It might not look like it, but it sure feels like it- these transitions, these moments of karmic flowering, this time for purification- its hard. The surrounding physical and mental reality that we reside in is reflective of the actions and reactions that we enact in our lives. There is small room for free will, and one must be awake enough to enact an action with focus towards a larger aim instead of reacting and perpetuating this cycle of annoyances, pains, frustrations, and ignorance based desires. Once one has received this wisdom directly, one will begin to take personal responsibility for one’s reality and existence. It just might take a while, maybe lifetimes, to embody this. We are patient and we are students, until we decide to become source and provide the quality of instruction that will inspire others towards this bliss. I have been working for years to embody this, so I guess there was a part of me that thought I would be able to take on this new life in India with more grace and compassion for myself. I was thinking it would be easy: to concentrate on the larger picture and be able to more easily ride the waves, highs and lows.
Yet, my embodied Western norms held strong, and still hold strong in many moments throughout the day. I realized that I kind of “jumped in the deep end” without much practice in the kiddie pool. For instance, in preparing for a month long retreat, we spend years taking smaller retreats under direct guidance of a teacher so that we gain enough strength to meditate for a month. In this move, I feel like we jumped into a three month retreat from ground zero. But who or what would have prepared me? I cannot think of many feasible plans of experience or action… so I guess when taking on India as a living choice (not as a vacation) as a Westerner, you are taking on the challenge of a Shaktipat energy of learning lessons.
In reading this, I invite you to stay in a space of complexity. If you find yourself slipping towards the this is “bad” and this is “good” space, please invite yourself into the middle lane, where I am writing it from. Maintaining complexity in these stories is me remaining radically honest with you. No wave can have an up without a down, or a middle with out an up and down. I invite us to not immediately search for the silver lining in all of these tough instances, or find ourself saying “well, on a more positive note” or “it could be worse.” These are cultural narratives that want to categorize and simplify this complex existence with all of its temporary emotions, which is understandable, yet can end up harming others because there is an inability to remain in one’s truth for the sake of making others feel comfortable. I invite us to remain in the questions, and therefore remain students to our and others’ experiences.
The other note is that it takes a lot of energy to write these stories, hence the 2.5 month writing gap till now, so I have only included a handful of stories with others to come.
Leaving sunny California, I maintained doubts and worries about what lay ahead. Would I be able to find happiness in a place that was so different than the space I currently occupied? Would I be free to express my creative energy? Would I be physically safe? Arriving in India, the wave hit. The culture shock, the new way of life, the new considerations of danger, the lack of social interaction, the feeling of slipping away from my ‘self’ and my habits. I considered it a time for purification and I braced for the wave, strapped myself to the only solid things I had: my husband, my work, and my family/friends.
The first major wave hit during the week of Diwali, festival of lights, the most celebrated holiday in Hinduism. Diwali is a day to celebrate the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. Three days before the holiday, Jed and I were walking home from dinner after having an hour long conversation with the Jain family about how the fireworks in the town sometimes spooked us, because we thought that they were gun shots at first. Apparently no one here really owns guns, and the fireworks are in celebration of Diwali, so this fact allowed us to feel more comfortable. So comfortable that I did not wear my scarf. My neck was exposed, and my hair was exposed. A car went by and came a bit close, so I winced and moved slightly to the left away from the road. Phew, okay we’re good. Then I heard a motorcycle come up and “BAM.” What the hell just happened? I was bent over grabbing my head. I had been punched. Jed turned around and said “what happened, babe?!” I had been punched, for the first time in my life, in the back of my head with the force of an arm swing plus the force of the motorcycle momentum, in a small town in UP, India. I cried, it sucked, I was trying so hard to adjust to our new life, and then this. I lowered my head and cried and walked forward towards our home with Jed at my side comforting me. When we got to the room, I fell apart and went into shock. Not because of the pain from the punch, or because I could not see how someone could be that horrible, but because in that instant of being punched I though I was getting run over by the motorcycle. It hit me that I thought I was getting hit by a motorcycle, something that I had envisioned and winced about for weeks prior to that hit. Oh man, I wanted to beat those two kids on the motorcycle up so bad. I had so much anger. It took me the rest of the next day to feel settled in my body. Jed went out to the general store to ask the owner if that was normal, and he said no. The store keeper said that sometimes on festival nights out of town kids come in on their motorcycles and try to steal gold chains off of women’s necks or cell phones out of people’s hands, and that the boy probably came closer and noticed that I did not have a chain and ended up knocking me instead. Now I wear a scarf over my hair and around my neck. Now Jed walks behind me and slightly closer to the road. Now we take tuk tuks more often. Now we have a plan, a formation for safer travel.
