My time in India was a time of sharp contrasts and self-reflection. I have not been surrounded by that level of ever present poverty with the exception of working in the Yucatan in the late 1960s, since I was in India three years ago.
The contrasts of the grinding poverty and the brilliant saris in the middle of the street seemed strange. Isn’t poverty’s color grey or somber? Everywhere one looks in the towns is rubble, dirt, rocks, thatch huts, make-shift housing that is not make-shift, beggars, and need. Yet the street markets are filled with flowers, fruits, and vegetables of every rainbow color. The living things of color dot the context of greyness like determined hope.
In the middle of all of this, a family serves 14 of us, the guests, a hot lunch everyday we are in their home and invites us to bask in their cheerfulness and love.
One can see the need in the faces of the street children, their outstretched hands immediately present when we stop. More need is etched in the wrinkles of the aged women who live on the streets.
One feels the overwhelming press of people, everywhere. When looking at the sidewalks, they are usually 4 deep with people, all the time.
The roads are pressed with people, all the time. There are those permanently connected to the ground through affliction and physical impairment, at every turn.
One has to release all sense of normalcy as we move through the throngs of people, motorcycles, auto-rickshaws, bikes, cars and trucks. All is up to God, in every single way. My sense of order, fabric of the society and the way one makes sense out of the world does not work in India as She has her own rhythm and vibration, completely apart from what is familiar to those of us visiting. All the assumptions we hold do not work there. There is another order of society which is not visible to us, however hard we try to see it. I am constantly reminded that I am a visitor, in all ways.
The best we can do is to get a driver we can speak with who can be our go-between. The best we can do is to eat all things cooked which are put before us and to eat nothing raw. The best we an do is to be respectful of the religions ceremonies we are invited to attend and release all thoughts of what we are doing in India. It is not clear why one is necessarily called to India, it just simply happens.
Nothing is familiar, but a shared love of the Divine arrived at from vastly different paths, yet shared all the same. That is the amazing walk in India.
Amidst an endless background of poverty, one experiences the holy shrines, the elaborate religious festivals, the chanting of devotionals, the taking of prasada, blessed holy food, the use of the vibuti, the gift of amrita and cum-cum. All the outwards ways of worshiping, are unfamiliar but the sharing of the Energy of Divine Presence is completely familiar.
It is as if all the signals for living are completely switched around and one has to make one’s way on faith that all will be fine. Every moment of every day, one has to walk in faith that all will be fine. Simply the process of putting on a sari in and of itself is daunting.
How does one put on 8 yards of material and move through the day? All the conflicting energy around one’s public self and one’s private self gets a good shake-up. Who are we really at the end of the day? What is it that makes for order and “ordinary” time. Certainly, not anything that shows on the outside. That is all jumbled up because of the clothing we are wearing and the process of walking barefoot through all the shrines and homes, and the process of chanting and praying in Sanskrit, or Hindi, or English. Can we really connect when we are this far out of our comfort zone?
I am so relieved again to find that my time in Silence is a constant. It is a constant I can find again, there, with all those people who are so different from me. It is a constant that sees me through, even in the strangeness of the clothing I am wearing, the sounds I am hearing, the visions I am seeing, the smells I am smelling. The Silence is my welcoming friend of deep solace. It is my refuge that somehow reassures me that I am fine, that I am whole, that I am in that place for something I can’t understand with my mind, only with my heart. Silence leads me to the space of deep connectedness with All That Is, including the very strange surroundings and customs I find myself partaking in.
Am I being true to myself? What does all that even really mean, while being in India? Do my outside actions really reflect who I am. Probably not, as I feel off-kilter much of the time I am there. I welcome smiles and kind words of those helping us through all of this. I welcome the room given to us to rest where there is an air conditioner, a western toilet and places to leave our things.
I am touched by the helpful hands of young woman who teaches me to wrap the sari more securely. I welcome the intimate stories of the woman in conjunction with her husband and family, who has overseen the expansion of support for 25 rural schools in south India, the creation of an orphanage, a medical clinic and an aging folks home. All this in the midst of overwhelming physical poverty.
In their home, there are two large shrines to All That Is, known to them and many others, as Sai Baba. There are all sorts of stories of the pictures and statues spontaneously producing vibuti, sacred ash, which has to be scooped up regularly. There is another reality they are living with, which I thankfully know in Silence, Love and Blessing. We connect even though we are worlds apart, we are One. That is beyond all that I could ever imagine, really way beyond anything my mind could have thought of. That is why I have been called to India. We are really All One, even though we may only have a glimpse of it one day in India.
My thanks to Liz Spiwack, one of my traveling companions, for the sharing of these photos from our trip for use in this post.