I stared up at the ceiling as the howling laughter intensified around me — demonic cackles, warm chuckles and everything in between. Should I run? This was nuts.
The girl next to me shook uncontrollably and tears rolled down her cheeks as the giggles took over. An Indian man with smiling eyes and slow movements, glided around the room, letting out his own very special laugh.
Late afternoon light cut in through the mountain valley and across the river, shining through a wall of windows and scattering across the floor. There was no reason to be unhappy, but also no reason in particular to laugh.
I sat up, looked around and turned to Greg, a serious fellow who seemed equally confused. We spoke silently to each other, raising our eyebrows and shrugging our shoulders as the decibel increased. The guffawing of 35 people echoing between the walls of a stone room is deafening. It flowed over and around us until we eventually drowned, the absurdity too much to bear. I cracked first, then he followed and we became one of them.
There was so much to laugh about and nothing at all. To laugh at everything or laugh at nothing, that was the question of the moment. Who knows how long it went on. Laughing meditation had no ending time. It was too organic, despite sprouting out of a purely artificial scenario: “OK, begin.”
After the snorts subsided and fizzled out, we lay there a few moments letting our sore abs relax. Students slipped out one by one to lounge on the riverbank before evening yoga.
Just another another day in Rishikesh.
I popped next door for my regular one-hour massage from hell. This category of massage didn’t fall under “good pain,” just old-fashioned “pain pain.” Imagine an abalone being beaten until tender…The good news is that afterwards you don’t walk out, you float out, all tension gone.
A month at this yoga teacher training course was a loop of curries, guitar sessions, massages, yoga classes, silent meditations, theory, odder meditations, pranayama and more yoga. Days began at 5am with 90 minutes of pranayama breathing exercises. Watching the sunrise from my spot in the first row made it worth the side aches I would get.
Life was good, but it wasn’t long before the four hours of yoga, equal amount of theory and tasty mealtimes had been eclipsed by afternoon meditation. Our early skepticism was gone. Sanjiv had converted us.
I’ve never met a saint, but our meditation teacher, Sanjiv, a grinning, gentle Indian man, is the closest I’ve ever come, the result of someone who stopped feeding his ego long ago. His presence is a comfort and the love he feels for every single person is palpable. We counted down the minutes until our slot with him.
Dancing meditation? Someone asked during another one of our afternoon sessions. We hadn’t done this yet.
It’s easy, Sanjiv assured. With that, he turned on some rhythmic Indian music, told everyone to close their eyes and he began to dance…so we followed. The volume and speed of the sounds were designed to clear the mind. When the music ended I opened my eyes, surprised by the orange light. We’d been dancing, swaying and blindly meandering for over an hour. A fly on the wall would have been baffled or anyone passing by for that matter or maybe even myself if I’d dared to take a peek.
But, damn, it felt GOOD.
Whether seated meditation, laughing mediation, dancing meditation, humming meditation or whatever Sanjiv came up with, we were better for it, and always left thankful for his company and a space without goals.
Yoga schools in India can be lucrative and are often run by shrewd businessmen. Sanjiv was a world apart. After once witnessing the school owner criticizing him, we came to his defense. Sanjiv insisted, with that smile on his face, that the owner should be forgiven and had surely not meant what he said.
Near the end of our month we piled into class, full from feasting on cinnamon rolls at a nearby cafe. Sanjiv sat patiently with his usual smile and soft eyes. He didn’t say much and we began seated meditation.
The energy in the room, whatever “energy” means, was more focused and still than usual. Somebody stood up and left, so we slowly deduced that the hour was up.
When we opened our eyes, the normally bare room was covered in flower petals. That orange light was there too, right on cue. Sanjiv was gone — no goodbye, no warning. He’d left the center and left town.
We didn’t want to cry, so we ran outside and jumped into the river instead.