I always thought of myself as an easy-going person. Put me in a room with conflict, death, crisis or chaos and I generally manage well.
Then I went to India and realized how much I needed to learn.
Suddenly I found myself half way around the world, jet lagged and unsure of the rules of a new culture. I had heat stroke, couldn’t find my bearings, and didn’t fully understand the implications of travelling solo as a woman in this strange new land. Picture me at a crowded train station with 30 pairs of eyes glued to the only foreign woman on the platform, asking myself “What on earth have I done?”
One of the reasons I went to India was to see the Ganga River. Just imagine one billion people revering, adoring and placing their loving intentions into a single body of water. It is like no other river in the world. She sparkles and flows with force in certain places, and is polluted and foul in other places, yet always revered as holy. The sacred Mother Ganga is worshiped alongside Shiva and the other gods and goddesses by the Hindus. In Varanasi, pilgrims flock to her for spiritual purification. Hindus cremate their loved ones and throw their ashes in the river for Moksha–liberation from the cycles of birth and death.
Hearing about the Ganges touched my heart in such a way that I knew it held something special for me. Unbeknownst to me, her gift would flow into my life in a very different way than I had anticipated.
My travels began in Delhi. My first major challenge was the traffic in a city of nearly 30 million. What to me was a 3-lane road became 8 lanes of traffic including cars, trucks, auto-rickshaws, bicycles, people on foot, and sacred cows everywhere. Imagine dust, dirt, beggars, pedestrians coming out of nowhere, and countless eyes staring at me in close proximity. The noise –constant blaring of the horns– was jarring, urgent, and added to my already overwhelmed senses.
After a time I adjusted to the sensory overwhelm and came to appreciate the noise and chaos of the streets. As long as the drivers were alert and awake, the traffic just seemed to flow like the Ganges with cars and cows gliding into the open spaces like water. Even in chaos, everyone made space for each other. I may have been holding my breath for dear life, but the driver was not at all stressed.
The driver had to become the traffic.
At some point I began to breathe again and flow with the pulsing streets. Observing it through a window became manageable, but I would soon learn that putting foot to pavement was a whole other story. One evening I followed my noble Indian guide down the streets of Varanasi. The masses were alive on the streets. When I kept moving at his pace, weaving in and out of the people and experiences, and focusing only on what was in front of me, I was surprisingly fine. But if I moved in my normal way, pausing to look too long, getting distracted or glancing back, I was in trouble. It was like stopping the flow of the river. It took some trial and error to get what was required of me.
Just like the driver, I had to become the street.
On the ground in India there wasn’t time to question or resist the path forward. On the crowded streets my survival depended upon being present to all the sensations and experiences, not turning away from anything. When I turned away from an experience because I felt unprepared, fearful, or thought it needed to go my way, I missed the opportunity in front of me. I had to merge with this ancient city.
This made me think about merging with the flow of my life back home. I often resist listening to my exhausted body and just push through. Or I get attached to a plan instead of sensing where I need to flow next. Realizing this was the turning point for me. As one Indian woman said with smiling eyes “Here in India, there is no other choice but to flow.”
If I tried to force my own plan, or ignore my hunch about a person or situation, I immediately felt the impact of my resistance. I was brought to my knees more than once on this trip, requiring me to dust myself off and start over–stronger than before.
To my amazement, the flow of the Ganga and of India itself had become my teacher. At some point I realized I wasn’t just in flow with the streets and the traffic, I was in a new flow with myself. Sensing my way around, I knew when and how to let go. Something inside me had been set free.
When I finally met the Ganges face to face, I understood what it meant to bow at her feet in reverence. She was my teacher. The holy Ganga sparkled with the ritual and devotion that is always present on her shores. I finally understood the Indian people’s respect for her. I was swept away by a love and awe that I could not have felt from reading a guide-book or from the distance of a tour-bus. My devotion was as real as any love story.
Thank you Ma Ganga for helping me to let go and flow.
With love to you all,