Good.


I never know how to explain this place to people when they ask, so I always just awkwardly say “good.” I thought maybe I hated it before, which was mostly due to the fact that I was basically living on a toilet dealing with some serious E. coli. But now, since my stomach is no longer rebelling against me, I understand India.

It’s hot here. People eat hot food and drink hot drinks, which at first defies all logic until you realize that the hotter the food is, the less likely it is to poison you.

It’s dusty and dirty and there’s trash on the road and cow pies everywhere and huge man-holes in the sidewalk…but they just keep me on my toes. Every day I survive is a small accomplishment, especially when I cross the street.

Everyone here stares at me, but it’s less weird now that it’s been happening for about 2 weeks. I’m tall, very pale, and blonde with blue eyes. I think I’ve seen one or two other people here who fit that description, so for once in my life I’m kind of exotic…it’s weird. Weird but kind of awesome. When we were stuck in traffic the other day, an entire family rolled down their windows to wave at me and a friend and ask us how we were doing. Sometimes it’s creepy, like when motorcycle drivers pull up next to us and lock us in solid, abnormal-for-America eye contact, but usually it’s borne from an intense curiosity and genuine interest. I’ll never mind.

I don’t know what it is…someone told me India is not love at first sight, but it grows on you. I think they might be right. Sometimes it feels awful living in this city, where everything smells a bit like decomposing trash, a bit like incense, and a bit like spicy food…where the rickshaws honk, the motorcycles beep, the buses basically sound like elephants…I live in the middle of fields back in the states. Cities are hard.

But then we go to villages and meet little children and fall in love and almost cry when we leave them behind. I see pictures of myself looking so exceedingly happy, so completely blissful, and I remember that the negative is only temporary, and I’ll miss this place when I’m gone. I go to Hindu temples, places I’ve only ever dreamed of experiencing, and am blessed by a little man in the corner, kneeling and bowing before him as he touches my head and sings something I’ll never understand but can feel within my soul, and I can still feel his fingertips on my head and the cold beneath my knees. I bow before Ganesh and ask him to help me, touch Shiva’s feet and let water run across my face and over my head, participate in traditions I didn’t even know existed. I give a priest an offering and am painted vermillion and it looks like a little head wound when I accidentally scratch it but in the most perfect sort of way, and I’m happy.

It’s good here.

Advertisements

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!

The Rebirth


It’s been two years, either today or yesterday, since life meant very little to me. Two years since I broke and my mother had to take a plane at 6 a.m. to be with me, to keep me safe and protected. Two years since I started rebuilding.

I never expected any of that to happen, and I would honestly prefer that I hadn’t felt that much pain and suffering and absolute nothingness, because it’s the absolute worst, so don’t start thinking it was a positive experience at the time. But I also know I would not be who I am today without those horrible experiences.

“Everything happens for a reason” is an obnoxiously common saying, and usually I think it’s a bit of a cop out, a way to distance ourselves from pain and confusion. But in a different way, perhaps a more subtle one, I believe it. Life is one long chain of events, each tiny action creating reactions and waves. It’s not just that I wouldn’t attend this particular university on this career path with these friends; it’s that I, as I exist in this moment, would not exist. I wouldn’t understand my inner self in the same way (in fact, that inner self would be very different indeed) and I would not have the same outlook on life that I do right now.

That other person, that child who existed pre-December 2011, would have been lovely too, and I know that wherever she exists — perhaps in an alternate universe — she is absolutely striking. But she is not who I was meant to become.

I’m so happy with who I am and the path I have chosen. Something inside me — some slumbering beast of peace — awoke two years ago and has been struggling to the forefront of my consciousness ever since. I surprise myself lately, in the most exciting and breathtaking way, by how at peace I feel. Every discovery I have made — in Hinduism, in my daily life, in understanding myself — existed in that beast and absolutely exploded into being these past few months.

I am so perfectly flawed and so determined to work through the knots I hold inside, and I honestly gasp sometimes when I realize…I am fulfilling this destiny of sorts. I am becoming me. I never realized I didn’t know who I was until I met myself — I wasn’t lost until I was found.

I will question “why me” in the future, I’m sure, when something terrible happens and I feel broken again. But never again will I look to the past and see tragedy; it was only opportunity of the most brutal nature that allowed me to feel so utterly free.

