Path-ery

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I took this picture a week or so ago. I had just plopped down onto my bed and was looking toward the bedroom windows when my cat, Darel, walked into the room. Sometimes, when sunlight streams into the room through these windows, he and I will cuddle on the floor in the warmth of the light. He greeted me as he came into the room and then walked right past me to take a seat near the window where he could see outside. And then I snapped this pic.

After clicking the pic on my phone, I went to the gallery to view the pic. It appeared to me right then that so much about the pic communicates many of the things that I hold dear, and I thought to share those with you.

In the picture you’ll see a plant. This plant is known as a Christmas Cactus. It isn’t blooming right now, but when it does it produces rich red flowers that feel kind of waxy to me. It was grown from a pruning off of a friend and coworker’s own plant which she had in the office. I value all expressions of life and I love that this cactus is an heirloom of sorts. Life being passed on and grown fresh from that sharing.

Speaking of valuing life, Darel is a fantastic example of life I value. His version of consciousness brings joy and comfort to my home. Further, we have him because *I* wanted him and since the moment I picked him out from his litter he bonded to me as his human. He seeks me out wherever I am in my home and he talks my ear off frequently. I love that he’s in this pic because he’s sitting near my pujasthana, on a small chest, and looking out the window and the world outside. He’s always near me when I do puja and meditation and stops short of insisting I let him participate. And him looking outside makes me smile because he’s curious and in his own way is probably trying to understand so much beyond what he is able.

The pujasthana / mandir you can see is one I’ve had for a few years. In it are housed a maha-murti of a version of Viraganapati as well as smaller murtis of Shiva, Lakshmi, Hanuman, Buddha, other murtis as well as some rudrakshas, a ganesha yantra, and a framed photo of my lineage’s four most recent gurus, Lalaji, Babuji, Chariji, and Daaji – which was a gift to me from friends in Heartfulness. This mandir is a¬†physical manifestation and representation of what religious expression my life has. Obviously, things in this context are a bit bigger than the simple pujasthana can depict, but it suffices to bring so much to my mind.

The small chest Darel is sitting on is something I’ve had for a while and inside it I stash a wide range of things – most of which have to do with extra puja items and other religious or spiritual paraphernalia. I hardly look in here unless I absolutely need to. This chest is bittersweet to me. The good side of this item is that because of the chest being there, I have access to things I might not otherwise be able to hang onto or have handy. The flip side of that is that the chest represents baggage. Essentially, crap I feel like I can’t let go of or go long without. I have more evolving to do.

On top of the chest, and next to Darel, you’ll see a book. It’s maybe tough to discern but that book is packed full and totally stretching beyond what it should. This is my version of a witch’s Book of Shadows. Witches keep a Book of Shadows as a dedicated place to compile their religious and spiritual knowledge – and that’s exactly what this book does for me. In addition to being a wisdom holder, this book hold photos of some of my loved ones, pressed flowers from funeral and other events, drawings I’ve made, etc… The book is of a good size and build but very quickly I knew it would run out of space so I started gluing in inserts that fold out or pop up so that each page with this feature can actually serve as many pages. The book, with all of this, now has a belt looped around it to keep it tied closed – or as closed as I can make it.

I’m sure you’re looking at the pic and reading these things here and thinking to yourself, “Big deal.” That’s okay. There’s more to this pic than the things I’ve mentioned and even if I only took the pic because of Darel it would hold no less value or meaning to me. Is there anything in your life that you look at at think to yourself, “This sums up SO much”?

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti

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ShubhRakhi : 2-in-1

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When I was very young, I almost invariably played by the rules in every instance. As a first born and closeted young person, my way in the world was found in being a good boy. To this day, the thought of disappointing my parents in any way causes me to cringe and break out in a sweat.

However, in my teen years some of that changed. This shift occurred primarily when I was forced to part with the first religious community I formally knew. It was a time of immense pain for me. From then since, it’s been of high value to me to always engage in the effort needed to know my heart, and then to follow it.

