The New Acropolis Explorations Course and My Experience Thereof

IMG_1576Last fall I attended a panel talk hosted by the New Acropolis in Bangalore. I’d never heard of the New Acropolis before, and only heard of said event because the head teacher from my yoga teacher training course was among the panelists. I found the environment at the New Acropolis to be friendly and intriguing. The talk took place amid a small library (not necessarily small for an institution of its size) and books always put me in my happy place.

 

There were brochures out for an upcoming 16-week Explorations Course. “Explorations” is the name for the introductory course that’s taken by non-members to dip their toes into the New Acropolis curriculum, and see if they’d like to continue as members of this school of “philosophy.” (You may be asking, “Hey–wait a minute–why’d he put quote marks around the word philosophy. I’ll get to that in due time.) At  any rate, perusing the brochure, I decided to enroll.

 

The course consists of 13 lectures given over a 16-week timeline. The reason there are more weeks than lectures is that there are two sessions in which one meets briefly with the instructor one-on-one, and one session that consists of exercises that one does with one’s classmates. (The latter is one of the highlights of the course.) The course is organized into three parts. The first and longest section deals with the idea of “know thyself.” That is, it presents several approaches to developing oneself as an individual. The second section expands the scope, looking at society and the role of individuals in it. The third section is about the “philosophy of history,” (there go those telltale quote marks again) or what they refer to as “evolution,” (really?) which shouldn’t be confused with Darwinian Evolution (which–as near as I can tell–has no status in their system of teachings.)

 

In my opinion, the transitions from one part to the next represent downshifts in the value of the course. (i.e. The course is at its most beneficial in the first section. That’s also the portion in which it’s presenting ideas that are fairly mainstream among the various philosophical / religious systems it studies.) As the course moves into the second section, one begins to see a few ideas that are either archaic or that depart from rationalism (e.g. the word “magic” gently enters the discussion.) By the time the third section rolls around, ideas that have no relationship to observable reality are being presented as if they were a given.

 

I was reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book entitled Antifragile the other day and he used the term “neomania.” Neomania–a term that Taleb coined for all I know–means an exuberance for the new for its own sake (as opposed to any objective improvement it represents.) Taking this cue, I will cobble together the term “paleomania”(an exuberance for old ideas for their own sake) to describe one of the main underlying features of the New Acropolis syllabus. One might easily believe that nothing of value has been learned in the past 2000 years and that modern thinkers (not to mention modern science) have nothing worthwhile to lend to the discussion.

 

This can be seen in the ideas presented from ancient Greece. Let me first say that I’m a big fan of Plato. His words “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” is one of my favorite philosophical quotes. However, while I like Plato, the New Acropolis pretty much deifies him. I’m sure they wouldn’t agree with that statement. However, even Plato’s ideas on those subjects about which he was least in a position to write intelligently or authoritatively are presented as if irrefutable. A couple of his most ill-informed ideas are at the forefront of two of the lessons–notably the Platonic hierarchy of forms of government and the ideas he accepted [I don’t know that these are properly attributed to him, but he seems to have believed them] about astrology. (Note: New Acropolis’s teachings about forms of government seems to be one of the biggest causes of ill will toward the organization in Europe. Plato was an elitist on the subject. He distrusted democracy–to be fair they killed his teacher under [a form of] democracy–but believed that if you could just give a philosopher unlimited power he’d do the right thing for everybody–and not just himself. Plato wasn’t a believer of Baron Acton’s “…absolute power corrupts absolutely…” an idea that came later by those with a greater body of exposure to varying forms of government.)

 

The first couple of lectures I attended didn’t seem in any way untoward or unusual. The first lecture was about knowing oneself, and presented two ancient approaches to this question–i.e. Greek and Indian Vedic. The Greek three-pronged model of soma/psyche/nous, which is translated various ways–but commonly as body, soul, and reason.  The Indian approach was a seven-layered variant that also started with the physical body and moved toward more conceptual elements of being.

 

Now, it might have occurred to me that both of these approaches take the supernatural as a given, but as they were true representations of the systems in question, I didn’t find it bothersome. This raises a point that I think bears saying, I don’t think that the New Acropolis distorts the teachings that they include in the syllabus, but they do use selectivity to frame the subject. This framing gives the student a limited view philosophy and the various approaches to leading an examined life (as opposed to the unexamined life that Socrates told us was not worth living.)