This earth is so much, so gorgeous, so overwhelming. Sometimes I drink it in and realize I can’t stop and I drown a little, blinking into the sun and choking on the cold. I remember a time when even the heaviest downpours felt like nothing, just another burden to bear. Now, I welcome the sleet as another excuse to feel every nerve in my body vibrate.

“Namaste:” the light in me greets the light in you. Now I have found my inner light.

Champa


If words were fragrant
my poems would smell like champa flowers.
Heady, deep and sweet,
they smell like —
The moment I knew I would grow up
My daydreams of adventure
The dark room I adopted in my adolescence
The isolation I felt as I became someone no one else had known
The reason for my faith
My future.

If fragrances were words
the champa flower would be Shakespeare.
Songs to Krishna
carried on the breeze like soliloquies
depicting his lotus eyes
whispering softly —
I could feel you before you were real
I looked for you and found nothing
I waited for you, and you came
I love you like I’ve loved no other
I’ve seen you, but I was blind to all else
I know you like I know myself
I carry you deep inside
I thank you.

There ends part 4 of my childhood poetry series, which describes more my adolescence/early adulthood and less my childhood, but which is a huge transformative part of who I am today.

Gobinda Hari, or I Now Understand Obnoxious Christians


Most of you know that I’m on a path of self discovery, and that I’m learning about and utilizing Hinduism on that journey. Most of you know, also, that I do not really identify as Christian even though I was brought up Episcopalian and still occasionally go to church (mostly because the people there are my family, and the dean of the cathedral is one of the most brilliant men I know and his sermons are thought-provoking in a way that transcends religion). As such, I have typically felt incredibly uncomfortable when certain Christians suggest that I pray when I’m distressed because “God is with you…blah blah.” Incredibly uncomfortable. I don’t like talking about Jesus, and I don’t like conversations that make me feel like I’m being “saved.” I, at times, wish I could wear a sign around my neck that says, “Please do not approach me about your religious beliefs. I will wet my pants from discomfort, and nobody wants to see that.” I get really dismissive and try to escape the conversation as soon as possible. One time my dad suggested that I just talk to Jesus when I’m upset because it can be really comforting for him. And while I understood that it was valuable for him, I really didn’t want to “talk to Jesus” because to me, Jesus isn’t important, not in a religious sense. Sure, I believe that he existed, but why should I talk to the “son of God” when I really don’t think a Christian god exists? Of course, there are a million little exceptions and nuances that I won’t be able to get to in this post, so please understand that I haven’t written anything off completely because the world is full of mystery and I’m sorting things out my own way. I just feel more of a “spirit” than a “god,” and maybe that’s the same to some people. As I write this, it’s incredibly difficult to put my conflicting and confusing feelings into words. There’s just something there with Hinduism that isn’t there with Christianity. Maybe it’s more the practice of Hinduism that I connect with. Maybe God is the same no matter what the religion.

But. I might’ve accidentally become a version of The Obnoxious Christian. That person who suggests meditation to those who struggle. The person who talks about Krishna and “the higher spirit” (I literally said that) to her friends. The person who, when reading more about the mantra “gobinda hari” wants to print out the article to share it with her sister. The person who blogs about Hinduism and its benefits. (As a side note, the mantra gobinda hari can be used as a self-reflection mantra that aids us in connecting with our accomplishments and what the world has given us, while acknowledging that we were an integral part of our self-improvement. It also allows us to thank the world for the help it brings us and the bounty it produces. Or something like that…it gets a little complicated and sounds incredibly hippie, so I’ll spare you. Just know that it’s valuable to me, as I tend to forget what I’ve done well in life and continually put myself down for not “working hard enough.”)

I’m okay with becoming that person. I’m learning more every day — about myself, about the world — but I’m also uncovering more questions, and I like that too. So if I’m reaping these amazing benefits, why should I not try to share them with the world? I led a meditation workshop before finals week at my sorority, and it was absolutely brilliant and everyone liked it and I felt accomplished, like I’d shown them something they would never have found without my help.

