I traveled to India on 5 separate occasions and stayed for roughly a month at a time. For a few years it became like a second home to me. I often joked that I had a love/hate relationship with India. There were so many wonderful qualities I absorbed but it was also a painfully stark contrast to everything I understood to be true as an American.
In India there is a depth and a spiritual devotion unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I could visit the most spiritually sacred places, practice yoga, meditation, stay in Ashrams, take vows of silence, and even become a vegetarian.
But India was also a complete bombardment to my senses. There were constant uncomfortable triggers to face, sights to see, smells to endure, and no real sense of law and order like I was used to in the States. At first it was utterly unnerving, even a bit terrifying but eventually I was able to surrender into the utter chaos.
I began to see that in India everything that happened was showing me direct and immediate Karma. If I had any fear or negative thinking, negative things would manifest (like bugs in my room, a broken foot, getting sick) but if I was present and aware with no attachment an outcome, I seemed to slide right into bliss and become one with my surroundings. It was truly magical thing to witness.
My trips to India taught me many things but two stick out the most.
One, I am so much more than I think or give myself credit for.
And two, I can be pushed far beyond my limits and not only survive but thrive.
My whole life I’ve been a sprinter, not having the endurance or patience for long distances. One early morning a group and I set off for a 7 hour hike, straight up the Himalayan mountains. It was hot, sweat dripped down my back and my backpack felt like it weighed a ton. As my mind continued to fuck with me, wondering over and over how I would make it through the day, my legs began to cramp. I was in my own private hell and nobody was coming to save me.
It was too late to turn back. I knew I had to come to terms with the pain.
At one point I was given a Vedic meditation to chant internally which when focused on created a cadence in my mind, a rhythm my brain could fall into and be distracted from the awful thoughts I was having.
I don’t remember when exactly the transformation occurred but at some point I found peace on that hike. And the fruit I felt once I made it up that mountain to the temple at the top was so so sweet. I can’t imagine if I had taken a car up that hill instead. I transcended my self on that hike. Those 7 hours transformed me into more than I was.
And once I accomplished the feat and made it to the top, the fruit of the view and quiet surrender was truly made that much more ripe from all that I had to go through to get there. I would never have had that experience if I had just driven up in a car. Isn’t that interesting? We all want easy but its the pain, getting through it, transcending it and ourselves that is truly rewarding…?
One night a group and I went camping outside of Rishikesh. Sitting, huddled around a campfire on the banks of the Ganga I noticed the majesty of the full moon. At one point I knew I needed to step off to the side by myself to fully appreciate the grandeur of the moment. I was terrified of being singled out as different from the group but something inside of me was telling me to go and I needed to listen.
I quietly mustered all of my courage, moving away from the group, passing the little tents dotted along the sandy river and I found a spot where I could sit cross legged, facing the moon. I put my headphones on and played tribal music while swaying in the basque of the moonlight. Though it may sound small, that was a hugely profound and courageous moment for me.
In junior high I remember being at parties where friends who were far more comfortable with themselves would get up and dance in front of everyone, no problem. I on the other hand was too terrified of being looked at, judged, or made fun of that I would never risk and take the necessary action.
Then when I was a little older I had a boyfriend who would make a point of asking me to shimmy my shoulders to the beat of the music, I would dismiss him and shrug it off, even though inside I so desperately wanted to have the experience. My fear crippled me.
In my childhood I missed a lot of opportunities because I let fear win and that night on the Ganga I knew I had to rewrite my own history. So I sat, in all of my horrible self- imposed uncomfortable feelings, and I did what I knew I had to do.
That was a huge step in my journey, in choosing to take the uncomfortable action instead of the one that kept me feeling safe. Each time I disobeyed my fear and didn’t allow it to win, it got easier and easier, and it had less power over me.
The jail cell I had surrounded myself in in the name of safety began to break down. I was getting closer and closer to freedom.
On one fateful day, as a group and I took a bus ride to the Taj Majal, I slowly lost my shit. We were told it would be a 3 hour trip. Our accommodations were a third world country bus, with broken air conditioning, and the most obnoxious driver that loved to honk his singing horn every 30 seconds. Now, that would be enough to drive any First World person crazy but the plot thickened… our 3 hour ride slowly but surely turned into a 6 1/2 hour ride from hell.
I and everyone else on that trip began falling apart one by one. We got all types of sick and by the time we actually got to the Taj I thought, what’s the point? I feel so awful, it actually looks better in the pictures, it’s hot, it’s crowded and I never need to come back here again.
The point of this trip was clearly not at all about the destination, for me it was the ability to see how toxic and poisonous my mind was when the circumstances didn’t match my expectation. If I had been able to go with the flow (because and only because I was already on the journey so why keep thinking destructive thoughts that aren’t helping me actually escape the situation?) then my mind would have been quiet and I would have been able to enjoy the ride, focused on things other than my own troubles and dissatisfaction.
My travels to Bali were much gentler than my trips to India. I felt there was a peace that Bali embodied and surrounded me with that made me feel incredibly safe in comparison.
One of my most favorite things to experience was visiting the native Medicine Men- old school village doctors that used no drugs or intrusive surgeries. Instead they used herbs, smoke, spit, spells and any number of wacky looking alternatives to heal numerous ailments.
As a westerner going into these situations there is a certain amount of belief and reality that must be suspended in order to receive this kind of healing. I could have chosen to deny it all and write it off as a joke but instead I went in as fully as possible and came out with my own healing.
Before I went to Bali I had been struggling with Hyperthyroidism. It was only after getting a prayer from the Brahman healer that I was able to keep my weight on and stop losing hair, which was a magical feat, trust me.
Now, whether that happened because of this man’s connection to a divine healing source, or from my own belief that I would be healed didn’t matter to me. I was just grateful for the transformation. I believe we all have the ability to heal and transform our own selves, sometimes we use help from an outside source and sometimes not.
Thailand was difficult for me for a number of reasons. One, I was just coming from Bali where everything was magical and divine and Bangkok just seemed much more westernized, dirty, and sexual. Also, my now husband was joining me on this trip which really tested me and brought up a lot of emotional triggers.
It being Thailand, we had a massage one night where the masseuse actually pointed at and touched his penis. I had heard stories about Thai massage places and should have expected it but to experience that right in front of me while I was in a relaxed vulnerable state was a whole other animal. Needless to say, it brought up a lot of feelings that I was forced to acknowledge.
I had a much more pleasant experience visiting a Buddhist temple, however. There, I was blessed by and meditated with actual Buddhist Monks. For a while all of my negative feelings vanished and I found peace in that calm sacred space.
One other memory that sticks out is riding outside on the top roof of a van to Chang Mai- one of my favorite things to do in India as well- something about the speed and the wind in my face, gives me the ultimate sense of freedom. In America we have so many rules in the name of safety that they often hold us back from expressing and experiencing our most expanded joyful selves.
The Hugging Saint. She will literally sit for hours and hours without a break to hug you and whisper something loving in your ear. Her love is unlike anything I’ve ever felt, this woman embodies acceptance. In India she was beaten at a young age because of her darker colored skin and because she was different. It didn’t phase her, she loved and forgave her family for their actions, now she gives that pure untainted love to the entire world. It’s so powerful to sit in her presence and we wait all day to receive just a few seconds of this love. Everything in the room melts away and you are held in divine love and illuminated light.