I’ve been back in California since the middle of January and still find myself hovering between two states of being, two landscapes, two worlds.
After leaving the ashram in Amritapuri i spent the night three hours away at a hotel in Trivandrum. The following evening i boarded a Silk Air fllight bound for Singapore. My departure from India was not as smooth and carefree as i would have enjoyed. I tend to get triggered when faced with government/military personnel inspecting my documents three times within approximately a hundred feet and then again five times as i went through immigration and security. I kept wanting to remember that they were meeting needs for protection and safety, and tried to come back to my intention to relax and go with the flow. Unfortunately it was one of those days when my irritation was just gonna hang on for the ride. The more impatient i felt, the slower they seemed to go and the closer attention they gave my passport and visa! Finally, after my carry on was searched three times for nail clippers i got passed the inspection and found myself facing the chai cart in that kind of ‘no where’ zone between security and plane. Ah yes those little cups with piping hot chai. Bring it on! My last cups of chai in India for now, and i savored them as i experienced the usual burn on my tongue. By the time i got on the plane i was ready to fall asleep. I was thrilled to remember to tell the flight attendant to not wake me up for dinner. It was the first time i have ever done that! I slept until just before we landed at Changi airport in Singapore. It was around 5:30 in the morning and i went straight to the transit hotel, found my room and got horizontal. Stretching out like that is such a delicious feeling after four plus hours on a plane. It’s like my whole body just lets out this huge sigh of relief.
In the afternoon i strolled around the airport. I had several hours before my flight to San Francisco. And oh my God there i was, in the bright lights, all the shopping one could possibly imagine! From cosmetics, to electronics, to clothes, all kinds of food, duty free stuff… What an overwhelm. And there in the midst of it all … Starbucks! The lattes, cappuccinos, mochas… the Starbucks in Changi was like a gate between two worlds. Clearly i was no longer in Kerala, at least not the Kerala that i know. To temper all this there are semi hidden, softly lit rest areas with reclining chairs, trickling water and lots of fern like plants. A refuge amongst the onslaught of commercialism. A place to hang out and try to bridge the transition from India to California. And then there are the orchids. In Changi there is an orchid garden in both terminals 2 and 3. I always look forward to standing amongst these most amazingly beautiful flowers. Cutie, my faithful traveling companion loves visiting this place and she insisted that this time i take her photograph.
The flight from Singapore to San Francisco is around seventeen hours including a quick one hour pit stop in Hong Kong with yet another, this time smooth and easy, walk through security. And even in my exhaustion i had an awareness of where i was “oh yeah, Hong Kong, China, students protesting, wanting self determination, the right to choose their representatives in government, social activism…” I paused to celebrate their courage. And then back on the plane, this flying capsule that holds us way up there, around forty thousand feet, for what seems like never ending hours. I try not to go to “I don’t think it is healthy for our bodies to spend all these hours at this altitude. I know how compressed a half full plastic water bottle looks at the end of the journey….” Sleep, movie, read, walk, stretch, eat, sleep… nine hours to go! That’s like flying from California to Paris! Interminable! Read, eat, sleep…
When i finally arrive in San Francisco and am sitting in my friend’s car driving away from the airport i have passed through the twilight zone and come out into a whole different world.
The next morning the first thing i notice is the silence…. no more loudspeakers that carry chants from across the backwaters, the cacophony of birds is no longer heard and there is a strange absence of sound. It is eerie. It is dark outside. At six o’clock in the morning the sun has not yet risen. I feel so disoriented. I have grown accustomed to being woken up by voices in the distance chanting Niramaya over and over again and closer by, in the darshan hall, men chanting the thousand names of the Divine Mother. I miss waking up to this morning ritual, the continuity, companionship and rhythm it carries, and i experience a sense of loss. When daylight clears the darkness i see in the field outside my window the old oak tree. She is still here. I don’t know how old she is, this grandma oak tree but it seems like she has been here forever, holding the space, protecting, watching over. I feel so grateful for her presence and for helping me to reconnect, get grounded in this space which is my home for now.