 

The second lecture I attended was actually the third lecture–because I was out-of-town for a class on the Bhagavad-Gita–and it dealt with Buddhism. This session was the most orthodox and arguably the least controversial of the lectures. The four noble truths and the eight-fold path were the core of the lesson, and one doesn’t get any more fundamentally Buddhist than that.

 

However, the fourth lecture, which was ostensibly about Tibetan Buddhism, started me wondering where the course was going. One would expect a lecture on Tibetan Buddhism to refer heavily to the words of lamas, but most of the ideas presented in this lecture were attributed to a woman who I don’t think I’d ever heard of before. Her name was Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. (If you’re saying, “Hey, that name doesn’t sound Tibetan, you are correct.”) It’s not that I don’t think that a 19th century Russian woman is capable of giving informed insight into Tibetan Buddhism. However, one becomes curious when there’s not a single Lama, Rinpoche, monk or nun in the picture. While I’m admittedly a bit of a neophyte on the subject, I’ve been to hear Tibetan monks and nuns before and have visited the local Tibetan meditation center on occasion, so I’m not completely ignorant of that system’s teachings–enough to have an idea what the most fundamental ideas would be.

 

So, after the Tibetan Buddhism class, my Googling fingers got to work. I just wanted to be sure I wouldn’t be asked to drink any Kool-Aid made Jim Jones style. There wasn’t a lot on the organization besides their various websites, but there were a few negative comments and would-be controversies to be found. I wasn’t too concerned by these comments for a number of reasons. First, the claims were isolated and unverifiable. To elaborate, if a person is either far to the right or far to the left, then the middle seems an extreme way off. Therefore, when a leftist organization calls an organization a “fascist cult” one has to consider the bias of the source of the claim. (Note: the same could be said from the other end of the spectrum, but I stated it that way because that’s essentially what I read in one post.) Nothing I’d seen at New Acropolis would lead me to think they were fascist, or even particularly politically conservative (if anything, I’d guess that individual members would be more likely to be left of center, but it wasn’t really an issue that came up.) Second, most of the negative comments were directed at a couple of the European centers, specifically.

 

I will say that, despite the fact that I didn’t believe the extreme claims, I can’t say that they weren’t cause for concern. I’ve had a little experience with organizations prone to being embroiled in drama. Even if the organization has many worthwhile attributes and individuals, that inclination to attract drama will inevitably bite a member in the ass. In my experience, one can’t just sit on the sidelines and pretend the drama won’t affect you. If you do, you’ll just be all the more surprised when you feel your ass being bitten.

 

My web searches confirmed that the New Acropolis was an offshoot of the Theosophical Society. This wasn’t kept a secret. In fact, I believe it was mentioned in the Tibetan Buddhism lesson, and I know it was intimated at various junctures in the course. I was aware of the Theosophical Society, and–in particular–the falling out that Jiddu Krishnmurti had had with them. (A parting of ways that was apparently amicable on Krishnamurti’s side as well as on the side of some from the Theosophical Society’s side–though some Theosophists apparently went dark.) Krishnamurti is among my favorite thinkers, and it was a concern that New Acropolis was an offshoot of an organization whose beliefs were so at odds with his own. I don’t want to deify Krishnamurti (that would be ironic as he was explicit that he didn’t want followers and believed followers were missing the point), but many of his ideas resonated with my own–particularly those on organizations to advance personal or spiritual development (of which he [& I] are quite skeptical.)

 

Krishnamurti opposed the idea of religions, sects, and paths as means to betterment.  The New Acropolis would likely agree with Krishnamurti’s stance on religion as they’re explicit in their antipathy for the ritualism of religion. However, Krishnamurti went further to oppose entities that proposed that they had a path to guide one to some enlightened state. This is where the New Acropolis would presumably part ways. They seem to believe they have such a path. The aforementioned framing that they do seems to designed to carve out the waypoints so that future courses can work on building the path.

 

There’s  a common saying that a good education teaches one HOW to think and not WHAT to think. By that definition, I wouldn’t classify the New Acropolis’s approach as a good education, generally speaking. The course is set up for a one way flow of learning. There’s no time for discussion or refutation of the concepts presented in the course. The teacher presents concepts in a lecture format, and there are designated times in which students can ask questions (in many cases outside the class time when peers might have ideas to add or questions  to build off.) Despite the nominal homage to ancient Greece, the New Acropolis pedagogic approach is at odds with the Socratic method by which students are asked questions rather than being presented with answers.

