If you asked me several months ago to write the top ten things I learned while I was in India, I would not have been able to do so. If you asked me to write a list of what I loved about India, I would not have been able to meet your request. If you asked me what in India scarred me, cracked my heart wide open, I would have been able to tell you experiences, but not the details, the depth that would have honored that journey.
There are a few friends who I have known for years, who seem to know me sometimes better than I know myself. We rarely see each other. Sometimes, we don't speak for months on end. They have been with me through several (some dozens) of self-transformations, loving me endlessly, no matter what form I take. It is also these people that have uncovered surprising perspectives about my spiritual journey to India with few details to go on.
Then there are those dear ones who have recently entered (or reentered) my life, who provide the embrace of a mother. Their comfort is an endless sea of devotion.
There is my husband, who not only joined me on this spiritual pilgrimage, but nourishes my soul, my heart and mind, taking gentle care of me during my period of adjustment.
It is in honor to these beautiful beings that I dedicate my first article about India to them. You are my Durga, my Saraswati. You are my Radhe, my Hanuman.
What I Miss About India
India is for me, like childbirth. You had no idea the intensity of the pain you would experience. It kept you up at night. Your body, mind and soul, somehow kept going despite not believing you would make it through the experience. You act on survival, instincts kicking in, moving from one pang to another with little thought swirling about. You didn't know how much you could grow. You did not know how it all would end, but you wanted to try anyway.
Months later (many, many months later), the intensity of the experience fades, with you saying you would like to do it again. Will it be as intense? You do not know. All you know is that your heart will not stop calling until you do it again.
As I prepare for my next trip to India, I relish in the memories of what I absolutely loved about my pilgrimage.
Sitting with children on a train, providing them with scrap paper and a pen, and watching them draw out the words I would say.
Being swindled by adolescent men at Bodh Gaya who said they were monks and were helping tourists understand the meaning and history of the sacred space. (In exchange for money for school, of course.)
The rice fields painting the neighboring towns of Bodh Gaya green.
Learning how to use a squat toilet on a rickety train. Holding onto the bar, leggings down to the ankles and trying not fall into hole in the floor.
The old man who ran up to my husband and I and placed a bindi on our head when stepped off the boat and onto the ghats.
The young men who ran the guesthouse outside of Bodh Gaya, who drove my husband to a doctor on a motorbike and made sure I was fine while I waited.
The children in Jaipur, and many different parts of India, who came to beg for money, but left excited about the fact that I introduced myself and asked their names in Hindi.
The friendly monkey at Amber Fort in Jaipur who was unsuccessful in his endeavor to steal a man's garland. The man so kindly gave it to the monkey afterwards.
The kind residents of Munshi and nearby ghats who greeted us by name when we walked by. The shop owner who told us what to do after an aarti during a sacred evening. A restaurant owner who watched cricket on television and would give us our space. The hotel owner who gave us a map and explained how to get to the guesthouse we were looking for. The artist who intricately carved bamboo leaves, filling them with ink and told us how much he loved his mother. The music school owner who found us not only a harmonium teacher (and harmonium to bring home), but one who was humble and welcoming (and who impressively enough comes from a long line of musicians and was a student of Ravi Shankar). To the ma who sold us chips I could eat in the middle of the night with my medicine and wondered why I needed so many bags of chips. The endless sea of caring people who lived in a supportive community with one another.
At the ISKCON temple in Mumbai where we were fed, housed and welcomed to join in their morning celebration. With cupped palms, we were given a spicy, bitter drink and then a flower painted a bindi on our foreheads.
The Ma who begged for money on the ghats during aarti, who I called to. “Ma,” I said, slipped money into her hands and walked away quickly. She was my mother, as well.
The Sadhu who sat on a blanket on the ground among the multitude of sadhus. Spectacles on, he ignored his begging bowl, instead reading out loud from a spiritual text.
The sticky humid airport in Mumbai when we arrived, for preparing us for the weather.
The man on the boat in Mumbai who told us which side of the double-decker to sit on to avoid the morning sun.
The children and adolescent boys playing cricket in the stone front yard of the guesthouse outside of Bodh Gaya.
The abundance of positive memories outweighs the challenges. Yet it is the challenges that dug the deepest hole in my heart, making room for something more.
Susan Kiskis is the publisher for Freedom Journal and author of memoir, Born Fire Dragon. She has a deeply seeded case of wanderlust.