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?"

Monday, May 16, 2011


There's a lot of press about the end of the world bearing down on us.  Whether it comes on the 21st of May or sometime in 2012, it appears that we may be on the cusp of destruction.

I have a friend who channels a Native American wise woman and this wise woman once said, "Yes, the world is headed for a cataclysm, but remember, just because everything as you know it will be destroyed doesn't mean that the outcome will be bad.  What springs from the destruction may be more wonderful than anything you can currently imagine."

As I've gone through several personal cataclysms over the last decade, I've tried to embrace this wisdom; I've tried to hold onto this hope in the midst of my dark nights of the soul.

But my dark nights keep getting darker.  And that makes it harder to hold onto the hope.

Since I've returned I've been mired in depression.  The depression is the flavor of a depression I've been battling on and off for the last several years, but now it seems bigger and more unwieldy.  I think it's made me sadder, darker, bleaker, than before because I'd hoped India had vanquished it and it is extra dispiriting to find that it was waiting very patiently for me to return.  But that also makes sense because much of my sadness and grief springs from my feelings about Seattle.

I've debated writing too much on this topic because, unlike in India where most of what and who I wrote about would be unknown to my friends reading the blog, writing about Seattle means writing about a place that so many of you know and love, and that makes sharing my feelings about it trickier.  I certainly don't want to offend anyone and I certainly don't think anyone else should share my warped feelings.

Here's the thing: I love Seattle and I loathe Seattle.  There, I said it.  Whew.

Seattle, for me, is like the boyfriend everyone says is perfect for you, but who ultimately makes you feel bored with your life and then makes you feel bad for wanting more from your life.  Seattle is like the boy next door who is handsome and strong, but lacks curiosity and passion.  Seattle is so temperate that I wonder if it even cares about or wants for anything.  And don't get me started on the passive aggression.  As I like to say, Seattle is sooooo passive aggressive that the weather follows never thunders or lightnings or even really just bathes you in a constant whining drizzle......

So, what keeps me here.  Seattle is beautiful.  It's outwardly perfect.  It's surrounded by snow capped mountains, but nestles itself next to big water.  It's green and lush and filled with beauty.  I have a gorgeous house to call my very own.  I have friends, most of whom came from somewhere else, who are passionate and curious, seekers who were drawn, like me, to the calm beauty of this place.  And I'm part of a theater community filled with talented and joyous souls that I adore working with and watching work.

I don't know.  I don't know why that isn't enough. Seattle makes me crazy because it is so wonderful and yet it doesn't thrill me.  I feel like it should thrill me.  It did, once upon a time when I was 25 and needed a place where no one pushed me or expected anything of me or needed me to do anything special.  Seattle, which lacks the mania of New York, the ambition of LA, and the aggression of Chicago, gave me all the room in the world to figure out who I am, to explore the dark spaces of myself while basking in the incredible natural scenery of the Pacific Northwest.

Unlike in India where I had to accept that privacy was in short supply, here in Seattle I retreated from much of the world and holed up in my house for the better part of two years and no one really seemed to notice.   I've made huge messy public mistakes and had a few small successes which most of my friends never knew about, because of the isolation and the inward focus that Seattle engenders in so many of us. Or maybe Seattle just enables my own innate tendency towards reclusiveness....Or maybe I'm just prone to depression and isolation which engenders further depression.

What does this have to do, you might ask with the impending end of the world?  I was reading today a personal manifesto written by a guy I really dig named D.K. Brainard.  He's an astrologer and all around advocate for personal and planetary change, he's doing his darndest to inspire people to wake up and take responsibility for not only their own energetic and spiritual health and happiness, but also for the well-being of the planet and all the creatures that call it home.  He's trying to rouse us to be conscious participants in the global sea-change which is threatening to destroy much of the old way of doing business and which holds the possibility of bringing in a a new, healthy, vibrant, ethical and empathetic way of co-existence.  You can read his manifesto, entitled "Who are you and what do you want?" here.

Like the Native American woman that my friend channels, D.K. and many spiritually inclined folk believe that we are not so much headed for a literal doomsday, but a series of potentially violent and dark events which will threaten the health and well-being of many, if not all, of us who dwell on the Earth.  And, judging by oil-spills, tornadoes, rising flood waters, it may well be that the planet itself is gearing up to join the fight.

