Time has a way of smoothing out the hard edges of memory. When I look back at the past 5 weeks, everything has a slow, dream like quality to it. Even with the dizzying travel and chorus of horns, all I seem to hear when I think of our honeymoon is the first soft minute of Debussy’s Suite bergamasque. I’ve never been so enchanted by a place before, the way that India and Indonesia enchanted me. I’m not sure I’ve quite woken from the spell.
I’ve also never been anywhere as chaotic as India. Imagine your senses being set on fire and then add the smell of incense and urine and roses and chai tea brewing over a fire on the side of the road. And imagine a dust that never settles and how it puts a golden filter over everything. And imagine a thousand cars and tuk tuks and mopeds honking all at once. And children with babies on their hips walking barefoot through rubbish, women working in the fields in colorful sari with long scarves trailing behind them and a big metal bowl on their heads, “evil eye” talismans made of lime and chili peppers hanging over every door and garlands of marigold wrapped around Hindu Gods on the dashboard of most taxis, the smiling eyes of old women sitting on their doorsteps, the rose petal dawn, children waving and dancing as trains go by…
It is an assault on the senses. There is no other word for it.
And yet… yet, there is a stillness there that I can’t quite put my finger on. It is an inner stillness. The people of India radiate with it. They do not appear to have a burning desire to fill the void we all carry – a soul stirred with restlessness. Perhaps poverty brings a certain freedom. They cannot afford to fill the void with material possessions and so, they turn to faith.
A Hindu will not hesitate to stop what he is doing, to park his moped and take a moment to remove his shoes and make a silent prayer to Vishnu or Ganesha or Hanuman or whatever God he chooses to worship. Our society works a little differently. And we seem to be searching, constantly searching for a happiness that we will never find because it’s not out there. If it were, would the people living in slums, surrounded by trash and the acrid smell of ammonia seem content?
If you were to ask me what I took most out of this trip (after much-needed rest), it is that sense of inner peace that the people of India seem to carry with them no matter how little they have.
This inspired my word for 2013 – STILLNESS. Last year felt like a never-ending emotional roller coaster ride. This year, I want to stop the damn ride, get off and sit still. I want to learn to breathe again. I want to let go with every exhale and open up with each inhale. I want to find that kind of inner peace I saw in India, even when thousands of tuk tuks and honking cars and mopeds and cows were going by. I want to be still in the swirl. I want to be able to slow it all down and see things through a softer set of eyes. And connect with that part of myself that ran off last year and joined the bloody circus.
I wondered if, after 3 weeks, I’d be able to describe India and the answer is no. It is so steeped in mystery, I want to leave it there. I can tell you the facts and show you what I’ve seen but I’ll never be able to capture its essence. Its essence is in the people and unless you come from there, I don’t think it is possible to really “get it”. And maybe if you are from there, there is nothing to “get”… everything just is. And maybe that is the secret to their happiness.
Wishing you all a new year filled with intention. One that fills your heart with hope.
P.S. I’m still waiting for 5 rolls of slide film to get processed. And I have a notebook full of writings. I’ll be back with more photos and stories soon.