Ancient Egyptians believed that upon death they would be asked two questions and their answers would determine whether they could continue their journey in the afterlife.  
The first question was, "Did you bring joy?"  
The second was, "Did you find joy?"

Friday, December 31, 2010

There Are Three Types of People

When I tell people that I'm going to India I invariably encounter three different responses:

1.  Oh, My, God, I LOVE India.  YOU are gonna LOVE it.
2.  I have ALWAYS wanted to go to India, that is so cool.
3.  Huh.  I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in going to India.  None, zilch, nada.

I haven't met anyone yet who is luke warm on the idea of going to India.

Since I have always wanted to go, I figure I've got a pretty good handle on why people in category one or two say what they say...though I suspect there are almost as many reasons, really, for going to India as there are people who go....but lets not get too existential about it.

I can even wrap my brain around many of the reason people might be hesitant to go to India: the poverty, the over population, the dysentery....even, as one person said, "the smells".

But I have really been baffled by what some people have said about why they don't want to go to India.  Before I tell you what that is, let me say first that these people in question are compassionate, warm, smart, caring, socially involved and evolved human beings...which is why their viewpoint startles me so.  They say, "Why would you want to go somewhere so different, so foreign.  I have no interest in being somewhere like that.  I would feel too uncomfortable, it would just be too weird."

Because they are friends of mine, I feel comfortable asking, "Let me get this straight, you have no interest in seeing a land that old, getting an opportunity to learn something about a culture that has survived for so very long?  You have no curiosity about life in a place that is, exactly as you said, so different from our own?"

And always, ALWAYS, they reply with complete confidence, "Nope, no interest what so ever."

I have to say, "that takes guts to me".  I admire the chutzpah it takes to admit to such a glaring lack of curiosity about one of the oldest and most fascinating countries on the planet.  I know, I know how judgmental I sound....and I suppose it would be untrue to say I'm not feeling at all judgmental....but, it is mostly awe and a strange kind of respect and mostly bewilderment.

Look, there's a lot of people I don't have much desire to know better or have much curiosity about...most of them fall to the far far right of the American political spectrum.  So, I get it.  We all have our boundaries, the places we feel uncomfortable or uninterested in exploring.

But for me it is exactly the foreignness of India that makes it imperative that I go.  And since our world is getting smaller in so many ways, we can travel more easily, we can be on the other side of the globe in a matter of hours, we can video chat with loved ones on the flip side of the planet to let us know how we are doing.  We have an unparalleled opportunity here in the 21st century to meet people who think and feel and live and pray differently than us and to understand them.

I'm as guilty as anyone else, even more guilty than some, of relying on facebook and technology to keep me connected to my friends and world events.  There are times when I feel rather isolated, or I should say, I cherish my alone time and online networking keeps my world a little more open.  But I also feel like so much of our world view is shrinking to the size of our computer screens.  And just at the moment in history when we have the opportunity to see so much of the world with relative ease and speed, we have been seduced into being afraid (or is it apathetic?) of it.

Hey, I know not everyone has the time or money to go to India.  There are so many people who would love to go, but have families to raise and to get through college.  So, it's not the lack of leaving for India that baffles me, it is lack of curiosity about seeing such a place.

We must just be wired differently.  I need to see the poverty, to know the colors and smells, the dirt, the dust, the mosquitoes, the toilets without seats, to see how billions of people experience the world around them when it is so different than my own.  I have been incredibly privileged  in my upbringing, as have many Indians.  In having a roof over my head for all the days of my life.  Food, clothes, clean water. Who knows...maybe it's guilt that makes me yearn to see a country that may very well shatter my perceptions of my very comfortable life.  Maybe there is something in me that needs to awaken from the complacency of living, even in these dark economic times, in this very affluent first world country where, in theory anyway, we all have the chance to live with clean water, food on the table, roofs over our heads.  I don't know....but I do know that I just cannot conceive of not wanting to see India at all.

I mean, putting the economic disparity of and in India aside, there's all of this to experience:

But if you fall into category three and I still can't arouse your assured, you don't have to go....I, however, seem to have no other choice.

