Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Himalayan Ridgeback Pointer

India is a feast for the senses. Subtlety may be part of the backdrop but the intensity of colors, sounds and fragrances frames the experience.

Beyond the kaleidoscope of sensory inputs, the people you encounter create the most lasting memories. From the helpful porter who lugs your bag (often bigger than he is) to the merchant insisting both “best price” and “best kwality,” the experience of India is the connection to a remarkably hearty, resourceful and resilient population.

On a trip to India a few years ago, I had the great pleasure of meeting Maya Narayan and Didi Contractor at their home outside of Dharamsala. Through the generosity of my friends Jonathan and Lynn, I received an invitation to meet this fascinating duo for dinner.

After teaching my afternoon yoga class at the Pema Thang guesthouse, I immediately jumped into a cab for the circuitous 45- minute cab ride to Lower Dharamsala. The baby monkeys that cling to their mama’s fur were clearly the inspiration for the houses that hung off the hillsides. Made of various combinations of cement, slate and brick, a few ounces of mortar proved sufficient to bind the various ingredients into a whole. The cab’s connection to the road seemed a bit less secure than the buildings’ connection to the hillside, though not by much. As in much of India, an unwavering faith in providence is the currency that binds things into a whole.

As twilight segued into darkness, the familiar form of Jonathan appeared at a driveway that led into the darkness. Though I’d only met Maya a few hours previously, I felt a smile wash over my face as I recognized her form in the distinct darkness of the Himalayan foothills.

With flashlight in hand, Maya led us across a stony series of steps, outcroppings and stream crossings en-route to the compound she shared with her mother, Didi.

For those of you who have read My Family and Other Saints by Kirin Narayan, Didi Contractor needs no introduction. If you’ve yet to read this lovely book, you could consider Didi the Den Mother of the nascent human potential movement of the 1960’s. The personalities Didi nursed back to health during their India travels reads like a who’s-who of today’s yoga, neuroscience and meditation communities. After many years living near Mumbai, Didi now makes her home surrounded by the towering peaks of the Himalayas.

Upon reaching the hand-built, wooden doors, a voice from inside beckoned us to come in. Once I crossed the imposingly wide threshold, a most inviting scene unfolded. Lynn looked resplendent with two kitties on her lap, while Didi patiently stoked the fire. A bit sheepishly I was informed that the deliciousness of the dinner served before my arrival had left little on my plate, though in surroundings like this, nutrition came in forms more varied than caloric intake.

Didi sprang into action in the kitchen. Belying her age, there was quickly warm food on my plate, and rum toddies for all of us.

Once we all settled in around the fire, the stories quickly began to flow: Didi’s beautiful architectural creations, Indian driving tests and feral dogs were among the highlights.

The streets of India are populated with savvy dogs that somehow survive careening cabs, rickshaws and malnutrition to form a sizeable population. Even though I’m an avowed cat-lover, I’ve seen dozens of puppies I’ve been tempted to take home with me.

It turns out Maya fell prey to the same rampant displays of street smarts and cuteness, and adopted one of these common dogs. As this puppy matured, it turned out to be an unusually handsome specimen, and once it learned how to walk on the leash, began to hold its head a little higher, and walk with a bit more of a spring in its stride.

Though Ginger came from the humblest origins, her demeanor and presence became noticeably different from all the other dogs. Both locals and visitors began to ask, what breed of dog is that? To say Ginger was a mutt would have been nominally true, though Ginger would likely have found the term mutt an indignity, in the same way one doesn’t purchase a Vera Wang dress to avert indecent exposure laws.

In deference to the unique ridge of fur on Ginger’s spine, Maya identified her companion as a Himalayan Ridgeback Pointer. Given Ginger’s confidence and presence, most people nod knowingly when informed of her breeding, even though no such breed exists!

I found Maya’s story heartwarming in so many ways, among them, the demonstration of how our own mind shapes our worldview. As Ginger came to see herself as a beautiful and elegant creature, her demeanor simultaneously changed. From the humblest of origins as a street dog, she became a purebred Himalayan Ridgeback Pointer.

One of the joys in teaching yoga is watching people uncover the plasticity of their views. While upbringing certainly flavors our view of the world, it’s an overlay, and not a template. Through the regular practice of yoga and meditation, we come to realize that our view of our life and its events is more predictive of our experience than the events themselves. I’m not stressed because my life is stressful; I’m stressed because of how I react to the events of my life. Do you see your life as a street mutt, or as a purebred Himalayan Ridgeback Pointer?

As I bid adieu to my new friends Didi and Maya, I left inspired and uplifted in so many ways. Thank you to all for a most enjoyable evening!