India Calls

IMG_5438

India is always on my mind. I cannot articulate what about this mesmerizing and frustrating country has me so captivated. The people? Absolutely. The colors? For sure. The history, spirituality, devotion, customs, mystery? All of it.

But when someone asks me why I love India I can never convey with words why I must go back again and again.

A piece of me is from here. When I stepped onto Indian soil that first time, I reclaimed something. Nothing was added. Nothing was new. Something left sleeping and lightly snoring deep within had simply yawned, stretched and awakened full of peace and unperturbed joy.

I am able, in this truly foreign country, to be at peace with what is. Everything is so different from home I have no choice but to accept what is. My initial reaction upon seeing a family of five on a motor bike was, they can’t do that. But, indeed they can. That simple realization that laws and customs, and well, everything, is different here ,created a space of child-like wonder that a highly-decorated-deities-on-the-dashboard-‘horn-please’-hand-lettered-on-the-back truck could lumber through. Everything is new. All this ancient, crumbling, centuries old stuff, is new. To me.

It is this renewed sense of wonder that I take with me as I walk to see a Jamaican guru named Mooji one morning.

He is speaking somewhere down river. Led by a devotee of his in our group, we walk south, past the Indian man chanting into a microphone in front of a movie camera, beyond the women washing clothes in the Ganges, through an alley and onto a seemingly residential road where hoards of people – mostly white westerners – were patiently, almost quietly, waiting in line.

The line seemed terribly long, but we had heard they admitted people by lottery so our chances were as good as anyone’s to get a good seat. So many of these gatherings take on a cult-like atmosphere and this was no different. Perhaps it was the ‘no talking’ dictate, or the helpers all in white. It is referred to as a Sattvic environment – pure, balanced. Whatever the case, I’ve been down this road before and it didn’t worry me.

As we waited to be admitted, we took in life around us as it was taking us in: Families with children looking down from their roof tops and marveling at these people that line up day after day, doors cracked to allow the curious to peek out and men seated on stoops having their normal conversations as if this was nothing new.

As luck would have it, we happened to be in the line that is chosen first to find a seat. The hall is big, with chairs lining both sides and a wide center portion set with pillows a little too closely together on the floor in the front, and wide open seating behind that. A single chair and a couple of plants occupies the stage in front of all of this. We chose chairs as close as we could get, maybe 10 rows back, stage right. And waited.

A woman in white took the stage first informing us of the rules of Mooji. It seems as if his message is all about liberation, as all questions were to be directed to that topic. There were standing microphones placed a few rows in on either aisle. If Mooji called on your raised hand, you were to speak your question into the microphone at close proximity so no one had to strain to hear you. Please make the questions universal and not personal. About liberation.

We were strongly encouraged to stay in our seats until Mooji exited at the end. No bathroom breaks or leaving early, please. If we felt we might want to do either of those, we were invited to take a less disruptive place in the back of the large hall.

Finally he joined us. I found his presence very soothing and grounding. He sat, covered his lap with a blanket then paused with the mic that was to rest on his ear, held aloft, as he gazed out at the audience with the most gentle smile in his eyes.

Then he placed the mic on his ear and spoke for several moments on the prison of our habits. Boom. Most of my nonfiction reading lately has been about this very subject – some of it even on purpose, some ‘accidental.’ I was listening.

Once he opened the floor up, it seemed despite the clear instruction at the beginning, each question was pretty personal in nature, but he was able to answer on a broader level. The people who stood to speak were infused with that yoga high I’ve become all too aquatinted with. It’s not lasting. Not like this. Once they leave the confines of their bubble, the real world often comes barreling back in to challenge their newfound liberation. I hoped they have the tools to take home to integrate, so the high can settle into a well-worn sort of bliss.

That’s what it is; integration. It may feel like transformation, and on some level it is, of course, but it is incorporating what you have come to learn to be true about you and infusing the ego-based personality everyone you know, knows. Here, your thin, pink vulnerability is protected by a shell the size of India, at home, you are raw. It’s a process with which I wish them the best.

One woman was invited onto the stage where she sobbed uncontrollably into Mooji’s lap. He very tenderly rubbed her back as she continued to wail into his microphone. His compassion was palpable, his reach wide, I too dropped into his energetic embrace.

As the woman’s sobs subsided, he began to teach from this experience. She was clear now, she got it and the rest of us could get it too. I nodded to myself but I’m not entirely sure that I did get it.

My big take-away was that this liberation – which is more allowing and letting go, than an actual attainment of freedom – is right here. It is not somewhere deep, it is not hidden in a cave or an untranslated secret scripture, but right in front of us. This is not new, nor is it news. But it bears repeating over and over and over again.

We are our own jailers. Our beliefs prevent us from being free, our perceptions and ideas about what is right and what is wrong, or what is good and what is bad, these prevent us from knowing freedom of the spirit.

it is so simple, but not so easy.

“You are not living life, you are life.”

The woman who had let it all go at the feet of her guru stayed with me. Witnessing that experience along with the other teachings left me contemplative.

When we were at last permitted to leave, I just wanted to find an empty space and sit. The exit was ordered and quiet – everyone was still observing silence – all the way through shoe retrieval and to the fence at the edge of the property.

I wanted to stay quiet. I wanted to sit in a bubble where these ideas, thoughts and challenges could bounce around me without landing, passing before my eyes and awareness for review or dismissal as I saw fit.

But this is India and quiet is a foreign concept. Just outside the gate others began sharing their experiences. I wanted them to stop talking to me. I wanted the kids to stop playing, the horns to stop beeping. I wanted quiet.

But isn’t this the message from Mooji? Letting all the distractions go – they’re there, but they don’t have to be distractions. Inner calm, inner stillness is portable – yoga instructors on microphones, rafters shouting as they navigate the Ganges, burning bodies on funeral pyres down by the same river, are all transient.

What I really craved was quiet time to digest, but that was a luxury I would be denied, maybe even until I was once again on my own sofa in my own home.

So often the pearls from my travels and experiences – maybe most especially in India – are revealed to me upon review. Writing is how I process these. I wonder, on occasion, if I am embellishing the memory, making it richer, better, more to my liking. But on the whole I don’t think that’s the case. I am simply able to take the time to color all the way to the edges.