 

What’s my beef with their use of the term “philosophy?” Depending upon how it’s used, I don’t have a problem with it. When they’re explicitly talking about their particular philosophy, (i.e. New Acropolis’s philosophy) it’s perfectly acceptable. It’s only when one uses the term in a general sense, e.g. as in “school of philosophy,” that students might expect that they’ll learn rational approaches to consider life’s big questions for themselves, rather than learning a specific ideology’s answers to said big questions.

 

The term “theosophy” would be much more honest and apropos, though I understand their reticence to use that term–given their strained relationship with the Theosophical Society–which has a corner on the market of that term. The fact that the New Acropolis takes the divine or supernatural as a given is hard for me to reconcile with philosophy, which implies an open discussion and refutation of ideas–particularly of those notions for which there is little or no evidence.  I’m not saying that philosophy can’t and shouldn’t consider the question of whether there is a god (or spirits or divinity or whatever term you prefer.)  I’m just saying that taking the existence of such ethereal entities as a given flies in the face of rationality, because the existence of such ethereal entities isn’t rooted in observation or application of logic but in emotion. Faith is the domain of theology (or theosophy, if you prefer), rationality is the domain of philosophy. A lot of the teachings in this course were couched in terms of feelings or the beauty of ideas rather than in rational investigation.

 

It might seem that I was quite negative about the experience, and that I wouldn’t recommend it for others. That’s not exactly true. There are some individuals that I wouldn’t recommend it for, but others that I might. I did learn a lot during the course, and brought away a number of ideas that I think will be of service to me. For example, we did a throwing stick concentration exercise that was eye-opening (no pun intended), and there were many ideas and stories presented in the course that provided good food for thought. There was only one class /idea that I found not only completely baseless but also potentially dangerous.

 

(FYI-If you’re wondering what idea that was, it was in the penultimate lecture on astrological cycles (yeah, I know, right?)  The lecture presented both Indian Maha Yugas and Greek zodiac cycles. Guess what? According to both mythical sets of cycles we’re currently in the crappiest of times. [FYI- If there’s anything my education and experience as a social scientist taught me, it’s that notions of determinism applied to the sphere of human behavior are inevitably wrong. The physical world may be clockwork, but the minds of men are a clockwork orange.] Why do I think these conceptions of cycles may be dangerous? Because a lot of damage is done by people who go through life thinking the world is feeding them a steady diet of shit-sandwiches. This is, of course, all perception. Nature–unlike gods and other supernatural mythical creatures–doesn’t draw targets on the backs of individuals, nor weigh them good or evil. However, now you’re going to tell people who already see the world through dung-colored glasses that your [pseudo-]science shows they were born in the worst of times. That–my friends–is not helping make a better world.)

 

I think those interested in the course should be aware of three things: 1.) a god, gods, the divine, the supernatural, or whatever you wish to call it is taken as a given by the course (you’re not going to see a Nietzschean counterpoint in this school of philosophy); 2.) you aren’t going to get a broad-based exposure to philosophy in that a.) the ideas are all from ancient traditions and b.) the concepts presented are cherry-picked to be consistent with the New Acropolis agenda (which isn’t to imply the agenda is onerous by the standards of sects or religions, but there’s an agenda) ; 3.) you should banish any expectations of engaging in rousing class discussions or dialogues with the teacher because it’s very much a one way street.  If you’re good with those three factors, you may want to give it a try. You might find it’s the right approach for you.

My 2014: A Year in Review [w/ Photos]

2014 will be our first full year living in India. Having said that, I spent almost 50 days in Thailand, and Lilla and I will spend the last two weeks of the year in Hungary. So, in truth, I will have lived about ten months of 2014 in India.

 

The four months of 2013 that we lived in India largely involved acclimating and getting our feet under us, though we did see some important sights in India including the Taj Mahal, Delhi, Fatehpur Sikri, Hampi, Mysore, Belur, Halibidu, and Shravanabelagola.

 

2014 was an interesting and learning-intensive year, so I’ll review some of the year’s key happenings.

