Category Archives: Music

Chickadee’s Legacy

Artwork by inmate Aaron Pearson

Each time we find ourselves standing on a stage or in a living room or in a backyard in Illinois or Vermont or Baltimore or Baton Rouge and we are holding our instruments and gazing into the unknown—a group of faces belonging to people we’ve never met, or people we’ve just met, or people we’ve known for years—we always reach that moment of free fall, when Addison introduces the song “Chickadee”.

“This next song is the title track of our new album, and is dedicated to our daughter, Chickadee,” he says, “who was stillborn two years ago. This whole tour is about her and this album we recorded for her. It’s also for you—all of you who showed up here and are making space for this music and this story.”

I stand transfixed, almost in horror, as he bares our bloody hearts for all to see.

“This song is the silver lining to something that was really hard,” he says. He begins playing and I fall into step with him. We free fall into the arms of strangers.

When the set is over and we enter into the midst of our audience, we find acceptance over and over again. We find a shared story with our listeners.

A woman approaches me. “Thank you for sharing that song about your daughter. Not many people talk about these kinds of things. My sister’s first and only child was stillborn. She doesn’t really talk to anyone about it and no one says anything to her, except for me. I’m going to share Chickadee with her.”

A man comes and stands with me, his eyes filled with tears. “Thank you for sharing your story. My wife and I lost three babies.” We embrace, and our tears mix together to create an elixir that heals us, a little more. Just a little more healing to get us through.

We’ve played our music for people all the way from Colorado to Louisiana and we finally arrive in Austin Texas where Chickadee was born, and where she is buried. The sights and smells remind me of the intense joy I felt while I was pregnant with her.

Our first show is at the Mohawk, a music venue with a stage and big lights that shine in our eyes as we stand up in front of a group of people we can’t see. I consider the option of bailing on the whole vulnerability aspect of the tour. This is a big venue, and people are here just to “have a good time”, right? We don’t need to ruin their nights by talking about our stillborn baby. But balking now would feel like a betrayal to something we’ve spent the past two years discovering.

Our voices and instruments are so amplified I feel as though I will be knocked over by the sound, so I try to ride the waves instead. We reach the part of our set where we’re supposed to play Chickadee’s song, and I barely breathe, not looking at Addison but watching his every move. Is he going to go through with it? He introduces the song. I wait, frozen. I wait for people to turn away in disgust. To walk out, shaking their heads. No one moves. I feel their hearts open, their willingness to go there with us.

“Being here with y’all is really what this whole tour is about,” Addison says. “Sharing this story and this album with people like you, especially here in Austin where this story began, is really special.”

After the music is over, we find our way off of the stage and once again into the arms of strangers. Human beings who have all suffered and lost, just as we have.

“Y’all are giving us all permission to be ourselves,” one person says after we’ve pulled everything off stage to make room for the next band.

“You’re doing something with your music that I want to be doing but don’t know how”, one musician tells us. He plays in different bands around Austin, but works on his own music as well. “I want to get there. I am figuring it out. I’m so inspired by your vulnerability and your story.”

A week and a half later, and about a month and half into our tour, we are going to a Buddhist gathering at the Travis Correctional Facility in Dell Valle Texas with our Dharma teacher, Alyssa. We pass a mandolin, banjo, guitar, harmonicas and fiddle through the security check and inside the fences and razor wire, and find a group of men in white and black striped jumpers, ready to meditate, to listen to our music and to discuss the wonders and hardships of being alive.

I look into the faces of these men, and see that their suffering has transformed them. They are in jail, but they are learning to find a freedom that they will always have access to—freedom from their thoughts, feelings and perceptions; freedom from judgement, freedom from attachment to things being a certain way; freedom from the notion of being a separate self but rather the freedom of finding ourselves in everything and everyone.

Addison, Alyssa, these prisoners and I have all come to this Buddhist practice through our own trials by fire, and we have arrived together from different paths, yet now we are together and trying to support one another along the same path. Alyssa greets each man as though he were a beloved son, embracing them and listening intently to their updates and check-ins.

We sit down and meditate together, following Alyssa’s instruction to relax the tops of our heads down to our feet, and to allow ourselves to arrive here fully. After meditating, I push metal finger picks onto my right hand and place the banjo into my lap. Addison tunes his five string violin and then we begin to play. The music transports all of us, beyond the prison walls, and we all forget where we’re sitting. We forget that this is the first time we’re meeting each other, feeling a familiarity that goes beyond our stories and judgements.

I tell the men briefly about losing Chickadee and how she appears in the song we just played and the one we’re about to play.

“I’m so sorry,” I hear one man utter softly.

After we play some more songs, a man shares the story of his father dying, while he was still in jail and unable to be with him. “Look at your hands,” Alyssa says. “Can you see your father’s hands in your hands? He is still with you, he’s still inside of you.”

“My father used to hold my hand through church service every Sunday,” he says. “I can still feel his hand on mine when I close my eyes.”

“Here in prison, right here with y’all,” one man says, pointing to the instruments in our hands, “is a joy I never experienced when I was ‘free’. Back when I was taking dope and peddling drugs, I never felt joy. I didn’t know what joy felt like. I would take drugs and ‘have fun’, but that was nothing close to this. Just sitting here in this circle with all of you, is the greatest joy I’ve ever felt.”

The men ask us questions about our life, how do we support ourselves, is it only with music?

“We offer people something that we have the ability to offer – our music, our story, our presence – and we always receive something back,” I say, “whether it’s money or a place to stay or a juvenile peacock feather tied to our merch case. Like being here with you and bringing you joy is a compensation that goes beyond anything we can compare. It’s the most fulfilling thing I can think of doing.”

It’s time to leave, so Alyssa rings the bell, and we bow to one another in gratitude for showing up and for what each person shared of themselves. Then we turn to bow to the trees and the insects and the sky and to all of our ancestral teachers. As the men prepare to leave, they give each of us hugs, thanking us for coming.

We make our way back out of the giant cage of the jail, and Alyssa asks if telling Chickadee’s story over these two months on tour has been like ripping a scab off of a wound repeatedly. Alyssa lost her grandson a few days after he was born, not long before we lost Chickadee, but I still haven’t heard her talk directly about him in her Dharma talks. Maybe one day she will.

“You know I don’t think there was a scab on the wound to pull off,” I tell her. “Talking about Chickadee and playing her songs for people has been helping the wound to scab and heal, instead of just bleeding non-stop.”

I used to feel so isolated in my grief, bemoaning the lack of ceremony we have as a culture around death, especially of babies and children. I had no idea until I was a bereaved mother that the way the death of babies is handled by many people is by avoiding the subject, for fear they might “upset” me, as if I’m not already beyond upset. But I don’t feel angry about the avoidance anymore. I understand their silence comes from not knowing what to do or say. So Addison and I created our own ceremony around Chickadee’s death by recording her an album and traveling the country with it.

The next morning after visiting the prisoners, we packed some snacks and Zoso into the car, picked up birdseed from the store and drove the thirty miles east out of Austin to Eloise Woods, the green burial site where we left Chickadee’s tiny little body two and half years ago.

On the day she was born, we had held her for hours, admiring every inch of this little miracle who emerged from my body. A few visitors had come and gone, crying over her both in sadness and in wonder, including my sister and my dad, who’d flown in at short noice when they heard the news. The hospital put her on ice afterwards, to give me time to recover from giving birth and slowly regain feeling in my lower body from the epidural.

Later we asked to see her again, and we cradled her cold, bundled body, looking into her face and wondering what we should do with her. The hospital was offering to incinerate her and give us a tiny urn filled with her ashes. Our midwife was telling us about a green burial space that we could bring her to.

