Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Homecoming Long Overdue

This is the longest I’ve gone between entries and I’m sure I’ve lost some of you along the way. Sorry, a lot has happened. In the last entry, I was sitting in New Orleans (NOLA) awaiting the Day of the Dead celebration with Saumya and Drew.

I was moved sharing the experience of Vodou with my friend and fellow priest Drew at such a major holiday. The ceremony packed people within the peristyle (temple) and out into the adjoining alley. Once the initial celebration ended, we capped it off with our annual walk and offerings at the cemetery.

This trip to NOLA was directly preceding a major surgery we hoped to avoid. The surgery came two weeks later – and being a major one – we holed up and worked on her recovery. This was my first impediment to ignoring my blog. There were times, moments I could have written. Others where Zelda: Skyward Sword consumed Saum’s recovery while I supported her by remembering where things were in the game. I may have spent a few hours playing myself.

For several months leading up to this, we had planned on returning to India. In The Ascetic, the Therapist, the Priest and the Possessed, you’ll recall I said it had been 10 years of ongoing surgeries since they began. It had been 10 years since I had last been in India, where this whole period started. It has been roughly 9 years for Saum herself. Way too long for both of us to be away.

Right before the surgery, I started laying the foundation for our return trip to India.

A Stacked Deck

As I tried to begin preparations for our return trip, I began to sense things were stacking against me. At work, the person meant to help me during my absence quit. The airline tickets seemed a major pain to book taking 4-5 weeks of hassle pulling them together. Saum’s recovery was progressing at breakneck speed – it was all going easy – too easy. Eventually there was a setback in her recovery.

Can you really let a dork like this go?Can you really let a dork like this go?

Then my dog Shiduri got sick, really sick, University of Minnesota school of Veterinary Medicine sick. We had to have a conversation on putting her down. It’s wasn’t that close yet, but after past experience we learned not to let the discussions wait until the last minute. In the last hours before our trip, trying to decide whether or not to cancel entirely, she recovered.

Preparing for a trip to India takes a bit of planning. There was Christmas. There was surgery recovery. There were things blocking my way. Finally everything started coming together. After one last obstacle to overcome on the way to the airport, we had one stress left – we were running late. But even that didn’t stop us. We were on our way; we were in transit!

That’s 24 hours of planes and airports. We live in a golden age.

The Return

Belvedere Vodka Christmas tree at our hotel in DelhiBelvedere Vodka Christmas tree at The Park Hotel in Delhi.

Reflected off the ceiling of our mirrored and clouded elevator at The Park Hotel in DelhiReflected off the ceiling of our mirrored and clouded elevator at The Park Hotel in Delhi.

The foothills of the Himalayas remain the same. The trees obscure a new Vodaphone apartment complex on the other side of the river.The foothills of the Himalayas remain the same. The trees obscure a new Vodaphone apartment complex on the other side of the river.
The foothills of the Himalayas on the Ganges at Rishikesh.The foothills of the Himalayas on the Ganges at Rishikesh.
So here I am returning to India almost 10 years to the day of the last time I was here, back then arriving right before Christmas in 2001. I am different. I return as a priest.

India has changed a lot since my last trek here. First, the airport in Delhi was devoid of the normal crowds of people – begging for money, demanding you ride their taxi. Delhi itself seemed transformed, cleaner. Our normal walk through Janpath to shop found some stores leveled to rubble for the pending metro stop (underground rail/subway/tube)under construction. Again, where have the crowds gone?

As we travel to Dehradun, we see the onslaught of change that occurred over the 10 years. Last visit, it was a newly minted state capitol of Uttaranchal, the state has since been renamed Uttarakhand. The road and surrounding areas that we rode horseback on, rural areas then are now housing developments, major roads. The river valley where my horse played in puddles of water in a seasonal riverbed, now sports a new bridge and road. The place seems larger, busier. It has changed.

After spending Christmas in Dehradun, we’re now with family and friends in the foothills of the Himalayans along the banks of the Ganges in Rishikesh.

So what’s next? Deep meditation? New revelation?

We may trek through the mountains. I do long for a trip back to that special spot in 24 Hours On Top Of The World. Likely not on this trip, there’s too much to do and we’re stretched too thin. Likely we’ll take a short trip into the mountains for a day, perhaps a night, then we plan on heading south. I’ve been to Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh, but never further south than that. Our objective is to head to a coastal area in the south of the country, leave family and friends behind and see temples, be warm and have time to ourselves.

We need a different kind of healing.

Travel Changes You

In 10 years, we’ve changed a lot. Many unseen, unpredictable ways. We’ve gone through some serious difficulties. We’ve practiced healing on many different levels. Now it’s time to reconnect, with ourselves, each other and this ancient divine that only India holds. OK, that may be true and untrue. The spirits of India are with us every time we pray at the altar, every time we sit to meditate, no matter what part of the world we’re in.

But it’s different here, not just because of the immersion, the intensity, but because of the spiritual presences in everything surrounding you. India, like Vodou in New Orleans, has a hum that’s almost impossible to ignore. Sure you can tune it out, if that’s the kind of person you are, but most people are caught up in it, as if it’s a wave carrying you off.

In the foothills, in the mountains, in the air, the earth, the water, the incense everything around you reminds you that you’re not alone. The spirits are everywhere. They may not even be your own, but they won’t be ignored.

If you’ve never travelled to another culture, it’s hard to understand how reality can just be – different. To travel to a place that’s foreign, especially a spiritual destination, is significantly altered from what you normally perceive the reality of existence to be. That’s the part that’s hard to describe in a blog post. How a place, a culture can show you how reality is different than what you thought of. Once you’ve passed that step, you begin to understand that reality does change more than the one I’m experiencing here in India, in Minnesota, in NOLA. Reality is malleable from one place to the next and additional travel shows you new things, new realities and existences, but like any learning you begin to realize that there is so much you still don’t understand about the world, reality and existence.

This is how travel opens the mind – one way I support my friend Drew, the Rogue Priest on his insistence with travel. One can experience it in one’s own backyard, but there is more beyond that, and beyond that and so on.

The idea is to break into a world or culture outside your own. Get into a place where you’re assumptions of the world break down. Once you’re outside your comfort zone where your original reality no longer exists, you can begin to see things differently. There’s no limit to how different things can be perceived.

I’m hoping our trip south changes me in ways I’ve never been changed before. I’ve never been to South India. Will I be able to visit temples and shrines – probably not. My skin might not be the right color for that. But even the place, the surroundings and the spirits, hum and buzz of the place will be an opener.

I can’t wait. We’ll make our plans next. We may even follow them.

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1 comment:

  1. I have to come back when my mind is fresh and read this more in depth. Just wanted to pop in and tell you that I like what I've read so far, how reading about the progress, journey, and healing you and Saum have gone through has been very inspiring! It will leave me with good dreams tonight. Happiness be with you, Sir.