Jed ate a undercooked chicken momo the day before Diwali. Midnight. “Babe, I don’t feel well.” Jed goes to the rest room and throws up and goes to the bathroom multiple times. Jed curls up in bed and I rub his sweaty, shaking back until he falls asleep saying prayers for his health. 2AM same. 4AM same. 6AM same. 8AM same. 9AM one more time and this time he falls on the ground, too weak to walk. “Jed!! Oh my gosh are you joking around with me, did you just faint?” I had never seen him faint, ever. His eyes were rolling back, and he was shaking and sweating and obviously beyond dehydrated. I started crying, I was so scared. He said that he was going to throw up again, so I ran to get a small bucket from the bathroom. I brought it over and he threw up green bile while laying on his side on the floor. “Babe, we’re going to the hospital." We called our insurance and confirmed that there was a hospital in Varanasi that was the best in the area and within network. I went downstairs and asked for the owner of the guest house to help me in calling a cab and that Jed was sick and needed to get to the hospital. They seemed very concerned and helped immediately. I went upstairs and packed up a bag of basic necessities: toilet paper, the bucket, water, bananas, a sweater, etc. Thankfully the car ride went smoothly and Jed seemed to hold it together somehow. When we arrived the front guard helped us in to the emergency room, as we were westerners and fortunately/unfortunately we generally get first dibs everywhere we go. Jed was immediately hooked up to an IV and then we were taken upstairs to a private room. He was put on antibiotics and pumped with loads of fluids. Once the nurse left I had a chance to look around… a window with a dusty curtain overlooking the road below, a hard small bed for guests who needed to stay over night, a bathroom that was semi-clean and moldy (if that makes sense), walls with small cracks and marks from previous guests moving the furniture, a television that did not turn on, a dusty chair for me to sit in, and a hospital bed that was clean and comfy for Jed. He laid there looking better every minute from the fluids and antibiotics and my body settled a bit. We ordered food from the hospital canteen, it tasted horrible but we knew it was cooked well. Jed’s Hindi teacher and his wife, bless their souls, left their family gathering on Diwali to bring us home cooked food. They missed out on the fireworks with their kids for us. We will never forget their generosity, ever. After the couple left, I curled in bed with Jed, avoiding ripping out his IV, and we slept for a couple hours. The nurse came in and changed the liquids, Jed drank more water, I curled back in bed and we slept for a couple more hours. The lights came on and the nurse explained that the doctor would be in around 10AM that morning and if we wanted some chai. Yes, lord please can we have some chai tea! 10AM no chai, no doctor. I went outside and asked for both from the nurse. 12PM no chai, no doctor. I went outside and asked for both. 2PM no chai, no doctor. At this time Jed was laughing at me because I was pacing the room explain how badly I wanted chai and how badly I wanted the doctor. Jed said, “Babe, this is India hospital time, take a breath and relax.” 3PM no chai, no doctor. I went outside and got really animated with my arms (about the doctor, because I had given up on the chai at that point) and the nurse phoned up the doctor. The doctor came in and said within two minutes, “Okay you are good to go.” Jed smiled at me so hard trying to contain his laughter to my reaction. So we went downstairs slowly, because Jed was still feeling a bit weak, and went to pay for the night. The bill was 37,000 rupees, which is approximately $530. That does not seem too much in American standards, but here its ridiculous. I protested for quite some time with the office about the rate, but we gave in when Jed motioned with his hands to calm down. I know he was feeling weak. Whatever, well pay it, let’s get you home, babe.
