You can’t really train for this kind of shift. You can’t fight the culture shock. You don’t have control over the social adjustments or the way that you change how you hold yourself, probably out of a kind of natural instinct to blend in and be safe. I came to India for this, though. I know its all necessary in the process of giving up old narratives and normalcies, just as it was in moving from small town Missouri to New York City at age 19. Ten years later, here we are: India.
It took two weeks to finally somewhat arrive in my body here. As of last night, I can actually take time with the imagery and reality that arises on my path. Taking photos of this reality helps solidify that its there, in front of me. Yeah, it’s exhausting to constantly be on alert, considering your skin color, averting your gaze, dodging oncoming traffic while walking from place to place, trying to understand what people are saying, and holding space energetically for new experiences while still agreeing to protect and set boundaries. But it would have been exhausting to stay in comfort too. Back home in sunny SB. God, that’s exhausting, to fight a path of adventure when reality shifts to listen to the heart, and the heart aches so intensely for transformation.
The month before I left, I cried most mornings. Just a couple tears, but from a deep sadness for transitions and letting go. It didn’t help that the Santa Barbara community was strong and I had put five solid years of work into work, play, and creation there. It didn’t help that I had finally found a dance style and community in Chicago footwork, and that took five solid years of searching. It didn’t help that we had five years of solid stuff to give away within a month’s time. With distance, we barely see our family as it is, and so this move means more time away from them than normal. Those tears were necessary in mourning a death of a past life, and those tears allowed me this space and process of rebirth. I think I am in the bardo now.
What does it mean to be here? What does it mean to be working all day for an organization halfway around the world? Still figuring that one out.
We’re happy here. I can sigh here and rest here, and be in the loving arms of transformation and my husband here. Our home in India is one room with white tile floors and white walls, a desk, two twin beds pushed together, a couple chairs, a closet, and a bathroom. A garden surrounds the home, and a tall wall and gate surrounds the garden. We wash our clothes in a bucket and hang them to dry on the roof, beating off the dust from the air after they dry. We use plastic water bottles for drinking and when brushing our teeth, and we feel guilty about that. I feel malleable here, we can relax here.
Every morning I have a couple hours to talk with people in the states. Jed leaves in the morning to learn Hindi and Tibetan with his language teachers on campus. Midday, I eat lunch that the guest house provides and take time to dance. Then, Jed comes home from language lessons and we head out into the town for a bit. At night we eat with an Indian family who serves us made-from-scratch vegetarian food, chai tea, and wisdom about Indian culture. We are learning so much about Bollywood films, Hindi language, and social norms ranging from marriage to schooling. Last night, Jed and I showed them how we dance, and they told us that the Keke Challenge was banned in India. We laughed so hard imagining how one would even try to do the Keke Challenge on an Indian road with the winding cars, cows, and pedestrians. We love this family. We always arrive and leave saying Namaste and really meaning it. Back in the room, I have a couple hours to talk with people in the states before we relax and go to bed.
Its all a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. It’s so vibrant and amazing here. It feels like I am in the bardo.
On the weekends, we have our adventures out and about. For my birthday, we went to Varanasi to taste and take in the rawness of human existence there. When we are out and about, we need to mind the dust, motor bikes, and bulls. The motor bikes are a bit loud and get a bit close. The bulls are calm unless provoked. The dust gets to us as westerners, and so we wear a scarf around our mouth. The chai tea comforts our throats as they try to figure out what to do with all of the dust coming in our mouths. Its been interesting to witness that reaction in my throat. Before last night, I found that reaction mirrored my relationship to really taking in the culture. Indian culture is spicy, pungent, and bitter. It tastes good, but it leaves the body feeling differently than American culture.
In Tibetan Buddhism, "bardo" is the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth.
I love it here, I am giving up subconscious attachments to normalcy and old narratives here.