 

January:

From the 1st through the 18th, I was in Phuket, Thailand. Lilla and I spent the holidays there, and–upon her return to Bangalore–I stayed another couple of weeks training at Tiger Muaythai. Tiger is probably Phuket’s largest and most well-known Muaythai gym.  In addition to Muaythai classes, I took advantage of their broad class offerings to learn a little about Krabi Krabong, Muay Boran, Western Boxing, Mixed Martial Arts, Brazilian Jujutsu, as well as taking daily Yoga classes. I was particularly keen to learn about Muay Boran, MuayThai’s more combative ancestor art.

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While my training schedule (up to six hours / day, 6 days a week) didn’t allow for much sightseeing, I did get to see a little of Phuket Town and a couple of the beaches that Lilla and I skipped while we were traveling together. Phuket displays a lot of Chinese influence and there are many brightly colored Taoist, Confucian, and Chinese ancestral shrines and temples around Phuket Town. Rang Hill overlooks the island’s main “metropolis”, and I was able to take advantage of that vantage point. The beaches I visited were Karon and Kata which were middling between the two beaches Lilla and I visited together. That is, they weren’t as quiet and secluded as Naiharn, but neither were they as frenetic and overrun as Patong.

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February:

February was marked by two firsts. First, I began taking classes in Kalaripayattu two mornings a week. While this Indian martial art is far afield of the Japanese art I was raised on, I wanted to take advantage of living in India to learn something of the indigenous martial arts. One reason for my interest is the widespread belief that Indian martial arts—and Kalaripayattu specifically—are ancestors to many of the Asian martial arts–including the Chinese martial arts that are said to be predecessor to the Japanese arts I’ve studied. While I’m somewhat skeptical of that claim, I’m not in a position to altogether dismiss it. (I believe that in the face of combat, martial arts evolve rapidly to adapt to local conditions and needs. Also, I believe that ancestral arts continue to evolve as much as their off-shoots. Together this means that a martial art could look quite different from its ancestor in short order.)

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The reason I’ve kept training is that Kalaripayattu is an awesome workout. I see a two-fold strength in the art. For one thing, it builds bodily capacity. I mean one is able to leap higher, stretch farther, and endure more through the practice of this art. I’ve realized that the idea of a martial art solely as a means to ingrain movements that worked in the past is limited.  Another thing that the art does is help build a variety of fearlessness.  One has to throw one’s body around in a ways that can be intimidating, and one must build confidence that one will—like a cat—land on one’s feet. Further down the line, the metal weapons practice—choreographed as it may be—takes a special kind of inner calm. By “further down the line” I mean—as of this writing–I haven’t yet begun to learn weapons. I’ve passed through the first two levels and it’s been suggested that it might be time for the third test (though I’m far from skilled with some of the required jumps), but these levels are all unarmed.

 

The second activity I began in February was volunteering that the Don Bosco Mane Center, which is home and bridge school for young boys in central Bangalore. (A bridge school is a school used to prepare kids to go to regular public school, which is what they try to do a soon as possible, but some of the kids haven’t been to school and aren’t ready to leap in at the appropriate grade level.) BOSCO is one of the major charities working on children’s issues in Bangalore, and particularly in trying to intercept kids coming into the bus and train stations before the pimps and slavers get their hooks into them. They also run a help / reporting phone line.  If it’s possible, they try to get the kids back to their families, but if that’s unsafe or impossible the children live at one of the centers like Mane.

 

BOSCO also has a person trying to match kids to foster homes. Foster homes are a relatively new and undeveloped approach in India as compared to the West, but–as it’s a much better approach when it works—they’d like to see more of it. I volunteered here over the course of two months, before I started Yoga Teacher Training. Because I was only volunteering one day a week, and given the nature labor costs in India, they weren’t always sure what to do with me. Such a facility in the West would probably tend to be much more undermanned, but that didn’t seem to be so much the problem here as the challenge of funding and resources. At any rate, I have talked to the head priest about going back to teach martial arts and /or yoga. It was amazing to see how well-adjusted and respectful the kids were, given the hard life they’ve had.