One way this manifests, yearly in fact, is a Hindu holiday known as Raksha Bandhan. I don’t know if, like many other Hindu things, there are multiple versions of this holiday’s origin, but the one I’m most familiar with involves Krishna (I think?) protecting his sister, which she then returns with a gesture of devotion by tearing part of her sari and making it into a bracelet around his wrist. Since the time of this supposed event, every year Hindu brothers and sisters celebrate their affection and devotion to each other. Brothers bring their sisters gifts and sweets and promise to always support and protect them. In turn, sisters tie a bracelet of sorts around their brother’s wrist, offer him treats as well, and likewise promise to support and be devoted to that sibling relationship. But that’s not exactly how I roll.

There are a number of people in my life, of no blood relation per se, who I value truly very much-ly actually quite-ly and immensely. Every year, for Raksha Bandhan (and in fact for months ahead of time) I purchase gifts to the best of my ability and bestow them upon my loved ones. If I can be honest, it’s the second most expensive time of the year for me, after the American Christmas holiday. Gift bags are assembled and packages are placed into the post… and when it’s all said and done, my wallet is usually, literally, more than empty. But my heart is so full. This holiday, celebrated almost entirely backward by yours truly, is my personal mahabhakti celebration.

More along the traditional lines of the holiday, though, is my relationship with my only blood sister. We’re about six years apart in physical age, and if ever a big brother had a baby sister… oh boy! Of the children brought here by my birth mother, my sweet sister and I are the only siblings remaining in the state. You can look at us and tell we’re related (because of a fine mix of Native American and European, we both have almond-shaped eyes and high cheek bones). I’ve included a photo of her in this post. Another likeness we share is our birth mother’s sheisty, feisty attitude. I think my sister’s absolutely beautiful, and I’m certain she hasn’t yet realized her tremendous worth to the world. I’m committed to helping her see this value and using it for her betterment and for the benefit of those others in her life. We talk/text regularly, and I love that we talk about boys. ūüôā If ever a sister expressed her devotion and support to a brother, it’s when my sister speaks to me. And if ever a brother was committed to protecting his little sister, it would surely be the brother who threatens to break the legs of any guy who causes her heart pain. Probably half of the communication between us is simple exchanges of “I Love you, bubby” and “I love you, too!”

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More than anything in this life, people need to know how much they mean. The value found in the simple fact that they are breathing is something lost on most. Generally, I’m good about telling others how I feel about them – for good or bad! But this is the one day of the year when I really mean it when I say I’m glad you didn’t die when you fell down the stairs, or that I’m glad you are who you are and that you are amazingly beautiful whether you’re closeted or not, or how truly important our times in the rivers means to me, or that you are my sweet sweet little sister and I will always be here for you.

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When it comes down to it, I really have no words. Not any that are adequate, anyway. Every morning and every night when I sit in my temple room before my mandir, my heart becomes obese – absolutely obese – as it sings the song within it. My sincerest hope, my brothers and sisters in this life, is that you know you are the very song of my own heart.

Jai Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Om Shanti

For the Love of God

I was very glad to have the weekend away from the spa. I’m finding lately, and since about last fall, I seem to require more and more “down time.” I have no idea what’s up with that, but whatever. I slept in today and then started a few new posts for Sthapati. Eventually my beloved awoke and we found ourselves setting out from home on a mission. I needed a picture frame.

I have a photographic rendering of my ishtadevata that I grabbed up quite inexpensively at a sale at my temple once, over a year ago. It’s not an orthodox image of Him, and in fact has a spotted and even debatable history. Nonetheless, it’s a depiction I’ve been able to appreciate and have even been drawn to in theory. Conveniently enough, the image is somewhat three-dimensional and also comes with a brass plate on the back upon which has been inscribed Ganesha’s yantra/mandala. These characteristics, however, make finding a suitable and well-fitting frame nearly impossible. This has proven frustrating for me. I have plans for this item and wanted it inside a frame with glass to protect it. The tricky part is that since I’ve moved my Ganesha murti into His fancier and more spacious abode (the new mandir is all kinds of fancy, but not nearly as photogenic), I planned to devote some of that space to holding this questionable but endearing other image, meaning that the framing needs to do its job but still cannot be too bulky. Below is a photo of the new digs for my murtis that I pulled from online, followed by one from my cameraphone of the real thing in my puja room…

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The result of my search is that I ended up paying $100 to have the thing professionally framed. I sure didn’t plan to do that. I sure didn’t have the $100 when I paid it, either.