I’ve been to hell and back: I contemplated suicide a year and a half ago. I had a panic attack every day, and was in the darkest place I have ever been. I sought therapy and saved myself, by myself, and I don’t think I have God to thank for that. I was broken, and I fixed myself (with the help of many people around me) but God was not involved. I don’t feel abandoned, and this does not come from a bitter place, but I just didn’t feel anything with me or around me or anything as I clawed my way back to reality, to normality. But as I learn and grow, maybe my opinion will change. Nothing is ever definite.

Until then, I feel connected to the earth and the universe in a way that has nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with my soul’s movement between bodies a thousand times on this earth. I sound like such a nutcase as I say this, and I can practically hear you all scoffing through the computer, and that’s fine. I believe what I believe (that our soul never truly dies, just moves from body to body for eternity) and you can believe whatever you’d like (that I’m insane, that heaven exists, whatever). I know now, at least, why those obnoxious Christians that make me so uncomfortable do what they do, say what they say. They’ve found something valuable and helpful and wonderful, and it makes their lives richer and more meaningful, and they want to help me find that. And good on them. I appreciate the sentiment.

I will continue to look to help others who seek guidance in this really, really, really difficult life we all live. But I do promise this: no matter how great I feel, no matter how much I learn, I swear I will not try to “save” anyone. Because everyone is fine, nobody’s going to hell, nobody’s going to bleed for eternity if they don’t “know Jesus” or “understand the ways of Hinduism.” The minute you look uncomfortable or bored, and believe me I can tell, I will send you on your way without judgement. Pinky swear. What works for me doesn’t have to work for you. Guaranteed it won’t work for most of you. Besides, forcing people to accept something doesn’t work. Typically, they need to realize things in their own time; had I been bothered with spirituality when I wasn’t ready, I don’t think I would’ve made the same strides I did on my own.

I feel like I should end this post with some sort of profound statement, but to be completely honest my shoulder is cramping up and I can’t focus on much else. So I’ll leave you with this: anything we find that allows us to learn more about ourselves and others, whether it be religion, exercise, music…anything at all, is worth spending time developing. So go forth and question the world, my friends! And namaste.

The Sound of the Universe, Permanently ॐ


Om. Spoken as three syllables. Symbolizing the beginning, duration, and dissolution of the universe. Representing Brama, Vishnu, and Shiva. The vibration of the universe. The most beautiful sound and feeling in existence, all-encompassing and absolute.

I’ve never felt more from one symbol in my life, but as I became familiar with the om symbol, I realized how much power it holds. So, yesterday, I made it a permanent part of myself. I had drawn it out several months ago, a flowing om representing the flow of the universe, and now it has become a part of me.

photoYesterday, as I sat in the shop, I was so afraid — my first tattoo hurt so much, and I was worried I was making a mistake. But as I felt the vibration of the needle, heard its pulsing sound so close to my ear, I felt very little pain. During the more uncomfortable parts, I chanted the word, ‘aauumm’ in my head and relaxed, and I felt so peaceful, I practically forgot that I was feeling any pain at all. At one point, I felt on the verge of sleep. It was a beautiful few minutes.

I don’t want to make it more significant than it was, but I really think I had my first truly spiritual experience in that tattoo shop. As I write this, I cannot help but make the connection between the sound of the universe — the vibration of the om — and the sound and feeling of that tattoo gun.

There are so many reasons that I chose the om, more than I care to explain. But I know now how right I was in my decision.

White Flowers


the white flowers
flutter gently
as they sway in the breeze
and the vioces
run and mumble
as they whisper to me
oh i hear you
yes i hear you
come alive once again
come through the trees
yes stay near me
and ascend to heaven
i prayed for you
i stayed with you
and i love you so, dear
i could feel you
i could sense you
as you watched me, so near
mama sweetheart
you’re in my heart
thank you so for your love
yes i now know
when the breeze blows
its a sign from above

I’ve never been one to believe in the afterlife. But I met a woman at the library once (she was quite the character) who told me her mother had died a few weeks earlier and that a few days after she saw white flowers falling from a tree at the college. She said they had been her mother’s favorite flowers and that at that moment she could feel her mother’s love again. I went home and wrote this poem in a minute or two, realizing that whether God or spirits exist, experiences like that, even if they’re only in your mind, are priceless.