Later in the day it feels strange to be driving around in my car. I live in suburbia, and there are places called towns where hardly any people are seen on the sidewalks. Lots of cars, but no auto rickshaws, no women in colorful saris riding their scooters, sometimes with one child, sometimes two. One child standing in front holding onto the handlebars and one sitting in back. And sometimes, like i saw in Chennai, two adults and one, two or three kids go scooting by. To them seemingly so natural, to me freaky! It’s as if the images of being in a car in India are super imposed on what i see now as i drive down the nearly empty streets of Danville, California. These two worlds that are so different dancing together in my minds eye. There is so much space between the vehicles here, i imagine motorcycles and auto rickshaws scooting in and out, filling these spaces. I find myself relaxing and appreciating a sense of order and rhythm that meets my needs for safety and ease and which i experience more on the roads here, even as cars and motorcycles are driving by at significantly higher speeds than on the road between Trivandrum and Vallikavu. And then there is this young teenager in me that sometimes darts between lanes and sneaks over the solid white line to pass cars that are stopped so i can make a quicker exit. I refrain from the occasional urge to lean on the horn, to pierce monotony and order, to hear the familiar sound and experience the rush it carries.
I go to Peet’s, a local coffee place. The span between the counter and the entrance is maybe twelve feet and there are only three people in line ahead of me. Between them several feet of empty space. I stand there confused. I ask the woman in front of me if she is in line. She looks at me with what i interpret as a look of ‘what do you think i am doing here’ and says ‘yes’, as she turns towards the counter again. It’s all i can do to hold back from stepping into the empty space, to tell her to move forward! I think of the saying ‘the universe abhors a vacuum’. I wonder now if a scientist from India discovered that theory. It was as if the empty space was a huge magnet for me. I stood there taking some deep breaths and for a moment felt very homesick. One of the ironies in all of this is that when i am India i’m more often than not triggered when people go to the front of the queue rather than the back. Even more so when it’s several people who do it at once! So there i was, in this coffee shop, trying to be patient, something that invariably eludes me, and wanting to find a resting place between my two worlds.
I appreciate the physical spaciousness i experience here. My whole body feels more relaxed. And then there is the sharing of language, to understand the words that float around me as i am ‘out in the world’ gives me a sense of belonging, of being grounded. I am aware of how ‘not knowing’, ‘not understanding’ creates tension in me, a certain unease. No wonder mindful communication is such an important practice for me.
The weather is so much cooler here. Once again i enjoy going for walks along the Iron Horse Trail, with my headphones on, listening and dancing to all kinds of different music. In the distance Mount Diablo looks out over the valleys that surround it. It feels so wonderful to be outside, wearing jeans, a hoodie, socks and shoes and feel comfortable. The cool air is clear and invites me to come move through it, to dance amongst the leafless winter trees with their sculptural branches. There is something comforting and nurturing about wrapping myself in layers of clothes as well as snuggling under more blankets at night. And at the same time i love alternating between three sets of identical, nearly paper thin, white pants and shirts. It so easy, light and simplifies my life. I brought one set back to wash. When i got them out of the washing machine and saw how thin they are i remembered how in India i still feel too hot and sweaty wearing them. It was hard for me to connect with the memory of heat and humidity, to relate, it all seemed so distant.
Here my bedroom window faces west and my view is of the sunset. In the mornings i sit, and i no longer follow the arc of the rising sun as it would pass over my altar and the picture of Amma in my flat in Amritapuri. Instead i see the sun’s glow highlighting grandma oak tree as she wakes up. Every morning i am blessed with the sight of her, her company, her presence.
Often as i slip into my meditation i am back in Amritapuri, sitting in the new meditation room in the house where Amma was born and raised. I see the picture of the young Amma meditating. Her closed eyelids. Her eyes raised to the Divine, and i am home.