Voyage of Your Soul ~ A Woman’s Mid-life Adventure

“A woman’s body is the vessel through which the Goddess comes.”

~ Crossing to Avalon, Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D.


As I approach the half-century mark, I can’t help feeling that life is playing a cruel joke. It’s 3:11 A.M. and I am wide awake, as a hot flash drives flames into my body; my mind craves sleep but also realizes that to sweat in bed, awake for the next hour, will most assuredly drive me mad. In my darkest hour I ask God “why do I deserve this torment?” And then I realize with a jolt that I am not alone, that there is a sacred sisterhood of which I am a member, and somehow I am at one with the millions of women going through this same rite of passage.

Somewhere, in the deepest well of my being, I perceive a voice, whispering to me that it is going to be all right; that somehow in the midst of my turmoil, if I dare to look inside myself, I will discover a most sacred goddess, one that unites us all.

There is no doubt that our lives take on the flavor of adventure as we turn the corner into mid-life. As women, we scan the landscape and somehow sense that things aren’t what they “should” be. Instead of security, we experience chaos. Family dynamics shift as children and sometimes spouses take leave to cross into new life visions.

Life often casts us in the most upsetting role of parenting our parents. Our bodies betray us, as we are forced to       relinquish motherhood and are tossed unwillingly into the frightening state of menopause. Questions about what it all means bubble up from the depths of our psyche and we wonder how will we survive it all? Mid-life transition often feels this way; washed onto the lonely shore of a desert island, we wander aimlessly through the uncharted territory of our deepest fears and ugly realities.

The truth, however, is that with just a bit of attitudinal magic, mid-life can be a bountiful opportunity to rediscover ourselves. Through our mid-life crisis we are invited to rediscover the wondrous, mystical, joyful, inner being that lives deep inside us all. This is the time to put our self first, by honoring our soul. As we unite our heart with the archetypal Goddess, Aphrodite, we allow the universal feminine back into our world where it once lived in peace and tranquility. This is our opportunity to embody the wise-woman/elder and teach our daughters to take their rightful place in the scheme of life. What better role model can we provide for our children than to live our lives in acceptance and joy?

Marianne Williamson urges us in her book A Woman’s Worth, to “become more beautiful with age. Let’s be wise and mature and queenly. Let’s allow our centers of power to shift with grace, from focus on physical expression to focus on spiritual strength. The game isn’t cruel except when played by the negative mind. In the life God has in mind for us, we grow more and more beautiful and know more and more joy. The longer we live, the more time we have to pursue the things that make life meaningful. Above all, let’s not be ashamed of age.”

We can heal ourselves, and the world around us, by accepting our inner beauty, by moving with grace into the realm of the wise-woman/crone, by sharing our stories, choosing to set our own values, and captain our own ship. Our voyage takes courage, action, resilience, and humor. To fully honor our journey, there are certain actions and attitudes we can embody that will support us along the way.

Let us be alert for signposts, taking heed of synchronicity’s and our deeply intuitive nature. Let us open to the imagination of a child, experiencing the mysteries of life with wonder and joy in lieu of judgment and blame. Let us release our wild woman, which has been buried for too long and yearns for creative expression. Let us appreciate the gifts, beauty and wisdom that invariably appear along the trail, often in forms we would have passed by in our youth.

Let us remain in touch with our gracious inner woman and give thanks to the universe for its bountiful offerings. Let us join together as sisters and commit to our journey as one.

The intelligent path through our initiation is to discover and embody the divine spirit within. So when the going gets tough, let us dip into the depths of our soul and drink from its luscious waters. Be the magic you were meant to be. Shine your light, wear purple, become as a child and set that wild woman free. Rebirth your authentic Self for all the world to see, and you shall be exquisitely manifesting the splendor of your wise and wonderful soul.

Janet pic

Exploring Within ~ Transforming Obstacles ~ Living Possibility

Janet Dwinells M.A., CCH is a Soul Coach & Transformational Hypnotherapist
who can be reached at 508.776.2620

Spiritual Books for Soulful Living

These are a few of the many book I have found intriguing throughout my journey. Please let me know of books that have changed your life as well.

IMG_0107Bolen, Jean Shinoda, Goddesses in Everywoman: A New Psychology of Women
Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D., is a psychiatrist and Jungian analyst. I have found this book to be incredibly enlightening and fun as women discover their unique and playful selves within the archetypal images of the Goddesses. A must read for every woman looking to understand herself and for the men in their lives!

Cameron, Julia, The Artist’s Way
This book links creativity to spirituality by teaching us how to connect with the creative energies of the universe. With the basic principle that creative expression is the natural direction of life, Julia Cameron and Mark Bryan lead you through a comprehensive twelve-week program to recover your creativity from a variety of blocks, including limiting beliefs, fear, self-sabotage, jealousy, guilt, addictions, and other inhibiting forces, replacing them with artistic confidence and productivity.

