria
Illustrations by Krishna Kataria

This was not a maiden voyage for me. Ever since I was a young child, my father had taken me on many journeys of self-exploration. I had already traveled around the world, looking for insight and instruction to aid me on my quest that would lead me out of the shackles of my suffering. I was nervous to meet him nonetheless because this person had a reputation for making you work hard for the answers and showing you your path, “whatever it took.”

My cousin arranged for a driver to take me to the small town where the Holy Man lived. It was early in the morning, and I listened to the street vendors and bustling traffic fade as we drove out of the city. It was a two-hour drive, and as I sat in the back seat thinking about what led me to this journey, I cried tears for my husband.

When I arrived, the old man and his wife were sitting cross-legged on the ground outside their home. He was already engaged with visitors who were also seeking his sage counsel. But unlike me, the other visitors had “real” problems. The experience was not a private one. You could hear everyone’s plight as they talked. Some were crippled, others were holding sick children, and still others had money and relationship issues that left them feeling hopeless.

When it became my turn, I formulated what I would say to him. Did I need to say anything? Maybe he could just see right through me like a proper Holy Man and tell me straight what I needed to hear. I felt embarrassed that I was taking up his time. In my heart, I knew my questions had no real answers, but I persevered anyway. I hoped he could share some truths that would give me insight into what was going on in my life. I told him of my traditional Indian upbringing, my perpetual search for the truth, how my husband died, and how I now felt like I did not “belong” in the world as I had once known it.

“Where is my home?” I asked. I meant the question both figuratively and literally.

By his side sat his wife. She quietly observed my words, my dress, and my fierce ego. I could see she was a traditional woman herself. But though she was in service to her husband, she had the presence of her own autonomy.

After what seemed like an eternity of silent judgment, she spoke. “Can you stay here with us until tomorrow?” I remembered my friend’s warning – whatever it took – and I agreed to stay without a second thought.

When the sun went down later that evening, we all sat and silently ate the dinner I had helped his wife prepare. Others had stayed as well, including two young men and two young women. I was excited to be on this adventure. Losing my husband was so hard, and deciding to see the Holy Man gave me a sense of purpose. I anticipated that he would give me some peace in my heart – or at least the tools to find that peace – and I would be one step closer to being not so sad all the time.

When we finished eating, I was instructed to get my overnight bag and to walk into the wooded area close to the house. The two men carried shovels, and the two women carried blankets. After about half a mile, we stopped at a clearing in the trees and lay down our things. The men began to dig a six-foot rectangular shape in the ground that was about two feet deep.

“You will sleep in here tonight,” the wife said kindly. “We will line the bottom with blankets and cover the opening with sheets. When you feel the warmth of the sun in the morning, lift the sheets, climb out, and walk back to the house for tea.”

I took a minute to observe my surroundings. It was fairly dark as the moon was almost new, but I could see the lights of some houses and hear the sound of cars somewhere in the distance. After I crawled into my earthy bed, the sheet was placed on top, and I sensed how alone I was by the silence that filled the air. It was cold, and the blankets smelled like damp soil.

I suddenly became very scared. Every slight noise I heard held me paralyzed, and I was afraid of insects and the possibility of wild animals attacking me in the night. I worried that a rodent would sneak into my bed. Before long, the fear turned into defiance. Why had I come? Did these people really think making me sleep in some sort of “grave” would help me with my suffering? I had already been alone and scared every night since the passing of my husband. How was this any different? I certainly didn’t need to be reminded of that again, and I was frustrated that they thought putting me in this predicament would do anything. I had already claimed my independence and knew I could persevere in any situation, including this one.

As the wind bristled through the trees until the wee hours of the morning, I cried and wrestled with my mind, which was full of fear and frustration. I must have fallen asleep at some point before dawn because I was awakened by the heat of the morning sun. After taking a moment to accept the fact that this had done nothing for me, I removed my sheets and stood up. What lay waiting for me outside of my bed was a sight to behold!

The Holy Man, his wife, and the young men and women were all lying on their beddings, waiting for me to wake up. As I stood up, they quietly began to pack their belongings. 

“I can’t believe you were all here with me the whole time!” I exclaimed. The Holy Man said nothing but shook his head and turned toward the house.

It was then that his wife took my hand. “My child,” she said gently, “this was not an exercise in teaching you that you are alone. This was to show you that just as we never left your side, neither has The Great Spirit. Your mistake is to think you are walking this path by yourself, but if you surrender into each moment, you will see the spirits of the earth all around, you will feel connected to everything, and you will be released from your restless search.” 

A strange feeling washed over me as I remembered my night with the darkness of the sky, the smell of the earth, the sound of the wind, and the warmth of the sun. My feelings of fear and frustration faded away, and I felt peaceful and centered in a way I hadn’t felt in a long time. The wife watched me, smiled compassionately, and motioned toward the house. As I packed my things, I knew that after tea, I would leave and perhaps never see the Holy Man and his wife ever again. But for one split second, I felt like I had found my home.

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