When I tell people that I'm going for three and a half months, they inevitably ask me what I'm going to India FOR, what am I doing to DO there. My response is always, "I'm going to see India. Or at least a small part of it." Sometimes I'll explain that it's a "calling". But usually I just stop with, "I'm going to see India."
That is the simplest, truest answer. But just as folks asked me if I was going to Europe "for work or pleasure" a few years ago, people, in their search to understand my quest, tend to try to categorize the reason I might be going to India. Usually they offer such boxes as "Yoga?", "Meditate?", "Live in an Ashram?", before they get to "Work?", or "Fun?"(for some reason people rarely associate "Pleasure" with India). When I wrote about fielding that question before going to Europe, I talked then, as I have here in the past week, about being "called" to travel. But if you read between the lines of that post, you might recognize that I suspect the trip to Europe will turn out to be a great deal of "Pleasure." And, it was.
My impending journey, on the other hand.....I suspect this trip is very much about "Work."
Starting on a clearly superficial level, let's examine the energy it is bound to take just to be in India for 102 days without a time-out. I'm a person that is used to my alone time. I need it. When I was in high school I used to ask my mom to go to the movies sometimes just so I could have the house to myself. All I would do is watch tv, or read a book, but somehow just having one other person in a seven room house felt like too much of an invasion of my personal space. I get sensorially overwhelmed in Fred Meyer if I haven't had the perfect amount of beauty rest. I sleep with ear-plugs, a noise machine, a fan for more white noise, and a pillow over my ears and that while I live on an incredibly quiet street with house-mates that tend to be asleep before me insuring there will be little banging around to wake me up. And now I am getting ready to go to one of the most over-populated countries in the world. It's chock-a-block full of people. Filled to the gills. And all those people make sound, fill the streets and, soon, the edges of my personal space. And I don't think Fred Meyer has anything on the sights, sounds, smells that are going to flood my senses in a constant stream once my plane touches down in Mumbai.
For the last month or so, I've been thinking of that quote above...."No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow"...especially when I wake up, my head cradled by 7 insanely well worn down pillows, on a pillow-top bed, feeling like a princess. Every picture of every hotel bed in India that I can afford looks only slightly more luxurious than a straw mat. Ok, I'm exaggerating. But they tend to be very thin mattresses with one very anemic looking pillow.
I miss my bed already.
But whenever I start to grieve for the soon to be separation from my bed, my thinking expands to a slightly less superficial realm. I begin imagining all those souls I will encounter who have no pillows, no beds, no walls to shut the world out when they sleep, eat, go to the bathroom. My mind wonders how in the world I will process (sensory overload aside) the devastating poverty, sickness, filth, and desperation that I've been told to expect.
My friend Jane related a quote from a teacher of hers who said something like, "India will either make you insane or crack your heart wide-open." I believe it. And I believe that any place that has that power will take a great deal of energetic work to navigate it without going crazy. And it will take a great deal of courage to let India into my psyche, to let my heart crack wide-open.
I guess what I'm going to be "doing" in India is learning how let go of what I think I need in order to be comfortable, challenging myself to see India as it is (thanks Zach) without going crazy, making peace with the mosquitoes and the constant stimulation and the massively challenging socio economic disparity, not just between how I live and so many people live in India, but between how so many Indians live in relative opulence while millions of their countrymen live, sanctioned by the caste system, hand to mouth in filth I cannot imagine. I will be working to understand a culture that is so vastly different than my own without trying to impose my needs and beliefs and worries and sensitivities onto a people that are pretty ensconced in their own needs, beliefs, worries and sensitivities.
In the midst of all of this I will get to see some pretty cool things, hopefully I'll ride an elephant, take some pretty pictures, and do all those things that tourists do for "fun". But I need to make it clear that this trip feels like a job to me. A job assigned to me by my soul. A job that will be hard, challenging, exhausting and, hopefully, very very rewarding.