My Trip To India (Part 2)
Many people who travel to India have an idea of what they are doing. I did not. I didn’t go there for yoga or a course in Ayurveda. I went there to get a dose of reality. How I was going to get that dose, I did not care. All I truly cared about was being thrown into a whirlwind of chaos so that I could come out the other side with an invigorating story to tell. For many people, this may sound like a stupid thing to do. But I think there is a fine line between stupidity and courage. And in some circumstances, I don’t know if it is possible to distinguish between the two. When it comes to this particular situation, I hate to think of myself as stupid, but it would be equally as bad to call myself courageous.
Perhaps I was acting in a way that was both stupid and courageous.
When I sit down to really think about it, hurling myself into the unknown has always been my type of “yoga.” Although there is definitely something to be gained in asanas and certain spiritual techniques, I prefer to be broken through a wall by travel, raw emotion, and the sheer potency of life. I prefer to rage into the dying of the light until my will has dissolved away. I prefer tears after a night of intense lovemaking, a trek in the woods alone, and adventures into lands I have never been to.
Because, you see, my lessons have always been in places where I am vulnerable and terrified. It’s where I am most present and intimate with experience. Its where insight beckons me forth, and perhaps more importantly, its where I am able to trust the feeling of fear.
And this is something I’d like to emphasize in this blog post: introspective fear—the fear that tends to arise in contemplation— is the finger pointing toward the moon. It is the feeling you need to die into in order for you to merge into the moment. It is only scary because there is an incredible amount of resistance from the separate self, or as it is commonly known, the ego. But it is at that precipice where the most potential lurks. That is why my good friend and first teacher, Mike Graham, emphasized the precipice in most of our conversations.
He’d say, “Preston, it is at the precipice of an emotion that you are luckiest because you can guarantee that something is going to happen.”
Certain addicts, for example, have to bottom out in order to snap out of their addiction. This may sound peculiar, but its true. When you least expect it; when the fear seems most overwhelming; when all seems dead and lost—that is when you are bound to break through to the other side.
Once the separate self is able to let go—truly let go—unity prevails. So if you want unity, listen to fear. It never fails. That is why St. John Of The Cross described the moment before his union into love as The Dark Night. When it comes to the art of contemplation, it truly is darkest before the dawn. If you do not familiarize yourself with the darkness, you will never reach the light because the darkness points toward the light.
Right then, back to India.
Patrick Rothfuss, the great fantasy writer, once said:
“Travel is the great leveler, the great teacher, bitter as medicine, crueler than mirror-glass. A long stretch of road will teach you more about yourself than a hundred years of quiet introspection.”
I can testify to the truth of this. After being on the road for nearly 6 months now, and after dragging myself out the pits of hell (trust me, there were moments where I didn’t think I’d get out), I have finally come out with a story to tell that is of value.
But there is something unique about India. When I arrived there, I felt its merciless compassion. When I stepped out the Taxi in Rishikesh, I was first of all overwhelmed by the intensity of the Gangga river, and second of all, humbled by the Holiness of the land. It speaks loudly but it comes from a quiet place. I don’t know how else to describe it. The blue, raging waters of the Gangga complimented the noise, or rather, carried it. And as I stood on the banks, gazing into that ancient river, something told me that the true essence of this land is hidden underneath the noise, only revealing itself to a cultured soul. To understand India, I had to plunge myself into its more subtle layers. Fear and resistance were not allowed.
But if you have had an authentic experience of India, you know that fear and resistance are inevitable. Whether you like it or not, they are going to bubble up to the surface. And you cannot prepare yourself for that.
I spent my first night in India at a Guest house I do not remember the name of, but the walls were cracked and the water was cold. To begin with, I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. And I started to regret the whole thing. I missed my girlfriend. I missed my tribe in Bali. I had no idea what I was doing, quite literally.
But the next day, as I walked in the dusty streets, surrounded by monkeys and chai stalls, something felt right. There was the same feeling of familiarity I experienced after reading the words of Neem Karoli Baba. To celebrate this feeling, I decided to indulge in a chai with some of the locals. When I looked into the eyes of one of the tea-makers and asked him how he was, his answer took me aback. He looked at me, and said, “Sir, I am always happy. I make the best chai in the world and I have a roof over my head.” What a staggeringly beautiful response, I thought. He was not at all weighed down by the pressure that comes with being born into a first world country, where every citizen seems to be competing against one another in order to survive. He didn’t seem to have a high IQ, and he had read no books on happiness, yet there he was—plain, simple, and happy.
If you don’t level up in a country like America, you are going to get swallowed up. No doubt, the quality of life in India is poor; but the poor are happy, relatively speaking. Do you know how beneficial that insight can be on a white privileged male such as myself, whose idea of success come from structures that really want power, recognition, and material wealth? It shifted my perspective like none else. Now that I am on the road with very few belongings, I have realized just how little I need to be happy.
And that is why travel, in my opinion, the greatest teacher: it can reveal just how conditioned you are by your culture and surroundings. What you thought of as God is entirely different in another land; your idea of success, being money and power, is shut off by a gentle stare from a poor little man making chai tea; your philosophical knowledge, which you were awfully proud of, is deemed impractical and unwise; and your dress and clothing are too tight. The only thing I have pulled out of travel that I know for an absolute fact is that I AM. Everything else is fluctuating, and everyone else has a different idea of what you think to be incontestably true.