Dalai Lama, My Land, My People
An honest and deeply personal historical and Buddhist account of the Dalai Lama’s life written in his own words. Learn about the tragedy and destruction of Tibet and its people, which was the cause for the Dalai Lamas exile to India and indirectly for the writing of this book. In this intimate memoir, the Dalai Lama, the monk Tenzin Gyatso as he likes to call himself, reports about his privileged education as “a prisoner” of the Potala, the castle of Lhasa and shares the story of his memorable life and the Tibetan people. Highly recommended.

Frankl, Victor, Mans Search for Meaning
This book is among the most influential works of psychiatric literature. The book begins with a deeply moving personal essay about Frankl’s imprisonment in Auschwitz and other concentration camps for five years, and his struggle during this time to find reasons to live. The second part of the book, called “Logotherapy in a Nutshell,” describes the psychotherapeutic method that Frankl pioneered as a result of his experiences in the concentration camps. Frankl believes that man’s deepest desire is to search for meaning and purpose. This is a fascinating, sophisticated, and very human book which will definitely stir the soul.

Gawain, Shakti, Creative Visualization
When it comes to creating the life you want, Shakti Gawain literally wrote the book. Now considered a classic, Creative Visualization teaches readers how to use their imaginations to manifest their deepest desires. Gawain uses the first part to cover the basics, with chapters such as “How to Visualize,” “Affirmations,” and “Creative Visualization Only Works for the Good”. Once she shows readers how visualization actually works, Gawain moves on to loftier discussions, such as “Contacting Your Higher Self,” “Meeting Your Guide,” “Setting Goals,” and “Treasure Maps.” Easy reading with fun exercises to ignite your inner life.

Jarow, Rick, Creating the Work You Love
This isn’t your usual advice on how to find a job or even how to locate a good job. Jarow instead explores the “chakra” system as a tool for career counseling. He moves you beyond limited thinking with pages filled with excellent insights and exercises. Highly recommended.

Kabat-Zinn, Jon, Wherever You Go, There You Are
In this approachable read, Jon Kabat-Zinn takes you deeply into the practice of meditation and mindfulness, a condition of “being” rather than “doing” during which you pay attention to the moment rather than the past, the future, or the multitudinous distractions of modern life. In brief, rather poetic chapters, he describes various meditative practices and how they can help the practitioner. The idea that meditation is “spiritual” is often confusing to people. Kabat-Zinn prefers to think of it as what you might call “a workout for your consciousness.” This book makes learning meditation remarkably easy (although practicing it is not). But it also makes it seem infinitely appealing. If you are looking for a basic tool to learn meditation, this is it.

Keirsey, David, Please Understand Me
This book is an exciting addition to the world of personality typing. Based on the Myers-Briggs Personality Typing program (which was based on Jung’s work,) Keirsey and Bates have reorganized the 16 “types” into an easy-to-understand model. They provide you with their own test, the “Keirsey Temperament Sorter,” a sort of mini-Myers-Briggs test that places you in 1 of 16 personality types. Like the Myers-Briggs system, this test sorts your personality into groups of extraversion/introversion (E/I), sensation/intuition (S/N), thinking/feeling (T/F), and perceiving/judging (P/J). The book delves into a detailed analysis of each type, with sections on mates, children, and leaders. An appendix paints portraits of the 16 possible personality types. I love the way this book approaches our differences and leads to the recognition that we are all lovable in our own ways.

Myss, Carolyn, Anatomy of the Spirit
What sets Anatomy of the Spirit apart is Carolyn Myss’s ability to blend diverse religious and spiritual beliefs into a succinct discussion of health and human anatomy. For example, when describing the seven energy fields of the human body, she fuses Christian sacraments with Hindu chakras and the Kabbalah’s Tree of Life. Fortunately, Myss is a skilled writer as well as researcher, able to ground her extensive spiritual and religious discussions by using real-life stories and a tight writing style. Many hail Myss for creating a valuable contribution to the ongoing exploration of spirituality and health. The audio version is also highly recommended.

Moore, Thomas, Care of the Soul
Care of the Soul is considered to be one of the best primers for soul work ever written. Thomas Moore, an internationally renowned theologian and former Catholic monk, offers a philosophy for living that involves accepting our humanity rather than struggling to transcend it. By nurturing the soul in everyday life, Moore shows how to cultivate dignity, peace, and depth of character.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer, The Invitation
Chapter by chapter, the author uses passages from her “Invitation” to welcome readers into a life that is more soul fulfilling and passionate, embodying profound truth and integrity. In a sense, she invites readers to get a life instead of buying into a lifestyle. Each chapter ends with a guided meditation specific to the theme of the chapter, which allows one to fully experience the journey. The Invitation provides a deep and penetrating perspective on the lives we lead.

Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi
Noted by many as one of the 10 most life-changing books, I have to say this was true for me. More than the story of the incredible life of Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952), this in-depth autobiography offers insights into the deeply spiritual minds and lives of the greatest teachers, saints and yogi’s of India. Yogananda’s autobiography has long been regarded as a spiritual classic, revealing the sentiments and teachings of one who helped spread the Eastern wisdom of Kriya Yoga in the West. Highly recommended.