As a those people whose response to my leaving for India has been something like this, "Who do you think you are: Elizabeth Gilbert?"  I say, as much as I admire Elizabeth Gilbert and loved her book Eat, Pray, Love, there were independent women who traveled solo to far off places long before she came on the scene.  My desire to go to India lived in me long before she was even married, divorced and traveling to Italy, India and Bali.  But, to be fair, I think she gave many of us the little extra push we needed to step out of our comfort zones and to say, "What the hell.  Life's too short.  I'm gonna buy that ticket and see what happens next."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Another Reason to Visit India...

To meet this man....though, I'm not planning on going to Chennai.  Maybe I'll find many more of his kind....

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

India....the world within

I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within. ~Lillian Smith.

I'm going to India in a few weeks.  Of course, if you know me at all, this is old news....because it's all I've been talking about for weeks. Months.  Well, years.  In fact, this trip will be the realization of a very long-standing dream. 

It seems wrong to start off talking about my love affair with India by mentioning my love affair with England, or at least English history, but that is probably the way it began.  Like most young girls I went through my princess phase.  I loved books about castles and pomp and circumstance and gilded life.  King Arthur and Camelot took up a lot of room in my imagination to be sure, but also the more concrete and recent true life tales of the Elizabethan court, Queen Victoria and her Empire, the Wallis Simpson scandal, Elizabeth the Second, her kids and, of course, Diana.  But I also just loved the simpler England of small country homes and cottages with ordered little gardens, cobble-stoned streets that twisted and turned and, in my mind, were filled with Jane Austen characters and Pip from Great Expectations.

This love for everything English rippled from my reading life into my movie watching life, and this, I think, is where India started to come into the picture.  All the way back in my young girl-hood I was utterly captivated by The Little Princess and The Secret Garden, two stories about lonely English girls who don't fit into the upper class English world.  In the tough times that plagued them, both girls drew upon their earliest memories, happy memories, rich and colorful memories which happened to be in India, an India ruled and ordered by the English colonialists who governed it. When I was younger I thought the civility of the English was somehow romantic, the white cotton dresses perfectly pressed, their unflagging order in the chaos of a "heathen" nation; it was probably the sort of order that I yearned for in my own chaotic childhood. 

So many tales told about England that have captured my imagination are rooted in India where behind all the orchestrated pageantry of the English living abroad lurked the beauty and unfathomable kaleidoscope of India which seemed to be part of the life blood of any British character in any story of that ilk.....Jewel in the Crown, A Passage to India, and my favorite, Heat and Dust.  If you haven't seen it, Heat and Dust came out in 1983 when I was 14.  The movie follows two women, a young English officer's wife who arrives in India in the waning days of English rule and her niece who comes to India 50 or so years later to find out more about her aunt who was led astray by an Indian prince.  It seems the longer a character stays in India, the more in danger they are of eventually abandoning their ordered English lives forever because they fall completely in love with the visceral, sensual heartbeat of India itself.  

Over the years I have morphed into a woman who has come to realize that she, also, does not seem destined to live an ordered life and I often feel as if I don't fit in with the expectations of my society.  Looking back at my younger self, I wonder if I loved those tales not because of how very British the British were, but because I secretly yearned to abandon my fears of not fitting in, of not ever really being capable of living an ordered life.  And now it has become a calling, this need to go to India.  There is, somewhere deep inside me, a voice that says, "I must go to India", the way people are called to be artists or doctors or politicians.  Crazy, perhaps, but like with artists, politicians, doctors it feels connected to my work in this world, whatever that may be in the years to come.  And as vague and unsupported as that may sound to you, it is only slightly less vague and unsupported to me...and only because I hear this voice so clearly.  

But just because the voice is clear, doesn't mean I'm not put off by the utter mysteriousness of the quest.  In fact, I decided that I would go to India three years ago and set the goal of going when I was 40 and told everyone who would listen that I was spending part of that year in India....but didn't.  On September 6th, 2010 I turned 41, and I knew it was time to stop saying I WOULD go to India and actually go.

But buying the ticket was hard.  Very hard.  Scary even.  It's not just that the ticket is a hefty chunk of change, but the idea of committing to India itself is terrifying.  Over the last several months I've been wrestling both with terror and apathy.  Of course the apathy is just a cover up for the terror, a way to divorce myself from unadulterated fear so it doesn't take hold of me completely.

Ok.  I'm exaggerating.

But only a little.

