Bye Bye Bangalore, Bangalore Goodbye…


I’m leaving early. I’m leaving early, after one session instead of two, and it’s so bittersweet, because there are things I love about this country — the food, the constant respect I receive, the way everything lights up and twinkles at night — and things I truly despise — the sheer number of people and cars, the heat and dust, the fact that I can’t even drink the purified water without feeling sick. I’m leaving in 4 days, because it’s hard to exist far from home when your intestines are screaming and E. coli seems to have taken over your body. I’m leaving because it’s time to leave.

I’m leaving the wonderful friends I’ve made through my program, leaving the office aide Saraswati who has become my surrogate mother during this trip, leaving the temples and villages and mango carts. I’m leaving aloo gobi from my favorite “fast food” restaurant, the market on the corner that sells ice cream. The nights when we stay in and watch Bollywood music videos and laugh until we feel sick. The trips out of the city to feed elephants and see Tibetan monks and buy spices. Leaving rickshaw rides in monsoons, calls to prayer, sari fabric that must’ve come straight from god, and the most handsome boys at the cake shop down the street.

village

But I’m returning, too. Returning home, where I’ll hopefully rid myself of E. coli and get to hug my mother, breathe in her scent, sleep with my cat, take care of my father after his knee replacement, and drink tap water. With ice. Home, where I can actually eat fresh vegetables without worrying. Home, where people move too fast and worry too much and live with so much fear even when there’s no danger around the corner. There are downsides to every place you go.

Sometimes we forget that India isn’t some mystical land of wisdom and perfection. It’s seriously flawed; overpopulated, often undereducated, and still developing. That’s not a criticism. It’s a fact. And if I stayed here simply because I thought India was somehow going to heal me from within, to thoroughly cleanse me spiritually so I would come home a different person…well that would just be a dangerous illusion. To stay because I’m afraid to quit, because I’m “supposed” to stay, because I’m afraid of judgment…I won’t do that. I need to take care of myself, just as I would at home, and right now that means I need to be home. India has a spirit and mind of it’s own, that’s for sure, and right now our spirits are at odds.

I’ll miss this beautiful, terrible place. Truly I will. But I’ll be back, India. Tujh mein rab dikhtah hai. I see my god in you.

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I Was Someone Else Before


I’ve been thinking about the soul a lot lately. My poetry professor tells us not to write about the soul because he doesn’t know what a soul is — “Nobody knows what a soul is.” As much as I absolutely love him, I have to disagree, because my particular brand of spirituality — Hinduism — is centered around the soul. I don’t find it insensitive of him, per say, but I do think he might want to take a step back and think about the soul a little before he makes such broad nullifying statements.

Everyone has their own view of the soul. There’s soul food, which is comforting and filling; there’s soul music, which fills us up in a more spiritual way; there are what we call soulmates, people who we feel a deep connection with on a basic level. With all this talk of the soul, it’s hard not to believe that it exists some way or another, especially since this particular concept has been around since practically the dawn of time.

I think of the soul as occupying a physical space within our body, which you may or may not agree with, but that’s the beauty of the soul: it’s a little different for everyone, because everyone’s needs are just a little different. To me, the soul exists between the Naval (Swadhisthana) and Solar Plexus (Manipura) chakras, in a realm between orange and yellow (which I find to be the warmest tones, anyway, and why not? Filling your soul makes you feel warm). For those of you who aren’t very familiar with the chakras, they’re the energy centers of our body, and the Naval Chakra is the center of creativity and joy, among other things; the Solar Plexus Chakra governs individual strength and expansiveness, among others.

What I’m getting at here is my belief that the soul is a part of the Self that combines the power of one’s inner light with the joy of the world around us, and when I feel complete, satisfied, and soul-happy, the area just below my solar plexus feels like it’s glowing, like my soul is expanding and trying to reach out to all the other parts of the universe, connecting me to every other entity that exists.

Our soul is everything about us that isn’t flesh and bone. It is who we are. It is all the good, and all the bad, that we inherently are. And as a Hindu, and even just as a person who exists on this planet and contemplates life and death from time to time, I believe that my soul existed before it occupied my current body, just as I believe that once this body dies, my soul will occupy another. Sometimes history repeats itself, and why not? We are the same souls, existing over and over in different times, learning a little each time we have a go at life. We are reincarnated in many different forms — of “good” and “bad” people, rich and poor, different ethnicities, different religions, until we become someone who truly understands the universe and the meaning of existence. I’m not there yet. I am most definitely not there yet.

The soul drifts — not aimlessly, but with purpose. Sometimes I have these moments — crazy as it seems — when I feel like I existed a very long time ago, in a very different place from America. I have an internal, inherent knowledge that I attempt to tap into sometimes, and though I struggle, I believe it’s all there, just below the surface. Maybe that knowledge exists within my soul, and maybe it’s what drives me to make certain life choices. Or maybe not. I don’t know. But there’s no point in sitting down, declaring that the soul is nonexistent, and not bothering to explore these fascinating avenues of myself and the world around me.

And this brings us, very loosely, to the idea of karma. Karma is complicated and complex, and I won’t claim that I understand it very well at all. Put very simply (perhaps too simply), karma is the idea of action and reaction, but we mistakenly think of it as “if you do something bad, something bad will happen to you immediately because you deserve to be punished by a higher power/the universe.”

But recently, I read a great quote on this site: “There is a tendency to cry during times of personal crisis, “Why has God done this to me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” While God is the creator and sustainer of the cosmic law of karma, He does not dispense individual karma. He does not produce cancer in one person’s body and develop Olympic athletic prowess in another’s. We create our own experiences.”

We create our own experiences. That can be incredibly liberating and also so very terrifying, because while most people will be happy to know they have free will, knowing that your negative experiences were not due to God punishing you can be scary for some people. I know what an oversimplification that last bit was, because not everything is up to us, and bad things don’t necessarily happen because you deserved them. But I think the takeaway here is this: we are responsible for ourselves, and the bad things we do have negative consequences, while the good things we do have positive ones, in the long run. I prefer to think of it this way, since I’m really big on positive and negative energy: we receive from the universe what we put into it. If you decide to be a massive jerk all the time, it’ll catch up with you. Not necessarily immediately, because I know a whole lot of really successful assholes, but I really do think that at some point the choices you make will come back to bite you. Or kiss you on the cheek, if you happen to be a wonderful person. Maybe in the next life you’ll learn to emit more positive energy.
And there are shades of grey here. I don’t know many people who are always good, and I definitely don’t know people who are always bad. Good and bad are relative terms anyway.

Anyway, in an attempt to explain/hash out some very confusing and intricate topics that I cannot claim to be an expert on, I have probably confused most of you or made you all think I’m some kind of hippie nut-job. I’ll probably have different views on life and the soul in a year, in ten years, as I continue to exist and learn about who I am and how the world works. But honestly, I’m embracing my inner hippie nut-job a lot more lately, because I think she has a lot of really interesting things to say. Maybe she’s not so nuts after all.

I love you all, and namaste. The light in me greets the light in you. Positive energy forever!

Please note that, while the article I link to above is very interesting and informative, it does not necessarily reflect all my views on life. There are some interesting ideas about suicide and euthanasia in that article, and when I say “interesting” I don’t mean good. I mean sassy. So I agree with a lot of the info in the first half of the article about karma and reincarnation, but I have some serious issues with the idea that suicide causes you to be reincarnated to a lower karmic plane, etc. Anyway, happy reading!