Feb 15, 2015

India: Spanning the Human Emotions

During my two weeks in India on a journey of self-discovery, I felt like I must have gone through every possible emotion. Which got me wondering, if I did, in fact, go through the entire spectrum of human emotion. I asked a therapist friend if there was a standard list of human emotions, but she never answered. So, I did what anyone would do, I asked Google.  I found a few websites that listed the below as the rainbow of human emotions…therefore it must be true, right? Either way seems like a good place to start.

Here’s my [long] alphabetical journey through emotional highs, lows and everything in between from Mumbai to Udaipur to Vrindavan.

Acceptance: A lot of this trip (as I’ll mention throughout) was spent working through the loss of Grams and what death really means. There was a lot of searching. There still is a lot of searching. There may always be a lot of searching. But for a moment, in Vrindavan, I accepted what was.

Vrindavan was the last of our stops. They say that if you hug a tree there, whatever you wish for will come true. So after two weeks of praying, hoping and grieving for things surrounding Grams, I hugged a tree and wished more than anything that I could know if she’s okay. A voice inside me said, “You can never know that.” And in that moment, I knew deep down that this was the truth, I accepted it and was at peace with it.

Affection: This one was instant. As soon as I met my fellow travelers, I loved them. I met the first two ladies in JFK, and because of them, I had buddies to spend the night with in Dubai. By the third day of the trip, I felt like I had known these people forever. Each and every one of them will always hold a special place in my heart.

Aggression: Okay, so maybe I didn’t cover each of the emotions, but I think in this case, that’s a good thing.

Ambivalence: There were honestly a couple of times I could have gone either way on visiting another temple. But in the end, I was always happy with the excursions and all that they offered.

Apathy: There were one or two mornings when, exhausted from travel, I just couldn’t drag myself out of bed in the wee hours of the morning to practice yoga or sit through satsang. Luckily, more often than not, this was not the case.

Anxiety: Right before I left for India, my boyfriend was reading an article about airlines that don’t meet FAA regulations, making them (obviously) airlines you’d want to avoid. Air India was at the top of the list. So flying from Mumbai to Udaipur on an Air India jet was not the most fun two hours for me.

Our long bus rides were pretty fun. We talked, we sang, we had satsang. But after several days of long bus rides, the long stretches could get a little boring. Much like apathy, luckily, more often than not, this was not the case.

Compassion: Compassion was another one of those feelings that pretty much was a constant throughout the trip. I felt compassion for any of the struggles anyone in our group was going through. I felt compassion for the poor children who begged us for rupies. I felt compassion for all of the puppies whose ribs were showing through their fur. I felt compassion for my sick roommate. I felt compassion for all of the children who don’t have enough to eat. When you’re practicing bhakti and putting others first, compassion is something that is just part of the territory.

Confusion: There was generally always some level of confusion. Where are we going? What did he say? What day is it? Is Vishnu eternal or not eternal? Where did I put my sunglasses? Can I drink that? Can I eat that? Is that really a bathroom?

Much like aggression, this isn’t something I came across in my two weeks in India.

Depression: I don’t take the word depression lightly. So, I’ll say there were moments of sadness. Wait, is sadness on the list? Nope, okay, so I can leave it here. I was definitely sad on the morning on January 30th, remembering that two years ago that day I watched Grams pass from this world. I was sad seeing my new friends cry as they opened their hearts to the group. But the saddest I was during the trip was when I had to say my goodbyes. These people became my family for two weeks and somehow, even though there was an end date, I didn’t feel like it would ever really end. I know that most of the people I’ll keep in touch with, so in that sense, it never will end. But disbanding our little traveling group of bhaktis was sad to see. 

Doubt: Looking back, there was more doubt than I realized. Part of me thought I would find God on this trip. Seeing how devoted people are to their deities, temples, traditions and beliefs was awe-inspiring. It made me wonder if I have that in me. Have I not found which version of God speaks to me, or will I not be able to find God? Do I believe in it, but just have a hard time giving it a name?

It’s said that Vrindavan, one of the holy cities in India, has to let you in. Being there, I wondered if I should be. Was I worthy? Did I deserve to be there? Was this strange feeling I had in my chest the town trying to push me out?

I also doubted if I could ever be a could teacher; if I could memorize Sanskrit; if I could be as good of a friend to the people I met there as they were to me. But I think the thing about doubt is, if you can look at it head on, it makes you dig deeper, try harder and explore more.

Everyone I met had their own stories and their own struggles. I felt for each and every one of them.