Remen, Rachel Naomi, Kitchen Table Wisdom
Remen, a physician, therapist, professor of medicine, and long-term survivor of chronic illness, is also a down-home storyteller. Reading this collection of real-life parables feels like a late-night kitchen session with a best friend, munching on leftovers while listening to the good-as-gossip stories of everyday heroes and archetype villains. Every story guides us like a life compass, showing us what’s good and lasting about ourselves as well as humanity. A fun, insightful, and thought-provoking read.

Ruiz, Don Miguel, The Four Agreements
Rooted in traditional Toltec beliefs, the four agreements are essential steps on the path to personal freedom. Be impeccable with your word saying only what you mean as the word is the most powerful tool humans have; Don’t take anything personally as self-importance leads people to think they are the center of the universe, causing pain and injustice; Don’t make assumptions so as to avoid frustration and blame, ask what is meant; Always do your best which is the surest way to avoid self- condemnation. If everyone practiced these four agreements our world would be a much happier place.

Schucman, Helen, A Course in Miracles
In 1965 Helen Schucman, a professor of medical psychology at Columbia University, responded to an authoritative inner voice who identified himself as Jesus, and who urged her to take down what would become A Course in Miracles from inner dictation. A self-study course in spiritual psychology, A Course in Miracles focuses on the principles of universal love and forgiveness. Intense reading which can be used with a study group in your area.

Williamson, Marianne, A Return to Love
This bestselling author reflects on the principles contained in A Course in Miracles. The release of fear, the cultivation of love, and the practice of miracles are recurrent themes. Williamson reveals how we each can become a miracle worker by accepting God and by the expression of love in our daily lives.
Zukav questions the Western model of the soul, alleging that the human species is in the midst of a great transformation, evolving from a species that pursues power based upon the perceptions of the five senses, or “external power,” to one that pursues power based upon perceptions of the soul, or “authentic power.” He believes that humans are immortal souls first, physical beings second, and that once we align our personalities with our soul, we will stimulate our spiritual growth and become better people in the process. This insightful, lucid synthesis of modern psychology and new-age principles has been described as the “physics of the soul.” I encourage everyone who is seeking to learn more about “spiritual living” to sit down with a cup of tea and soak in this delicious book. It has becomes my bible.

Freedom Zen

“There is a time when you ‘die’ to yourself, a time when you let go everything, experience the void, and surrender yourself. You walk along in the dark, guided by the light of the heart, now stumbling, now wandering, yet always moving on the right path. When you respond in compassion your heart experiences peace, joy, freedom. The heart feels touched and it responds, no whys, no reasons, no explanations. You awaken to the world as your very self. The world is yourself and you are the world. – AMA Samy, Zen Heart Zen Mind

If you are ready to experience an authentic Zen Master for yourself, please join us at Grailville, Loveland, Ohio September 19-28, 2014. There will be a beginner’s retreat for 3 days September 19-21 and a 6-day silent retreat September 23-28.

AMA Samy, Jesuit Priest, Zen Master, and Joyful Teacher

One event I have yet to disclose in my India travel blog, but for which it is probably time, is this: While at the Zen Meditation Center in Southern India in 2011, I became an initiate of Zen Master AMA Samy and a member of the Bodhi Zendo Sangha.

Bodhi Zendo Entrance

Bodhi Zendo Entrance

My story…

Upon arrival at Bodhi Zendo, on my intrepid journey to India, after traveling 3 hours in a frightening taxi ride up that crumbling mountainside, I thankfully alit at the welcoming doorstep of Bodhi Zendo. In a foreign land with little Zen training, I had no idea what was coming, yet within moments, my heart, in it’s deepest recesses, resonated a profound energy of contentment.

Having never before affiliated myself with any “belief system” or “spiritual path” it was with a strange sense of belonging that I knew instinctively my way forward was to follow the gentle and brilliant man who created this haven for seekers. 3 months later I took the vows to follow this Master, his wise teachings and the Bodhisattva path.

