The Good, The Bad, The Mirror

Rishikesh IMG_1447

Day 16 – free time for insights

It’s a travel day. After the silliness of the monkeys at breakfast, it’s back to the business of packing, repacking and loading up.

Today we say goodbye to Dayalan. He’s staying behind to enjoy the week-long Yoga Festival here in Rishikesh. We’re happy for him, but leaving him, rips a little hole in the fabric of our family. But there’s no time for tears, scarcely time for a toodle loo, as we are being ushered onto our bus.

The trip to Dehradun airport is only about 20 minutes away which comes in very handy when Swamiji discovers her backpack – the one with our flight information and itinerary – did not make the bus. Here in India you must have an itinerary with your name plainly printed on it. And that name must match your passport exactly or you are denied entry into the airport. In this case 15 of us are turned away.

While waiting for a rickshaw to deliver the backpack Swamiji begins to work her charms at the ticket window. By the time the last ticket is printed the backpack arrives.

Once inside, one of the “leaders” of our group is herding us together and keeping tabs on us. Mostly helpful. There is a moment of panic when he cannot locate our gate. There is no gate number listed on the ticket. Which gate is it? Where are we supposed to be? After a short spike in everyone’s blood pressure we determine we are at The Gate. There is only one. Keeps things simple.

We seem to still have a good amount of time since our flight is late. Time is a mere suggestion in a country overflowing with people. The human factor is just too strong to fight. It is simply managed and accepted.

The greatest gift in traveling, I have found, especially to a country so unfamiliar halfway around the world, is perspective. Mostly about oneself – myself – how I fit into the world, what I’ve done to accommodate myself and others. My story – the one I’ve been building to explain my behavior and why I can and can’t or will and won’t do things – is read back to me. At times it’s difficult to see myself as the main character. The fortress of personality begins to crumble under the pressure of the truth.

On this trip we are letting go of hair dryers, make up , fancy clothes, even clean clothes. We are letting go of masks, lowering our shields and coming clean. We live so much of our lives safely cloaked in who we believe ourselves to be, who we want others to believe us to be. It’s all an illusion. We are all each other. The person that needs to control situations shows me my own need to do the same or my willingness to hand over control too easily to another. The complainer holds a mirror up to my gift for wrapping my disdain in sarcasm, peddling it as funny instead of whiny. The vain person exposes my own shortcomings in self-care and my willingness to let go of perfection of form.

If we miss this perspective we miss the gifts of a trip like this. We are unable to embrace new experiences with a beginner’s mind, we hold back or we over-exert our worst qualities to protect the illusion.

We gain perspective too on how others live, suspending judgment of “how things are done.” Honoring the customs of our host country rather than insinuating our way, the right way, or our opinion on how it should be done. It’s difficult to witness poverty on such a pervasive level. To watch cows eat plastic bags and ownerless dogs limp along in search of food or companionship. Plumbing, sewage treatment and electricity are all below the  standards we are accustomed to. It’s not the U.S. – things, standards, laws are different here. We cannot understand the progress that has been made – we see only how far they have to go. We want to fix things. We’re powerless to make the changes we feel would make this a better place in the two weeks we’re here. Or are we?

We may be unable to  make the sweeping changes we feel would improve this city, town, country – or more likely improve our experience of it, but we can each  make a difference. Many westerners are. They are showing up to teach and educate, to create infrastructure and affect change, sometimes just one person at a time. It’s delicate. What do they want? What problems do they see? It would be criminal to force our paradigm on them. We do not want, I do not want, another America. I want a healthy India. I want to hear the Muslim prayers broadcast and watch the orange clad holy men wander the streets. I want to use only my right hand to eat, to wear a scarf for modesty and to not be allowed in certain temples because I’m not Hindu. I want to see the magic of traffic patterns so intricate and honorable I have nothing to compare them to. I want cows to continue to roam freely with goats and monkeys and the occasional pig. I want there to be culturally and religiously different food choices. I want there to be too many people and chaos and late trains and planes.

I also want more compassion surrounding the dogs. I want to clean up the trash, reduce the air pollution and remove plastic. I want to improve their plumbing and electrical systems and I want equal education opportunities for all castes. Some of these things are being worked on. The dog situation is being addressed in bigger cities. Efforts like Ramana’s Garden are taking on the burden of equal education. Some cities have banned plastic bags for retailers and others have a clean up effort in evidence.

I do no want to change the flavor of India. I want to minimize those aspects that are still third world, not for my comfort level so much as for their sustainability. And so I do my part by sharing the best and the worst of what I see. But you must also remember, this is all based on my perceptions, my American experiences and as solid as my ideas may sound to me, it is not up to me to create this change. While changes can be influenced by outside forces, they must ultimately come from within her borders. There must be a willingness to change on the inside. And so, Mother India herself, is again a mirror.

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