“But we’ll need to keep her on dry ice all night, and change the ice out every four hours,” she said. “And we need to bury her tomorrow for sure. Her body is very fragile and delicate, and it will start to fall apart quickly.”

Talk about fucking impermanence.

I was trying to wrap my mind around keeping her in a box in our bedroom and changing out dry ice in the middle of the night when I could barely even walk and Addison was a bereft zombie version of his former self, when my sister stepped in.

“I can take care of that,” she said. “I’ll set a timer and change her ice out and whatever else needs to be done. You won’t have to think about it.”

She looked into my face, and I know that she could tell that the difference between us burying Chickadee or cremating her was what kind of support she could give us in this time of utter disbelief.

“Ok,” I said, knowing that I could rely on her. As soon as my sister received the news that my baby died while I was in labor, she’d gotten on the first plane out of Seattle that she could find a ticket for. “Thanks Radha.”

I’d imagined Eloise Woods to be an open area, a rolling cemetery covered in bright green grass with giant willows weeping across the symmetrical lines of gravestones. But Texas is not the northeast, where I’ve spent most of my life. This green burial place is a couple of acres covered by scraggly oaks and scrubby brush, with stony paths cut through the woods. Erect gravestones are not allowed, so all of the markers lie flat on top of the burial mound they belong to, mostly marking the graves of babies and pets, though some adults rest there as well.

We arrived in a caravan of cars. Addison parked our car in the shade where I waited with our daughter in a styrofoam ice chest beside me. My sister visited with me in between checking on the progress of finding a spot to bury Chickadee. Addison wanted the best place for her and was walking in circles around the site, trailed by his mother, my dad and the midwife. What felt like an eternity later, he’d decided on a couple of options, and they led me around and showed me our choices. I was dismayed by how hot and merciless the sun was, and by how unwelcoming this place felt, and despaired at finding a burial place I could be happy with. At one spot I was being shown, I turned around and looked behind me. There was a corner patch of woods where I could see an opening at the foot of an oak tree.

“What about over here?” I asked. Everyone turned and looked. I wanted Chickadee to be buried somewhere remotely shady, and between the oaks and a big pine nearby, it was one of the shadier options. It was also a private nook, where no one else was yet buried.

Everyone agreed it was a good spot.

I went back to my seat in the car with Chickadee, and the men got to work, relieved to have something to do with themselves. They cut back brush, raked and eventually were able to begin digging her burial spot. It need to be at least three feet deep, which is no small task with soil as hard and rocky as this Texas soil was.

A chaplain, who my midwife had asked to come, was helping to cut and dig, when I asked if I could see him and talk to him about the ceremony he was planning on leading for my daughter. He walked slowly to the car, brushing dirt from his hands, and sat next to me solemnly.

“Mary Ellen asked me to do something involving some Christian songs and words,” he said, “but I hear you’re not Christian.”

“No, I’m not,” I said. “Not that I have an aversion to Christianity either.” I think my dad had been worried about his granddaughter getting Jesus-afied during her burial, because he’d seemed a bit grumpy after the chaplain’s arrival.

“What do you believe?” the chaplain asked me.

I was so glad to be having this conversation. So glad that someone was asking me this.

“Everything I’ve read that the Buddha taught really makes sense to me,” I said.

“So are you Buddhist?”

“I don’t know…” I said slowly. “Maybe I am.”

We talked about life after death, spirituality, God or no God, all of the topics I love discussing with intelligent yet kind people such as this man.

We wrote out the ceremony together, and when it was time all of us formed a semi-circle, standing or sitting, around the freshly dug hole. Addison went to the car and carried the little bundle of his daughter over to the grave and carefully lowered her in. Later I would regret not having held her one last time, but at that moment I just sat and watched her go into the ground.

Addison and I each sang her a song, and her Nana tried to sing her a song but couldn’t get the words out through her tears, so Radha and I picked up the song where she’d left off and sang it. Radha also read her a message from my friend Colleen, and my friend Alice read her a Mary Oliver poem. MariMikal and her friend sang a couple of songs as well, and then my dad stood up to say some words.

“I can’t help feeling that she’ll be back,” he told all of us. “She came to Jahnavi and Addison at an important time in their lives, and now that her work is done she left again. But I think she’s coming back.”

When it was time to bury her, I lowered a beautiful moonstone necklace onto her bundle, given to us by the midwife’s assistant, along with a moonstone necklace each for Addison and I. Everyone surrounded her and began to pour shovels or handfuls of dirt over her. A chubby stone chickadee was placed at the head of the grave, along with some other pieces of art and beauty brought by friends or family.

Two and half years later we are arriving in the same car we’d transported Chickadee in, but this time we know our way around. We open the gate and roll in on the bumpy dirt trail, parking at the beginning of the Moonlit Garden path. Zoso knows the drill, and bursts from the car in a flurry of excitement, and commences with peeing on things and chasing rodents through the underbrush.

It’s spring this time, and although it’s sunny, it’s not yet too hot. There are wildflowers bursting with vivid colors all around, and it lends a feeling of cheerfulness to this unassuming patch of Texas forest. I look around, wondering how much of Chickadee’s essence is dispersed through the landscape here, how much of her is still inside of me, and where is the rest of her?

According to Thich Nhat Hanh and the Buddha and science, our bodies and energy re-disperse into the world around us after we die, our molecules becoming a part of the insects, trees, plants, birds, sunshine, rain and clouds. Perhaps our mind-stream carries on to another form, but that is always up for debate. As the Dalai Lama says, until science can prove that re-birth does or does not exist, then maybe it does.

“As far as I know, no modern psychologist, physicist, or neuroscientist has been able to observe or predict the production of mind either from matter or without cause,” he says. If something has no beginning, it makes sense that it has no end.

Addison and I sit by Chickadee’s grave for a while, talking, playing music, journaling, reading and, of course, filling up her bird feeder with a mix of sunflower seeds, peanuts and safflower seeds. I sprinkle the seed mix around her spot, and Zoso wanders around picking up the peanuts and munching them contentedly. He’s hot, and keeps trying to do the frog dog, legs splayed out and belly to the cool earth, directly on top of Chickadee. Addison keeps shooing him off, but I finally say, “You know what, just let him. She’s his little sister and I don’t think she minds.”

Yes, I know that a dog can’t actually be related to a human, but Zoso is our baby and so is Chickadee, so there it is.

It’s strange sitting with a part of me that has been buried.

We take a walk around the grounds, noticing new burial sites with markers from 2018 or 2019. Beautiful quotes engraved in stone mark the paths, and we pause to read them or to smell the fragrant wildflowers who smile up at us. We find a dog bowl for Zoso because he’s hot and thirsty, and as we search for a spigot to get him some water, we discover a two foot tall medicine Buddha hiding behind the tool-shed.

“Oh wow,” I say.

“What’s he doing behind here?” Addison asks.

“He’s too tall to meet the marker requirements,” I observe. “And they don’t want statues set up here either. I know we have our chubby chickadee, but we are technically breaking the rules. So someone probably brought him here not knowing that, but then the caretaker saw and hid him back here while they figured out what to do with him.”

“Let’s take him to Chickadee’s spot,” Addison says.

“Ok,” I laugh. “They’re going to discover him sooner or later and carry him away again, but we might as well bring him over to hang out with her for a while anyway.”

Addison picks up the Medicine Buddha and sets him next to Chickadee’s grave. The Buddha gazes down at her in his cross-legged pose of blissful concentration.