Fr. AMA Samy

Fr AMA Samy

Father AMA’s story…

Father AMA’s presence is the expression of freedom. At 77 he’s spry, smiley and warm. Fr. AMA Samy (Arul Maria Arokiasamy) was born of poor Indian parents in Burma in 1936. As a boy he came into some contact with Burmese Buddhism and Buddhist monks. Back in India after the War, he was brought up for a few years by his maternal grandfather, who was a devotee of a Muslim saint and was caring for the burial shrine of the saint. The grandfather died in an accident leaving the young boy without support and guidance. However, the boy finished school and joined the Jesuits. Even after becoming a priest, his heart was restless after God. His heart was not fulfilled by the then Christian spirituality. He began visiting Hindu ashrams and Buddhist meditation centers. He was introduced to Ramana Maharishi by Swami Abhishiktananda, and was much moved by Ramana’s vision. His quest and searching led him to become a wandering beggar for a while and settle down as a hermit near a holy shrine; the village people fed him. It was the Zen way which drew him most. With the help of Fr Enomiya Lassalle, he went to Japan and was able to train with Yamada Ko-Un Roshi of Sanbo Kyodan. In 1982 Yamada Ko-Un gave him transmission and authorization to teach. Fr AMA Samy is rooted in Christianity and in Zen; he can be said to stand in-between Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. He stands true to Christ, true to Zen and true to the human heart-mind. Fr AMA Samy spends a few months every year abroad, in Europe, Australia, and the US, teaching and helping his students. He is the founder of Bodhi Sangha and Bodhi Zendo in Southern India.

In addition, Father has built a Montessori School for the poor village children in Southern India, began a non-profit organization called “Little Flower,” which helps young girls develop skills that will pull them out of poverty, and provides on-going medical assistance to the local villagers. More information can be found at

AMA Samy has written 4 books

  • Zen: Ancient and Modern
The Way to the Heart-Mind
  • Zen Meditation for Life and Death, Christians and Therapists
  • Zen: Awakening to Your Original Face
  • Zen Heart Zen Mind

A summary of his teachings from my first Teisho were

  • Question everything
  • Find your way and walk your path
  • We are here for one another
  • Face death
  • As you live your life, ask if it brings you freedom, peace, joy, creativity and compassion. If not, find a life that does
  • Commitment is most important, to your path, your spirituality, your relationships, your life

A New Way

While my personal meditation practice continues to lack consistency, my love for this man and his teachings will forever fill my being. It was during my first private meeting in “Dokusan” with the Master, when I asked him “how to find myself.” His answer, in his low, slow voice with a hint of laughter, “In order to find yourself, you must lose yourself.” In the presence of this most compassionate man my heart broke open and tears began to flow. I was in the perfect place to let go of everything in order to find my inner truth.

The next time I had Dokusan with the Master, I asked him “How do I find the heart-mind?” Another message that brought me to tears in his long drawn out manner, “Accept yourself.” So simple, yet so difficult. How does one forgive oneself for the past?

The more I study Zen, the more I realize the importance of letting go of the ego-self and opening in compassion to yourself and to the world. Father calls his unique brand of Zen “Freedom Zen.” Simple really, and perhaps that is why I love it so. And so that brings me to the end of another chapter and the beginning of the next.

His most important message and the one that lingers for me now is this: “You must bring your “Self” to the Marketplace.” I’m working on that now, and am not sure when the next blog will appear but I do know that it is certainly time to share what I can with the world. If you’re interested in discovering more about your inner self, give this retreat a try. It’s a beautiful gift, and you deserve it.

 Om Shanti,

2012: Our Role in the Evolution of Human Consciousness

What can we all do to make a difference in this insane world of ours?

What does December 21, 2012 mean to you? Countless prophecies, both ancient and modern, suggest cataclysmic shifts as conveyed by Hopi legends, the Bible’s Book of Revelation, the Mayan calendar, and a host of psychics and visionaries. Could it be, as some have interpreted, that we are experiencing the end of the world as we know it, as we charge unconsciously into the dark night of our planetary soul?

What do you see when you look around our world? Have you noticed that our Universe is transforming at warp speed? What can we make of the unprecedented meteorological events, global warming, magnetic field shifts, unabated terrorism and the exponentially accelerating pace of change?

Or might we view these events from a more enlightened platform of opportunity and growth, rather than from a reactive state of fear?

Spiritual theorists surmise that the true meaning of the 2012 predictions is not that the earth will necessarily experience destruction, but that we are fast approaching the end of a great cosmic cycle leading to a massive leap in the evolution of human consciousness. To many, this shift looks like an initiation that is leading us into a metaphoric death and rebirth scenario.

Depending upon the demeanor of our psyche, we can either catastrophize the impending shift, making choices based upon fear, or we can welcome the chaos we are experiencing for its transformational potential to grow our soul and raise the vibration of the Earth.

We are being offered an opportunity to transcend today’s reality in order to birth a new consciousness; and like the hundredth monkey phenomenon, if enough of us raise our vibration to live with love and compassion for each other and for Mother Earth, we can shift our world into a new and ever-expanding paradigm. There is one certainty, however, that stands before us as a torch in the darkness; we must change our ways before it is too late for us as a species. It is up to each of us to take responsibility for our actions; for how we show up in each moment impacts the all.

It is time to transcend the limited dualistic thinking that has become the model of our world, and honor the Oneness of our Universe. As quantum physicist David Bohm explains, “when matter is investigated, it is revealed as an ocean of energy and light.” We, too, are oceans of energy and light, at one with all that is, with every thought, word, and deed impacting everything they touch, as evidenced by the butterfly whose singular flight shifts the winds across the Earth.