 

March:

March wasn’t a big month for travel or new experiences. Lilla was in the middle of her busy season, and I continued learning Kalaripayattu and volunteering at BOSCO. Otherwise, I was writing or working out. I’ve been keeping my Gyokko-ryū koshijutsu and Kukishin-ryū jōjutsu training going as much as I can, and work on Muaythai as well.  As part of my yoga training, I started doing yoga with Lilla three mornings a week (this began in January or February), and—after going through yoga teacher training—this will become a regular class that I teach MWF from 7 to 8am. I attended about four studio sessions a week at a1000 Yoga in Indiranagar during March.

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We did take one long weekend trip at the end of the month. We went to Coorg and stayed a couple of nights at a coffee / tea plantation near Madikeri. We stopped along the way to visit the Namdroling Monastery, which is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery set up by exiled Tibetans in the early 1960’s. It’s one of the largest Tibetan communities in South India, and is the largest teaching center for the Nyingma sect of Tibetan Buddhism in the world. The monasterial campus was impressive.

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The serenity of the plantation provided a welcome respite from the horns and chaos of Bangalore. The Golden Mist Plantation is owned by a German who spends part of his year in Germany and part of the year in Coorg. Interestingly, they sell only organic products, which they largely export because organics are just beginning to catch on in India and not at the same scale as in Europe and other parts of Asia. The food was great, and—needless to say—the coffee and tea were fresh as can be.  We had a couple nice hikes in the Coorgi countryside, and I had authentic Coorgi pork—that’s a popular Indian dish from these parts.

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April:

April saw me begin my 200 hour yoga teacher training course (RYT-200) at a1000 Yoga. This course ran about 4 hours a day for five days a week through May 23rd.  The first hour and a half to two hours each day was yoga on the mat, and then we got into a broad range of subjects dubbed “theory” in the afternoon. These included yogic philosophy, Indian approaches to the body (chakras, nadis, granthis, kundalini, koshas, prantas, etc.), Western anatomy and physiology, and the historical development of yoga. The most unusual practice we learned was jala neti, in which one pours warm salt water in one nostril such that it drains out the other, cleansing the nasal passages. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds, and—given the dustiness of India—it’s a valuable skill to stave off sinusitis. Most of the course was about learning yoga, but the last week focused on learning about teaching.

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May:

The RYT-200 course occupied most of my time during this month as well. Even after the course ended on May 23rd, there were many requirements to be met and they all had to be documented. This included seva, which was charitable teaching requirement that we did at another of Bangalore’s (unfortunately) many orphanages.  This was a smaller shelter than the BOSCO center, and was run by an individual man rather than a large organization. Again, the kids were enthusiastic and well-behaved and made the process a happy one. I also had class observations to make as well as documenting my own teaching experiences from the guesthouse class and sadhana (my personal practice.)

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At the beginning of May, I completed a workshop in Tok Sen. Tok Sen is a Thai approach to massage that uses a mallet and a wooden chisel-shaped tool. While it sounds less than pleasant, it’s actually quite enjoyable. I had no idea what to expect besides that it was a Thai approach to body work that used wooden tools.

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Toward the end of the month there was a Kalaripayattu demonstration. This was the first time I’d seen the art practiced besides in Kalari sessions. Needless to say, it was much more acrobatic and stunning than day-to-day training. It featured many weapons, including the urumi, which is a four to six-foot flexible sword that old-time practitioners wore as a belt. Urumi demonstrations are about as edge-of-the-seat as one can imagine. While the demonstration is choreographed, the urumi is a severe injury waiting to happen. It requires the utmost attention on the part of both participants.

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June:

June was an intense month for my yoga practice. In addition to my own personal practice, which I was still documenting for my RYT-200 certification, I was attending 5 to 7 studio sessions per week. I was also able to do some refresher training with my Thai Yoga Bodywork teacher as he was running the Level I and II course in Bangalore, and I attended a few days.

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July:

In July I finally got my RYT-200 journal in and accepted, completing the requirements for a RYT-200 Yoga Teacher certification. Through the first half of the month, I was largely working on finishing up the last of the requirements and typing it all up into a 54 page account of my yoga life (not even double-spaced) since the courses beginning including my teaching, personal practice, observation of master teachers, etc.

 

We made our first trip to Kerala, another of the states in south India—bounding the Arabian Sea. We overnighted on a houseboat in the backwaters, got our first Ayurvedic massage, stayed at a resort in tea country, and toured the historic Malabar spice capital of Kochi (Cochin.) We were very fortunate with the weather in that we visited Kerala during the heart of rainy season, but stayed dry for the most part.