But then, interestingly, I found myself aware of some craziness internally. I know, I know – what’s new there, right? Here’s a glimpse of the weather in my brain while I was at the checkout counter:

Initially, I was like, “whoa – you’re going to charge me $100 for THIS little thing to be framed?” And then almost as instantaneously a thought that is very much unlike me ran into the room with, “Anything for God! $100 is nothing! This will be a great chance for you to express a bit of bhakti. Do it and surely Ganesha will bless.” And while my rational and devotional sides duked it out, something rather sly crept in. Something from another framing experience earlier this year came back to me… In January the same framing place (which is actually pretty much the cheapest around) robbed me when I had two He-Man posters framed for my beloved’s birthday. After giving them more than a couple hundred dollars for two piddly posters in simple black wood framing, they actually confiscated the posters and retained them during the framing process – I received a call two weeks later telling me they were ready.

Suddenly, and quietly although not peacefully, I realized the same was about to happen with my prized Ganesha image. Oh the turmoil! I so hated the feeling of parting with that thing! I’m not exaggerating when I tell you the whole experience began the formation of a lump in my throat. I seriously considered requesting to hang on to it and just leave them with the dimensions required for the framing. I’m sure they would have obliged, but I withheld my request and instead forced myself to face an attachment I wasn’t aware has become so strong.

I can’t imagine an instance in which I’d ever need to take my mandir’s mahamurti anywhere to be worked on – in fact, the very idea is ridiculous – but you can be sure I’d be camping out in some store’s back room until said work was done. Why? Because, often, I’m also ridiculous.

Om Shanti

Pujasthana

Pujasthana is a compound noun. Since high school when I studied and nearly mastered the German language, I have LOVED compound nouns. I find them to be artistic, efficient and keeps a language from having a ridiculously large vocabulary like English does. The nouns that make up the word pujasthana are puja and sthana. For anyone unfamilar with any Indian languages or any Hindu religious words, puja means a worship ritual and can be as elaborate or simple as a person is inclined. Sthana means place. We see sthana used as a suffix in many names of middle eastern counrties. A curious one I find to be a little funny and a little sad is Pakistan. When that name is broken down, it literally means “place of the fools.”

Probably around two years ago I went the local Patel Brothers Indian Grocery store and perused their selection of mandirs for my puja room. They had only less than ten, and the cheapest one was still more than $300. Usually when I’m shopping for something like this, I only even go shopping when I know I have more than enough money for anything I might encounter. In things like this, if I were to see something I wanted – but not be able to get it right then – it would lead to much frustration. So, typically I only go looking for things I want when I know I can afford them no matter the cost.

So I found myself in Patel Brothers, with the Best, and looking at mandirs. For such a small selection, they did well at providing an assortment. Of course things like that drag out my decision process: Do I want taller more than wide? Color or strictly metallic? How finished do I need the inside to me? Storage drawer or none? Ornate or simplistic?

So many things do consider when choosing your ishtadevata’s dwelling place!

I eventually settled on a design that unique among the selection. It’s colorful and full of detail and design. It has a shelf and drawer that open to the front just below where the doors are. The images on the outside are of Ganesha, Om, Lakshmi, Surya, Hanuman and Krishna. It has a free-standing “steeple” that rests easily on top. There are screened windows on both sides and on the doors. The inside comes with a riser and both the riser and inside walls are covered in red felt-like material. Roughly, it’s about a foot deep, about 1.5ft wide and maybe around 3ft tall.

Since that time, it’s served as a great residence for the murti of my ishtadevata, Ganesha. But I’m getting an itch. This is the last year I’ll be able to get so much back in taxes (thank you, student credit!), and I plan to get Ganesha a new home. This means the current one has to go.

Here’s the deal: I’m giving it away. Anyone who wants it, can have it. The only catch is that if you’re not local to me, you’ll need to reimburse me the cost of shipping. I ran through the USPS website and did a very rough estimate on shipping (~33lbs to an Alaska zip code) and it was around $100. (Note: This is very approximate. I weighed it with everything inside and entered general dimensions, plus I doubt anyone even as far as Alaska will show interest, so the actual cost of shipping would vary, but should be somewhat close to the $100.) I paid around $325 for it before tax, so even worst case scenario with shipping is still two-thirds off the original amount paid for it.