Chickadee left a legacy of the greatest sorrow we will ever know. And she has left a legacy of music that we hadn’t known how to play until she came around. She taught us to be brave. She helped us commit to a spiritual practice, first when we were expecting her and meditating with her every morning, and after she left us. She has shown us that we really are interconnected with all beings, and that everyone has a story. If we stay vulnerable and just listen, we will hear the entire universe in the laugh of a baby, we will see all of the oceans in the tear of a woman, and we will smell the beauty of the entire world in the fragrance of a flower. When we begin to live our lives for the benefit of others, our happiness expands and we can begin to truly see other people as human beings with a story and a legacy of their own, which is not separate from ours.

We’re all in this together.

Bare beauty and a question for you

Dear friend,

I have received your letter or message and it has been a salve to the craggy, scarred face of my heart.

To those of you who sent a letter or card or flowers (Melissa, Russell, Manjari, Chris, Ami, Ashton, Ellen, Ros, Kelsey, Chrysantha, Ben and Alice) I want you to know that your love and effort has moved us deeply. As I expressed to my friend Alice, when I receive a letter or card from you expressing your care and support, there is a sense of relief inside of me. This heavy weight in my chest is no longer only carried by me; I feel your hands holding it up as well, and it is that much easier to bear. To me, this is no small matter. Your kind actions mean the world to me. I believe that Addison feels the same.

Even just the act of sitting and reading what I write, taking the time to sit with me through each post, is something I appreciate deeply. I love seeing your comments or reading your emails. I can attribute much of my healing process to you being here—wherever you are—to receive what I am sharing. Thank you.

Here in Colorado the skies create a sapphire backdrop for the golden fields and orange or gray or white, leafless trees. I never knew dead grass and bare branches could be so beautiful. When I walk Zoso at dawn, his tracks are negatives across the frosty ground. There are sounds of crunching beneath my feet as I breath with my steps.

These days are spent working, writing, recording our album, and—for me—crying many tears. I am missing my daughter and I understand now that there is no end-date for this sadness.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a meditation retreat in the Rocky Mountains with Addison and my sister, Radha. We spent a lot of time in silence and in ceremony. At times I found myself prostrated on the ground, invoking my ancestors and spiritual teachers. I lay down on the earth, practicing letting go and asking for help. Chickadee was there. In a way she has become my ancestor, though I was the one who gave birth to her.

I asked myself a lot of questions during those five days and received few answers—but that’s too be expected in any spiritual quest.

One of the questions I continue to ponder is this: what is going to be my way of taking positive action and helping to ease the suffering of living beings on this planet?

I was reminded—during a powerful presentation given by a Lakota dharma teacher at the retreat—of the many issues which are swept under the rug and kept from public view.

I contemplated how I am living in a country whose native people have been massacred, imprisoned, lied to, and mistreated in innumerable ways by my political leaders, both past and present. The Dakota Access Pipeline was one incident that the native people and U.S. religious leaders and citizens brought to public attention. But there is so much that goes unseen. What can I do to balance the scales? Can I take responsibility for my ancestors’ actions without being crushed under the weight of tremendous regret and sadness for what cannot be taken back?

Larry Rowe, another dharma teacher at the retreat, is an African American man. He mentioned the unease he feels being in the United States, and how much safer he feels in other countries. It reminded me that someone with different skin color than me may not be treated as well. I don’t want to turn a blind eye on these things.

I do want to consider deeply where I can be the most effective in creating positive change; I know my own limitations. 

What are some ways that you take positive action in the world? I’m curious to know, if you have a minute to share in the comments below (I may very well steal your idea if it really resonates with me—heh heh heh).

Yesterday we spent three hours recording my harmonies onto a 3 1/2 minute song for the upcoming album. It felt like a good use of our time, and it was also a reality check of just how long the recording process takes, not to mention mixing the tracks before sending them to be mastered!

The song we worked on yesterday is called “Chickadee”. Addison wrote it about our daughter. There is no way I would have been able to sing the song through, but he managed it beautifully. I approached my harmonies for the song by focusing on each sentence as a separate piece. I made myself concentrate on the words as syllables or notes which I had to sing in key and match timing with Addison’s voice. It enabled me to get through the whole recording process cheerfully. Listening back through the song as a whole definitely choked me up, but by then I was done singing for the day so that was fine.

My brother—who normally lives in South India—is currently in the U.S. due to a series of events, so Addison and I took advantage of his proximity and flew him out here. You may have already seen some of the photos he’s taken since he arrived in The Love Sprockets’ Instagram or Facebook feed. (the picture at the top of this post is his)

In the next week and a half we’ll be doing some photo and video shoots with him, and he is also revamping our website. It feels good to be “starting over” in certain respects to our music and as a band. We are really embracing our band as a duet, instead of wishing it was a four piece. And this next album will have a different sound and feeling from the last one we released.

Thank you for reading this update; I hope at least some of it was interesting for you. 🙂

Don’t forget to share your own way of creating positive change (big or small) in the comments below.

Big love to you!

-Jahnavi

P.S. You may have heard or figured it out—we extended the release date for our upcoming album, entitled “Chickadee”. If you haven’t gotten around to preordering it and getting your name in the liner notes, you still have time: http://music.thelovesprockets.com/album/chickadee

Your Clear Refusal of Our World

My aunt Ros was organizing some books a couple of weeks ago, when one of them fell and opened to this poem…

 

For a Child Born Dead

What ceremony can we fit

You in now? If you had come

Out of a warm and noisy room

To this, there’d be an opposite

For us to know you by. We could

Imagine you in a lively mood

 

And then look at the other side,

The mood drawn out of you, the breath

Defeated by the power of death.

But we have never seen you stride

Ambitiously the world we know.

You could not come and yet you go.

 

But there is nothing now to mar

Your clear refusal of our world.

Not in our memories can we mould

You or distort your character.

Then all our consolation is

That grief can be as pure as this.

                                                      -Elizabeth Jennings (1926)

 

Ros typed the poem out, printed it and glued it to the back of a little chickadee painting photo, which she sent to us.

The poem struck me and brought me to tears.

Elizabeth, the author of this poem, describes the sudden death of her child as “your clear refusal of our world.”

Oh how rejected I felt by my daughter when she died.

“We created such a beautiful home for you!” I cried after her death. “We got everything ready. I dusted, cleaned, planted a garden, raked leaves; we hammered in every nail on the back porch so your soft, fat legs didn’t get scraped by them. I practiced Spanish and French so you could hear me in the womb and grow up bilingual! I meditated with you every morning, I read you books, I imagined your whole life stretched out in front of us. We were going to take you on bicycle tours, take you to France to meet your relatives, take you to India to hang out with your monk uncle! You were going to have such an awesome life! Why didn’t you want it? Why didn’t you want us? How could you leave me like this?”

But then Elizabeth says, “Not in our memories can we mould or distort your character. Then, all our consolation is that grief can be pure as this.”

Chickadee was and is the perfect child. She never grew up and became tainted by the many sorrows of this world. She never had a drug problem, or yelled at me “I hate you!”. She never became depressed.

How true are Elizabeth’s words to me.

Later, I reread the poem and examined the date on which it had been written. 1926. That was almost a hundred years ago.

Almost a hundred years ago this woman experienced a loss and grief so similar to mine that the poem she wrote is one I could have written.

Grief is universal. Joy is universal. Pain is universal. Happiness is universal. Who knew that a grief this specific could be so universal? I knew and yet I needed this poem as a reminder.

Whatever you are feeling right now, whatever pain you are experiencing, whatever longing you’re having, remember this:

You are not alone.

Somewhere in the world, and at many points in history, there is someone who has felt or is feeling what you are feeling. Someone has gone through what you’re going through. Someone is going through what you are currently experiencing. Someone will experience what you are going through in the future.

