Thank you, Mother India, for not only keeping me safe always but for providing me with the most helpful strangers, hosts with the warmest hearts and nourishing food for thought and fuel… Thank you for teaching me more about myself, yourselves, humankind, spirituality, song and silence…I now know wherever I go, however long for, you’ll love, respect, teach and protect me.
In my last blog I had decided to move to Melbourne for reasons of Love and Wellness. But not without paying a visit to my spiritual homeland on the way.
(It’s unfortunate that Eat, pray, love is taken, as it is would be an accurate title for this trip).
“Same same, but different”
Volunteering for 5 months in India 3 years ago was a significant turning point in my journey to wellbeing. I have been back each year since to be with the powerful people, enriching environment and exciting experiences this fascinating country provides.
I expected no less from my pre-migration month there, yet I was more nervous than ever. Whilst I was visiting many of the same people and places, one thing was different. India wasn’t my final destination this time (Australia was) and an imminent return was not possible. I’d made my decision to move to Melbourne, not Mumbai. Previous trips had been full of promises to ‘come back soon’ or find a way to ‘stay longer’. The only thing I was promising this time was friendship. Would my connection with the people and places remain even without anything ‘to offer’?
With the help of silence, singing, meditation and spiritual guidance provided by my good friends in my first destination of Kerala I soon realised I was in the best country and company to sit openly and honestly with these unfamiliar feelings and questions. I embraced the trip as a new and unique experience but was met with the same overwhelming warmth and kindness as I always have been, and learnt even more about generosity, kindness, love and faith.
“Get ready! Mother Mary is coming!”
No matter how much they had, everyone I came into contact with (which is always going to be a lot in India!) was generous with their time, spirit and possessions. I was never short of a host or guide, even in places I’d never visited.
I was lucky enough to end my trip in Delhi during Diwali where I was welcomed into the home and celebrations of a delightful family, none of whom I’d ever met, and was unexpectedly showered with love, money and sweets. In contrast, I had landed in Kerala during a Catholic festival. During which, a statue of Mother Mary from the local church is taken to each catholic house in the village for prayer and food. I was invited to spend two days of the festival in a village just seven short hours away by train. (A whole book could be written about that journey, but suffice to say when I am next on a busy train I will endeavour to share my seat, sandwiches and tea with all those around me.) During the compulsory post-lunch nap I heard the phone ring. I was surprised to find I wasn’t dreaming when I heard the family shout up to me “Get ready! Mother Mary is coming!”
Sure enough she was there within minutes, carried and followed by the rest of the village for a few hours of prayers said out loud in very fast Malayalam. Purely because I was “Ek foreigner, hein” I was given pride of place next to the village Father and two Sisters for the evening meal. Having observed quite a solemn session of prayer and devotion in front of Mother Mary’s statues, I welcomed the light-hearted nature of conversation provided by my trinity of holy company. They were intrigued by where I was from and what each member of my family were called. I couldn’t help but smile when one Sister asked lightly in this context, “Do you know Jesus Christ?” as if He happened to reside in my hometown or be a fifth cousin twice removed.
Food is love: “Eat. Take Rest”
I am proud to say I am probably the only tourist to put on weight in India. I am always grateful to leave feeling stronger, not only physically, but also mentally and spiritually. Everyone I met simply wanted me to “Eat” their food and “Take rest” in their beds. Although this combination made me anxious for historical mental health reasons, I soon learnt that this was another manifestation of their generosity, kindness and, at base, love.
India’s attitude towards food and weight is one of the many things Westerners can learn from to create an equally happy and healthy culture. There, being slim is seen as a weakness. I saw it as a compliment when a friend remarked at the end of my trip, “You’re very not weak now.” The Western translation of “You’ve put on weight” doesn’t lend itself to be met with such delight.
I feel we also underestimate the power of rest in the West. We have a lot of downtime, fun and relaxation but is it true rest? Next time you’re ‘relaxing’ have a look at how much sensory input you have around you. Are you listening to music? Is the TV on in the back ground? Are you surfing the web from your mobile device? Why not try simply lying in a cool room in silence, without your phone or iPad. All my hosts would do this at some point in the day and I certainly felt a lot better for following suit.
At the end of my trip I was not only full of food, rest and love, I was brimming with gratitude.
Thank you, Mother India, for not only keeping me safe but for providing me with the most helpful strangers, hosts with the warmest hearts and nourishing food for thought and fuel.
Thank you for teaching me more about myself, yourselves, humankind, spirituality, song and silence. Thank you for your challenges and acceptance and of course the soulful sunsets.
This child is now ready to fly the nest, more than Melbourne-ready, with peace, joy and love in my heart as well as even more tools for creating wellbeing in my backpack.
I now know wherever I go, however long for, you’ll love, respect, teach and protect me. And I will endeavour to do the same with any Ek Foreigners I meet along the way.