If you’ve read this far you already know its description. Photos are below. This post is going to Facebook for further advertising. Feel free to contact me here, on Facebook, or privately if you have that info. If there are no takers between now and the eighth of March, I’ll donate it to anyone who wants it at my local temple when I’m there on the tenth.

Om Shanti!

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Viper’s Sting – Barbados Lime Is Just the Thing!

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There’s a dark and wond’rous mystery that lives in my temple room. It’s a little nerve-wracking, very encouraging and somewhat thrilling. I’ve been meaning to speak about it, but I hate jinxes. It’s so weird.

Rules I’m Likely to Ignore, #42

The last post detailed something I came across in book I’m reading. This post is meant to do the same. For details on that book, please see my last post. Otherwise, I’m going to assume you’ve read that and jump immediately to the rule I’m planning to ignore.

This is apparently “another important form of retreat followed by all knowledgeable Hindus.” With that in mind, please allow me to just go ahead and lump myself into the “other” group of, apparently, ignorant Hindus. This so-called form of retreat indicates that “Siva’s devotees must observe a period of 31 days following the birth or death of a family member during which they do not enter temples or home shrines, perform worship rites or attend auspicious events.”

This rule also states, like with menstrual cycles or major surgeries, that japa and personal sadhanas can and should be continued during this time, and that the judgment of who is part of the family rests on the shoulders of the family itself.

Pardon my American English, but that’s bullcrap.

For one, when I lose a loved one (or gain one!), God is the first place I go. Usually, God within me first. Then, once the actual event in question has transpired, I go to God within my home mandir. And as soon as is practical after the event, I go to God within my local temple. I wouldn’t say I seek shelter or solace necessarily during these kinds of times, but I bring everything to God, regardless.

Forgive my frankness, but my current understanding kind of makes this seem ridiculous and unnecessary. Why should I stay away from worship for 31 days because my family welcomed another child? At the rate my family goes sometimes, and certainly with the openness my family considers others “one of us,” I could/would easily be required to go half the year without so much as a single aarti. I ain’t havin’ that. And, too, for most of the last few years just about EVERY month of January has meant a death for us. It’s bad enough to start the year off with a death, but it’s a double whammy for me to think of also starting the year off away from temple. Again, bullcrap. In my opinion, welcoming new life into the family OR parting with life in the family are both excellent reasons to absolutely go to temple – either out of gratitude, or to seek a comforting darshan. I don’t believe in using religion as a crutch during these times, but these times specifically, I feel, call for drawing as near as ever to the Divine.

As long as January continues to be a cursed month for my loved ones, I’ll continue to go to temple in January.

Om Tat Sat

When 30-something men are akin to teen girls

Since last Wednesday I haven’t felt 100% well. Thank gods, no stomach or real GI issues, but a head cold for sure. I think the most frustrating thing about it for me is that I’m not sick enough to simply stay home and rest, yet the entire time I’m downing decongestants and going about business as usually as possible, I’m feeling run down and sleepy, and wondering if my continued activity will lead to a further decline of my health.¬†<Sigh>

At any rate, I made it through the rest of last week, including one night of class and a day at my part-time job cutting hairs. Typical for nearly every Saturday, my best friend wanted to come over for our oft-held game night. I consented, although I didn’t feel like it. What happened instead of game night, though, was something that made us giggle. We ordered Chili’s take out online, picked it up, and headed home for a relatively quiet night in… making doll clothes.

Earlier that evening, right after leaving the spa, we went to a Dollar Store-like¬†place in search of cheap artificial flowers to make garlands, and to JoAnn Fabrics’ for some, well, fabrics. And after securing our dinners, we huddled around my dining room table surrounding my home mandir’s¬†mahamurti. Scissors, needle and thread, measuring tape, and newly purchased fabric in hand, we set about the task of creating garments for Ganesha.

Any time I think of adornments for a murti, the Hare Krishnas¬†come to mind. Most vaishnav¬†murti¬†adornment is elaborate, ornate, and interesting-¬†true works of devotion.¬†And why not? Seems easy, considering humans are used to dressing a human form and, excluding the earliest avatars,¬†most modern vaishnav¬†conceptions of the divine take a decidedly human form (Krishna, Radha, Ram, Venkateshwar, Chaitanya…). So it reasons that Vaishnavs¬†would be well-practiced at making human doll clothes fitted for human-shaped gods.