Thank you, Elizabeth Jennings, for writing that poem, and Ros for finding it and sending it to us. 🙂

P.S. We are going to be releasing an E.P. in honor of our daughter’s one year anniversary, called “Chickadee”. When you preorder the album, your name will be printed on the inside of the album cover, to memorialize you as one of the people who made the project possible. Click here to preorder: https://thelovesprockets.bandcamp.com/album/chickadee

P.P.S. If you preorder “Chickadee” for $25 or more, you will get a surprise in the mail along with the new album (it might be a beautifully hand painted pair of underwear, a T-shirt, a postcard, who knows?) Click here to preorder: https://thelovesprockets.bandcamp.com/album/chickadee

We’re All Alone Together

Are there things you wish someone would have just *told* you when you were younger?

Such as, “Everyone goes through breakups. It’s totally normal and you will live through it!”

Or,  “I promise you, you are not the only person in the world going through this right now. You’re going to be okay.”

Or, “Many people wake up in the morning feeling depressed and anxious. Yes, it is really hard to get out of bed sometimes but it’s actually not going to get better *until* you get out of bed, so the sooner you get up the sooner you’ll feel better. I promise.”

(And while I wish that someone would have just told me these things 15 years ago, at the same time, I’ve recently tried telling my youngers these invaluable truths and so far they haven’t seemed to appreciate my aged perspective)

This morning I wake up with a ton of bricks sitting on my chest. Most of the time it gets better after I get up, but some days the bricks just stay there.

You’ll feel better once you get up, I tell myself.

But it’s running day today, I respond. I hate having to go running!

(“Running day” just means that today I go running rather than doing one of my Kundalini yoga videos. Unlike in my youth when I believed I had to love everything I did otherwise it wasn’t worth doing, now I view exercise as a necessary activity, like eating or drinking water, that I’d best get over with as soon as I possibly can in the day.)

I consider lying in bed all day, mourning my lost child and letting the bricks have their way with me.

That really doesn’t sound appealing though, so I get up.

I’ll bet there are a lot of people who are having a hard time getting out of bed today, I remind myself. I’ll bet they would be comforted knowing I was having a hard time too and they’re not the only ones.

As I wander around getting dressed, I tell Addison, “It’s running day today. I hate going running.”

He laughs, because I say this pretty much every other day.

Zoso huddles in his bed in the corner, hoping I won’t notice him. He hates running too.

I decide to leave him behind and walk him later. It’s hard enough dragging my own butt out the door.

As I begin walking down the street in my five finger shoes and exercise shorts, the familiar thoughts run through my head. It would be so much easier to go running if Addison would just come with me. I know, he can’t because of his knee, but still!

Overhead, a loud racket interrupts my internal racket. It seems a cicada and a grackle are having a showdown, about 30 feet above my head. Nearby a pack of blue jays alarm obnoxiously. Blue jays seem to like hanging out yelling at someone or something just for kicks.

Addison mentioned the other day that cicadas, unlike most insects, seem to have the ability to “scream”. He gained this knowledge the other night, when our cat Shiva brought a cicada into the house. Apparently, as Shiva tortured the poor insect, the cicada sounded a variety of distress calls. And, if it hadn’t been so loud and insistent, Addison may not have realized it was inside and may not have saved its life as a result.

High in the branches of a Texas Cedar Elm, the female grackle chases the cicada. The cicada, in turn, is shrieking in terror. I know when the grackle finally catches the insect, because as she flies from branch to branch, the sound of the screaming cicada accompanies her. She seems to be trying to figure out how to eat something so fierce and loud. Finally she flies away, over the houses and past the gang of blue jays. The cicada announces her trajectory to the entire neighborhood.

I take a deep breath and start running. I have a route through the neighborhoods figured out that will allow me to run for at least 20 minutes without ending up on a busy road.

I’ve run about four blocks, when I notice another runner overtaking me from the left. He isn’t running much faster than I, so for a few blocks we run side by side, before he takes the lead. I am smiling on the inside.

Someone else is out here running too! He’s all sweaty and his headphone cord is swinging around annoyingly like mine does! I’m not alone in my misery!

I admire his sweat-soaked T-shirt and shockingly white calves, his easy-going gait as though he is in no rush to arrive anywhere anytime soon. He doesn’t seem to mind running at all!

When he makes a turn, I realize he’s running the same route that I’ve picked out. So I follow, continuing to appreciate that we are running together, alone.

We pass a woman pushing a baby in a stroller, and ahead of her a woman walking her pit-bull boxer also wearing a sweaty T-shirt and a pink visor. See? They’re out exercising this morning too! I’ll bet they had a hard time getting out of bed too. Well, maybe not the mom with the baby, but still.

When my secret running partner turns again, I veer off in a different direction. A few mourning doves and titmice flutter away from a front-yard bird feeder as I run by. The cat who has been sneaking up on the birds, is poised behind the rise of a small hill in the yard. He sees me and dashes away, stampeding into the melee of birds and feathers and flying seed. The predator joins his former prey as they all flee from me, the apparently all-terrifying one.

Just then the pink visor lady and her pit-bull boxer overtake me, and we run together alone for a block or two. When we part ways I come upon a young Latina in black yoga pants, walking briskly, her hair swinging back and forth. I leave her behind and find myself on the final stretch of my run. Halfway up the hill ahead of me is a skinny blond woman in running shorts and a red tank-top. She’s running up the hill but she looks as if she’s faltering.

You can do it! I shout to her silently. You’re almost at the top!

She pauses to catch her breath, and I catch up to her. Then she takes off running again and now we’re both over the hump and I’m turning down my street and she’s carrying on down Cherrywood Road.

There are beads of sweat rolling down my face and I brush them away before they can land in my eyes. I open the front door to let Zoso out, wheezing and sweating. He and Shiva frolic around while I stretch out my legs.

I think about yesterday, because yesterday I was learning about how we are all alone together too. And because we were practicing for the show that’s happening today (are you coming? click here if you are and if you can’t make it, just go to facebook.com/thelovesprockets at 6 pm for the FB live show). It’s our last show in Austin and we’re playing a few songs with our new friend Arielle, who’s too cool for school and I’ll tell you more about her in a minute… 😉

So yesterday, my friend Nichole came to see me while she’s in town. She recently graduated from the Wilderness Awareness School in Washington. We haven’t seen eachother since she visited me in bed in November.

We were going to have lunch together, and I noticed I was feeling apprehensive about having to make “small-talk”, and perhaps having to try and “keep it together” so I didn’t make her uncomfortable.

Even though, if there’s anyone who’s okay with crying, it’s Nichole!

Once we were seated at the restaurant, we began sharing our experiences over the past 8 months. Eventually Nichole asked, “Why Colorado? Why do you need to move so far away?”

“Well, we need to get out of that house for one thing,” I told her. “It’s not doing me any good to stay there.” I told her about how liberating it is to be giving away and selling most of our stuff, and to be really examining what we truly need versus things we had just because we had the space in our house to have them.

I told her about Charlie Kern in Denver, CO and his school bus conversion operation.

I tried to tell her about having to go through Chickadee’s things and how sad that was for me, but I had to stop talking because I was on the verge of tears. Instead of a pile of “Congratulations on your new family member” cards, we have a pile of condolence cards, which we keep in the same box as her death certificate and her little inky footprints and her lock of hair. The quilt that her Nana made for her is sitting in our walk-in closet in a cardboard box.

Nichole was looking at me, and her eyes were filling with tears. “I could feel that,” she said, and we both just looked at eachother and cried. Someone brought our plates of food and set them in front of us. We wiped our eyes.

The other day my friend Liz sent a picture of some quotes, “Cry in public! Be a mess!” and we’d both laughed (in a texting sort of way). “I’ve gotten really good at crying in public this year,” I told her.

Nichole told me her own stories of suffering–not to complain, but just because they were experiences she’d had. She told me about one of her classmate’s brother dying, and how everyone in his class had surrounded him and held him while he sobbed. And she and I cried some more. And the waitress came to ask us how our food was and we hadn’t even tasted it yet.

