Nestled above the River Ganges and siting at the base of the greater Himalayas, Rishikesh is nothing less than a spiritual mecca. We arrived at the Great Ganga Hotel which overlooked the Ganges with an impressive view, impressive view becoming somewhat of a norm for the next three weeks. I knew immediately that Rishikesh wasn’t the norm as marijuana plants and visibly aged gurus littered the hills and side roads. The stage was certainly set for some type of enlightenment.
For the next three days we would lead the life of a yogi. I personally couldn’t think of anything better, but I believe most of the students were disgruntled with 5 a.m. wake ups. Further, the yoga sessions were also accompanied with semi intense discussions lead by the yogis concerning the nature of spirituality, communication compassion, and their connection to one another. Once again, as a philosophy major I was enthralled with the discussions. As for the students, it was a 50/50 split. It was my mistake at the time not to recognize this and I perhaps lead the yogis on with questions longer than what the students were comfortable with. Regardless, as they participated in the discussions, it was incredible to watch them juggle complex metaphysical, ontological, and theological concepts. I had the strange feeling that during this first three days important seeds were sown that may produce in the years to come, for years to come.
Exploring the Ashram life was not all we did in Rishikesh. We would also, participate in the Clean Himalaya Project, an effort to combat the ravenous trash and pollution problem ruining the Himalayas. The kids and teachers alike would pick up trash throughout the city of Rishikesh, experiencing firsthand how out of control the trash problem has become. On a lighter note, we also had some amazing encounters including learning traditional Indian music, Ayurvedic medicine, and swimming in the river Ganga. Probably one of favorite experiences was watching a sacred Hindu ceremony called Aarti. Aarti takes place along the Ganges and entices the senses with torch dancing accompanied with melodic chanting. It is a ceremony in which one symbolically offers their material existence to the Hindu gods.
Aside from the overt experiences of our contextual learning Rishikesh set the tone of the rest of the trip. The kids got to know each other and us teachers alike. It was a time where we settled into our roles as teachers and coaches. It was also a time where I started to get a feel of what to really expect over the next few weeks. One: I gravely underestimated the amount of work this would be and likewise the amount of energy it would take to sustain it. Waking the kids up at 5 a.m., making sure everyone was where they needed to be, doing what they were supposed to be doing, making sure all twenty-one of them were accounted for, writing/transcribing their daily one page blog post, developing journal questions and reading responses, eventually grading CL participation, all after making sure they were asleep by 9 p.m.! I accepted this was going to be close to 17+ hours a day for the next three weeks and said goodbye to my yearlong coffee sobriety. Secondly; I felt extremely fortunate to be there and was happy about my unfolding role. Aside from the normal middle school things kids do, they were all an exceptional group. As my role unfolded I quickly realized I was knighted as the, “instigator of all things fun.” To be honest this came from my complete inability to be a rule enforcer! I tried so hard, but as one who remembers their rebellious middle school years very fondly, I failed miserably. Which was fine. I owned it and soon developed a report of unconditional positive regard that for the most part works in its own way to instill cooperation. Which leads into my third major realization: Caring for these twenty-one students would be no easy task, but one well worth it. I loved the work I was doing and felt fairly, naturally, good at it. It reinforced my feelings that I should be in education. Moreover, I started to get feelings of compassion from working with the kids, that I wouldn’t yet recognize until much later into the trip.