“A mind stretched by new experience can never go back to its old dimensions” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
When I returned from my ten month trip to India, I can’t explain how it changed me. Not for the better. Not for worse. Just changed. If I wanted to change back, I couldn’t if I tried.
I went to south east Asia to experience the culture of yoga and meditation in the land where it all started. And I discovered that, at least from my perspective, it’s our North American interpretation of these experiences we’ve brought home to our continent. The natives there have come to it from a different way of being. There’s lifetimes and lifetimes of teachings that are near impossible for us to learn from our standpoint of a culture that’s evolved so differently.
And I didn’t meet a guru who wasn’t less messed up than me. This idea alone taught me something about myself. I realized I had been thinking that there is a place to ‘be’, to attain.
I lived in a Buddist farming community where they didn’t know what meditation was. What I did learn from them was what I needed. It dispelled the idea of Buddism. It opened up more questions. Did you know that there’s four main denominations within this one ‘religion’ and there’s many guidelines of which one is to live their life? These are not the things I learned from my Buddist farmer friends, but they are things that I learned while observing the culture. It seemed to be like all other institutions, or denominations within Christianity anyway.
It became obvious to me that once any institution was in existence for some time, it ends up being controlled and contrived by humanity. This is the kind of conversation foreigners would have when sitting back after travelling for a bit and realizing that what we thought we were coming to find, ended up being quite a different lesson. A sort of irony. And one I was actually quite relieved to know. Similar to communities in North America, I wondered if my farmer friends felt judged by their peers, neighbours and society. But I would never have the opportunity to discuss such a subject. Our conversations in the mud farm house were never anything past the simple things.
Making coffee and rice for everyone was the highest I ever graduated in responsibility. Other than that, it was doing dishes, laundry, and collecting dung to burn from the surrounding mountains. My favourite tasks were walking the family ‘Jersey’ cow or the dzo brothers to fresh grass. The coffee making was my initiative. Family members’ excitement never seemed to dwindle when I’d deliver this novelty beverage. I’d use the milk I milked from the family cow combined with Nestle’s instant coffee from town. This was by initiative and action more than it was by words. But these lessons I learned are not what I would‘ve predicted would be the experiences that would be my teachings. I thought it was going to be from attending classes or reading books.
I often think of the family who took me as one of their own and taught me things, despite that I spoke little of their language. I wonder why they trusted me so easily. While there, I learned about two hundred words, whatever was in my Ladakhi-English dictionary. I could get by if I got lost. But universal language was far more important. I think this is why we trusted one another so completely. We were learning things about one another, about relationships. About humanity.
Maybe I would’ve been ‘stretched’ by an experience of any culture, but I felt at home in many places throughout northern India. And I believe that it’s this comfort that helped me experience such vast differences. They would say I was adaptable. I was lucky because there was a young woman in the family who taught at a school. As a result, she spoke more english than probably most people in the little town. I can’t remember what word she used, but we often would use my Ladahki-English dictionary to communicate when she came home from teaching. But I don’t think it was adaptability. I think that it was more like for some reason I just suited the place.
After years of being a ‘slow learner’ in grade school and spending too many years trying to prove to others that ‘learning disabled’ people are smart too, I was taking a big leap out of that label during this trip. I finally accepted the fact that it is far more important to learn, no matter how long it takes. All my worrying and being self conscious had got in the way for too long. I learned on this trip is that it is the essence of the experience. Fully and completely.
We are all going through our own stuff, at our own pace, in our own way. And that wherever we are, experience is good.