The whole world has been laughing and crying with me. I’ve been suffering alone with all other beings. I’ve been running, together, with thousands of people around the world every other day. Even cicadas know how to cry.

As we were driving to my house, I told her that my musician friend, Arielle would be there to practice some songs with us. “I’d love to meet her,” Nichole said. I could have said more about Arielle, like, “Arielle is a badass girl! Her voice is like an angel! She rips guitar like Jon Mayer does in his dreams!” But I decided to let Nichole have her own experience in meeting Arielle.

Arielle is playing guitar with Addison on fiddle when we arrive. I’m so happy to see her. She’s been away, recording music with some bigwigs out in Nashville (or maybe it was Memphis) and just got back. Tonight we are going to accompany her on her song ‘Magick Again’ (which is amazing, you should listen to it while you’re reading the rest of this email). And she’s going to shred electric guitar on our songs ‘Robot’ and ‘Believe’.

We’re all sitting together in our living room full of boxes, and the dead cockroaches and dust bunnies that used to live under the furniture that is no longer there. As we play, I watch Nichole’s reaction to Arielle’s singing. I catch her eye and we both laugh.

We’re all three jamming, taking solos, and I’ve never jammed with a girl before. Nichole is sitting and smiling and clapping along. I love that Arielle is better at playing music than me. And that Nichole knows a lot more about the natural world in Austin then I do. And she’s better at being friends than me because she makes sure to see me whenever she can.

And tonight we’re playing our last show in Austin for a while and it’s so happy and so sad all at the same time.

See you tonight, either at the Red Shed Tavern in Austin at 6 pm, or onThe Love Sprocket’s Facebook page at 6 pm CT.

Love,

Jahnavi

Loneliness

“Yes I’m lonely, wanna die… I am lonely, wanna die…

If I am dead already… Girl, you know the reason why.”

-The Beatles

I am almost 8 months pregnant now. It is late September in Austin, hot, humid with a population of mosquitoes that boggles my mind, despite my years in India.

I hail most recently from Vermont, and am unaccustomed to the long months of confinement in air conditioning that I’m experiencing here in Austin.

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Our cat loves meditation time

Sometimes I venture to open a window, to let the sound of bird song drift in… But the heat quickly fills the house and I am quick to shut it again.

I slip outside on a daily basis to water my garden. I move quickly, swatting away mosquitoes while I hold the hose. Sometimes I’m lucky and only get 5-10 bites before I duck back inside.

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These guys don’t mind the mosquitoes…

Most mornings we meditate out on the back-porch. We set up by lighting two citronella candles, several sticks of incense, an essential oil burner filled with lemongrass and citronella oils and whatever else we can find that smokes and smells vile to mosquitoes. It’s wonderful to be able to sit outside and not get bitten… too much, anyways. An occasional kamikaze mosquito will break through the frontlines and find it’s way to a leg, or a foot, usually getting a blood sample or two before it’s exterminated with a mighty clap.

One day I scurried outside equipped with a mini saw and some clippers, to cut back the unwanted saplings and suckers from the trees in our front yard. I moved as quickly as I could, while a veritable cloud of blood sucking, hungry mosquitoes formed about me. Ten minutes later I was rushing back inside, my work done, and throwing myself onto our bed, moaning in agony. I counted almost 100 mosquito bites on my body (I got in the habit of counting mosquito bites when we lived in India and were camped on some land covered in rice paddies while we began construction on the community that would be built there). Addison and I rubbed ice cubes over the swelling bites, and I lathered myself in essential oils that eventually helped the itching to calm down.

My midwife told me about these mosquito repelling DEET sprayers that you can clip onto your belt while you garden. I never knew I would actually consider getting something like this before, but it sounds awesome. Misting mosquito death all around me… a force field of toxic doom for the blood sucking masses. Ahhh….

At this point you may be wondering what all of this mosquito talk has to do with loneliness, the title of this blog post.

Or maybe you live in Austin and you are simply commiserating with my mosquito tales. 😉

What this all has to do with loneliness is this: I am hugely pregnant, spending a lot of time at home. My usual activities (when not in my third trimester of pregnancy) involving nature connection, capoeira and cycling adventures have been put on hold for the moment.

I go to bed early. I wake up to pee up to 5 times in the night. I try to get up early and write for a couple of hours before I do any other work.

I go to Barton Springs and swim in the healing, cold waters that seem to suck the inflammation from my swollen ankles and fingers. These spring waters are a veritable source of bliss for this pregnant lady.

I have a mandolin lesson every other week, and noodle around at home, practicing the melodies and chords in preparation for the next lesson.2016-09-21-14-27-43-1

I read out loud in french, practicing for when the baby is born and I have to speak to her in french as much as possible so she can be bilingual as she grows up.2016-09-15-15-22-02

I reach out to a few people every week, hoping someone will want to come over and see me, or maybe go swimming with me. Perhaps, in some people’s minds, the fact that I’m pregnant means that I don’t exist right now. If I can’t come to capoeira class at night, or go see a show, than why invite me to anything or check in on me? I have a full time job creating another human being, so what else could I possibly want to do?

Ok, that was my bitter, proud Leo side speaking.

I’ve always wanted people to reach out to me, to invite me on adventures, to include me in crazy schemes.

But that’s what I do, not other people. I’m the one who calls people up and asks them to go camping with me, I’m the one who tries to get everyone together to make crafts and play music, I’m the one who writes letters on a typewriter and sends postcards and am thrilled if anyone responds in kind.

I know I am loved and adored by all of my friends. I know most of them would do anything to help me if I asked. I know they all care.

But I am in my third trimester of pregnancy, and I don’t want to be alone all of the time. I do like being alone most of the time. But not all of the time.

I’m feeling discouraged about creating community in Austin at the moment.

I did have a brilliant idea.

I updated my Couchsurfing profile and switched it on, to “Accepting Guests”.

Lo and behold, I’ve had requests from interesting, friendly people from all over the country who want to stay here… and that’s just within the first day of turning it back on.

I even had a Persian PhD student ask if we could be adventure buddies since he enjoys hiking and camping and wants other people to do this with. I said yes, but as I am so pregnant, I can only go on short hikes and am better off swimming.

The other day we had a young couple from Olympia, WA stay here. We talked about adventures and travel, and then they squished together on our leather chair next to the vinyl player reading books, while Addison and I worked out a couple of songs for our show on Saturday (are you coming? It’s at In.gredients on Sept. 24th from 6-8 pm).

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Back when I hosted a cyclist from England during my second trimester of pregnancy

It was very cozy and nice to have other human beings in our house.

Next weekend a woman from Alberta, Canada is going to stay with me while Addison is in Chicago. We’re going to go swimming, crotchet and read french to one another.

The weekend after a couple from Colorado is staying here for ACL.

Oh, and this kid from Denmark, who is traveling around the United States, just hit me up while I was writing to stay here tonight. 🙂

And ANOTHER guy just hit me up to stay here this weekend… he’s offering us Thai massages and yoga instruction. Woah.

Another idea I had is to figure out how to sit in my front yard on a daily basis, so I can wave to neighbors as they walk by. If anyone stops to chat, I’ll offer them a drink and a seat. I just need some really baller outdoor furniture and some extra citronella candles… maybe a fan that blows mosquito repellant everywhere. 😉 (if you live in Austin and have baller outdoor furniture to share with me, let me know! If the furniture comes included with you sitting in it, even better!)

I have always wanted community. But I didn’t always know that’s what I wanted. And now that I know that, I don’t know exactly how to make it happen. I’ve moved so frequently my entire life that I have friends and family spread across the world, literally.

