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?"

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Home is.....?

I'm sitting on the veranda looking out onto the dirt road that I temporarily live on.  There are houses to my left and right and straight ahead.  There's also a surprising number of trees for such a dry and dusty climate: palm, eucalyptus, mango, and several that I cannot identify.  In the yard across the road is the tallest tree on my block.  It doesn't have any leaves, but it has lots of bright red blossoms that are keeping several small birds occupied at the moment.

On Thursday morning the tree was twice as heavy with flowers.  Chandana had joined Barbara, Eva and me for a last leisurely breakfast.  While we sat chatting, there was a terrible ruckus across the way.  Several of the leafy trees were swaying violently as if they were in some kind of cartoon storm where a single cloud wreaks havoc in the isolated area of it's shadow.  Then, one by one, 10 large monkeys emerged out of the lower vegetation and began climbing the red flowered tree.  It's branches began to sway and buckle and jump, red petals dropped like violent snow.

Most of the monkeys were happy to stay up in the high branches.

One giant critter, however, decided to get a closer look at us, so he came down and sat on the fence across the way.

"This," I remarked, "is something that would never ever happen back home!"

Yesterday, when my friends went off to Calcutta and left me to my peace and quiet, I relished the simple pleasure of making my own schedule and not having to account for my time to anyone, a pleasure I've happily abandoned in favor of good company and many exciting adventures over the last 6 weeks.

Today, however, facing another whole day to myself, I awoke with a familiar disquietness.

As we all know by now, you can leave a place behind, but you can never leave yourself behind.

Over the years I've struggled with deep feelings of loneliness which is something not many people can see or accept about me because I've become so adept at presenting a happy exterior.  I also work really hard at finding the good even in the bad, so when I am going through hard times I legitimately tend to fare better than some other people might in similar situations.  But that doesn't mean I don't feel pain, hurt, sadness, as completely as other people do.  I've come to process all that on my own, though, away from almost everyone who doesn't know me really really well.

I've also done a lot of soul searching and unearthing of experiences, memories, emotional firestorms that formed an underground river of self-doubt and grief.  This has created a sort of see-saw effect during the last couple of years.  Through the excavation of that hidden valley, I've come to know myself as a truly strong, independent woman, who knows what is lovable, worthy, valuable about herself and her life, but I've also been stopped in my tracks by geysers of existential despair that have bubbled up, unexpectedly crumpling me, giving me real moments of pause about what it is that makes walking on this planet worthwhile especially when faced with global warming, deniers, Sarah Palin, birthers, oil spills, tea-partiers, greedy politicians, health care opponents, etc. etc. etc.....

The really lovely thing about these periods of angst is that all the soul-searching has paid off in one amazing shift in consciousness: I can quickly diffuse the old voices that try to convince me that I'm the problem, that I'm not good enough, thin enough, talented enough, strong enough, beautiful enough, lovable enough and that's why I'm unhappy, why I don't work more in theater, and why I'm single and know all those demon thoughts that can barrage a person when they are feeling down.  We've all got our own particular favorites.  But I've developed a good grasp on why I'm pretty great just the way I am....for example, being single allows me the space to be on this trip, having spent so much of the last ten years single has given me the courage to do it on my own .

By learning to diffuse the really destructive thoughts, and after weeding out all the fear and anger I share with so many of you about the state of our country and our planet, I am left with one nagging threat to my personal happiness:  I almost always feel on the outside of things, separate, slightly alien, even from my family, my friends, and the theater community I've worked in for 14 years.  I often find myself saying, even as I sit in my own living room in Seattle, "I want to go home."  I have no idea where this "home" is that I want to go to,  just that I haven't found it yet, that place where I belong.  Dr. Kumar said in the hills of Kerala, "You are the  most peculiar kind."  I feel that.  And I know that keeps me a little removed, a perception that is enhanced, I realize, by turning my back on my regular life and traipsing off to India for 3 and a half months alone.

It might be too late to convince you that this isn't a post about feeling depressed.  You might already have me pegged with a "Poor Me" sign floating above my head.  It's not true.  I'm not depressed; I feel pretty darn lucky right now.  It's just that I awoke feeling like seedlings of depression were taking root and I wanted to investigate where they came from before the "Poor Me" tears started to flow, making the blues grow into towering trees of doom.

