When I travel I get the most satisfaction out of walking around a city. India is really safe, so even though there are millions of people, and seeing the poverty can be alarming, and the smells can be strong, I staved off culture shock. Except…
When I walked past the meat market after it had ended in the heat of mid-afternoon the smell was alarmingly putrid, unlike anything I’ve smelled before. Those fuzzy-headed crows? Yeah, turns out they’re omnivorous– I saw a flock of them picking a basket of hog bones clean. I was close to entering the market, but I couldn’t. With one foot on the threshold I snapped a photo, and I looked up to my left to see one of the birds holding a golf-ball sized piece of raw meat in its beak. I looked at the pool of blood on the floor and the hundreds of other birds sitting and squawking in the rafters. There’s no way that bird could’ve swallowed the whole glob, and I imagined him throwing back his little head to rip the meat into bite sized chunks. He looked at me, into my eyes, and I was reminded of the program on velociraptors I had watched in the plane, how they had wings and were a little bigger than dogs– this about 65 million years ago, much later than their ancestors, which were bigger and more resembled Jurassic Park velociraptors, dinosaurs from about 200 million years ago. In that instant when I felt disgust from looking at that bird, I thought about how animals have been eating humans’ leftovers for thousands of years, and this bird is only acting on its instinct, on hundreds of millions of years more instinct than we as humans have, and I felt somehow, that I was the bird.
This won’t make much sense; it doesn’t even make much sense to me, but somehow I know it’s true. Perhaps I can better illuminate it by describing my next shocking instance. As I walked through the crowds of people, I felt an old beggar touch my arm. It was more than surprise and reflexive withdrawal from a beggar’s touch– because when I turned around and looked into her eyes she smiled so I could see her hollow mouth, and waved. She wasn’t the only person to say hello to me, out of kindness or perhaps out of a desire to communicate with a foreigner, but she was the only person to deliberately touch me. I wondered whether her original intention was to ask me for money or whether she selected me because of my walk and energy. When I saw her crinkled eyes and toothless mouth, I felt that electric charge you meet when you “connect” with someone, whether it’s a love, or a good friend, or a business partner, or any time something important happens to you regarding another person– when you feel that shock of excitement and energy and power and humanity.
To understand how these moments relate in the eternal cosmic scheme, I’ve chosen a third from my day of walking, when I had begun to get tired, and I was wishing I were already home, because it was close to 100 (40) degrees and I knew I still had about an hour to go. I walked through the market, watching the people selling various metals, cloths, linens and sundry goods. I realized that Mumbai is a huge city and that the population density is fairly consistent throughout, much like New York; and also that being here in the swarming mass of pedestrians, honking mopeds, cars, carts and cows, I was participating in humanity entirely both through my perceptions and feelings, and also simply in my actions, in my beinghere.There were even times when I saw men at work pushing a heavy-laden cart or pickaxing a stone wall, and I felt the foreign desire to help them in their endeavors. What stopped me? Habit. That and the fact that he didn’t have another pickaxe, so we’d have to take turns and it would probably get weird, me eventually trying to figure out when is the right time to leave. But that feeling existed, at least for a moment.
In my bird moment I moved outside of time. In my beggar moment I moved outside of myself. And in my streetscene moment I moved outside of humanity. Each moment represents one step, or philosophy rather, described by Aldous Huxley in his Perennial Philosophy: 1) there is an infinite changeless reality beneath the world of change; 2) this same reality lies at the core of every human personality; 3) the purpose of life is to discover this reality experientially. Each step points to the underlying idea of why I’m traveling.
This isn’t to place importance on travel itself, but rather the chance it offers for this sort of exploration, which for some (very few, I think) can be understood through yoga, meditation, art, or self-love; however, the commonness and competitive nature of Western Society too often get in the way of these insights due to the prevalence of, and importance we place on, the ego.
Here he goes, you’re thinking, another blogger, thinking he understands the meaning of life after spending a few days in India and reading some Bhagavad Gita. Can you blame me? Of course I study Eastern thought when I’m in India. I feel as indebted to learning about it as I did when I read Huck Finn driving down the Mississippi. It’s important to understand the mythology of the land you’re traveling in. Which is why I am thinking about detaching myself from my bodily appetites (from reading about my experiences in Berlin, I’m sure you’ll be able to understand how far I still have to go). Here’s some of the thinking I’ve done so far:
I think thoughts of love and kindness because if I harbor ill will, it eats me up inside. In worrying and hating others, I am hating myself, for letting that ill will happen to me, for letting them work their negative actions upon me. If I forget about my worries and the people who do me harm and wish them to do what they are supposed, which judging them as I have, is nothing particularly important or universe-changing (but then again even if I were to write something “great,” neither is what I’m supposed to do) then I can at least offer a pure and beautiful energy. In that practice, I can become more universe-changing than the others– and the only way to do that is by letting go of all those cravings for “success” and “happiness” and all of the other things society feeds to my ego in order for me to be a functioning, participatory member of itself. Instead, I can only write and love because that is what I am supposed to do, not to get published or bang hot chicks–that’s just ad society’s spin on it. If I act truly for myself, dualities disappear– success and failure, pleasure and pain, it’s all the same ubermenschian thing. And maybe the best part is that it’s a path– it may take years!
But I’m only just beginning. I’ve still got a lot of renouncing to do, and that doesn’t mean asceticism, just control. From here on out…Well, I guess you’ll just have to read about it.