You see, India is a big country.  I feel daunted by the sheer size of it.  Even though I am going for 3 1/2 months (yes, you read that right, MONTHS) I know I can only scratch the surface.  I want so much to soak all of it in, to understand exactly why I'm called to go there.  While I was reading my giant guide-book for ALL of INDIA it was like trying to pin-point which stars in the Milky way were the absolute best.  India is far away, in more ways than one and reading about it only made it feel more alien, more foreign, more immense and unknowable.  I began to feel like I could only miss out on most things instead of really soaking in a few things.  I guess, I began to get scared that my grand adventure would be marred by the nagging feeling that I wasn't seeing what I was supposed to see.  That there was no way to fulfill my mysterious quest because the territory I have to cover is just too vast.

Then there are the rules plastered all over the books: cover my shoulders and my knees, don't drink in public, don't touch any person for fear of being disrespectful or misunderstood, any animal for fear of rabies, any food that hasn't been disinfected with lysol for fear of life-long digestive problems.  Don't look any man in the eyes, don't ever be alone with a man, including taxi drivers, don't go out after dark unless you take a taxi which are driven by men...hey, wait a minute....

Add to that the poverty, the smells, the thievery, the....well, the list could go on and on depending on what I read and who I talk to....

So I had to do something.  Something that would help me find my India mojo.  The first thing I did was narrow down my itinerary to two states: Kerala and Rajasthan.  Kerala because that's where the ouija board in my heart tells me I have to go.  And Rajasthan because where Kerala is South and green and wet and lush, Rajasthan is north and dry and deserty, and I like the idea of immersing myself in two obviously contrasting parts of a giant and probably unfathomable country.  Added to those two states are side trips to Varanasi, Darjeeling, and, of course, Agra to see the Taj Mahal.

Once I'd narrowed down those specifics I found a hotel room in Mumbai for the first week after my arrival, booked two weeks in a little town in Kerala called Fort Cochin and then I put down the guide-book.  The rest of the trip...well, the rest of the trip is just going to have to unfold as it goes.

I realized that for me to go to India I have to let India reveal itself to me as I go.  I have to see it and smell it and discover how I move in it, how I own and govern myself in such a foreign landscape.  I have to meet India first before I decide how we are going to understand each other best.

I feel certain I will stumble a few times, that India and I will have a few quarrels along the way, quarrels that might be avoided or softened if I go in with more information, armed a little more with a sense of what I want from India off the bat...but that seems a little too English for me at this stage in my life.  And as my departure date gets closer and closer I find myself less scared and more excited by the impending adventure that promises to be anything but clean and neatly pressed, and, more likely, will be full of messy, sensual, incomprehensible challenges and delights.  Perhaps this is why I need to go to India now, to fall in love with the visceral, sensual heartbeat of myself.

Heat and Dust Trailer

Monday, September 20, 2010

Snapshot Sanctuary: Iona

This moment of peace today comes from the Island of Iona off the coast of Scotland....picture a small, very remote, flat, wind-swept island where pagans and christians after them have been coming for thousands of years to meditate and find their inner compass in the distance is the famous Abbey...behind you a long walk to a beach filled with stones of every color and before you an evening of sitting in the little church next to the abbey where sparrows nest...perhaps, tonight, you will come across a group of pilgrims chanting for peace and love and joy...and you will join them...perhaps you will sit and look out at the rising moon and then sleep deeply and restfully....and in the morning you will feel grounded and strong and connected to the earth...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Snapshot Sanctuaries

A dear friend of mine has been going through a rough time. On one particular evening he wrote that he was in a certain kind of "hell". So I sent him a photographic snapshot from one of my travels with a sort of verbal snapshot of being in that place in that moment so that he could just get away for a spell.

I've been doing them daily for over a week now and realize that I both like writing them and I love sharing these memories with him. It gives me a chance to recall the connection I felt to certain places, the power and gifts of the land itself.

I also realized a few days ago that this might be a great way to keep this travel blog going when I'm not actually traveling.

And if a few other people find them soothing or diverting in a moment of need, that would be wonderful too.

So....the first Snapshot Sanctuary.....