It has to do with those monkeys and Thursday, that's when the seeds got tossed and tilled into the soul, I mean, soil.  The time I'd spent so far in Santiniketan had me feeling like that red flowered tree across the street, like I'd erupted in flames of blossoms.  Barbara, Eva, Chandana and I had all been working and living well together, discussing ways to help this small part of the world be a little stronger, while also letting it teach us how to be stronger, healthier. I was feeling part of a team, part of a plan, part of a town in a way I rarely feel "part of" anything.  I'd begun using my skills in a way that had me vibrating with usefulness.  I wasn't fighting to put put my skills to use, auditioning, proving myself, begging for work the way actors do in the states.  I said to Eva back in Fort Cochin, "I'm an actress and a writer....well, a storyteller."  And she said, "Oh, my God, you should come with us.  We could really use you."  She didn't look at me skeptically, ask me to get up and do a monologue to earn admission to the team.  All I had to do was say, "Yes.  Ok.  Thanks.  I'll come."

Thursday afternoon, Chandana took Barbara and me on a walking tour of the Santiniketan campus which felt like a ghost town at 2:30.  That's something I'm only starting to get used to here.  Everything closes up and hides itself away from one till 5, including the people.  It's too hot to be out and about.  It was still very disconcerting to be on a college campus where 5 to 6 thousand people are meant to be studying and to see, at most, 15 people wandering on the grounds.  I began to wonder if I'd made a dreadful mistake committing to staying here for a month.  What if there ended up being nothing to do or to see, no one to meet.  What if, after Barbara and Eva left, I was stuck in a sort of limbo, alone, useless, adventurless, like that campus mid-afternoon?

Everything changed when we arrived at a cluster of buildings that house various sections of the art school.  Nothing was particularly remarkable about them with the exception of some sculptures and frescoes that made them stand out from the sand colored buildings and roads that make the rest of the campus seem like an endless, people-less expanse of light brown dirt and dust.  But, honest to goodness, the energy shifted.  There was a life force that bubbled up from the ground.  I had to fight back tears.

I said, "Oh, dear, I feel like I'm going to cry."

Chandana said, "That's because you know you are coming home."

Isn't that something?  What a powerful and bold thing to say to someone halfway around the world from where she normally lives.  Chandanda didn't hesitate.  She just looked at me and said it.

She was right.

Oh, heck.  I don't know how she was right, just that she was speaking the truth.

Is it Santiniketan that is home?  India?  Is it simply being amongst artists that brings me home?  When I am doing a play, I hardly ever feel lost or alone.  In Fort Cochin, I was aware of a peace that enveloped me at the Kathakali shows....I was amongst my people.

But it is more than that, I sense.  It is entwined with a feeling of purpose, of usefulness, even though I don't know what the plan is yet for my work here now that Barbara and Eva are gone.

Since Friday I've felt like that tree after the monkeys came and jumped all over the branches, a little thread bare, sparse, waiting for the leaves to grow.  I have no idea why this place I'd never heard of a month ago has suddenly become so very important to me, potentially to my very well-being.  I don't know what kinds of fruits the other seeds I'm learning to harvest and cultivate will grow, but I'd like to learn.  I'm tired of chopping down the tangled trees of depression.  Thankfully, today, the seedlings have been stunted before they got too big to handle.

Tomorrow I'm going to Kolkata for a few days to see Nicole so that Chandana can have some space to organize our project with the village gals.

On Tuesday I come back to Santiniketan, which means"peaceful abode" and continue my studies in Coming Home.

1 comment:

Tina Rowley said...

Oh, angel, this is beautiful.

I relate to it extremely. I feel just the same. I carry that outsiderness even if I'm surrounded by people and absorbed and welcomed into communal activity. I know that feeling to my bones, share it. And, oddly, I bet that's one of the things that connects us. And yes, I know what you mean also about art/artists and feeling the most at home among them.

I love that you are getting a taste of home there in Santiniketan. And I love you so, so much, my soul sister.

So much.