Envy: This is not something I should have felt on the trip, and I don’t even know that I’d go so far as to say I felt envy, but there were moments when I wished I had been able to dress better like others, or had the grace of others, or had the skill of others. But the good thing, I think, is that all of those moments were constructive. Seeing qualities in others that I liked, made me want to be a better version of myself, be more dedicated to my practice, more patient, more well-rounded. Life is all about growing and learning, right?

Embarrassment:  I guess I really didn’t encounter this one either, but one instance that came close was when I used a shower as a bathroom on the side of the road because I thought it was just a really bad toilet system.

Ecstasy/Euphoria: It was our second day at Govardhan Eco Village. It was also the second anniversary of Grandma’s passing. I had dedicated the day to her.  The still-in-progress yoga room is nestled at the bottom of the mountains and is lined with windows, so I could watch the sun rise over the mountains during the morning practice.

As the sun began to rise, I was the most present I had been in a long time. I breathed in, taking in that I was in India and that, at the moment, all was right in my life. Grams had led me on this journey, to that place, and I was surrounded by nothing but good energy and love. And it became completely overwhelming. I likened to it the same feeling you get if you’ve ever taken ecstasy; that moment when you feel every cell in your body light up, come alive and become bathed in love and happiness. I looked at my surroundings, my new friends and I cried tears of absolute pure joy.

Part of the trip was learning to say you’re sorry when you should and to ask for forgiveness. So, more than me coming to any sort of epiphany on the trip about something I should forgive, I focused on my actions towards others. And took steps to apologize for things that I shouldn’t have done, or even impressions I may have given.

Sure there are things you can get frustrated about in India. But you have to learn to roll with it. I distinctly remember being frustrated on two occasions. I’m sure there were more, it is me, after all, but here are a couple. One was ending up in a department store in Mumbai trying to find clothes for the flower festival. Just leaving a few days on a farm and being planted in a busy city shopping in a department store playing American music was a quick way to kill the pilgrimage vibe. Especially after trying several things on and none of them fitting and local women cutting me in line for the fitting room. But my friends came to the rescue, found something my size and saved the day.

A second moment was at the end of the beautiful flower festival. The flower festival was unlike anything I have ever been to. It was filled with love, fun and the excitement of being a child playing in the fall leaves. Towards the end, though, I started to feel like I was at a rock show and was getting tossed around and pushed out of the way so that a few people could take pictures or snap a selfie. All that is fine, but there could have been a bit more “excuse me’s” and less pushing. But hey, things can get a little chaotic when you’re playing in several tons of flower petals.

Gratitude: Every moment of this trip was filled with gratitude. I was so grateful for the opportunity to take this trip that it spilled over into everything else. I was grateful for literally every one I met, from my fellow travelers to the Hare Krishnas to the children to the bus drivers. I was grateful for the food. I was grateful for hot water and drinking water. I was grateful for my friends back home who supported me and encouraged me to take the trip. I was grateful for the cows that carried us dinner. I was grateful for rooftop yoga, sunrises and moonrises. I’m grateful I got to see how happy Eryk was at the flower festival, that I got to hear Jo sing on the bus one last time, that I got to take a class led by Linda. Just…everything.

I discovered mid-journey that I’m still very much dealing with the loss of Grams— that I’m still looking for her, for a way to connect with her. So there were some definitely moments of grief. We had a ceremony on Lake Pushkar in which I tried to reach out to her, with grief weighing heavy on my heart.

Guilt: As part of the “forgiveness” practice, I identified moments in which I could have maybe been a better friend, a better daughter, a better girlfriend. Those moments carry guilt with them, which is exactly why we seek forgiveness.

Hatred: Not an ounce of this existed in my world.

Hope: Two of the big question marks in my life are, where am I going to work and where am I going to live? Getting some 8,000 miles of distance allowed me to get a lot of clarity on where I see myself ending up. And with that clarity brought hope.
Okay, this wasn’t horror, but it’s the closest on the list to “invasion of personal space.” In India, if you’re not Indian, you’re going to stand out. That we did. Everywhere we went people wanted to take pictures with us, which was strange, but mostly fine. We were, after all, taking pictures of them, so it seemed fair. But one day, a man asked to take a picture with me and at the last moment grabbed my waist, pulled me in close and pressed his cheek against mine for the photo. Aside from just generally being inappropriate, I’ve had issues with personal space in the past and this quickly brought that need for a protective bubble back. It lingered with me for a few days, which bothered me, and even made me feel a little na├»ve for not knowing better or saying no or waiting for someone else to be around. So going forward, I politely declined all requests for photos.

