We impose “control” because we fear, but the “chaos” we fear is a rich, surging, singing, dancing, drenching, laughing, crying, sleeping “order,” a well-spring of energy, a condition of a soul in love. Unknown
I’m not sure why, but I’ve been thinking about India. Perhaps it is the sudden shift in weather, the way that spring has sprung in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, not in its usual slow-melting gradual sort of way, but, instead, in one fell-swoop of brilliant color and sound and sensation. Two weeks ago, we were skate-skiing on a firmly-packed base of four feet of snow under the boughs of the blizzard-covered balsams, and, now, we’re in bikinis on the beach, and there is no snow in sight. Or perhaps I’ve been thinking about India because a friend of mine handed me a gift a few days ago, a book by Ram Dass, Be Love Now, a memoir in which he shares how he was transformed by his time in an Indian ashram. Or perhaps it is because I soaked in the passion that Kristen feels for the deeper aspects of yoga in her devotional class the other night at Joy Center, and then immediately went home and re-watched Eat, Pray, Love. At any rate, as the balmy breeze blows in through my open window on this, the second full day of spring, I have India on the mind.
For a decade now, Cam and I have played the Mystery Trip Game, taking turns each year surprising the other with an adventure, usually in the spring for a week or two, and anywhere in the world. The only guidelines are that we can’t outright lie when we offer clues, and that we don’t lead our partner too far astray when we tell them what to pack. Three years ago, this April, we traveled to India. It was my turn to be “it” and I was following my gut. I knew that Cam had shaken his head many times in the past to the thought of an Indian vacation; “India is too much for me,” he’d say. “It’s your kind of thing,” he’d add. And frankly, India hadn’t been calling me either. I had been afraid that it might be too much for me, as well. But that particular winter, as the snow turned our northern world white, both Cam and I became captivated by a sweeping PBS series delving into India’s history and geography and people. It colored our winter world bright and expanded our vision, and, one day, I heard it as clearly as an ashram chant. “You need to go to India on your Mystery Trip,” the inner song sang. So quickly, before I changed my mind, I made the call to Delta and booked two tickets to Delhi.
And in the ensuing months, I knew that I needed to focus, that this wasn’t a fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants-type-of-trip like the one I had planned to Portugal some years earlier, where I had reserved the first night’s room and left the other thirteen days up to us and our momentary whims. I also knew that neither one of us would thrive for more than a few days in a huge sprawl of a city like Delhi, that we needed the wilds and the rivers and the mountains, that we needed a Himalayan trek. And, it was then, as I explored the Net for possibilities, that I found Ramesh Singh, or rather, I think he found me. And Ramesh, from his home in northern India, helped me plan out the whole trip – to Delhi, and to the sacred river town of Rishikesh in the foothills of the mountains, and then up, up, up, twelve hours of driving up into the Himalayas. We planned for weeks at our computers, while Cam innocently went about his business without a clue of what he was heading into. And, later, in April and early May, Ramesh became our beloved guide and friend, providing assistance from the moment we stepped off the plane in Delhi, until we were dropped off at the airport seventeen days later.
That makes the trip sound easy, that we had this inside help, that we never had to navigate a train, or drive a car, or figure out exactly where we were. But India isn’t like that; it’s not easy in the way that we know easy. India is thrumming, drumming, humming, racing, singing, dying, drenching life. India is an assault to your senses, an assault on your tidy life and clean feet. India picks you up and spins you around and sets you down again and you just don’t know what to make of it all. As Cam has said many times since returning from this adventure, “It was the best trip of my life and it was the worst trip of my life.” And the things that made it the worst trip of his life – the day of stomach sickness high up in the mountains and the bathroom adventures that followed, and the tiger that terrorized the donkey in the middle of the night and stole our cook’s backpack from under his sleeping head – these are the things that make the very best stories and are so fun to tell.