If you don't want to read all of D.K.'s post, let me tell you this, he writes that because of the escalating darkness, the schisms between countries and factions within borders, not only do the stars say that "We are in the throes of a global identity crisis," but that he can feel it intuitively.  He talks about "the inner disconnect between our soul longings, our aspirations and the culturally programmed assumptions of who or how we should be in the world."  He says that many healers he knows have noticed that business is dropping off because so many people don't want to wake up, don't want to do the work of asking who they really are.   People are frightened of taking steps to break free from a life they don't want because it's such a giant leap of faith to trust that the life they dream of might actually materialize...that last part is my very personal interpretation of what D.K is saying.  

Though I haven't been going out and drowning my anxiety in fast food, like D.K. alludes to in his post, I have been trying my best to check out with tv and comfort food.  When the sadness became almost unbearable last week I went to the pound and adopted a little dog I've named Maisie.  She needed someone to call her own, and I needed something to love, something to wake up to, something to make me care about my day.  We are both pretty lucky, I feel.

Though Maisie gives me a reason to get out of bed, if only to let her out to pee, the depression is still sitting comfily in my house and in my soul.  It makes me feel heavy, unmotivated, and extremely disconnected.  I've become numb.

But reading D.K.'s post has given me a shot of hope.  According to him, I'm not a pathetic 41 year old woman shut up in her house with only a little dog to love, but I'm a soul that's clued into a global phenomenon; life is supposed to be throwing this darkness at me so that I can figure out how to choose to fight for my life, to become a warrior in a global revolution....

D.K. writes: 

What we’re being asked to do now is find out what we really want. The start of finding out what you want is to stop lying to yourself. If you hate your meaningless job, have the heart to speak that truth. That doesn’t mean you’ll be able to quit it today (maybe you will), but telling yourself the truth does start you on the path towards’s time to decide which side you’re on....If you don’t have the balls to fight, then go ahead and eat your McDonald’s and watch your TV and surf your Internet or whatever else you do to shut yourself away from reality and pretend the world isn’t going to hell around you.....If you are on our side, though, it’s time to make your own declaration of’s time for us to get to work.
So, what do you want out of your life?

Here's the thing....Seattle is breathtaking.  But it may no longer be the right fit for me.  That's my truth. Not because my material needs aren't being met, or because I don't have a community that I adore and that I want very much to learn and to grow and to work with, but because something in my soul dreams for more, not because Seattle is "less", but because the kind of work I'm supposed to do can't be found here.  I'm talking about Soul Work here....not necessarily actual paying job work.  Though, who knows, maybe they are one in the same.

I don't know. And I don't know what the work is.  And I don't know where I'd go if I left Seattle.  And ultimately I don't really know why I'd leave.....except for thunderstorms.

I've been saying for years to anyone who would listen that I miss thunderstorms.  I tell people that I dream of moving away if only to experience thunderstorms on a regular basis.  I'm pretty sure most of those people I told thought I was joking, or at least that I wasn't really serious.  I mean who leaves such a beautiful, temperate place for a more extreme existence?  But I mean it.  Thunderstorms make me happy.  Blissfully happy.  And I think in them lies a clue to my broader happiness.

I'm not interested in being temperate myself anymore, of being only safe, tucked into my cozy, perfectly fine life where I want for very little and where I am not needed very strongly by much of anyone except Maisie.  I'm interested in joining the revolution that D.K. speaks of, the revolution where we allow ourselves to feel more, to connect more, to express more of our true, authentic, unique and crazy selves so that when the world as we know it does come to an end, there are enough of us left standing to create a new world built not on fear and exclusion but on love and inclusion, a world where we look out for each other and our planet.  And even though that kind of revolution is fought peacefully, it requires thunder and lightening and passion and going out into the world to figure out where I can be of use, to figure out where I'm needed.

In India it was very easy to see where and when I could be and was of use.  They are a culture that thrives on interdependence.  But America is a culture that applauds autonomy and independence.  It's scary to ask for help here, and it's often considered condescending to offer help by those who need it most.  Or, maybe I'm just wired to believe those things....But I want to be of use and I think there must be someplace in America that I could thrive and help other people thrive as well.....

