I was pretty much on the edge of my seat and anticipating literal cliff-hangers in the Docu-Series, The Road to Dharma. It was refreshing to have a TV series that was both incredibly entertaining as well as thought-provoking and life-affirming. It’s so much more than a typical voyeuristic offering of so-called Reality TV. This for me would be better called something like, Questioning Reality Television.
The ten-part series has all the hallmarks of reality television but when the courageous participants take a soul-searching quest it becomes far more intimate and even delicate. It is superbly shot, non-intrusively filmed and yet manages to dig deep and reveal cracks and vulnerabilities respectfully. There are eight motorbike riders and their eight passengers who take up the challenge of riding through what can only be described as India’s chaotic and dangerous ‘roads’, ravines, sheer drop cliffs, monsoons, aggressive traffic and sacred cow obstacle courses. All led by a young, charismatic spiritual guide and guru, Anand Mehrotra.
In the first few minutes, Anand states, “One has to ask oneself, why would I not alter this world that I inhabit? …How am I being enslaved by the world I inhabit?” This is so my language. How can I leave victim-hood? How can I take full responsibility for my ‘good’ life. How can I work as ‘flow-state’ in the flow-grace that is forever alive and present? Anand emphatically tells his intrepid explorers, “It’s not a journey to feel better. You come here to transcend.” And with that I was hooked, in my living room, both feet off the ground and full-throttle ahead – India here I come. Oh, hold on… I press pause, get a glass of water and a snack. Now I am ready for India – I press play again. A pilgrimage in my armchair. It really is the next best thing.
It’s the inner road that each passenger, willingly or not so willingly, takes that is the true fascination. There are all sorts of people here. In some ways just ordinary people with a longing for something more, something else – what? Some of them have no idea. But there is a deep-seated yearning for an aliveness, a rejection of the prescribed life and the worlds they each inhabit. Adam Schomer, the film’s writer and director, narrates his personal journey and he is also the voice for the collective thread. He knows what he’s doing. He also immerses himself in the experience and this for me always makes for more rewarding television. He’s not afraid to show up in his authentic questioning and vulnerability and also in his quiet, off-camera realisations. He’s both a trustworthy ‘character’ and director. The series is beautifully constructed. The tour of India through various terrains and the focus on the sacred destination sites is educational and full of profound and holy instruction. The balance is perfect.
The Collective Covid-19 Journey
Adam states, “Pilgrimage, no matter where or when has certain distinct qualities to it. Whether we like it or not, the Covid-19 pandemic has really sent us all on a pilgrimage, and if we recognize that, then our approach to this time could be our most powerful journey yet.” Right there, I like his attitude. We got lemons … let’s make lemonade! And of course, most people can’t get past the disappointment, the entitlement, the privilege, the complaint – the egos are kicking and screaming. There are tantrums and self-doubt that are willing to be exposed in the fires of Truth, self-enquiry and self-discovery. Anand is what I would call a ‘witness’ Guru.
He can see by the personal theatre of each person’s ego; what they need to break down in order to have a breakthrough. But he lets people fall, watches them stand up on their own two feet, then asks them what have they learned? Then his teachings flow with a real-life situation. Anand manages to have an affectionate vibe even when he’s wielding a zen stick. His humour helps too. And also the complete wild joy he genuinely feels riding his motorbike through the big crazy world of India and also leading and trusting God’s plan for his motorbike fledglings who are in hot pursuit.
The very nature of any teacher-student dynamic is at first a tricky one. There are power rifts and displacements, there are surrender and heels well and truly dug in. And there’s my way and the highway. Anand is measured yet constant. The disciples, wavering from reluctant or blindly over-enthusiastic, learn the literal and metaphorical pitfalls that an inner journey taken on an Indian pilgrimage throw at them.
I had a particular soft spot for seventy-five-year-old Fred who had not been on a motorbike since 1967. His determination was inspiring. His trust was both naive and courageous. He became an endearing ‘friend’ to the group. Ryan has seizures but is determined to live the truth that he is not just his body. Jen and Jeff are here to save their marriage. To go deeper together or to amicably part. Their children are at home in America oblivious to the soul-searching depths they will go to. Jen wanting connection and intimacy and Jeff battling the stereotypical ‘boy’ syndrome of freedom, adventure and the perceived idea that marriage is a trap to stifle life force and liberty.
Chasing Sacred Peaks
The first sacred mountain peak is Kedarnath – the temple of Death. Anand reminds his dare-devil riders, “What needs to die is part of the ego, fears and comforts.” For that, he delivers admirably. Ryan is grateful. Elle, who is no stranger to pulling herself out of despair, is full of blame. Ken who is new to spiritual seeking and concepts of ego and enlightenment is dragging his feet. He’s image-managing his ‘good boy’ like a pro. But he shows up again and again. I grew to respect Ken a lot on his journey. He showed me that we cannot judge a book by its cover. And some glossy covers are just there to hide a painful truth.
Next, Tungnath at 13,000 ft quietly roars her Feminine above the Masculine. Ken has a ‘beyond understanding’ moment and oscillates between awe and doubt. His projections come crashing down. Trials and tribulations continue as they climb higher and higher to Badrinath, emanating thousands of years of yogic wisdom. The toll of the ride brings surrender and fatigue – the cracks show. This is where more of the light gets in. All are becoming to see that this is not a religious experience. It’s between each individual and ‘God’. This realisation brings both comfort and terror. Ryan gets a zen whack around passivity and power about an authentic voice of Truth and the compensating voice of ego. He takes it on the chin and it’s a delight to watch him process this with humility and openness as his ego hangs on for dear life.
The Hidden Valley of the Flowers reveals both beauty and pain. The garden of Eden and the inevitable decay of this life, these bodies and this moment, and this moment, and this moment. The now, this moment, aliveness and presence is the only way to truly be with the flowers in bud, bloom and beauty-fading. They climb deeper and deeper inward as they ride and climb higher and higher upward. At 15,000 ft is the sacred Temple of Hemkund Sahib, the site dedicated to service and unity, where talk is low and little. Oxygen and energy are needed for sustained self-care. Tiffany and Elle are moved here as if catapulted out of their personalities, egos and lifestyles to see a greater picture. Through the lens of abundance, wealth, sex and power they find some recognition of the cosmic jokes being banded around the Universe. Hope and some quiet arrive. A dip in the glacial lake freezes any remnants of false identity and limiting beliefs. At least until they thaw out…
All the great sages and gurus have taught that something as sacred as inner freedom demands our totality, our courage and dedicated commitment. And yet, this gift is so generously available to us all. Inner Freedom welcomes every one of us. I strongly invite you to take your own armchair pilgrimage and throttle up with The Road to Dharma. The first three episodes and companion course lessons are absolutely free. If you’re not hooked after episode three I’ll eat my sarong!
Please let us know how this captivating, pioneering television series has changed your inner compass for the better. We are so very confident that you are going to love it, grow from it and climb higher and higher.
All our love and excitement.
Paul and Team UPLIFT