So why am I thinking of India now? When we first arrived in India, when we were jet-lagged and overwhelmed, it was all too much. That first night, after the honking horns and the diesel fuel and the cars and the trucks and the donkeys and the cows and the motorcycles, after the late night trip from airport to hotel, the smell of the mothballs in the bathroom was the scent that pushed me over the edge. I wanted to pack up in the morning and spend the rest of our two weeks in a country that didn’t have to rely on mothballs, a country that smelled spacious and clean. And then, the next day, after a deep exhaustion-induced sleep, and a breakfast of papayas and parathas, our coping mechanisms shifted. As we sat buckled into the backseat of our driver’s car, Cam looking out one window and me looking out the other, on the seven-hour drive to Rishikesh from Delhi, we perked up. We couldn’t absorb it all; it was too much stimulation. But we could appreciate what our senses were able to grasp. In fact, we could get downright excited. India was amazing! India was a kaleidoscope of color and activity, and, in every moment, there was something new to take in. Out my window, women, in bright saris and scarves, squatting in a field, harvesting the wheat with their own hands. Out Cam’s window, monkeys in a tree. Out my window, men in a funeral procession carrying a body on a handmade stretcher wrapped in white fabric and adorned with marigold blossoms. Out Cam’s, a fruit stand with the piles of mango and papaya and bananas and fruits he’d never seen before. We would nudge each other. “Look at this and this and this!!!”
And later, after arriving in Rishikesh, our other senses joined the Indian dance of stimulation. There was the distant sound of chanting music, and the bells, and the cars honking, and the smell of jasmine mingling with the smell of the bodies being burned in the sacred rituals on the banks of the Great Mother River, the Ganges. Yes, at first, it was too much, all these sights and sounds and smells. And then it was a game of taking in only what we could handle. But it really wasn’t very long into the adventure before something else happened, before something big and wonderful shifted for us. We, like the gracious people surrounding us and bumping into us and begging from us and singing with us and greeting us with a friendly Namaste, became more expansive. We surrendered to it all, this thriving thrumming hum of life; again and again and again, we surrendered. And when we glance back at the photos from this trip, we can see it, the blissed-out look in our eyes and we can remember how open our hearts felt. Indians seem to open their hearts to it all and I remember bringing this back home with me.
And this winter, when my ninety-three year old mother’s body was cremated, I thought about the funeral fires that I had seen along the banks of the Ganges, and how this ritual was a part of everyday life, and this remembering brought me comfort as my mother’s body burned to a sand as fine as that on her coastal beach. And now, with this sudden thaw, with this wild rush of spring, I find myself thawing inside. I find myself surrendering to the bigness of an inner India. I loved the winter. I loved the frozen ground and the snow and the way I skated along on groomed trails day after day after day. I loved being present for my mother during her time of passing. And I loved winter’s holding pattern, the way it helped me to absorb it all, this new way of connecting with a mother no longer in her body. And I admit it; I wasn’t quite ready for this abrupt shift in the weather. I was looking forward to the more predictable gradual melting. And like I did that first night in India, I found myself in resistance, determined to hold on to that last patch of snow, that last bit of winter control. But I couldn’t hold on for long. It came. It rushed in with the force of the Ganges, this spring of bird-song and coyote-howling, of hopscotch and bike-riding, of sundresses and ice cream cones. It burst forth blossoming and fully-formed.
So here I am, filled with the song of the Ganges, filled with the movie Eat Pray Love, filled with a softness in the air and an excitement in my heart. Can I really breathe it in, all this life, all this activity, all these new beginnings in this season of new beginnings? Can I admit that it feels good, to thaw inside and move forward at full springtime throttle? Last evening in the cool sweet twilight, we danced on the deck at Joy Center in Lucy La Faive’s Goddess Dance Party. The breeze was gentle and the peeper frogs sang to us and you could almost taste the freshness in the air as the last of the snow in the marsh was melting and I could sense my mother’s presence surrounding me, and it was pure pleasure, this evening in the land of new beginnings.