As we approach the end of the world as we know it, I want to put my oar in, I want to sign my recruitment papers, I want to enlist in the army of souls who are volunteering to wake up and figure out how we steer this planet towards the light.  I guess it means I'm going to have to endure a bit more of the darkness as I wend my way towards my own truth, my soul's truth.  And I may just learn that my soul is telling me it's time to start thinking about letting Seattle go.  I just pray that I don't have to set off in darkness, that if and when it is time to leave I am drawn to the next place with a clear, resounding, and joyous call. 

Padded Cell

You know those stories about explorers who can't ever settle down and get comfortable in the "real" world?  I can relate.

Not that I think I'm Indiana Jones, or anything.  But the stillness of the back to normal is very disconcerting.  My dis-ease is heightened by the gripping bouts of fatigue that hit me out of nowhere; jet-lag is a monster and this monster owns me even a week after I've landed.  I feel, at times, like I've suddenly discovered that I'm strapped to the table in some institution designed to keep me safe and, consequently, as if all that I learned and became available to in my travels were the discoveries of a mad-woman.

I continue to wake up between 4:30 and 5:30 in the morning, just as I did in Darjeeling and Varanasi where the allure of the sunrise gave the early rising an air of mystical import.  Here, in Seattle, the early hour feels like a cheat of good sleep.  I mentioned that on facebook and my friend, Truman, wrote to suggest that I might try looking at Seattle with the traveler's eye, using the early hour here to explore with my camera.  It is a wonderful suggestion, one I've carried with me for the last day as I've struggled to ignite my sense of curiosity about home, a place I think I already know the depth and breadth of.

What I notice most, right now, is the cleanliness, the affluence, the ease, not only of my own life, but of everyone around me.  Even when I was hit with a massive car repair bill three days after I returned, I was aware that, although it's a major hit to my bank account, that I have the means to pay it off when I was living, only weeks ago, with families who couldn't afford vital health care treatments that were a fraction of a fraction of the cost of my car bill.  I eat single meals in restaurants that cost what families of 5 or 6 in India eat off of for weeks.

Aditya, one of my hosts in Delhi, explained that the reason so many Indians are fastidious about the cleanliness of their homes and yards while piles of trash and filth lay just outside their gates, is that the idea of communal stewardship doesn't exist in India.  That's not universal.  I met one couple in Santiniketan who personally pay for a group of people to clean up the trash in their neighborhood and to dispose of it properly in a landfill.  Aditya works with a group struggling to save several acres of forest on the JNU campus in Delhi.  But, there is a long way to go before the general population of India cottons onto the idea of pitching in to keep their country clean.

Something else that I discovered in my last week in India was that there isn't a word in Hindi for privacy.  This also explains a lot.  I rather wish I'd known that at the top of my visit.  It's hard to have expectations of privacy when you know you are living someplace that doesn't know what it is.

But if you think about it, there is an interesting dichotomy there.  You have a huge population that has little to no physical space issues, no privacy issues, but they do not work together to care for the space that they all share.

Back home, I'm aware that we are the opposite.  Americans tend to hold their personal space and their affairs private, but we take great pride and ownership of keeping our streets and shared spaces clean.  Working in my yard yesterday, overgrown as it always is in the spring, I was aware of my duty to clean it up for my neighbors, to make sure the trash that was hiding in the brush was disposed of and the sidewalk clear of branches that might impede the flow of traffic.

And after a few days of relaxing and relishing my private space, I find I miss the intrusion of strangers when I walk down the street.  No one comes up and asks where I am from, no one returns a smile; there is a decided lack of curiosity about the things around them, which, as I've been saying, I understand.

Our western world is clean and ordered, the expectations are set-out for us about behavior and social interaction.  When we drive down the road we all know what lane we must stay in, for the most part we all put on our signals when we intend to turn left or right, we only honk in an emergency.  I would venture to guess that most of us know how our day will go, or at least guess we do and are seldom surprised.  We don't travel through our day alert of cows in the path, monkeys descending from the trees, the bag-boy at the grocery store surprising us with a mystical revelation.

