When my teacher, Swamiji (Swami Brahmdev of Aurovalley Ashram, Rishidwar, India), says something during satsang that he wants to underline, he says, “catch this point.” It’s a great example of a non-native English speaker using the language in a particularly creative and effective way. I have been back in Canada about six weeks since my latest trip to India, where, among other things, I spent time at Aurovalley Ashram — my favourite place on earth — learning the wisdom of integral yoga and feeling inspired by Swamiji’s complete commitment to transformation of consciousness.
So I am now home, facing a difficult life situation, and trying to “catch this point.” I am trying to process, integrate and put it into action everything I learned from my recent two-and-half-months in India. In some ways the journey begins when you get home. You realize what you’ve learned, how much you’ve changed, and how differently you now see the world.
The main points I am trying to catch are:
1. I am largely, if not exclusively, the creator of the difficult situation I now find myself in. The fact that some of the decisions I made that led me to this place were largely unconscious, and driven by fear and/or grief, does not let me off the hook. I am responsible for my life.
2. The “answer” to my dilemma will not come from outside; it must come from within, from an increase in my conscious awareness.
3. This situation, though it is causing me to suffer, is a gift; it is a chance to learn, to grow to become more aware. The appropriate — and most positive, useful — response is to be grateful for this opportunity.
In other words, instead of buying and downing the expensive ice cream bar last night, I came home and lay on the floor and did some deep, conscious breathing. I allowed myself to breathe into my fear and anxiety. Then I fell asleep and dreamt I was trying to cross a busy street with no streetlights or barriers of any kind, and cars were rushing towards me in the gathering dark with their headlights off. Almost halfway across, I ran back to the safety of the curb. It seems like as good a metaphor for the activities of the subconscious as any!
Awareness is the key
Every good teacher I have ever known teaches awareness. Last night I saw a man wearing a T-shirt that read “There is nothing that beer can’t fix.” My T-shirt would read, “There is nothing that awareness can’t fix.”
As always, I did a lot of healing and becoming more aware when I was in India. For one thing, I have a new awareness of myself as a middle-class person. I realize I was born a card-carrying member of middle-class Canada. It’s like being in an exclusive club — a bubble. You get a lot of benefits along with a deeply etched worldview about how things should be. You expect a lot from society and the world at large, and use your status as bubble insider to protect you from the harsh realities of life.
But my travels in India, the recession and my own current life situation have served to pop the bubble — or at least, make it a lot more transparent. It’s very hard for me to actually imagine what it’s like to face the world without a family, three good meals a day, a safe and comfortable home, a credit line, a university degree — all of the props of middle-class life. Like so many others, I have been essentially living beyond my means, certain in the assumption that my middle-class world will support and rescue me. And this is something I now have to face.
Life outside the bubble
But what do people do when they don’t carry the middle-class card and don’t have all of its exclusive privileges? How do they live with no recourse to credit or hope of landing a well-paying job?
It’s not easy to travel in a place like India where you have to confront poverty, social inequality and disparity. It’s not easy to be a “conscious tourist.” It’s not easy to not let it affect you. In fact, I would feel a lot worse if it DIDN’T affect me. I am glad it is changing me and making me more conscious and I hope more compassionate, empathetic and responsible. That’s the reason I go to India, really. I learn as much about the process of self-discovery from travel in India as I do from studying yoga at the ashram with my guru. And that’s as it should be.
And I’m not the only one who thinks awareness is the key.
I am looking forward to reading a new book by Austin, Texas-based author Shelley Seale called The Weight of Silence: The Invisible Children of India. Shelley and I met online, and I participated in an online Q&A she did last week with the Voluntary Traveler on Facebook. You can read the transcript here.
Shelley has traveled extensively in India, researching her book and volunteering at orphanages run by The Miracle Foundation. With this book, she hopes to give voice to the many children in India who are homeless, abandoned, orphaned, poor or in some other way lost between the cracks of society.
Someone asked Shelley what can we do? She answered: “There are many things that people can do, from really small and easy to the big things. I think sometimes these problems seem overwhelming, insurmountable really, because they seem so huge and anything we could do seems a drop in the bucket. But Mother Theresa once said that each of us might just be one drop in the ocean, but if that one drop wasn’t there, it would be missed.
We can’t all abandon our entire lives to go work in the slums of Calcutta, but there are lots of little things that are easy to do, and if enough people did them, would make an incredible difference.
The first step is awareness, and everyone who is on this discussion or reads it is already there, and I thank you. It’s a huge thing, just right off the bat, for ordinary people who aren’t affected by these things directly to simply CARE. And spread that awareness on to other people.”
Another project I learned about recently on the Internet that also stresses awareness was started by Amanda Koster. Salaam Garage “leads trips that combine cultural immersion travel with citizen journalists (that means you) collaborating with NGOs around the world.” She is leading a trip to Jaipur, Rajasthan, India in September. It’s a great idea.
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