We must awaken from our externalized trance and claim our significant role in this process of rebirth. Our greatest task is to awaken the divine self within. By focusing our awareness on our internal compass, listening to our inner wisdom, and connecting our light with the light of the world, we will live out our soul purpose. The choice is up to us, individually and collectively, as with each action, we either add to the light of our Universe or increase the darkness of a fear-filled world.

I invite you to step up to this challenge: to take a quantum leap into infinite possibility, releasing fear, and wrapping your arms and heart around the globe, infusing our Universe with the energy of acceptance, love and gratitude. Daniel Pinchbeck offers us sage advice. “The change required of us is not an unfelt, intellectual shift to some ‘spiritual’ or psychic perspective, but a fully embodied and intimately personal process. We are being called upon to open our hearts, as well as our minds, to the radiant flame of transformation.”

This is how we counteract the fear that strangles the earth today. It is both our opportunity and our responsibility to be the light beings we are, to be totally present and accountable for the energy we emit into the world. Together we stand, willing to transcend ancient paradigms and participate in this wondrous rebirth of humanity.

This challenge encourages us to open the gates of our perception, expanding our awareness to encompass a world far bigger than we’ve ever imagined. We are invited to reawaken our innate nature of love and compassion for a world seemingly out of control, and take responsibility for co-creating a future of infinite possibility.

If you would like assistance in making this shift in your life let’s talk.   


Janet Dwinells
Soul Coach & Hypnotherapist

Taj Mahal, Camel Safari and a Hijacking

Taj Mahal

The adventure continues as Lorena and I take an overnight train ride (from hell) to Agra. As foreigners we had to sign a form stating we knew the risks of riding that specific train as it is the highest theft train in India. Locking all our belongings up on our bunk left us very little space to sleep and we had a few winks at the very most. Once in Agra we were greeted with the most voracious “touts” in all of India trying to sell us everything from snow globes of the Taj to peacock feather fans, to Rajasthani leather sandals.

After a day of rest we “hired” an overzealous Muslim taxi driver who showed us all the sites of Agra including the Baby Taj, and Agra Fort. So much to see, so little time! Saleem also introduced us to the best buffalo tongue breakfast in all of Agra. Yummy.

The next day Andrew joined us and we headed off by train for Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, which was the most amazingly clean city. They actually had trash cans and people used them! The never-ending fort with towers and walls running 15 kilometers around the city housed the Palace where the royal family lived. Oprah came to Jaipur for the Literary Festival just a week after we were there and I will be excited to see her take on India.

Although I’m sure her 5 star hotel outdid our digs at the Pearl Palace. We were thrilled to have hot water and internet in our room however and stayed longer in Jaipur than expected. We golfed, ate like kings and enjoyed watching kids of all ages flying kites from the rooftops getting ready for the big kite festival in which they attach razor blades to the kite strings in order to capture other kites. Another fun site was the Monkey temple where they feed monkeys (and people) daily. The Hindu religion honors everything that lives, but cows, monkeys and rats top the list of favorite animals.

When it was finally time to leave, we took a 6 1/2 hour bus ride to Bikaner, largely because Andrew had to see the Rat Temple. Actually, it was the most disgusting event of the trip and I’m not posting a picture of the scurrying rats. The other reason for going to Bikaner which is 167 kilometers from the Pakistan border, was the desert camel safari which we took for two nights and three days. Sleeping under the stars with just blankets in the cold desert was exquisitely beautiful, especially as the full moon crossed overhead and the stars literally blanketed the sky. We hired Hussein, an English speaking guide, two cameleers, and a cook for the journey. Did you know that in the desert you wash your dishes with sand? You quickly get used to sandy chai. The vegetarian food was excellent and the camels well taken care of, but it was really cold when that sun went down.

So on the second day of our safari we are plodding along when 4 teenage boys flag us down. After a long Hindi conversation we have effectively been hijacked and are heading off to places unknown. Here is one of those times when your intuition kicks in and you have to really go deep inside to feel what’s happening. All we know is that these boys have jumped on our cart, one of them is riding a camel and they are squealing with delight. We arrive at a big red brick home, most unusual in the desert as all we have seen are adobe or grass shacks. As we near the house we see about 30 men sitting outside and one woman. As we alight the camels, we are taken out back to see where the patriarch of this family has been buried. We have been invited to a celebration of his funeral! Most people in the Hindu religion are cremated but it was his wish to be buried. Andrew is taken off to hang out with the men and Lorena and I are shuffled inside the house to a room where not less than 20 women and children are huddled on the floor. We find a bare spot and join them. For 10 days they celebrate with the sharing of food and sweets to as many people as possible. Plates of sweets are offered and the excitement level is high. Speaking some English, the teenagers become translators as we attempt to converse with these women dressed in Sari’s with their heads often covered by veils. Soon a very tall man in a brilliant red turban offers Lorena and I something in his hand. We both take some and eat it. Later he offers us more but we refuse as it tasted really bitter. Come to find out later we have just ingested opium which is part of their funeral ritual. Not to worry, we all simply enjoyed a relaxed high about an hour later.

