What I’ve Learned After Six Weeks In India

daniel ryan adlerI am leaving my mountain view tomorrow. This has been my longest respite from active travelling in my four and a half months away from home. I spent two weeks in Tel Aviv, waiting for my Indian visa. I spent three and a half weeks in Dharamshala writing. I didn’t go to the big waterfall, I didn’t attend conversations with Tibetan ex-political prisoners. I mostly just wrote all day, read, and moved from cafe to cafe. I have often met people here who ask me what I write about if I sit at home and write all day. I smile and say, you’ll see.

These people are the weirdos you’d expect me to meet in an Indian mountain community that’s predominantly Western, the same soul-searching, high as a chimney dredlock-wearing hippies you’d walk past in the streets in any major Western city and try to ignore. There have been some interesting people I’ve met, but most are trying to escape from the world they used to know by learning macrame or massage or yoga, in order to return home to teach willing followers the gospel of India. Some have ended long relationships with significant others and came here to immerse themselves in something besides heartbreak. Some wanted a watershed moment from the life they lived in university, or in the army, or in a sad job, and they came here to break free, to return after five months in India to a clean slate and a new life.

Others have returned after their first six months on their ten year visa ran out. They’ve found a circle where they can be accepted for without being judged for the drugs they’ve taken, or how they wear their hair, or their past, always waiting to rise up against them in order to be quelled by paranoia or more drugs or fast love or meditation as an overriding force for providing meaning into a meaningless life.

Perhaps you think I’m being harsh. But in the three weeks I’ve been secluded in the mountains, allowing all the horror of world travel to settle in my consciousness, and the joyous memories to rise to the top, getting lost in my imagination and fear of what’s more to come, I’ve learned deeply about what it means to travel, and how to spend life.

Life is for living. Travel is a great aspect of life, because it provides perspective. For most, the break from routine is enough to feign wisdom back at the office, to show off to friends what they saw, and to realize how lucky they are. Most don’t understand that maybe they aren’t as lucky, maybe in fact, they’re unluckier. But that’s a topic for a different post. After a few days back at home, they re-immerse themselves into their comfortable lifestyles, pursuing their purpose as they see fit.

Then on the other end of the spectrum you have the hippies I’ve already described, come to India to find themselves and to spread the good word when they return. Oh, India, how the West apotheosizes thee! Where the energy swirls without the prejudices of capitalism and regret, and life is as simple as splitting stone. The India of meditation and yoga, of self-discovery, of drugs and parties, and the India family. But these souls are often just as nearsighted as the 40-hour workweekers. They are running away, or they find a small niche in a world that is more accepting and willing to bend to their version of happiness. Without the hard rush of competition or material desire, they live a perpetual life of travel, and setting up routines where they can. They are in a different kind of rat race, one outside a cage, yet still in search of a tastier cheese.

Which perspective is better? I’m not to say. The benefits of settling down and raising a family are comparable to a life of ready changes and new experiences. Both kinds of people use travel for self-discovery. Some are successful– some come back from India that much more grateful for the lives they’ve worked hard for; some travel through India practicing meditation and global love. After India, we are more aware of ourselves and how to live happily. But short-termers still want to avoid pain and sadness while they relate to society; and long-termers still want to avoid society while they relate to pleasure and happiness. They’re two sides of the same coin. They both think that their way is better and more enlightened, and they’re both usually blinded by egoistic delusions. Some are more conscious of this than others, and for them, they are usually more content with their plot. They’ve recognized and understood their nameless ego of habitude and preferences, of experience and goals, and how it rises up over the years to crystallize into a layered business of quirks and irregularities, into the deluded understanding that the life they’ve chosen is what life was meant to be. Or not. Or they get to a point when they realize that life is very short, that twenty years have gone by, and they can’t really remember anything that happened. It’s all just a moving blur of work or parties, of faded love and fast adventure. But life should be very long.

I’m not one to give meaning to individual lives; I can only do that for myself.  And I know that my tiny fate compels me to see the ululating call of desire and taste the dream of enlightenment. It compels me to stay when I need to stay and go when I need to go; to live fast and hard, and then slow and steady. And throughout the extremes, it compels me to see the eternal reality behind a deluded world of constantly changing appearances. It compels me to work hard at describing this and feeding it to a world that’s often too busy or deluded to realize how they are still hungry.

Some can satisfy themselves with living how they want, in pleasure and travel, or in drive and materialism. But there is a hunger underneath. Some are not cut out to satisfy it. In the same way some people are good and others bad, not everyone can attain a higher plain of understanding and contentment. I’m not saying I am. I’m only saying that in my return to the traveling lifestyle for what I hope to be another four months, I will continue to learn and suffer and define the unchanging reality of the Self within every individual. I can only hope you will join me.

By Daniel Ryan Adler

Daniel Adler writes fiction and nonfiction and is finishing his MFA at University of South Carolina.


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