You can read part one here: The Shiva Temple.
There’s a certain level of grunge I can tolerate. And then there’s just way too freaking much.
I was raised a Princess. Perfect hair, perfect outfit, handbag to match. Exhausting.
You wouldn’t choose to be that way. It becomes something you can’t stop. Unconsciously or otherwise, you start to believe you’re not good enough without those things. You start to believe, from a young age actually, that without the right hair and the right shoes and the right kind of mascara, you will be, simply, unlovable. You believe that because that is the messaging you’ve received. Perhaps from your caregivers. Certainly from society.
Eventually, I started to realise, in a not particularly specific way, that it was absurd, even as I was still believing it. This was the subconscious slowly breaking through. The tip of the iceberg.
I remember one Sunday evening in my 20s. I was living in Surrey Quays with my then boyfriend. We’d been together for years. He was a good guy. Although I was insecure, I wasn’t insecure because of him. I had a bath in the evening, got into my pyjamas. And then I put my mascara on.
I can hardly believe it when I think back to that sad event. I must have believed I wouldn’t look okay to him without mascara. The truth is I didn’t look okay to myself without it.
So, when I departed my not particularly conventional life for my even less conventional life, it was one of the main challenges I had to face. Letting go of the need to look a certain way in order to feel safe. In order to feel loveable.
At first, living off grid and therefore not able to plug in my hair curlers almost required therapy. I’m not even kidding.
Now, I’ve gotten to where I can be quite content in an instant one-man tent with my few available possessions scattered on the minuscule tarpaulin floor. I can put on paint-spattered shorts and leave them on all day, even knowing that my cellulite is visible to all the world. I can go into town without brushing my hair. Some days, I don’t even look in the mirror. Small victories.
The field I’m living in is noticeably verdant by Andalusian standards. My tent is surrounded by long grass and lemon trees heavy with nearly ripe fruits. I know it’s this way because of the Acequia water.
The Acequia is a thousand-year-old irrigation system created by the Moors. It’s essentially a system of water channels running from the top of the mountains to the bottom. Fed by the melting snow and sporadic rainfall off the Sierra Nevada, it is operated by the community. Each piece of land has a time slot. It is up to each landowner to ensure that the water gate is open to their land for the appropriate length of time and then closed to allow the next landowner to receive their water.
The Shiva Temple has a Saturday night slot, from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. Meaning Pascal has to be up with his head torch, directing the water to where he wants it to go.
Despite the clear evidence, it doesn’t occur to me that Pascal has pitched our tents on a field that is regularly and deliberately flooded.
So, imagine my surprise when I wake up on Sunday morning and step out into a pond. Horrified, I squelch over to the kitchen to tell Pascal that my tent is under water.
“We will have to move it zen,” he calls out, as he strides across the field in his gum boots, picks up my tent with one hand, and drags it up onto a tarpaulin mound, several inches above water level.
And there it stays, teetering miserably, half on and half off this little plastic hillock.
This is all alarming.
Anxiously, I peer inside my miniature home. My stuff is all shunted off to one side. It’s all over the place. One of my silver Prada sandals has disappeared completely. (I know, I know. What in God’s name am I doing with a pair of silver Prada sandals in a tent on the grounds of a Shiva Temple? In my defence, I have nothing to say. I’m a recovering Princess, not yet a recovered one.)
I hadn’t realised how attached I am to my “nest.” How it lends me a feeling of safety and comfort to know I have my things arranged around me in just such a way. On a modest scale, it serves a similar purpose to the hair curlers and the mascara.
And here, now, my little world has turned upside down. Worse, my water bottle, which was un-lidded at the time of its unexpected relocation, has spilled its contents generously up near my pillow. Oh God!
Anyway. There’s no time for fussing. It’s Sunday. We’re off to the beach and Pascal is not a man for lingering. Before I can get my drama on, we’re in the Kangoo van and heading for the coast, Shiva mantra warbling in over the speakers.
It’s August and this little beach must be the most populous spot in all of Europe. Luckily, the other sun worshippers seem to be exclusively Spanish, and so in my eyes, that’s okay. Its all folding chairs and cold boxes and pop-up gazebos. Frankly, I don’t care. I’m so happy to be here, I barely notice there are others. Hours and hours of delicious unbroken time with Ian McEwan. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just me and him.
And the glorious sea. I swim out across the crystalline undulations. With every stroke, I feel my spirits buoyed up and up. At one point, I’m treading water, looking back at the shore and thinking, I am just so f*cking happy!
I know this newfound joy is not exclusively down to the sea and the sand. Mainly, it’s the ashram lifestyle.
Up at 6 a.m. to meditate. Chanting, asana practice, agniotra (fire ceremony), sevā (work as selfless service, performed without expectation of reward), bhajans (the singing of sacred songs). It’s the living in community, at one with nature and in harmony with God. It’s the raised vibrations this soon-to-be Shiva Temple offers.
After only a week, it is already having a profound effect on my energy. It’s raising me up.
Living this ashram lifestyle can be confronting. It’s not always easy. There is struggle, and there is challenge, as much as there is joy. But eventually, it will raise you up whether you like it or not.
When we get back to the Shiva Temple, the Acequia water has subsided. I drag my tent back to where it lives. But there’s a grim smell inside, and I don’t know what it is.
The next day, the smell is worse, and I start to feel really bothered by it. I can’t isolate it. It burdens my whole day, this smell.
Eventually, I realise there’s water under the mattress and the disgusting smell is damp. I drag the mattress out to dry in the sunshine. I put my sheets in the wash and I pull all my things out to air. I light incense and plant it nearby like they do in India. Luckily, there are spare mattresses in the storage.
Once my tent is made back up as good as new, my spirits lift. My nest is once more my tiny palace, and I feel safe again.
I might have moved on from hair curlers and mascara, but my stuff all over the place and a funky smell is still a step too far.
One more from Artemis: The Difference between True Guilt & False Guilt.