Foreigners are treated like royalty and we were no exception. They were so proud of their home and happy to share with us. It makes one feel great to know that there are some places where religion and politics just don’t matter. We are all brothers and sisters at heart. Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, all living together, just sharing whatever there is. I have never met more giving people.

Janet Dwinells

  Soul Coach    508-776-2620

The Circle of Life and Death

Temple view from our guest house

To my western mind the reality of the sacred city of Varanasi is unfathomable. To survive here one must experience India through the open heart because the mind can make little sense of how people can live harmoniously in such immense poverty day after day.

The sacred river Ganges is lined with “ghats” which are huge concrete steps making their way from high above where the buildings live, down to the edge of the river.

There are over 80 ghats and our guest house was at the Assi Ghat, the last ghat to the south. Taking photographs is not allowed at the burning ghats and will most likely result in your camera being confiscated, along with incurring a steep fine.

Varanasi Ghat

Walking the ghats becomes a pilgrimage in itself, avoiding the Brahmin bulls, the laundry laid on the steps to dry in the sun, puppies with broken legs, watching with extreme care where you step, climbing up and down to avoid the teenage boy’s cricket games, and ignoring the “touts” relentlessly trying to part you from your Rupees.

Here you can buy a boat ride along the river, a cup of chai, cheap bangles or myriad other plastic or tin ware. It’s difficult to resist giving to the poorest waifs selling postcards or flower wreathed candles you can light and float in the Ganges in honor of the dead. The beggars are bold and emblazoned with the oddest arrangements of colored strips of clothing. Holy men (Sadhu’s) along with other men of all shapes and sizes come each morning to bathe in the polluted (but sacred) river, which happens to be the repository for garbage, excrement, dead bodies and whatever else may find its way into the flow. Women can be seen washing their clothing here each day. The smoke filling the sky is overwhelming and masks are common sights.

Peaceful Sunrise Boat Trip

As we journeyed along the Ghats, both Lorena and I embodied a profound feeling of peace and tranquility. It was somehow more serene than we expected, leaving the multitudes of people and honking vehicles behind in the streets not far away. Soon enough we came to one of the two “burning ghats” where the dead are brought to be cremated. Death is as natural as life here and every day these ceremonies occur along the river. There are three types of ceremonies: The upper castes and wealthy Hindu’s are decorated with beautiful gold fabrics and flowers, and are sandwiched in a huge pile of wood whereupon the ceremony is begun with families circling the loved one 5 times, one for each element, earth, wind, water, sky and fire. The fire is lit, the soul leaves the body and blessings are given with the prayers of all. Then there is the fire for the poor guy who has little wood, leaving his legs sticking out from the flames, no family, no prayers, with whatever is left of his body being thrown in the river. In between we see the “middle class” burning with family present and hopefully enough wood to cover his/her body.

Lorena and mandolin make sweet music together

Yet amongst all the poverty, just as the sacred water winds itself through India, each day flows with an easy, carefree attitude. I have yet to hear one Indian complain about his/her lot in life. Each just does what one does, day in and day out, adding his/her own unique contribution to the multifaceted tapestry that is India.

I was grateful to be in this most unusual land for this auspicious 2012 New Years Eve. We attended a concert of tablas, sitars, flutes, and other Native instruments to ring in the New Year. Life goes on. May yours be filled with peace, love and equanimity.

Janet Dwinells

Soul Coach

Sensory Overload

Being a first time visitor to India is an experience like no other. I can’t imagine another place upon this earth, which has the capacity of both assaulting and endearing us in the same engaging moment. Those who return year after year assure me that one eventually tunes out the smoldering mounds of trash littering the streets, the continuous barrage of bleating horns, the ever-present hot, hotter, hottest chili pepper slipped into unassuming soups, the combined scents of urine, incense, jasmine, and burning plastic, along with the overzealous heat that dries you out like a baked lizard on a fried rock.

Towels serve many purposes here in India

My traveling partner and Zendo buddy Andrew, and I took a much needed vacation away from the Zendo where he is in charge of meditation and I have been working long hours in the office. For a week, I experienced “real” India, which is a far cry from the fantasy world of the Zendo. We began with a 3-hour taxi ride down the mountain to the Temple City of Madurai. Landing at the railway station we were barraged with porters to carry our bags. I acquiesced easily as 50 rupees ($1.00) was more than fair for this guy to carry my much too heavy bag and lead us to the correct platform. What I would have given for a picture of this burly porter, dressed in a red shirt, white skirt, and orange scarf, with my bulky lilac suitcase balanced on his head, no hands mind you, streaming through the maize of people scurrying, families strewn about, fairly running up the staircases across platforms and back down again, with trains coming and going in all directions, whistles blaring. But I could barely keep up with him never mind locate my camera in my overloaded backpack. Someday I promise to travel lightly upon this earth.