Imagine, if you will, olive groves all around and, as you walk towards town and the setting sun, you find yourself looking out over the Lingurian the end of the path is a wee harbor and the piazza and dinner... And an overwhelming sense of peace.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Stalling Out

It has been a year since I've posted to this blog. I'd like to report that that is because I've been too busy with one grand adventure after another. It's true that I have gone on a few trips, done a show or two, taught a fair number of acting classes, did the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk and all the training that required. But mostly I have just been spinning my wheels, so much so that it felt as if my engine was near to stalling out completely.

With the arrival of 2010, I watched all my friends shed the first decade of this century with relief and a sure determination that 2010 is going to bring a sea change of hope, love, work, joy, money. I, meanwhile, just felt more in the dark, stuck in a stagnant pool of dark and murky water~a lotus in winter, unsure how i was ever going to reach the sunlight again and what the world would look like if i did, somehow, manage to poke my head out of the water once again.

When I took my trip to the British Isles two years ago, the trip that prompted this blog in the first place, I became very comfortable with those travel days that included multiple buses and train rides just to get from one small town to the next. I made peace with the hours spent waiting on platforms, lugging my suitcase up and down smelly stairwells filled with busy commuters who all knew exactly where they were going and needed to get there fast, even if that meant knocking me and my weary body against the wall as they speed by. I learned to believe in the old adage, "it's about the journey, not the destination."

But in those interminable days of trains and buses there was always the knowledge that I would be somewhere new and exciting at the end of the day. Some of the towns that took the longest to get to I had been waiting to see for most of my 38 years.

Stagnation is an all together different kind of place. This last year I've felt as if I was stuck on a train platform unable to remember where I was going, out of money to buy a ticket even if I could remember, my cell phone had died and I couldn't call anyone for help. Sure friends show up on their way to places they need to go, we chat, I tell them my story, they offer to help, even to buy me a ticket somewhere, but really they had to focus on their own journey and it became increasingly clear that I needed to find my own way out of the station.

This is not the first time that I've felt stuck in my life. In the past, I've prayed for other people to rescue me, even begged for help when all seemed dark and unfamiliar. I've glued myself to people and relationships for safety and comfort, I've convinced myself that certain classes or things would bring me enlightenment or fill the unknowing places in me with purpose and vision.

Just last Spring I decided that I absolutely must must must move from my home in Seattle, maybe to Chicago or New York, though Paris would be my first choice, I became obsessed with looking online at real estate around the world. It became a hunger. I started grieving for my life in Seattle and told myself that it was time to make this change and that the grief was a necessary part of the separation process and the hunger to move a sure sign that relocating would shed light on the wealth of unknown factors in my life.

Then, suddenly, something shifted, almost on a dime, and I knew something. I knew exactly one thing. I knew this: that when the real next step in my life becomes clear I will not feel desperation or grief. I knew that staying still and waiting, not moving was what I had to do...for the time being....until I was excited and sure about moving forward again. Since I had this epiphany a few months ago, I've started relating to stagnation, should I say stillness, in a different way. I've started sitting with the questions, the unknowns in my life. When someone asks me what I'm doing next, I just say, "I have no idea."

Though there is a grace to living with all the questions, embracing this prolonged pit stop of my life, I have become increasingly enervated and lethargic. A couple of days ago I returned from a visit in Maine to see my brother. My trusty car would not start. I tried jump-starting it, but the battery was dead and gone. I've had the car for seven years. I bought it right after my dad died, right about the time I began what has been a seven year journey of grief, darkness, loneliness, re-birth, and a new love-affair with my own life. I left that car at home when I took myself to Europe and learned how to open my heart to the world and to trust my own company, my own gut instincts. The car battery had been dead when I came home from that trip, too. But then I could jump start it, bring the old battery back to life. Since then, however, neither the car, or myself have run with the same vigor and intensity as we did before. When the battery died this time, I did what I had to do, called the tow service, sent the car to the dealership, shelled out 300 bucks for a new battery and installation. All the while feeling lower and more tired as if my own personal engine had finally completely given out.

Then I picked up the car.

What a difference a new battery can make. Yowza. I'd forgotten my car could feel so zippy and fun to drive. I literally giggled as I pulled away from the service station.

The next day I started writing again. I created a new blog that I'm very excited about. I'm so intrigued to see where it goes; it's more interactive. I really hope other people decide to play.

That was yesterday.

And here I am today, really writing again for the first time in ages.

This is the next step.

My engine is running again.

Let's see where it takes me now.