Sometimes I sit and consider who I’m going to visit when, and as I start going down the list my head begins to spin. Should I spend New Years in Saltillo, Mexico with my new family-away-from-home that I spent last New Years with during my bicycle trip? How will that be with a newborn baby?

When should I fly to L.A. to visit my uncle and my new cousins who I still haven’t even met yet?

And then there’s always India. I haven’t been back there in 10 years, and I’d love to visit my mom and brother in their natural habitat, and revisit the Tibetan refugees who live near Govindaji Gardens (the spiritual community where my mom and brother live) and walk through their beautiful temple again and see the incredible depictions of the Peaceful and Wrathful deities.

Oh and France, of course. Half of my family lives there, shouldn’t I do a french pilgrimage and visit them all with the new baby?

And since my sister and her husband have decided to move to Washington, well I suppose I’ll need to head that way in the next year as well!

I will have to wait on all of these schemes while I discover what it’s like to live and travel with a baby. But I do believe she has a lot of adventuring in her future… 😉

For now I am thankful to have a beautiful, spacious home and a guest room, so that I can invite people to stay here.

And perhaps one day I will actually buy a house and live in the same place for the rest of my life and build up the kind of community around me that I’ve always wanted.

Seeing as you’ve read this all the way to the end, something about this topic must be interesting to you and I would LOVE to hear your thoughts. About any of it. In addition to being curious about what other people’s thoughts are on community and loneliness… and mosquitoes, reading your comment I think will help me feel less lonely. 🙂

Why Music?

Why music?

I’ve been considering an age-old topic, a cliche question that perhaps musicians dislike being asked:

Why do we play music?

The question of “why we play music” can be grouped amongst the other fathomless questions such as…

Why is the sky blue?

Why does everybody die?

What is the meaning of life?

To assume that we can do any justice to any of these topics by trying to answer the question, is to perhaps assume too much of ourselves. 😉

But then again, what is the point of being human if we don’t get to sit around sipping fermented beverages and discussing ponderous concepts?

So grab your beverage of choice and pull up a chair!plantation-banjo1

…and imagine a time before we had electricity and internet, before we could watch movies and stream music endlessly via Spotify and Pandora (for scandalously low prices I might add, considering that musicians such as us only receive something like 0.005 cents per song-play on a site like Spotify… but I digress ;-).

I imagine that back then, before we could listen to music without the musicians themselves being present, we must have placed tremendous value on the person who would come sit by our hearth and tell us stories from faraway lands, or play us songs about the human predicament: love, death, hope, fear, desire.

We could listen to them and enter a trancelike state, gazing into the fire, and be transported above everyday life–the rigors and the doldrums–to a place of the imagination, a mysterious realm that songs can take us to, where we find solace for our unspoken pain, inspiration to carry on, or simply a moment’s respite from our belabored thoughts.instruments-and-globe

We were able to travel, to go on adventures, right from our homes. And the wandering bard who showed up in our village was our traveling guide.

Even now, you know that you are witnessing a pure conduit of music when you sit down in front of a musician (or musicians) and forget who and where you are as the music pours over you. 

Even Pandora can’t always accomplish that.

And as musicians, this is what we aspire to… transporting our beloved audience into a timeless realm, holding space for them as they travel to a place where healing, joy and inspiration are all possible.

This is one of the best reasons I can give you for why we play music. 🙂

P.S. And if you’ve never had The Love Sprockets take you on a musical journey, it’s about time you experienced us firsthand:

http://thelovesprockets.bandcamp.com/track/by-the-pale-moonlight

(It’s a song based on the old french traditional ‘Au Claire de la Lune’ in which a young poet’s candle goes out and he goes late at night through the village to find a light and a pen to write with)

Click here to listen to By the Pale Moonlight

On the road again

The man looks to be in his 50s, with a tan face and well-groomed mustache. But at this moment his mustache seems to be coming undone.

“You rode your bicycle across Mexico??” He fidgets uncomfortably.

“Yeah, I got to Playa del Carmen and then realized I was pregnant and needed to come home.”

“Well….” he seems to be searching for words. “Well you know what I would say about it if you hadn’t gone already… you know I wouldn’t advise doing that! Alone… on a bicycle…” He trails off.

I smile and squeeze his arm. “No harm came to me!” I head into the kitchen to find the others.

Dick’s kitchen is brimming with chattering, smiling, laughing people, arms laden with potluck goodies… pasta dishes, giant chocolate cakes, guacamole dip that is “actually made out of asparagus!”, chips, loaves of bread, soup and numerous bottles of wine.

They’ve all come to see The Love Sprockets perform tonight, and to visit with old friends, break bread and drink wine… and whiskey… and banana daiquiris…

A lovely lady with long blonde hair and a wreath of green leaves and purple flowers on her head rushes to greet me. “Jahnavi! You made it!” Golden exclaims over my pregnant belly, and Lloyd looks at me in shock.

“I didn’t know you were pregnant!” he says, with what looks to be something like reproach on his face.

I’m wearing a slinky, form-fitting dress so that all of my old Baton Rouge friends can get a really good look at my big belly. I only see them once or twice a year, so this is their chance to see me in full baby-bloom.

“Well,” he concedes. “You make being pregnant look good!”

I sit down next to Golden to catch up.

“I was reading your blog the whole time,” she’s saying, “And I was scared for you when you were getting so tired, and than you found out you were pregnant, and…. oh…. But it was so funny when you did the whole pregnancy test in Mexico and your friend was there…” She laughs like tinkling bells.

I see Phil, our first Baton Rouge host from three years ago. He and his wife, Goldie, had taken Addison, Nic and I in on New Years Eve, on a cold, blustery day during our cross-country bicycle trip. We had been instructed to draw up a menu for that evening’s dinner and describe the dishes enticingly. He had taken close up shots of everyone’s mugs that night, even Zoso’s. We all look windburned, bedraggled, and Zoso’s mustache was the color of a hundred snacks, meals and drinks of water that had dried into it. But Phil loved Zoso. He fed him special, handcrafted meals alongside his own two dogs, and lovingly referred to him as ‘Yo-so.’

When I step in to give Phil a hug, his eyes widen with surprise. “I didn’t even recognize you!”

I eat spoonfuls of his spicy bok choy, ginger soup, while he tells me about his idea for the nights events.

“I would really like to hear the development of your music,” he tells me. “A song picked for each stage of your career together.”

“Like, a chronological set list!” I say.

“Yeah, okay, something like that.”

“That’s brilliant!”

After I’m done with my soup I find Addison unloading instruments from our car and tell him Phil’s idea.

“Cool,” he says, “That sounds like a good idea!”

And then he discovers the missing space that his set of 10 harmonicas, which he carries in a black case, should have been filling.

“Oh no….” he groans. “I think I left them in New Orleans!”

“Oh no….” I commiserate.

We had been on tour since Tuesday, and tonight it was Friday. Thursday we had driven to New Orleans and performed at a quaint, co-op of a cafe called The Neutral Ground. Perhaps because the venue is so covered in artifacts collected over the years, and only lit with soft, glowing lamps and christmas lights, it was hard to see that he had left his black case on the piano bench off in the corner.

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A picture of Mark, the artist who played before us, at The Neutral Ground

“Well at least I have one harmonica,” he whips one out from his pocket. “And it’s in the right key to play Wade in the Water and Soul of a Man.”

That night we all go on a journey together, sitting cozily in Dick’s living room, people cuddled together on couches, smiling and clapping from rocking chairs, or peering from the perch of a wooden kitchen chair to see over the heads of the others.