First Class Compartment

At about 11pm we boarded the first class car of our overnight ride to the Kerala Coast. Let me assure you that this “first class” is not what you are thinking, but it did provide us each a space for our luggage, a bed, and the unexpected pleasure of a reading light recessed into the wall. The windows opened and it was clean enough but having my own silk sleeping bag, and pillow was an ingenious move. The Indian couple we shared the compartment with had no blankets, and used their arms for a pillow. They were zonked out before the train even moved that night and slept straight through the night and were the first voices I heard that early morning. At some point I must discuss the toilet situation here in India with you so here goes. Indians don’t use toilet paper and it is a guarded commodity for a Westerner. Apparently they use their left hand with water for cleaning themselves saving their right hand for eating. The train had both Western style toilets and Indian squat toilets which both provided holes directly to the train tracks. I’m sure you can just imagine the smell of those bathrooms, so I’ll save you any more literation. But at least they were provided, for which I was grateful! The train probably stopped at 20-30 stations throughout the night, with lights flashing and the tracks thundering with each start and stop. Cost of a 9 hour train trip approximately $7.

Bride and Groom at Hindu wedding

We arrived about an hour and a half later than expected and were whisked off to a hotel in Kollam, by our friend Shyam whose sister was getting married. Within ½ an hour we were showered, dressed, and ready for our first Hindu wedding in the 90 degree heat with 90 % humidity day.

The actual ceremony of this modern Hindu wedding only took about ½ an hour but was preceded by the loudest oboe type instrument called a Shehnai, and drum combination blaring throughout the hall. It actually hurt our eardrums but the Indians thought nothing of it.
they seem quite immune to the noise around them. The making of the “wedding movie” seemed to be the purpose of the wedding itself.  Each audience member was photographed, and the photographers stood during most of the ceremony with their backs to the audience blocking our view of the exquisitely decorated bride and groom. Not a word was spoken but many items were exchanged by bride and groom while the priest and attendants showered the couple with petals.

Banana leaf place settings

In true Kerala style, the feast afterward consisted of a gorgeous banana leaf serving as a placemat. It was decorated with over a dozen delicious spices, a type of bread called chappati, and a banana. Waiters came around serving rice and following suit, we dug in with our fingers, mixed it all up like we were creating a finger paint production and ate carefully (only with our right hand). There are no napkins but large troughs with many spickets to wash up in afterwards. We were offered more and more goodies as we ate ending with a delicious cashew coconut concoction for desert and enjoyed pink boiled water for our only libation. Then as quickly as it began it was over and we were ushered out while they laid the settings for the next round of people. Sharing our gift with the bride and groom caused quite a scene as we were the only ones with a wrapped present. I think cash was the preferred tradition but we explained that this was our tradition. Shyam arranged for us to go up on stage with the bride and groom while the photographers took another photo opportunity for the foreigners to be seen handing over the gift. Devi, the bride, commented on how pleased she was that I dressed in an Indian costume. I wasn’t sure exactly how to take that but I think it was a compliment. :)

Varkala North Cliff

Next stop, Varkala, a hippiesh beach village on the coast of the Arabian Sea where we stayed for the next 4 days. The state of Kerala itself is both largely Catholic and Communist, with a mix of Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim and has the highest literacy rate in India so it is a fairly progressive area. Great for tourists who aren’t yet ready for serious India (like me.)

Our days consisted of reading on the beach, swimming, watching dolphins frolic, enjoying fabulous fresh fish dinners and Kingfisher Beer (the only beer you can get pretty much anywhere in India). None of the restaurants have liquor licenses and have to hide the beer in newspaper or under the table or will only serve it to you in mugs already poured. They apparently have paid the police some “baksheesh” to look the other way. “Baksheesh” seems to be a way of life here.


The cliffs are lined with shops and restaurants, and each day we would have to walk through the gauntlet of hawkers, selling everything from plastic snakes, folding hats, beautifully decorated cards to handmade drums and flutes. At each shop and restaurant, people pleaded with us to look inside. “Come and see madam. I give good price.. you like.. come back lata?…promise? Good fish… cold beer… good price… why not here? Later huh?” And there are the beggars, everywhere. We are told it’s best not to give because it perpetuates the practice but it’s so hard not to share a rupee or two. The shop owners I fell in love with however, were the Tibetans who greeted you warmly with a big smile and never once pressured you to make a sale. They were the ones to receive most of my rupees.

Janet Dwinells

Soul Coach

Sights and Sounds of Madurai: The City of the Fish-Eyed Goddess

View of Madurai and the Temple from my Hotel room

Hello world… It’s been 5 days without internet here and it seems like a month! Here are some pictures from the “clean” city of Madurai and the temple of the Fish-Eyed Goddess. I hope you enjoy.

The temple was amazing and came to life with worshippers coming out in droves after 6pm. People light candles, incense, and share offerings to the thousands of Hindu Gods. Prayers, meditations, prostrations and bows fill the temple each moment. This is the land of the sacred which was evidenced by the many rooms only Hindu’s were allowed to enter.