We live in a world where front porches are disappearing because everyone wants to stay closed into their private spaces, which is something that had, before India, been a defining part of my character.....I was a person without a front porch who was selective about who I invited into my house, into my personal and tender spaces.  In India, I felt like my borders got teased out, softened; I felt like a soul evolving.  Existing for so long in a place where doors are always open, where the village comes out to meet you, where babies are thrust continually into stranger's arms for photographing, where you become family in an instant, made me aware of a longing I have to be a part of my world, to be involved, to be connected in a more intimate, less private sort of way.

Yet, here I am in my porchless home, feeling aimless, disconnected from both India and this life that I've known for so long in Seattle.  It's no wonder, I suppose, that I imagine myself a mad woman, because I'm caught between lives, between realities, and where I was so sure last week that I could create any reality I want, now that I am back in my so clearly defined life, I have trouble believing that that is true.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Photo Finish

Jet lag owns me at the moment.  It can take me down anytime it pleases and keep me asleep for as little or as long as it likes.  My soul and body are finding it hard to be completely in Seattle, though they are no longer in India, as well.  I seem to exist in two realms, and if I had to name those realms they would simply be "Awake" and "Asleep."

I've been forced to do stuff today.  Responsible stuff like dealing with the bank and getting my car and it's dead engine towed.  The last two boxes that I shipped from India arrived and I unpacked them and felt like, "This is it.  I'm all here.  All arrived.  My adventure is over.  Tied up. Concluded.  The End."  I left everything out on tables for the day, though, so that I can process longer, leave the door ajar till I'm ready to close it for good and all.

I've also been uploading all my photos....or at least a grand amount of them.  There are still some areas that might be flushed out a little more when I have the energy to sort through the thousands of pictures I took.  As it is, I'm afraid, should you choose to peruse, you might also find yourself hunting a bit for the gems.  I don't have it in me to go through and label who is who and all, just now.  But if you've been following along, I suspect it might be a little like a scavenger hunt and you might just be able to put names to faces and illustrations to events.

So, I'm just gonna make a list of links here to galleries.  I hope you enjoy them.  I don't know if this is the last chapter, or just the last one for a few days, a week, what have you.  But I am giving myself permission to step away and linger in the moments of reconnection here in Seattle.

Once again, your company has been invaluable.  Each comment and private message sent has been cherished and made each step of this journey more rich.  So, thank you, thank you, thank you!

Now...The pictures:


Fort Cochin

Keralan Hill Stations

Lucky and Lakshmi

The Backwaters


Hindu Village




Jaipur and Agra (The Taj Mahal)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

"Aathite Deveo Bhavya."

Being home is like returning to Oz.  I suppose that's fitting since Seattle is known as the Emerald City.  But beyond that happy coincidence, lie the magical aspects of living in one of the cleanest cities in the world, in one of the most advanced nations on the planet.

Getting drinking water from the tap, sleeping in a bed with springs, going into a grocery store and not having to wipe dust and dirt off the boxes, fruit, veggies, or swipe flies away from the meat are all rediscovered joys.  I knew how much my groceries were going to cost.  I didn't have to argue with the sales guy over using a 20 dollar bill.  I'm reveling in my home which is filled with color and beauty, not locks and tin trunks filled with God knows what.  I'm waiting patiently to go to a restaurant this afternoon to order food which will be served on plates that are unlikely to be suspect, germ-wise.

I can pick up my phone and call friends far and wide.  My Internet is lightening fast.  Texting is called "texting" and not SMSing, and I can do that too, with pictures attached if the mood strikes me.

It's amazing how giddy all of these things make me.  I literally giggled when I bought my groceries.  I said, "My BED" out loud 20 times before I could accept my good fortune and fall asleep, sound asleep, blissfully asleep, feeling as if my ordinary pillow-top mattress had been transformed into the most opulent feather bed made for the most glorious queen.

One thing has been unsettling and that is the silence.  This morning I sat at the kitchen table and felt like I was drowning in silence.  All I could hear was the ticking of the clock, and as any bad horror movie will tell you, that's a disturbing sound when left all on it's own.

