“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” — Anne Lamott
As our plane touched down, we arrived in India right at the new moon and the beginning of the festival for Diwali.
Lanterns being sent up into the sky and fireworks. Marigolds on everything.
Three weeks is hardly enough time to feel like you're even scraping the surface of this vast, magnificent country, yet it felt like each day was enough to fill me up for a lifetime.
India was a total sensory experience, so many smells—incense and spices and urine and smoke, so many sounds—huge bangs and traffic and yelling and singing.
Unlike my usual quiet, solitary life, what I experienced in India was a particular richness and intensity of the senses, the surroundings, and the people.
Spices wafting into nostrils and sweating out of pores. Fragrant incense and candles burning. Horns blaring. Monkeys screeching. Ceaseless chanting.
Contrasted with times of vast inner quiet and the chance to be in the presence and grace of a sacred river.
The sun setting over the Himalayas on our drive back from a school high up in the mountains.
Spiritual lineage and history that is all combinations of awe-inspiring, scarred, long-lasting, taken and reclaimed.
Mamas riding side saddle on the backs of motorcycles, dressed in full saris, no helmets, completely serene, quiet babies on their laps.
Cows lying down in the middle of the highway.
Traffic weaving in a way that was chaotic and yet somehow well orchestrated, stopping just an inch or two from the car ahead.
Vehicles heading into oncoming traffic, but always swerving just in time.
Despite how it may sound, I felt really safe and held.
Chaos it may seem to the outside viewer, but circumstances of course have their own particular rhyme and reason.
Diving into experiences so different from your norm is completely beautiful as long as you relax into it, surrender into the flow of it and try not to control.
Each time I tensed, I reminded myself to soften my shoulders.
I let a lot wash over and through me.
That might be why I did so well.
We navigated deep discomfort, moments of radical openness, instances of pure joy and finding the undeniably human within what feels at first so foreign.
In terms of lessons that feel like they resonate at home, the biggest one was surrender.
Regardless of whether I panicked, we were still careening along the edges of Himalayan roads with several thousand foot drops, less than two lanes and no guard rails.
So I might as well soften into the experience. I even looked out the window over the edge, trying to embody a sort of detached curiosity.
We are all capable of so much more discomfort than we give ourselves credit.
And likewise, what we do have in our capacity to change for the positive, we should.
One of my teachers told us the election results after we had three days of silence.
We cried, we held each other, and we shakily sang our disappoint and our prayers through the snot and tears.
I felt fortunate to have that community of women with me, just as I felt fortunate to have the my communities to come home to.
Within our deep sadness, there was also a reckoning, a heartened decision to make sure we contribute to this world and the fundamental rights of the people in it.
Visiting India will undoubtedly be one of those instances where I look back later and know it was a pivotal time of growth for me.
That said, I can bring back stories of three weeks in India, but India as a whole is not my story to tell.
India is not my country, my history, the home of my family.
However, it is up to each of us to engage with the stories that are not our own, to consciously learn what we cannot know from our daily lives and to see our hearts reflected back to us in what we thought was somehow different.
I cannot tell you the many stories of India as a country besides what I saw with my eyes and felt with my heart.
But I can tell you what it has taught me.
It is our calling and our duty to surrender to what we cannot control and to be deeply, ardently passionate about what we can.
It is up to us to see the familiar in what feels uncomfortably different and to ask ourselves where our discomfort comes from in the first place.
You do not need to travel across the planet to learn something new outside of yourself—but it might do you some good if you can.
View the world with a sense of wonder rather than judgment and it will offer up all of its treasure trove of delights and insights to you.
Explore with your open heart.