Here is a meditator in the midst of the crowds who just happened to clear as I snapped this photo.

Meditator in inaction

Here I am being blessed by an elephant whose handler would only accept a rupee note from me, a bill instead of a coin, since I am a foreigner. Yes, life here for the foreigners is more expensive almost everywhere you go. I suppose my white skin is a dead give-a-way even as I dyed my hair darker. When in Rome… as they say…

This is the altar of the sacred cow where the men come to pray for virility and for sons.

Praying for Virility and for Sons

I have a video of  my first autotaxi ride which costs about $1 for a mile ride to the temple. Hopefully I’ll be able to share that with you soon.

If this is the clean city, I can’t wait to discover what “dirty” looks like. I worry about the pollution here as trash and plastics line the streets. The trash is then burned, along with the plastics, and the smells and chemicals fill the air. I had an immediate reaction in my sinuses and had a continuous headache for the three days I was there. Respiratory problems are rampant here and I don’t see anything being done about it. It just seems to be an accepted way of life. Diabetes is another huge problem, which has developed recently due to the increase in sugar in their diets. Indians never used to eat processed sugar and somehow their systems don’t adjust well to it so the incidence of diabetes is almost at epidemic proportions.

Inner Temple - ancient stonework and glorious mandalas

The Indians love brilliant colors juxtaposed next to the ancient stone work. Statues of the Gods line this enormous temple and each pillar seems to honor a different God. I’d love to learn more about the Hindu religion as it offers a fascinating view of our Universe.

I must say I was most happy to be back in my little corner of heaven here at the zendo. Next trip (next week) is to the Kerala Coast where I’ve been invited to a Hindu wedding. Bought myself a Sari and hopefully I can figure out how to get into it and dance without it falling off.

Stay tuned!

Note: Tonight, I’m heading back into a 3 day silent Sesshin with no internet, so until next week may you enjoy the good luck of Ganesh (the elephant headed God) and the blessings of the Fish-Eyed Goddess.

Janet Dwinells

Soul Coach

Golfing Adventure

What fun to be golfing here in Kodaikanal! The last thing I thought I’d be doing in India is golfing but I found a sporting buddy here at the Zendo and we’ve gone twice now and have loved every minute.

Manu and Me

Manu, my caddy, grew up on this course and has been a caddy here for 46 years. I thought it was amazing that he could know exactly which club a woman should use every shot but with his ingenious assistance, I actually played pretty well. Manu had a gorgeous bright smile and jokingly told me I should smuggle the 4 wood home with me. I told him I was going to smuggle him home as well. He was also a great mathmetician, not my strong suit, so I would ask him, “How many shots have I taken so far” and he’d reply, 1 bad, 2 good, with a smirky smile. It made me laugh to watch him clean and reset my ball after every shot onto a nice high tuft of grass. Now this is my kind of golf I was thinking, until I learned that it’s actually called “preferred lie” which is legal because the course is so rough. And I just thought he was being sweet.

Protected Green

In California, I’ve seen deer, wild turkeys, and loads of geese roaming the courses but here the wildlife is a bit more exotic. Each green is surrounded by 8 foot fences so the bison, who come out after 3 in the afternoon, won’t stomp and poop all over the greens. The mounds they do drop are humungous leaving me to wonder what would happen if the ball landed in one. Thankfully I haven’t had the pleasure of finding out as of yet.

The intrepid monkees are fun to watch but you don’t want to get too close as I’ve heard they can be pretty nasty. This little one was adorable! On the 7th hole the fog came rolling in within minutes and we literally couldn’t see a thing. It was hilarious listening to the 4 of us try to find each other, the balls and the hole itself.

Monkey See

I loved the feeling of being lost in the clouds and totally having to use one’s intuition to take each shot. Those were definitely Zen moments. Afterwards we were excitedly looking forward to a nice glass of wine at the 5 Star Carlton Hotel only to find out that the day we arrived was election day and no one is allowed to sell liquor on election day per order of the government. If I could vote I’d definitely overthrow whoever made that decision!

Carlton Hotel - a nice respite

Crushed, we settled for lime spritzers or some such concoction. I have to say that it was delightful to enjoy a club sandwich, with chicken, my first meat in a month and french fries! Such a treat and to top it off we discovered a Starbucks clone and sipped a double espresso. Such a warm and relaxing way to end our big outing even as the monsoon made its appearance once again.

Life is just one great big adventure.

Janet Dwinells

Soul Coach

Real Life in India

Happy 11:11! This is a special day in that people throughout the world are meditating for peace at 11:11. I found a silent place upon the side of the mountain to send out good vibes to the world as well. I hope you caught some!

Here are some photos from real life in India. Just wanted to share with you how others live. Much love

Om Shanti,
Janet Dwinells

Soul Coach

Water source for the village

Kodaikanal Street



Kodai Cows

Election Parade

Mountain Top Catholic Church

In peace and Light,