I left Seattle fearful of the impending lack of silence in India, and I returned unable to comprehend the quiet.  Where are the packs of dogs barking, the sacred cows mooing, the sweepers moving dust around, the calls to prayer blaring in loud speakers, the horns announcing, the people talking, the peacocks squawking, the laundry being beaten against a rock?

In the silence of my kitchen, my espresso maker sounded like a jet plane with only the ticking clock to compliment it's song.

I haven't seen too many people yet.  The few I have all ask the same question, "How was it?"

I don't have enough perspective yet, I tell them, to deliver the summation they all seem to want...the sound bite....the elevator speech.  Going to India for three and half months might be one of those things that can't be explained in any satisfactory way to someone who hasn't been to India themselves.  Like childbirth.  Unless a miracle happens and I get pregnant sometime sooooon, I won't really ever be able to understand what giving birth feels like, physically or emotionally, or how, given the absolutely intense physical ordeal some women have, why they would do it again.

But there is one nagging loose thread that wants to be pulled.  It goes back to something I asked in my first week in India, when I wondered what this Indian idea of "duty" in relation to visitors was all about, and why does it seem so foreign.  Over the months as I was repeatedly a guest in other people's homes, I tried to unravel the mystery.  I also tried to reconcile the stubborn insistence that many Indian's had to feed me, even when I was sick, and with the absolute inability for many Indians to actually listen to what I, the guest, wanted and needed.

As chance would have it, a young Indian girl who was traveling by herself from Varanasi to Delhi befriended me at the Varanasi airport.  She had come to Varanasi to take her university qualifying exams and was on the way home.   She was obviously a very independent young person.  She is intent on being a doctor, isn't worried about marriage.  She told me how her parents were very forward thinking and how they weren't "hung up" on all the more traditional aspects of raising a daughter in India.  What they wanted from her amounted to three things: Be Helpful, Be Respectful, and Trust in Your Heart.  She said, "I don't worship God very much.  But I worship my parents."

She plied me with questions about my trip and somehow the idea of duty to visitors came up.  So, I asked her what that was all about.  She said, "We explain it as Aathite Deveo Bhavya.  It means, Guests are God.  No one knows what God looks like, so anyone could be God and should be welcomed into the house, country, our lives, accordingly."

Wow.  It's so simple.  If each person you meet could be God, then best to pay your respects, bring them sweets and food, just like they would when they go to Puja at the temple.  No wonder no one listens to what the guest actually needs.  After millennia of worshipping a pantheon of Gods, the Indian folk probably figure they've got the process down.  After all, rarely, I'm guessing, does Ganesha say to a devotee who walks up to his shrine with sweets and food, "Hey, listen, I'm really not feeling well today, so I'm afraid what I need instead of candy and biscuits is a little peace and quiet and time to sit and read a book."

The other glitch in this system, this practice of Aathite Deveo Bhavya, is the presumption that neither they themselves or the people that they encounter everyday could be God.  I mean, they don't offer the gal who sweeps their floor every morning biscuits and tea, nor do they force their mal-nutritioned cooks to partake of the amazing chicken curry that they've spent all day slaving over.  They turn their daughters into burdens, their wives into work-horses, their husbands into good-for-nothings, and their planet into a dumping ground.  But, guests are God.

As I re acclimate to the joys of western living, I find myself making sure that I take the time to really say hello to each old friend I greet, to hug them with all I've got.  Not only does it feel blissful to be able to hug and touch another human being in public, I am newly aware of how special and beautiful each of them are.  Not only have I been a guest in India for three and a half months, but India, in some respects, has been a guest in my life and heart, an entity that I tried to be respectful to, to listen to, to learn from, to be fully present with.  I want to make sure that I am engaging with my "same old-same old" life here in America with the fresh eyes and open heart that I gave to India.  I want to remember that not only are guests God, but so am I, so are you, so is this planet.

While I settle into backyard bbq's and relish the clean streets and put together quality of life in Seattle, I also want to hold onto what India taught me about our humanity, the complexity of it, the room we all have to be fragile AND strong, smart AND bone-headed, adventurous AND cautious, clean AND dirty, available AND shut away, full of grief AND filled to the brim with joy......