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Our houseboat stay was great. Our cook was skilled and the meals were outstanding. Chugging through the backwaters, I felt like a young Martin Sheen heading into the jungle to track down a rogue Army officer who became a cultist chieftain. Except that there was so much life and the ubiquitous Indian flare for color and sound. We got to see a snake boat crew in training, and saw so many colorful houses ornamenting the lush dikes—usually with verdant rice paddies as a backdrop.

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Ayurvedic massage was an unusual experience. It was the most oily I’ve ever been. Days later I felt a little like greased pig. It took place on a massive hardwood slab that had a channel carved through the middle to keep the oil from sluicing over onto the floor, an event that would cause the most skilled masseuse / masseur to slip fatally. The table looked a little like an autopsy table carved out of hardwood. It was a very impressive looking piece of furniture and not the least bit comfortable on one’s bony parts.

 

Munnar, amid the tea plantations, was green hill country and the low hanging clouds and vast expanses of tea bushes made it a scenic wonder. There were also some waterfalls in the area. It was misting part of the time we were here, which brought out the full jungle feel.

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Kochi is an enigma: ancient and modern, small but global. Its history is shrouded in the mists of time. It’s been an important center of commerce since who knows when. While trade with Arabs, Jews, and Chinese are all well-documented, it’s said that this port was familiar to the Greeks and Romans as well. When spice was king, Kochi ruled.

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August:

Lilla and I attended a yoganidra workshop this month. Yoganidra literally means “yoga sleep” and it’s a relaxation technique in which one maintains a state that is neuro-electrically like being on the edge of sleep. As you may know from visions that pop into your head right before sleep, those dreamlike random fragments that don’t make a lick of sense, this is a fertile state for the subconscious mind.

 

My second visit to Thailand took place in August and September. I left out on the August 20th and returned on September 17th.  From the 20th to September 3rd, I was training at the Muay Thai Institute (MTI) in Rangsit, Thailand. This involved training four hours a day—i.e. two 2-hour sessions. Unlike Tiger, which offered a wide range of classes, MTI specializes in Muaythai and all my training time was devoted Muay Thai. (At Tiger I generally trained one Muay Thai session per day and one other session in boxing, grappling, or muay boran.)  I was in the freestyle tract, and had a well-rounded experience of footwork drills, bagwork, pad drills, shadowboxing, and a bit of sparring.

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While I was training at MTI, I took one day trip with other trainees to play paintball, ride ATV’s, and go rafting. This also involved stops at a couple of temples at Ayutthaya, one of which I’d visited on my 2012 trip and another which was new to me. The one I’d visited before is Wat Mahathat, which famously appears in Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Kickboxer movie.  Wat Mahathat is particularly famous for a Buddha head that’s enveloped by Strangler Fig roots.

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I also took a boat trip around Koh Kret, which is an island in the middle of the Chao Phraya River—i.e. the river that runs through Bangkok. Koh Kret has a popular market and is known for certain unusual street foods like fried flower petals.  The only other place I visited during training was the J.J. Market, Bangkok’s sprawling weekend market where one can buy everything from pets to artworks to cheap tsotchkes to Louie Vattan (that’s how it’s spelled there) purses to street food. I’d been once before in 2012, but still got lost in its maze-like corridors packed with goods.

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September:

After I finished my second training week at MTI, I moved into Bangkok to a guesthouse in Chinatown.  This was a short walking commute to the Wat Po Thai Traditional Massage School where I completed the General Thai Massage course and the Foot Massage course. These courses were each 5 days long, and the first one is a prerequisite for just about everything at the Wat Po School.

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In the morning I would work out in one of two nearby parks frequented mostly by elderly fitness-buffs doing tai chi, chi gong, takraw, or Jianzi (the latter two being hacky-sack like games played with a woven ball [Thai] or a feathered weight [Chinese], respectively.)  On several occasions I went to the Thai Yoga (Russi Dutton) classes that were run inside the temple grounds. Then I would go to class for the day. The General Thai Massage sequence was gradually taught by parts defined by position (supine, side, prone, and seated), and it was not so different from the Chiang Mai style I’d learned in Bangalore. With the Foot Massage course, we began doing the entire sequence from the very outset, which meant one got to practice it about 10 times over the course of the five days.