We tell the story of our meeting, starting the band, bicycling across the United States, and finally arriving in Austin. Each song we play fits into the story, and has its own story behind it. When we get to the part of the night’s journey where we talk about me leaving Addison and biking across Mexico, people sigh, laugh and make commiserating noises. We each play a couple of solo songs to show what music we were playing while we were apart.

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Me playing ‘A Moment’s Rest’ on the mandolin

Even though we let people get up and take a break halfway through, I am still so impressed and touched by how some of them sit and listen the entire time, following the story and the songs, with no complaint of boredom.

This is music as I feel it must have been in ‘the old days’, before TV, wifi and YouTube. The traveling musician arrives at your doorstep and the village gathers to feed them and gather stories from them about the lands they’ve visited, and to hear the songs they’ve carried with them from other places that perhaps the villagers will never see themselves.

It’s not about the musician, not about how they look or idolizing them as some kind of sex symbol. It’s about the music and the story and the community that’s come together to listen and discuss love, life and death with one another.

Here are some more pictures from our Houston, Baton Rouge and New Orleans tour:

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Packing up the car–no dog left behind!
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On our way to our live appearance on 90.1 KPFT Houston with Roark, one of the happiest DJs we know
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A Houston native
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Addison playing a solo song before our set at the Avant Garden open mic in Houston
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The Love Sprockets at The Neutral Ground
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Zoso getting comfy before our show at The Neutral Ground
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Me and the owl
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Packing up in Baton Rouge the morning after our house show at Dick’s
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Driving into the sunset, Austin on the horizon

Tabasco and Campeche

“God is the love that moves the sun and the other stars.”

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I sit at a table on a restaurant patio overlooking the ocean this morning.

I have been dreaming about eggs for days now, imagining them gliding around deliciously in a handmade tortilla, dripping with salsa.

And now, here they are with me, huevos rancheros, gazing solemnly up from my plate in their warm bath of red salsa and fresh, crumbled cheese.FullSizeRender (3)

The tortillas that my waiter presents me in a basket wrapped in cloth are, indeed, handmade and very hot.

Before diving into my breakfast, I sip my cafe ollo (coffee brewed with cinnamon) and look out at the three cormorants (badass birds that can swim underwater) who have set themselves up on the three available wooden posts that stick out above the ocean tide.

These three birds are facing the sun, which rose about an hour earlier, and are sitting silent and still, in worshipful reverence of the source of warmth and light for the entire Earth.

I stare at them, appreciation swelling in my heart.

Without water, I would die, I think, looking out at the vast body of lapping waves in front of me, and so would these three birds.

Without the sun, I would die, I continue in my head, looking at their peaceful, beaked faces pointed at the sun, and so would these three birds.

I feel my connection to the water, the sun, the birds and… without food, I would die. I gaze down at my breakfast.

I imagine the man or woman inside the kitchen who has carefully prepared my tortillas and huevos rancheros for me.

I feel gratitude filling my chest for this stranger who is making sure I have a delicious meal to give me energy for my day.

And I think about the chicken who has laid the eggs I am about to eat, and wonder where she is right now. Most likely she is scratching around in the dirt next door, chasing bugs with that vacant look in her eye that all chickens seem to have.

I take a sip of the freshly squeezed orange juice waiting in a tall glass in front of me, and imagine the orange tree reaching towards the sun, drinking in his rays and fattening up her crop of bright, sweet orbs of fruit.

After these contemplations, I promptly begin eating.

The waiter approaches a little while later, smiling at me good naturedly with his haggard teeth, and I thank him as he takes away my used napkins.

“Donde vienes?” he asks me (meaning, ‘where do you come from?’).

“Austin,” I reply.

“Austria?”

“Austin Texas,” I clarify, silencing the ‘x’ in Texas so he can be sure where it is I’m talking about. “Voy a Brazil con mi bici,” I explain with a smile.

His eyes widen. “Con su bici?”

“Si.”

He wanders away, clearly needing some time to digest this information before his next question.

I have been traveling from Austin, TX by bicycle, bus and car for 2 months now, and in the last week it has now been solely by bicycle.

When I left Austin, headed for Mexico, I didn’t really have a way to prepare myself for the endless highways running through the endless desert, broken up only by cities that are barely navigable by bicycle.

I soon found that my comfort level allowed me only some short stints by bicycle, and then many more by bus and car.

The waiter returned, this time with a new question:

“No tienes miedo a viajar sola?” (‘aren’t you afraid to travel alone?’)

It took me a minute to decipher this question, because I wasn’t familiar with the word ‘miedo’ (‘fear’). But after repeating the unknown word aloud a few times, I understood.

I shrugged. “Un poco. Pero, esta bien.” (‘a little, but it’s okay’)

He laughed and walked away again.

I have come to know Fear over these past 2 months, more intimately than I had ever hoped.

Rarely have I actually been in any ‘real danger’. The fear I have been experiencing is mostly hand-made. 😉

After arriving in Mexico City in the car of a friend, I met Mestre Acordeon for the first time, practiced capoeira with Profesor Nao Veio, spent 5 days with Addison who came to visit me, got a new tattoo, and then finally got on a bus to a town in Tabasco called Villahermosa.

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View from inside the bus. 10 minutes after we pulled out of the station in Mexico City, someone decided to drive right in front of the bus and get their fender nearly bent off.

In Villahermosa I spent my first night sleeping in a hammock, something I’ve never done before. It was very hot and muggy, but after being bitten by mosquitoes I eventually pulled out my sleeping bag and somehow managed to wrap it around myself while not falling sideways out of the hammock.

I was at a Warmshowers host’s house. His name is Juan, and he was expecting two more cyclists the next day.

My first morning in Villahermosa I was awoken at 7:30 am by the sound of someone bashing a wall in across the street with a sledgehammer. I shifted around in my hammock, and then eventually sat up to greet my host and his friend.

They both left to work for the day, and I greeted my fear, who was waiting for my undivided attention. I meditated, journaled, cried, called friends, and cried some more.

During my walking meditation, I saw a little statue of Jesus Christ in Juan’s hallway. And I began to say to myself, over and over, “The Kingdom of Heaven is inside of me.”

Finally, I heard a knock during mid-afternoon and opened the door for the two cyclists Juan had been expecting.

Their names are Charles and Denise, and they are retired french canadians who have been cycling in South and Central America now for a year. They started in Peru, cycled down to the tip of South America (Chile), than back up into Peru where they spent four months, after which they continued north and eventually ended up at Juan’s house with me, in Villahermosa.

I was glad for their company, and Denise and I walked together to a nearby supermarket to buy food. I had a strange sense of feeling like a child again, wanting her to be my mommy, not wanting to lose her in the huge supermarket.

This kind of fear I experience is the strongest when I am transitioning into a new, unknown situation. This time it was the transition from Mexico City to now actually cycle touring again, and not knowing what it would be like to spend days on my own, sleeping at hotels in towns I knew nothing about.

But at the moment, I was safe, and I had a wonderful couple to spend the evening with. They made a pasta dinner for all of us, and drew me a route through the Yucatan on my map of Mexico, since they had just come from the area I was headed. This brought me some relief, as the unknown began to feel less ‘un’ and more ‘known’.

That night we pulled the hammock out of the way, and the three of us lined up on the tile floor and slept side by side with our sleeping bags and earplugs.

Sleeping with strangers has never felt so comforting.

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Me, Charles, Denise and Juan

The next morning we all packed up and made our procession out to the sidewalk. Juan was chatting with us amiably and helping us out the door.

Charles, Denise and I navigated through the city, and then, after a few blocks of riding together, they turned left and I went straight.

I took a deep breath. Here I go… I thought, watching the highway take shape out in front of me. I would be on Highway 180 for the next week or so.

After sitting and gazing out over the ocean some more, the waiter arrived to take my plate away. I was left with my coffee and orange juice (probably not the best combo for my digestion, but who cares), which I took as long as I wanted to sip and savor.