The next wave, hit at Christmas, the most celebrated holiday in Christianity. Dr. Jain is a magical guy and community leader with a magical family. They are the kindest souls we have met here in India, and we are blessed to eat with them every evening at their home/guest house down the street. Christmas Eve we were sitting at the table planning out what Christmas was going to entail, and Dr. Jain said he would invite some people over and that we would eat lunch together, make food together, and celebrate on the roof. As we enjoyed lunch with the family the next day, some village kids began to come in the front door and up the stairs to the roof. We realized after about twenty kids came through that this was going to be a party! Dr. Jain explained that we would all be dancing and eating cake and celebrating, but we were not really sure what that meant. Just going with the flow, we walked upstairs and noticed that the kids were sitting on the ground facing a row of chairs, like they were at an assembly. We stood awkwardly in the back not knowing were to sit, and then Dr. Jain’s daughters came up and said “What are you two doing, go to the front.” We walked past the students, probably ages 12-16, and sat at the front. Dr. Jain then led a discussion and the students asked us about how we celebrated Christmas. "Back home, we eat dinner, hang out with family, play board or card games, sometimes read a verse from the Bible or go to a short church service, and then open presents with cookies.” I could tell that the students were somewhat surprised by the lack of ritual description, and I guess I was too. It was an interesting moment to think that the common rituals done in a Buddhist practice or the common rituals done here for Hindu traditions are different than America’s concept of common Christian rituals. After our discussion, Dr. Jain asked some students to perform their favorite dances, and a handful of students performed Bollywood routines/freestyle to Bollywood tracks. Next, Dr. Jain’s daughters danced Kathak and Bollywood. Then Dr. Jain invited Jed and I up to perform “Chicago Footwork” and “Popping.” Dr. Jain cares so much about us that he says those dance forms with as much admiration as we hold for them. The students seemed to really like the movement, and some other dancers came up to share after us. Jed even performed some Bhangra, pulling from his four college years at Tufts! After all that dancing and laughing, we cut the Christmas Cake, which we believe is a UK tradition that they might have thought we also do in America, and we enjoyed the yummy goodness with the students. What joy! We left the roof feeling more connected to the village youth, the family, and to the culture. Then Dr. Jain’s daughters and I spent the next hour making homemade cinnamon rolls with homemade icing, and I learned how to make Chapati from scratch. We ate dinner in such bliss, enjoying the cinnamon rolls, treats, and Indian cuisine. Jed and I thanked the family with such sincerity and headed home. Jed and I had so much love in our hearts that we danced a bit more together in our socks before we settled in to sleep.
The day after Christmas, Jed and I headed to a hotel and spa in Varanasi as our Christmas gift to one another for two days. It was so amazing, and the added bonus is that it was affordable due to the dollar to rupee conversion. We were greeted at the door with a beaded necklace, glass of mango juice, and tika mark placed on our forehead. The front desk was genuinely welcoming and took our bags to the room while we checked in. The lobby was ornate with beautiful decor and even a Christmas tree, which was weird until we realized that this was mainly a hotel for western travelers. The room had a beautiful view, comfy bed, coffee and tea maker, a neat bathroom with robes and slippers, and a huge television that worked! Around midday we went to our first spa treatments and enjoyed the treatments in our own private room with excellent therapists. The aromas, teas, services, and people were so wonderful I even teared up at one point with joy and gratitude. That night we indulged in a dinner at the restaurant downstairs, and I had a glass of Indian wine, the first wine since leaving the US. Trying to describe all these Western comforts now seems so silly, but when you have been away from them for some time, they bring the energy of “home.” The energy of home grounds the spiritual and physical body, and it immediately soothes the soul. You feel like you are in mother’s arms. You can laugh and smile easier. You can remain in the present. So it might sound petty to be describing these comforts as bringing me a “high”, but that was not my experience. We stayed for another day enjoying the small, meaningful pleasures and headed back to our temporary Sarnath home just in time for another approaching wave to ride.
More to come. Sending love to you.