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Friday, September 16, 2011

To be light...

As I was preparing to leave, I had some unexpected thoughts going through my head. The most unexpected one I dared not tell a soul, because I didn't want to freak anyone out. The thought has passed now, and so, I hope, has any fear it might have aroused prior to my departure. The thought was this: "If I die now, it will be OK."

Before going on, let me say in no uncertain terms that I have no desire to die, nor did I before I left.  I like living and was eager to see what the upcoming months had in store for me. I'd been planning for them for a year.

I think my unusual thought sprang from the fact that before leaving I got to spend time with my family and so many friends, some of whom I had not seen for several years.  After seeing them, I think that they knew that they had influenced my life and that they are important to me.  Feeling secure that I had expressed those sentiments, I felt very much at peace with leaving.

On the 15-hour plane ride, every time we hit a little turbulence, I thought, "OK, God, please let this just be a little blip, because I want to carry out the plans I've made, but if this is the end, thank you for the life I've had and take care of everyone I'm leaving behind.  Help them to know it'll be OK."  Thankfully, there was not much turbulence to pray through and I arrived safe and sound.  When we landed, I knew that in the time to follow, everything would be OK.

Upon further considering my thought, it occurred to me that while I did not, thankfully, physically die, the person that boarded the plane in Louisville on August 24 is most certainly not the person who will go back to  Louisville in May.  If I have not changed, my time away will have been wasted.  I must have some experience of my own death and rebirth, of letting go and being open to what will be.

One of the questions asked for couchsurfing profiles is one's current mission. My current mission is "to be light, in any of the many ways that can be interpreted..."  When I wrote it, I knew I had quite a task ahead of me.

For many reasons, I have yet to accomplish my mission.   First, there's the luggage I packed. Almost as soon as I got here, I realized I had brought unnecessary things.  At one of the places I  couchsurfed, I was asked more than once, "What is all that stuff?!?"  When I listed some of the things I had brought (particularly a couple of the books), I was told that I should have bought them here. I will say that I am OK with having brought them from home, since it means I didn't have to waste time/money here looking for them. Other things, particularly some of the clothing, I wish I had left in the States.  Luckily, I will have a chance to send some of it home with some people in October. I may also give some away as I go...we shall see... So I have not reached "light" in that sense...but I'm working on it!

I still have some baggage to shed in the figurative sense, too. As I mentioned in a previous post, over the last several years I have focused a little too much on my serious nature, to the detriment of the part of me that knows how to let go and simply live in the moment, whatever that moment may be.

Here I am trying to live only in the moment. That means that when I plan, I am doing so day by day, sometimes hour by hour, or even minute by minute. The plans are constantly changing as the moment dictates and that is OK.  This means that when I walked for two hours one morning because the first turn I took was not in the direction I intended to go, it was fine.  This means that I went out for Italian food with a couple I'd met earlier in the day, even though I had been on my way to another restaurant when I ran into them. This means that I went to Spanish mass next to Mother Teresa's tomb because I happened to be there when it started.  Flexibility has been, and must continue to be, among the most important themes of my travels. If it's not, I will surely fail miserably at my mission.

I am also trying to recognize opportunities for lightness when they present themselves.  I danced at the Ganapati festivities I attended.  I taught the Hokey Pokey to the SCN candidates in Bangalore. They were, I think, both scandalized and amused when we put our backsides in!  I sang "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" with a young girl who's been learning it for a school talent contest.  I read fairy tales with another girl.  Here in Ranchi I have lavished love on a kitten (currently asleep on my lap).  These times lift the weight that has somehow accumulated  and bring me a little closer to my goal.  I am sure many more opportunities will arise and I only hope that I'll notice them.

Heaviness and darkness dissipate.   As the weight lifts and the darkness fades, I hope to embrace the person that I am meant to be...embodying light. Seeing the words, I think of the Marianne Williamson quote I've discussed before.  I hope that you also will recognize your way to embody the light that most certainly shines from within.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Relying on the kindness of strangers

The other day I'm pretty sure I got ripped off. I won't go into details; they're unimportant. When I realized it, I was frustrated with myself for being gullible, mad at the people who took advantage of my ignorance, and annoyed that my guidebook did not warn me of possible scams. However, I kept telling myself to just let it go. I said it to myself many times...to no avail. Eventually, still perturbed, I looked at the appropriate section in my guidebook, and, as it turns out, there was a warning about exactly what I had experienced. Perhaps I should have read more carefully...

