Mission of Mercies, Part I

Om Suklam Baradharam Vishnum
Shashi Varanam Chatur Bhujam
Prasanna Vadanam Dhyaye
Sarva Vighnopa Shantaye

It’s a Sanskrit prayer to Ganesh, “conqueror of obstacles” in the Hindu tradition. I chant it almost involuntarily most mornings, or at the start of any venture. I did so as I set forth Tuesday afternoon for Colorado.  In the back of my van, I carried eight paintings along-side my bed, held in place by my laptop case, my cooler and some ceremonial clothes. I had packed light, but I carried in my heart willingness, and in my tired body hopes for a soak in a hot spring or two along the way.

I’d been “hired” by friends to deliver the paintings to family near Colorado Springs. I drove the familiar road north past Ojo Caliente, and through Carson National Forest, where I recently spent a blessedly quiet weekend at Tres Piedras.  This trip has not been so tranquil, but it is a successful mission so far.

Old friends have sung the praises of the improvements to what is now called Sand Dunes Recreation Center. (I’ve known it over the years as Hooper Pool and Sand Dunes Swimming Pool.) So, that was to be my first stop.  I drove into Colorado’s San Luis Valley as the sun was setting, and I watched the light Sand Dunes themselves loom in deepening shadow against dark hills, as the sun’s liquid flame evaporated from the shoulders and then heads of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The high peaks are bald; no snow yet this year. On the drive north I have seen not a single glacier on the Fourteeners.

I was pleased to find that I’d arrived at this hot-spring complex on “family night.” In the past, that would have been less welcome news; I wanted a peaceful soak. But now, with their new “21 and older” wing, called “The Greenhouse,” I benefitted from discounted admission without having to actually share pools with squealing children.

At first I was chagrinned to hear loud music as I walked the blue-lit corridor between wings, but as I slid back the door, I was greeted by a tastefully lit expanse of space, with tables and chairs and hot pools of varying temperature interspersed among hundreds of tropical plants.  The music volume was more reasonable here, and, even though there is a wet bar at the entrance, so were the people, scattered around in pools, sipping wine and chatting.

I still prefer no music and no alcohol, and also no clothes; but this would do just fine tonight. So said my road-weary flesh, as I sank into the 103 degree pool.  The music was geared for my generation: 70’s and 80’s folk-pop, creeping into more recent years and edgier instrumentation as the evening progressed. But the volume was companionable and helped divert my attention from the conversation of the potato farmer, his wife and his friend in the pool with me, gave me something familiar to float my mind on.  At one point my eye caught movement in the distance before me; a fist-size frog had jumped from a sunken bed and splat-landed on the walkway opposite, near where I’d set my bags. I rather hoped I’d find he’d stowed away in them later.  But when I left two hours later, my things were frog-free.

At 9pm I drove north and east into the hills above Crestone, to a parking area at the foot of the Temple Footpath of the Haidakhandi Ashram. My headlights illuminated a cheerful sign that I painted years ago, marking the trail. I turned off lights and engine, crawled in the back and slept until it seemed a reasonable hour to grind my engine up the steep drive, shower and prepare for morning Aarati (sung prayers) in the Temple.

It was Wednesday morning: Ganesh Day. So, there was an extra Aarati to him: Jai Ganesha, Jai Ganesha, Jai Ganesha Deva. Mata Teri Parvati Pita Mahadeva. 

On Ganesha Day, the Divine Mother wears Green, for new beginnings and growth, perhaps.

Ganesh is often called “remover” of obstacles, but, given that meeting and overcoming obstacles promotes growth, Ganesha would be the one to place necessary challenges in our path, as well. Thus is the mettle tested and the spiritual ardor forged.

Don’t I know it…pant, pant.

That said, I surrendered, and the day went smoothly.  I was given assignments for more sign making, one of my favorite tasks at the Ashram. Though years pass, and I don’t get there near as often as I’d like lately, many of the signs you see when you visit are still mine.

I got to spread out on the lawn and paint a couple of larger ones, in the good company of my able assistant, Karma Kitty.

After Aarati the first morning, Jonathan and I were alone for the daily fire ceremony.

The following day, there were four of us, and I got to make the ceremonial offerings for the first time. What a gift. Most participants offer Samagri, a simple mixture of grains, seeds, fruit and ghee that feels great in the hands, as it represents nourishment, and our gratitude for the material and spiritual nourishment that perpetually sustains us.

Visiting the Ashram this time was a young Czech woman, who was on her way to study with Master Mingtong Gu, near Santa Fe. Since I help facilitate community practices of his Wisdom Healing QiGong, and both Lenka and I have been yoga instructors and massage therapists, we had plenty in common. That evening, Lenka graciously offered some skillful massage work to my back and hip, which were less content about sign-making session on the lawn than the rest of me!

After the next mornings’ rituals, I was off north again to deliver those paintings.  I took a route I hadn’t been on for over a decade. Hwy 50 winds alongside the Arkansas river through the mountains from Salida on through Canon City. It is a beautiful drive! Then 115 takes you on around the mountains that make the imposing backdrop for Colorado Springs and, as it passes Fort Carson military installations and rows of associated residences (impressively bedecked with solar panels), eases you into the city.  My destination was well up on the lap of the mountain, among pines and scrub oak.

After a short visit, and an introduction to a new breed of dog– the Hungarian Visla– I launched forth to try to skirt as much as I could of Denver’s notorious traffic along the foothills toward Indian Hills, where dear friends awaited me, including Shirley’s fetching Ganesh, pictured at the top of this post. He hangs outside their cabin, blessing the garden and passersby.

After inspection of their brand-new bathroom, and catch-up time over a dinner made especially satisfying because I didn’t have to make it, I retired to my van. It got chilly in the night, probably close to 35 F. And the sun didn’t come out until about 2pm. So I was glad that Shirley and Jim have renovated a little travel trailer (The Vardo) in their back yard; it is a refuge for travelers, like me, who are allergic to Quatro, the feline Mistress of the homestead. It is from that little casita that I typed most of this post, until it was hospitable to lounge out in their enchanting garden, which has been a source of great solace for me over the years. It is a place full of life and mischief. Anywhere you look, you find a Deva real or imagined. Faces smile at you from everywhere, all fashioned by Shirley’s skilled hands and impish heart. Among the flowers and vegetables, gaze fanciful frogs, serpents, gnomes, sprites, and more.  All around, up and down, squirrels dash, tiny birds dart, deer saunter; the occasional raven caresses the scene with its shadow, and a magpie will abrade or abraid the air, depending on your mood.  Eden? Yep. …At least today.

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