On the other hand, however, Ganesha transcends human form. His head alone makes fitting a murti for garments challenging, nevermind that His form doesn’t usually stop with only two arms. When was the last time you fitted a shirt for Someone with four or six arms? In contrast to the typical dress code for vaishnav murtis, at least half of all Ganesha murtis I’ve ever even seen dressed are usually wearing a dhoti at best, or otherwise some kind of devised wrap. I wanted more than this for the murti presiding over my personal home mandir.

So we found ourselves creating precisely-measured paper patterns, cutting fabrics, sewing, dressing the murti and assessing the necessary adjustments only to start the process again, hoping for better results. The whole bit required a lot of attention and concentration, and patience as it was pretty much trial and error. We went through a number of prototypes before finally calling it quits. I can honestly say that garland making is a walk in the park compared to this.

The difficulty and complexity involved in this task, though, is was made it a true endeavor of bhakti. Only just tonight, alone in my dining room with the aforementioned supplies, did an actual working garment come to be realized. I’m pleased as punch, and warmed in my heart chakra, to see the mahamurti¬†back in its seat -only this time fully dressed.

Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha

Om Shanti

Bhakt’

In the last post I scratched the surface on a three-part series I’m planning to write about my understanding of the nature of the Hindu conception of God, and also where I personally have encountered the highest concentration of This in my own life. Before continuing in this post, you’ll want to have read the one before this. Inform yourself here.¬†As mentioned in the post before this, Ganesha deva holds a particular place in my swadharma. In this post¬†I’d like to attempt to explain how¬†trying my hand at¬†devotion (Ganesha¬†= my ishtadevata)¬†brought¬†me to a higher knowledge regarding Truth. Right now, I’m not terribly confident that my thought processes or use of words will serve as I hope, but if you care to¬†continue reading, you’ll have my best effort.

Bhakti, or devotion, was the first component at play in my¬†being transfixed on the¬†Ideal that is Ganesha. I came to know of Him almost¬†the very instant I came to know anything at all about Hinduism. Perhaps love/devotion at first sight? LOL No, but really -probably the first two things I knew regarding Ganesha¬†is that He’s the Remover of¬†Obstacles, and that He’s the son of Shiva,¬†the¬†God of Destruction (among other things and whose name is synonymous with auspiciousness and consciousness. I’ve been meaning to make a post just¬†about Shiva.). With attributes like that instantly my heart was hooked.

As I mentioned in the last post, I find the highest¬†quantity and concentration of¬†divine attributes to be applicable to Ganesha. If Brahman is essentially attributeless, and It is (Neti, Neti, remember?), then it reasons that devotion to anything with attributes best serves as a launch pad for experiencing/merging with¬†something¬†virtually impossible to conceptualize. You have to essentially master the phenomenal world before transcending it and realizing the Foundation of all that is phenomenal. Otherwise you’re trying to go from zero to sixty without really even knowing how to operate the vehicle. Some vehicles come with power windows, but no power seats. Some don’t have power windows, but have power seats, and¬†so on. I want a¬†vehicle with as many bells and whistles as I can find so that operating my vehicle happens as optimally as possible, making that zero-to-sixty acceleration not only more likely, but smoother in the process. And so, as it happens,¬†I found Ganesha.

In my opinion, of all the prominent gods within¬†the Hindu pantheon, Ganesha is the most striking. For me personally, gods like Brahma, Vishnu, Kartikeya/Murugan,¬†Shiva, and just about all forms of¬†Shakti/The Mother are too anthropomorphic. I don’t think this lessens their value in any way, but it makes them less appealing to me. Even one such as Hanuman, who¬†has¬†a human-like¬†form of a monkey, is too human-like¬†to represent something as indescribable as Brahman in my experience.¬†In contrast, Ganesha refuses to fit most moulds.¬†Possessing¬†the head of an elephant,¬†a typically obese thorax and abdomen, and rarely seen with fewer than four arms …¬†the whole mess of which is¬†perched upon a¬†miniscule maushika¬†(mouse) vahana. His form, while full of meaning that I’ll pick apart later, doesn’t fit in. Maybe this pulls more at my own heart strings because of growing up as I did: short, scrawny, unathletic, non-farmer gay kid in the middle of Indiana’s corn fields. Like Ganesha’s misfit head and whacked beginning, I didn’t fit many moulds hoped for me either. On some level, I feel affinity for His image and all it’s various traits may represent.