When I re-read my guidebook, I was finally able to let go of the negativity and get a little perspective. I laughed at myself for not reading carefully, but more importantly, I looked at the bigger picture.

The reality of my journey so far is this: there are a handful of times where someone has taken advantage of my uncertainty. However, there are far more times where people I have never met have cared for me, sometimes because they agreed to do so ahead of time, other times because I have walked up to them and asked for help, and others because they saw me struggling and intervened.

The SCNs and various members of couchsurfing.org have taken me into their homes without ever having met me. The SCNs at least knew something about me, since I will be volunteering with them. Besides all the attention they gave me as I prepared for the Indian leg of my journey, and besides welcoming me to various convents along the way, they have helped me with practical matters like buying a phone, getting from place to place, and buying my very own sari. The members of couchsurfing (CS) only had my CS profile to read before deciding if they would meet me somewhere or allow me to stay into their home. One CS member has been suffering for months of an illness called chikungunya, which causes her to be in constant pain, and still she agreed to let me stay with her family for a few days. Other CSers have invited me to special holiday meals in their homes (Ganapati in Mumbai and Onam in Kerala). These are but a few of the unsurprising (though that is not quite the right word...) ways I have been helped by people who knew I'd need some help.

Then there are the many unexpected kindnesses. I have a horrible sense of direction. Street signs in India are hard to find; they are certainly not on every corner! I have gotten lost walking around...more than once. Thankfully, I'm not afraid to ask for help. When I approach a random stranger, my first question is usually, "Do you speak English?" If the answer is yes, I ask where something is, if I'm on the right street, etc. They very kindly point me in the right direction. Other times, when I am trying to communicate with someone who doesn't speak English, an English-speaker appears from nowhere and translates and/or negotiates things for me. I have also had kind strangers on buses and trains make sure I know which stop is mine. In all cases, they stop what they are doing to help me, as if they had nothing else to do. Most certainly they do.

Without all of these people (and there really have been many), my time in India would be frustrating, maddening, annoying. With these people,(except for in silly moments like the one mentioned initially) my time here is full of gratitude, joy, and an overall sense of well-being. I feel protected and loved, thanks to the kindness of so many strangers and now also, some new friends.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bare Feet

A few days before I left the States, I met a young man for coffee. When he arrived, I noticed that he wasn't wearing shoes. After watching him go in and out of the coffeeshop sans shoes (we met outside), I said something to him about it. He gave me several websites to look at about the value of going shoeless, as well as some information about legal cases in support of people's right to go shoeless in public places. Of course, as I was frantically trying to prepare for my departure, I did not look at any of the recommended materials.

I have been thinking about being barefoot since then and being in India, I have had many occasions to consider the idea. As I have been traveling, I have noticed lots of people without shoes- children without shoes, many auto rickshaw drivers driving without shoes (though they all seem to have a pair sitting on the floor next to their feet)...yesterday all the servers were shoeless in one restaurant. As I have been observing the lack of shoes, I have been thinking about how horrified some in the U.S. would be by such a perceived violation of sanitary standards. Personally, I am intrigued...

During my first days in Delhi I visited two temples for which, before entering, everyone had to remove their shoes. For the first day of the festival of Ganesh (elephant-headed Hindu god), I was in a home and we all took our shoes off before entering. Today I went to mass and before entering the church, I, along with everyone else, took my shoes off. For me, going barefoot has been a way to connect with the place I am. My feet, not the soles of my shoes, are connecting with these holy places. My feet feel the sandstone path to a temple. My feet feel the smooth marble or the soft carpet inside, which soothe the soles of my feet, just as being in those holy spaces soothes my soul. Going barefoot in these places feels real and helps me to feel grounded, since it is my body touching the ground. It helps me to know where I am in a way I wouldn't if I were wearing shoes.

My feet tread where many other feet have tread and so in a way, my bare feet connect me not only with the place, but also with other seekers. My feet connect me with others' desire to be, to feel, to understand the holy in a physical way that is new to me. It doesn't feel dirty or unsanitary to take off my shoes- in fact, in the Sikh temple, everyone had to wash hands and feet before entering. Being barefoot may also serve as an equalizer, as those who arrived with no shoes cannot be distinguished from those who have shoes waiting outside...

I have to say I never dreamed the first thing I'd write about in India would be bare feet, but I am thankful that I have occasion to do so and look forward to what I'm sure will be many other surprising topics to consider...