Its all downhill from here. Only 3 weeks left in this journey – both my 3 month return to India and my original 1 year around the world trip are coming to an end. Most of my remaining time will be spent in a 10-day silent meditation retreat, the rest in transit and appreciating the freedom and simplicity of life in India.
For the past 4 weeks I have been in the small hill town of McLeod Ganj (commonly referred to abroad as Dharamsala) in Northern India, the home of the exiled Tibetan community and the 14th Dalai Lama. Despite strong pulls to the contrary, I’ve managed to stick to my original plan, 5 weeks in Rishikesh and 5 weeks in McLeod Ganj. These pulls have generally come in the form of not being comfortable in my own skin, seeking distraction and change from my purpose here: developing inward. I’ve considered coming home early, traveling to various tourist destinations to the north such as Manali and Kashmir, but I’ve always been able to recognize that acting to fulfill these desires was not going to fulfill my only desire: knowing myself.
And how exactly does one find themselves in a small city in India? I can’t give you the answer but I can share my attempt. I’ve committed to myself to meditating, practicing yoga, volunteering and eating well. Beyond this I am reading, spending time on my balcony reflecting and watching the world go by. I’ve meditated daily now for almost 6 weeks, sometimes for only 20 minutes, other days up to 2 hours. One of the most powerful things I left Rishikesh with was a posture for my legs that allows me to sit for extended periods of time. Looking back this was one of the greatest inhibitors to my meditation, preventing me from sitting still and longer than 20 minutes comfortably. My personal yoga practice has been strong, although it is so much more difficult to do completely on my own, without the guidance of a teacher and a schedule. I’ve managed to practice regularly, taking a day off a week or when feeling very complacent, just focusing on a few individual asanas to work on tension in my body or in my heart. I’ve avoided the backpacker hangout scene, an easy distraction on the road. I’ve fallen into small daily routines of meditation, yoga, breakfast, writing, walking, coffee and reading, volunteering, kora, dinner. I have enjoyed getting to know several other long-term visitors and we’ll get together on occasion for tea or for a walk.
My reading has been focused on Buddhism, Tantra and Yoga. I am opening to new ideas and concepts, reforming my worldview on things such as reincarnation, the true meaning of karma and the tantric approach of embracing life. I’ve been delving into concepts of compassion, devotion and the master/disciple relationship. I’m building a base for which I’d like to explore in greater detail during my meditation retreat and hopefully carry over to Boulder. I feel so very fortunate to be given this gift of retreat and solitude for a deep examination of my life. I feel very rich and fulfilled in a non-traditional way. The human life is such a wonderful gift and I want to experience every second of it.
Volunteering is what brought me here and it has provided a wonderful experience. When I first arrived, I ‘shopped’ around at various centers before finding a good fit, eventually settling into afternoon English conversation classes at Learning and Ideas for Tibet (LIT). Each afternoon a group of Tibetans (half monks and nuns, half lay persons) and tourists get together, work through a set of questions proposed by the facilitator and then the students take turns reading out loud to the class. We always have some fun at the end when the new teachers are required to sing a song to the class and one of the Tibetan students usually returns the favor. The overall atmosphere is very jovial and energetic. I’ve gotten to know a few of the students very well, sharing time after class or simply conversing if we finish the questions early. Almost all of them have endured the arduous journey overland through the Himalayas to escape the Chinese oppression in Tibet. They are separated from their families, homeland and culture. I really connect with the people in class here because I have the strong feeling that if I was born in Tibet, I too would have risked my life to escape to freedom. There is this fire that burns inside them that is very, very touching. Today was my final day and the students gave me a ceremonial scarf and “Free Tibet necklace”, sang several beautiful Tibetan songs and gave me what I am most thankful for, their beautiful smiles and thank you’s. The language difficulties really allowed me to connect with this group at a heart level – and it was very beautiful and touching. About two weeks ago a major earthquake occurred in Tibet, killing and injuring thousands of people. Many of the students have loved-ones or friends that were injured and throughout the classes they were talking about their thoughts and feelings on the situation, their families health and concerns about the Chinese response. There have been various candlelight vigils and prayer meetings at the main temple to honor the victims. All of this has made me value public service so much more and I hope to continue giving part of myself to the service of others when I return home.
There have been times when I feel like I am getting too hard on myself, expecting results or harshly self-judging certain behaviors. Its then that I realize I need to lighten up and take a step back from my practice, breathing the beautiful mountain air or doing the small things I enjoy like a cold beer with friends or movie on my laptop with a bag of potato chips. And while for the most part I’ve avoided fulfilling my supposed role as a ‘busy tourist’, I of course have had plenty of distractions including my first ever cricket match, many long walks through the countryside and even a day of climbing to the small outpost of Triund, a day’s journey straight up the mountain. I took an Indian cooking course and am very excited about making Malai Kofta and Palak Paneer for all of my friends in Boulder! Whenever I feel frustrated or as if I want to be somewhere else, I simply remind myself of how fortunate this opportunity is, of how when life sinks its teeth into me in the future I will crave and long for this precious time in India.
Much of the time I contemplate how I want to exist when I return to Boulder. I’ve mentioned earlier that my last trip home was overwhelming in many ways – I came home exhausted and immediately fell into old habits and mentalities. This time I am much more energetically prepared, having developed a sort of neutrality that hopefully will prevent me from being tossed around in the waves of the high-paced, materialistic, self-focused nature of life in the West. I plan to start slowly, carrying my daily practices with me, considering carefully any activities that will demand my time and energy and don’t include spending time with those that I love and those activities that nourish my soul. I’m afraid my blog entries going forward aren’t likely to have the amazing photos and crazy stories that often accompany them. I find myself desiring simplicity, routine, home. My views on time and accomplishment have shifted drastically, I am no longer focused on getting somewhere or being anyone. I’m not sure what that will look like, but if I’m ever to find liberation I need to drop the many pursuits of the ego that have driven me in the past.
This post feels disjointed, as I feel like I am just touching the surface on many things before I retreat and say goodbye to technology and the world for 10 days. I hope it sheds a little light on what I’ve been up to and experiencing these past 4 weeks. I’m looking forward to the spring rain and flowers in Boulder.