I think, too, much of what Ganesha is said¬†to symbolize/represent/govern are things I hold dear. This list is actually super big, and I’ll get to that in the next post. I suppose¬†it’s selfish, but finding not only what I hold dear, but much else otherwise kind of makes Ganesha the ultimate in one-stop spiritual shopping for me.

Shortly after learning of Ganesha I purchased my very first murti. At that time, I was already more inclined toward the Shiva side of things, but a murti of Ganesha is what I encountered first and it was almost like I was imprinted instantly. I’ve included a photo of¬†it above. My first “mandir” was¬†nothing other¬†than the top of a cheap dresser and consisted of hardly more than a cloth covering the dresser’s top, a candle, and the Ganesha above. I’m tempted to say that it was during this time that my bhakti was newest and strongest. I certainly didn’t yet possess much spiritual knowledge, but I knew I loved¬†God and I knew that for me, Ganesha was my preferred image of God. At this time, too, I was familiarizing myself with¬†Yogananda and his¬†autobiography, and with the Bhagavad Gita.¬†Because of the lack of knowledge, including¬†knowledge¬†of the concept of Karma Yoga, bhakti was literally my entire religion.¬†I had known devotion before with earlier religious experiences, but during this time in my life it was quite literally just myself and what I understood to be¬†my god -the¬†connection was palpable and real and it’s from this time of my life that I retain spiritual memories that not only are kept tucked away for my remembrance only, but sealed my relationship with Brahman as Ganesha.

Since those days, I’m become more familiar with the other faces of Brahman. I don’t suppose I could ever fully exclude any one of Hinduism’s god. However, I’ve also become increasingly close to the Ideal of Ganesha and have learned so much about Him -and have learned and experienced so much as a result of learning about Him. This brings me to the next post which¬†I intend to deal with¬†the meaning encapsulated in Ganesha’s form as well as jnana¬†yoga.¬†For now, let it be clear that Ganesha is the source of my devotion and its object, and this has brought me to new landscapes of internal wisdom.

Om Shanti

Swiss Cake Rolls for Ganesha

Two days ago was Guru Purnima. As part of the day’s “festivities” I began ceremoniously “uninhabiting” my home’s mandir. I’ll do this from time to time to keep it tidy and clean. Usually my entire temple room gets a good scrubbing along with the mandir itself. I’ll include a pic of the mandir below. I bought it for a decent price from Patel Brothers here in Indy (they have locations nationally). The last thing to be cleaned are the murtis. I’ll clean them physically, and then perform abhishek, and then redress them all¬†before re-installing them in their newly cleaned garbh. The process takes a while and can be exhausting, but I love it.

 

 

Continuing with the guru/teacher theme (loosely), I’ve been thinking about all that I’ve learned from studying the devas/devis, specifically my ishtadevata, Ganesha. To try to say that my life hasn’t changed as a result would be a lie. It has changed, in many ways, all of which are likely permanent. One such example of permanence? My tattoos.

I recently found myself getting another tattoo. The newest addition is number 5. I wear sufi poetry, written in Persian, between my shoulder blades. I have an abstract design, which was¬†literally free-handed,¬†covering my left shoulder/bicep/tricep. A “Ved’shlok,” as my renunciate friend Pravin would say, wraps around my left forearm. A small circular Ganesha image adorns my right forearm. And¬†the newest addition, to my right calf, another, much bigger and more ornate¬†image of Ganesha.

In light of suchness, I thought now might be as good a time as any to start a mini series here about my various ink(s)… Why I chose them, what they mean to me, etc… I tie them into this whole Guru Purnima business because of the lessons each of them represent to me, as taught by The Guru. I hope you enjoy.

Om Shanti

Also you may find it important (or not) to know that I plan to eat an entire box of Little Debbie Swiss Rolls. Right now.¬†As long as there’s milk in my glass, I shall find the strength to consume.