Hostility: Another big negative emotion that didn’t exist during my two weeks in India.

Homesickness: Going into the trip, one of my biggest fears was that I’d get there and feel homesick. I never did. I missed being able to use tap water or go to a bathroom and know that there would be toilet paper, but those were minor things that I quickly became used to and adjusted for.

Standard Indian lunch
Hunger: I didn’t realize hunger was an emotion. But this list says it is; so it shall be. I ate a lot in India. Like, a lot. I think it was part excitement, part the food being so amazing and part completely vegetarian diet leaving me wanting food every few hours. I was never hungry, but I always felt, “Hey, I could eat.”

Probably the closest I came to hysteria was when I got to JFK to leave for the trip. I had been nervous about going to India for weeks. But there I was, leaving a day early to try to beat a blizzard, alone, about to embark on the biggest trip of my life and was pretty much freaking out. Plus I hate flying. And I really hate flying in bad weather. As I sat on a bench just past security watching the weather grow increasingly worse, I cried my eyes out trying to wrap my head around what I was about to embark on. It reminded me of the time my dad dropped me off at Girl Scouts and at the last minute I didn’t want to go, so I stood in the doorway crying my eyes out, yelling for him to come back and get me, but it was too late, he didn’t hear me and there I was stuck. So, there I was, stuck at JFK, trying to find the strength to collect myself and make myself get on that airplane. Thank you to my two angels Jen and Laura who, without, I’m not sure I could have gotten on that plane.

This was constant. Being surrounded by so many new people, new settings, new colors, new smells, new sounds, new animals, new traffic patterns, new religions…how could you not spend even one moment being interested in what’s around you.

I spent 16 days surrounded by people. My dad and my brother picked me up from the airport after the trip and brought me home. Boyfriend was away for work, which I thought would be a good opportunity for me to take a couple of days to decompress and process the trip. But when my dad shut my front door behind him and the quiet set in, I realized, for the first time in weeks, I was completely alone. And boy, did I not like it.

Just like interest, compassion, and gratitude, love is something that I was constantly feeling and always surrounded by. How many people can say that they’ve had that for even a few days—constant love and support? I was blessed enough to have it for 16 days.

Who knows what kind of creatures live in India. My first few days were spent at the Eco Village. After our first night, Linda told a story about an encounter with a hissing creature of some sort that she had to free from her garbage can in the middle of the night. So there was always a question as to what would be waiting for us in our rooms. The last night there, I was awaken but a buzzing that came super close to my ear causing me to sit up in a panic thinking some sort of flying whatnot was about to try to eat my face. Turning on the light, I couldn’t see anything, so I thought maybe it was a dream and laid back down. But the buzzing came back. With the lights back on, I still didn’t see anything. So I laid down again. Then I thought maybe it was coming from outside. Then I remembered the movie “Brokedown Palace” and thought maybe the bug was in my ear. After confirming for myself I didn’t have a bug in my ear, I gave up and accepted that I was just awake now at 3 a.m. Eventually I saw the bug. It was a tiny gnat. Then I was just impressed that the tiny little guy could make so much noise.

See compassion.

Pleasure: There were so many things on this trip that caused me pleasure, lots of big life-changing things and lots of little things. So let me share one of the smaller, non-living changing things. Towards the end of the trip after eating nothing but India food (which was delicious) for nearly two weeks, we had a chance to order Mexican, Italian, or American food. All that is just fine, but what gave me immense pleasure at that meal was the dessert. I had chocolate pie that night and it made me very, very, happy.

Pride: I had a moment of pride when after telling myself, “I WILL learn these Sanskrit versions,” I finally memorized two of them.

Not on this trip. Though definitely on my Turks & Caicos trip.

Regret: Yet another negative emotion I didn’t really come across. Hooray for not having negative emotions!

I touched base with home when I could while I was away. One of the last days my boyfriend informed me that his boss put “No Parking” stickers on my windshield when he brought my car to work with him and that while he got the sticker off a lot of glue remained. I got off the phone, told the story to my lovely roommate and ended with, “Ugh I hate people.” To which she said, “Aw, come on now.” And she was right. I regretted letting the words escape my mouth, because it’s not true. It was a moment of frustration for something I’d have to deal with when I got home and nothing more.
We were surrounded by so much love and support for two weeks, there wasn’t room for the type of behavior that would cause me to feel shame.

The only suffering I endured was at the airport in JFK. The self-imposed suffering for letting my mind run a muck. But so much suffering is caused by the mind, isn’t it?

see compassion.

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