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I was glad to visit Wat Po this time, as it’s the most important Bangkok sight that we missed during our 2012 visit. I also made it across the river to Wat Arun. I also made a trip across the river to a popular seafood restaurant on the edge of town with a group of fellow students from my General Thai Massage Course. With the same of Thais and Germans, I had dinner at the top of the tallest building in Thailand, the Baiyoke Tower.

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After I returned to Bangalore, there were two small events of note. I attended a function for the children at the KAMMS put on by Lilla’s firm, Grant Thornton, which is the third youth shelter /orphanage I’ve visited. This was the largest group of kids I’ve seen, because, unlike the other shelters, it was both genders and a wide-ranging age group. Again, the kids were very pleasant to be around.

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I attended another Kalaripayattu demonstration. This one was out of town at the Kalari Gurukulam, which is the parent school to the Kalari Academy where I’ve been attending classes. This would not be noteworthy except that I was briefly interviewed by a Canadian film crew who were making a documentary about old martial arts in Asia. They’d previously interviewed the Master of Bokator in Phnom Penh, and were making their rounds through the rest of Asia. (I almost visited that same school in Phnom Penh in 2012, but our limited time didn’t allow it. There was a time when it looked like moving to Cambodia might be a possibility.)

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October:

The big event in the month was our 20th wedding anniversary.

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Our big trip this month was to Mysore for the Dasara festival. We took the train, our first Indian train ride. Mysore is a city that’s only about an hour and a half away from Bangalore.  While it’s much smaller than Bangalore, it’s also more popular with tourists and travelers than Bangalore because of its history as a long-standing capital of the Wodeyar Kingdom and as a global center for yoga. It’s a yoga mecca because it was the home of T Krishnamacharya, who was the guru to some of the most famous yogis of the modern era, including B.K.S. Iyengar, Indira Devi, Pattabhi K. Jois, and T.K.V. Desikachar. Pattabhi Jois, founder of the Ashtanga Vinyasa style of yoga, also lived in Mysore and ran a school there until he passed away in 2009.

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Anyway, Dasara is huge in Mysore. They celebrate all 10 days with various events around town. However, the processional and the torchlight parade on the last day are the major draws, and we had seats for both of those events. For the processional we were right up front at the start of the parade route. For the torchlight parade our seats were not as great, but close to the front. We revisited the Zoo, which this year was rated the best in India by a TripAdvisor survey. There was flower show in progress for the festival.

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I attended a 10-day Advanced Hatha Yoga workshop that focused on building the capacity to do challenging intermediate and advance yogasana (postures.)

 

November:

I did a couple of sessions of intern/assistant teaching of corporate yoga for a1000 yoga, and will do some more after the beginning of the New Year.

 

Lilla and I went to a talk on philosophy which introduced me to an organization near our home that we were completely unaware of called the New Acropolis. It’s a school of practical philosophy. This led me to sign up for their introductory course, which takes place every Tuesday night. The class covers a wide range of topics in the domain of practical philosophy. (By practical philosophy, I mean philosophy geared toward substantively improving oneself, as opposed to sitting around staring at one’s navel and bemoaning our inability to know whether anything is real or whether we are all heads floating in vats.)  As of this writing, I’ve attended three of the first four sessions (I was in Maharashtra for one of the classes) and have found it to be a fascinating experience.

 

As you may know from my recent posts, this month I traveled to the Indian state of Maharashtra. Lilla and I were going to Mumbai to visit a relative, and I decided to take advantage of the relative proximity to visit the Buddhist caves at Ajanta and Ellora. The caves are among the most important archeological sites in India, but are out in the boondocks, and so they aren’t as well-known as, say, the Taj Mahal. However, in their own way I would rate them—as I do Hampi—as far more impressive than the Taj. A city of about 1.2 million, called Aurangabad, was my base from which to visit the caves. Aurangabad has a few sights of its own, most notably a copy of the Taj Mahal that is from the same era. Aurangabad also has its own set of caves that are nowhere near as extensive as the ones at Ajanta and Ellora, but are worth a visit, and it has remnants of fortification from the days when it was Aurangzeb’s capital.

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December:

Because the last graduation date occurred while I was in Thailand, I attended the graduation to get my RYT-200 certificate.

