Monday, August 25, 2014

I Am Another You - Priya Kumar

This is one book you will never be able to judge by its cover. At first glance you'd never get how much stuff Priya Kumar packs in the book with her unique experiences in the Netherlands with the shamans and their rituals and how it transformed her (and it does transform us as readers as well). You could well be fooled into thinking that here is another young writer on the block out to share his or her own home grown wisdom with some humour, some this and that and pass it off as a best seller. Its none of that. It was like nothing I'd read before. Much credit to Priya for her honesty, accuracy and humility that the book became what it did.
Embassy books, Rs. 299, 188 p

The book starts with Priya being at the lowest point in her life, circa 2004. Her successful business has been stolen by her partner, there is little money left and her love has gone off with someone else. All of these events conspire to push her to her greater destiny of course (the universe is for you and not against you, even when it seems to be so). With her last savings Priya heads to the Netherlands to a little town called Winterswijk, north of Amsterdam. Her purpose - to do the Spiritual Freedom rituals with with shamans, ancient tribesmen residing in Northern Europe and South America, and make sense of her rapidly disintegrating life. The rituals set your spirit free and help you find your purpose among other things. The next seven days in Priya's life are made of stuff that have you flipping through the pages as you would a suspense thriller.

Priya stays in a lodge, teams up with a couple of guys, Sain (gift shop owner) and Rick (software engineer), and one girl Emma (dentist), all locals, who are also doing the rituals. They meet Kahuna their master and he conducts the rituals on which she dwells in detail and with disarming honesty. From the breaking of barriers (nudity of the other participants in certain rituals for one) to the hardship and shock of some of the stuff the rituals comprise, Priya undergoes it all with the commitment of a seeker and comes through.

"Observation is the best medium of learning,' says Kahuna. 'It puts the responsibility of learning on your shoulder. When you observe you are your own teacher.'

The first ritual of the sweat lodge where they sit around an intense fire made from volcanic rocks with thick blankets around them in a crowded space in a tent like structure, awakens one to their higher purpose and cleanses the body of impurities. The rituals are conducted by masters and at one stage a talking stick is produced. The one who is given the talking stick rattles it until he or she speaks of her purpose. Priya, the chosen one to speak first, understands that it is a stick of responsibility and when she spoke she finally took responsibility for her life and her purpose. It's not the talking stick that speaks, its you. And so it has to be in life.

The ritual fulfills one's desires too. 'Desire is your soul's plan for you to discover yourself. Its the soul's plan for growth. Desire is not sinful,' says Kahuna. Interestingly he and Maharshi Ved ji, an Indian guru, are friends and frequently visit one another. Kahuna is well versed with Indian spiritual system.
 
The Salt Cleanse ritual is also called the 'Spiritual Challenge' and one that is considered difficult because most fail to complete it. It requires one to cleanse the body with salt water, defecate and then later in the evening, hold the feces and observe them knowing that nothing is good or bad.  'Whatever the excreta means to you..accept it in your palms and acknowledge the contents. Feel and experience the contents and when you have fully acknowledged it touch your hand to your forehead and release it into the fire'.
Priya sits through the process while the others leave and her transformation comes through as she becomes aware of the whole process that takes place in the human body to sustain life. We eat food to survive. We'd also die if we do not excrete out what we have eaten. How can food be good or bad? Both are essential processes..both sides of the coin...everything is important for the cycle. 'I was covered in shit from head to toe. I became the shit. And it was ok. It was a process. I lost all judgment of good and bad,' she says. Powerful.
 Kahuna says 'Accepting waste with no judgment is respecting life to its fullest. You cannot respect one end of the process and loathe the other. Good and bad, right and wrong do not exist. The only thing that exists is your acceptance and denial. When you accept you understand. When you deny, you create a toxic experience. Judgment is the enemy of purpose.'
Wonderful words.
Priya says - You never cheat anyone. You only cheat yourself.'