In Mexico they NEVER rush you in a restaurant. You can sit at your table for hours, maybe even days, and they’ll just smile and offer you more coffee.

But eventually I did raise my hand for the waiter. “La cuenta por favor.”

He bustled away to count up my order.

I’m doing it, I thought, watching a large, blue-black grackle making a ruckus in the tree next to me. I’m enjoying being alone.

It’s so hard for me to go to a nice restaurant, or hang out in a beautiful place and not be filled with the desire to share it with someone.

It’s not that I don’t feel like I deserve it, but I love sharing the world with other people. And maybe I’m afraid it’s as if none of this actually happened, if there wasn’t someone to witness it.

‘If Jahnavi hangs out in a fancy hotel and meditates by the gurgling pool in the garden out back and no one else witnesses it, did it really happen?’ 😛

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I say good bye to the waiter, who wishes me luck and ‘cuidado’ (‘be careful’), and make my way back to my hotel room.

I’m taking a day off at this hotel, because since I left Villahermosa that morning with the french cyclists, I have been pulling 7-8 hour days, fighting a headwind as I travel alongside the Gulf of Mexico. My body wants a bicycle, wind and sun free day.

My first day back on the bicycle, from Villahermosa to Frontera, was 82 km and so easy, I was confused. It only took me 4 ½ hours, and there I was, in Frontera, booking a room at a cheap hotel at 2 pm.

I figured the next day, 99 km, shouldn’t be so bad.

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There’s a whole lot more water in Tabasco and Yucatan compared to the deserts I’ve been traveling through for the past 2 months!

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Taking a break from the rain

But that’s when I hit the waterfront, and was reminded about the joys of a nice, healthy, headwind. At first I was more focused on the fact that I was being rained on pretty thoroughly for a couple of hours, but once that cleared, I began to feel concerned.

I was traveling so SLOWLY.

After 5 hours, I had only gotten halfway to Cidudad del Carmen, the town I was intent on reaching, where a Couchsurfer named Victor Hugo was awaiting my arrival.

It was like moving in slow motion for 9 hours straight.

When I finally reached the city–after crossing a mile long bridge and weeping copiously as my speed slowed to a crawl due to the even greater wind exposure–I had to cross through the entire city to the other end, where Hugo lives.

At one point I pulled over to look at my cellphone map, and a very excited, older Mexican man approached me, eager to practice his english and find out what in the hell I was up to.

I was so tired I could barely conjure up my good manners, though I appreciated his interest in my trip. Most people just regard me as an alien here in Mexico, so when someone actually treats me like a human being and asks me about my life I feel glad.

After chatting with him and explaining that I was riding my bicycle to Brazil and yes, I am crazy, I continued on to Hugo’s apartment.

Hugo was amazed to see me and my bicycle pull up to his place, and helped me inside.

The beer I drank before we ate dinner was like an elixir of life, and we talked about travel, my sister and her husband’s 6 month excursion across half the world, my mom and my brother living in India, and his part in his family’s business.

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My second night with Hugo. I made him ‘sandwiches like in the USA’. He loved them, especially the hummus which he was trying for the first time.

I had been planning on continuing on to the next place in the morning, but I had already arrived at Hugo’s much later than expected and was feeling rather knackered.

I awoke early the next morning, looked at some maps, and finally decided I would take the day off.

After a morning meditation session with Addison over the phone, I wrote this down from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book called ‘Fear’:

“If you are capable of living deeply one moment of your life, you can learn to live the same way all the other moments of your life.” -Thay

Sometimes I do need to live life moment to moment–any more than that can feel overwhelming when I am in a certain state of mind. And now I can just consider it a meditation practice, this one moment where I choose to live deeply.

“If you can dwell in one moment, you will discover eternity.” -Rene Char

Hugo took me to Walmart so I could buy supplies for my trip (and where, coincidentally, they were blasting capoeira music), and then we ate lunch under an oceanside tent restaurant.

We discussed jealousy (something Hugo struggles with, as do I and most people) and he asked me how I deal with it.

“Meditation!” I said. “It’s the only way!” I laughed.

He was intrigued, so we talked more about meditation and discussed the best way for him to get started on his own, since he’d never done it before.

That evening, my right hip and leg began to hurt so badly, that I was having trouble walking. I tried to brush it away, assuming I would feel fine in the morning and be able to ride.

I stretched, massaged the area, slathered myself with biofreeze (thanks again Diane!), drank a glass of water with arnica drops in it, drank magnesium, and then finally lay myself out to sleep. It took a while to fall asleep, because the only comfortable position for my leg was straight, so that didn’t give me many options for how I could lay down (and boy do I like to shift positions every 5 minutes).

I awoke at 6:30 am, eager to find out if my leg had magically healed overnight.

But when I stood up to walk to the bathroom, I was filled with dismay. It hurt just as badly… maybe worse.

I called Radha and Erik (who are in Thailand) and discussed the situation with them.

Finally, I decided I would have to take the day off. Even if I could manage to get on my bicycle and ride 80 km that day, getting off to walk around was agony, and probably not the safest situation to put myself in considering I’d be traveling out in the middle of nowhere, alone.

So I stayed, and spend some quality time with Fear.

I’ve been meditating so much on this trip that I told Addison, “I’m beginning to feel like a monk, like I’m in a monastery… but I’m on an epic journey at the same time… so it’s like I’m a warrior monk.”

The day off didn’t kill me, and I even got some practical things done, including making music with my mandolin.

“Art is the essence of life, and the substance of art is mindfulness.” -Thay

The following two days would be a blur of oceanside cycling, granola bars, sunburn, Harry Potter audiobook, hotels, limping around, whistling Mexican men, semi trucks, gray foxes, coatis, iguanas the size of cats, swamps, mangroves, beaches, albatrosses, eagles, hawks, fish, exhaustion, alone-ness, and more meditation. 

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Looking out from my hotel room in Sabancuy
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A bush full of coatis. How many can you see?
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A lizard the size of a cat
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Miles of swamps
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Lunch at the only (rather fancy) restaurant between Sabancuy and Champoton
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Mid-day photoshoot break (anything’s better than getting back on that bicycle seat!)
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The long and winding road over more swamplands

Having spent so much time gazing at the ocean, I gleaned this thought from my reflections: “The ocean is not afraid of change. She never stops moving, never stops shifting, and changing the sands at her edges and the ocean floor beneath her.”

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At another point, as I was riding past miles of mangroves and swamps and listening to Danny Malone’s album, ‘Balloons’, this question he asks stuck with me:

“They say the way to know yourself, is by yourself

But what if you’re someone you don’t really wanna know…?”

When I pulled into Champoton yesterday and saw the Hotel Posada la Regia on my right side, I didn’t care if it was cheap, expensive, new, old, had internet, or hot water… I just wanted to stop, and sleep.

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My fully loaded bicycle looks a little out of place in this setting, but she doesn’t mind

But after being shown to my room and realizing it’s actually a nice place and a reasonably nice town, and taking consideration of my very unhappy right leg, I decided I was staying an extra night and that was that.

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My companion for the night

“The past is not me. I am not limited by the past.

The present is not me. I am not limited by the present.

The future is not me. I am not limited by the future.”

My goal right now is to rest, write, read, and (yes, you guessed it) meditate. Than it’s another three days to Merida, where a warmshowers host is awaiting my arrival on Saturday.

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A side neighborhood here in Champoton

I’m learning to relish this alone-ness, to let it sink into my skin.

Because once I get to Playa del Carmen, I may be traveling with a whole lotta people, and potentially looking back on this sweet, quiet time wistfully–and then turning back to my large group of humans and reveling in their company all the same.