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We have one more trip for the year. Lilla and I will be traveling to Hungary in the middle of the month and will be there through New Year’s Day. We last visited Budapest in the summer of 2011, and haven’t been there in the winter since 2008. We haven’t experienced seasons, in the conventional sense, for a year and half–so that’ll be interesting.  (Bangalore has two seasons, rainy and dry, and even those can be muddled, as they were this year.) While I’ve been to Hungary many times, I hope to see some new sights this time, including a possible trip to Pécs, which will be my first Hungary trip south of Balaton. There are also some quirky Budapest locations listed on Atlas Obscura that I’d like to check out.

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The Upcoming Year:

I hope to do some new and interesting things in the upcoming year as well. Probably the oddest activity for the year will be attending the Vipassana Meditation Course. It’s 10 days on the outskirts of Bangalore with no books, notebooks, or electronic devices of any kind, and during which my only interaction with other people will be daily meetings with a teacher. It’s meditation all day every day for 10 days straight. From accounts I’ve read it’s an amazing or insanity-inducing experience.

 

Writing: The past year hasn’t been as productive as I’d like on the novel front. As I mentioned, I’ve traveled quite a bit and had major time commitments on the Yoga Teacher Training front. A fragmented life disagrees with novel writing because novels are long and fictional, so if you get away from it for any length of time you have a lot of reacquainting to do when you come back to it. If you’ve ever put a book you’re reading down for a month and had trouble getting back into it, multiply that by 100 and you’ll know the challenge of doing the same for a book you’re writing—so many details for which continuity needs to be maintained.  I tossed my first to chapters out entirely and rewrote them from scratch, having to update the rest to accommodate the new beginning. I’ve hemmed and hawed for days over certain plot points and devices.

 

Having said all that, I’m converging on a product that I’ll be ready to submit sample chapters to agents from in 2015. Most of the points that have been giving me problems are worked out as well as I think they are likely to.

 

I’ll do some revamping of my website, part of which I’ve already begun.

 

Martial Arts:  I expected that the jumping-intensive level of Kalaripayattu would be the end of that martial art for me. I’m not built for leaping. However, having cut some weight and built my fitness, I’ve found that my old body has taken the acrobatic craziness surprisingly well. So I’ll continue taking classes at the Kalari Academy as long as my body holds up.

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I plan to check out another martial art as well. There are a number of Muaythai places in Bangalore, and I may see if any of those work for me.  I don’t have any plans to travel to Thailand in the upcoming year, but—if I do—I’ll make sure to squeeze in some Muaythai.  (Actually, wherever I go I’ll try to squeeze in some of the indigenous arts.) Alternatively, there are Krav Maga classes offered at the New Acropolis, and that would be convenient to check out.

 

Yoga: I’d originally planned to do the 300-hour course that would complete my RYT-500 certification, but it doesn’t look like it will work with my travel schedule. However, I do intend to continue my studies, and—in particular—may pursue specialty teacher training courses in Children’s Yoga and /or Prenatal Yoga. There are also some intriguing workshop opportunities in Ashtanga Vinyasa and Iyengar Yoga (props yoga.) I may even try out the yoga in Mysore.

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I’ll continue to teach my MWF courses as long as there is interest and will maintain my own personal practice. Also, I’ll try to do some interning / teaching of corporate yoga classes.

 

Travel: We don’t have any specific trip planned past our December Hungary trip, but we’re sure to see some fascinating places in 2015.

 

It looks like I may have to make a trip to the US during the summer time-frame. However, if I don’t have to take care of business with the house, I’ll probably stay in Asia and visit some other country—possibly Burma. Lilla and I are planning to make a trip to the Himalayas sometime during the summer. This may involve a trip to Amritsar (location of the Sikh Golden Temple) in conjunction with visiting McLeod Ganj / Dharamsala (home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile) and Shimla or Ladakh or other Indian portions of the Himalayas. Alternatively, we may go to Nepal.

 

Among the Indian locations that remain on our list to see are Khajuraho, Varanasi, Pondicherry, Hyderibad, Chennai (with Kanakapura), Kolkata, and Darjeeling. That’s not to mention countries nearby that we’d like to visit while we’re here like Burma and Sri Lanka. It’s unlikely we’ll pack all that in to 2015, but hopefully we can make a dent in it.

 

Well there’s my 4,500 word narcissism-fest, but it has pictures.