The drummers edge is a ritual where she has to find a dead animal (from an accident along the highway) which is then skinned and made into a drum (by helpers) and a drumming ritual with another person lying on top of you. In the frenzied drumming and its loud rhythms the heat and the dead weight of the person Priya thoughts floated on to the big regret, of a life lived in ignorance. 'We live in a dual reality, a world of opposites. Be strong enough to face the world everyday. Be weak enough to know that you cannot do everything...be the best you can be,' she realises. Great stuff for all of us.

The spiritual walk is a ritual that takes her into the woods where one meets ones deepest fears. Priya chooses Martin, the handsomest man she had ever seen and one with whom she experiences love at first sight (but he is already engaged) to go on the walk with her. She dreams of a walk in the woods under a starry night. Unfortunately it turns into a stormy night. But Martin turns up dutifully to honor her wishes and asks why she has cooked up a storm for her walk. Priya is puzzled at his question. How can she conjure up a storm? They walk in the rain, in the dark woods. Martin tells her clearly that she is the boss. 'You are in charge.' He also tells her that its best to be honest and not apologetic. In the walk Priya finally experiences being in the darkest part of the woods by herself and gets over her fear.
Martin tells her the spiritual walk normally gives an answer to a question we have and asks her what the answer was. Priya ponders and knows that her question was , one most of us may identify with, is - why do I have to struggle for everything? Why are there so many obstacles? Martin puts it into perspective when he asks her - if the world world does not accept your work, would it still serve your purpose? She says i t would because she is still learning. If it does, then how does it matter what they think, he says. Also people need to trust you and for that you need to love the world. The world is for you, not against you. To love someone does not need permission. He says, we lead ourselves where our highest lessons lie.

The fire walk ritual is conducted by Priya, and she is assigned to be the master, and which she conducts with aplomb. 'When you pray upon the fire and walk on it, you become the fire.' On Priya's doubts about spirituality and materialism (her desire to be a multi billionaire) Kahuna says 'To be a billionaire is a great prayer that invites greater responsibility because people accept and acknowledge your service to be genuine and priceless. You don't become a billionaire because you want to. You become a billionaire because you add value, because you change people, because you improve the world with your contribution.'
'Freedom is never found in extremes, freedom is found in balance.'
It is found in the balance between material attainment and spiritual renunciation.
On why people do not burn when they walk on the fire, Priya says that fire does not burn a mind that is made up. The body becomes bigger than the fire and embraces it. 

On teaching Kahuna says - there is no language for teaching. You can teach lessons of a million lifetimes with your sheer presence.
On the fact that people walked on a fire made of teak wood which burns higher than the pine wood, Kahuna says. 'People walked on your energy and your force. Your energy is greater than any teak wood put together, such is the force of the master. It is the master alone, the soul that is ignited to its purpose that can burn poison into a cup of life.It is the power of the master to negate any hurdle in the path of the follower's belief. ...It is your force that will take millions along any fire because you are there, holding a spiritual responsibility. You are a celebration, you are a joy'

Priya thinks of people people back home who are constantly unhappy. She says - happiness is something you give...it is in the act of doing. It's a choice, not a consequence. It's not something others give you, you give it to others.

Finally the ritual of self mastery draws it to close, when all her masters sit at her feet and seek her blessings. Kahuna's words ' If I am another you, then how can I treat you different than myself? My relationship with you is but a relationship with myself. I am another you in every way and experience. Take care of yourself as you would take care of me. I am another you and when you meet me you will know yourself. When you know the divinity in me you will know the god in you.''

Priya describes the rituals and her feelings and emotions with great honesty and with such intensity that one feels as if we are in the ritual itself. Thanks to the lucidity of her expression we experience the experience almost. Its wonderful.

Priya always marched to her own drum. As a youngster from Chandigarh she would give tuition and at one stage was teaching as many as 1900 students. She started helping her neighbor who would speak on de-addiction and got into the speaking circuit. Today she is a well known brand in motivational speaking, training and workshops. She is India's first certified woman fire walk trainer. She has authored two other books 'License to live' and 'A Perfect World' and is making a difference to the world in many ways. Wonderful stuff. Definitely recommended. She is a master.

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