Friday, December 28, 2012

India # 48 End of the journey

 End of the Journey, Personal reflections

Five weeks after returning to the states I need to let this blog go. It took possession of me and an exorcism is required. Of course not having posted for a couple weeks no one is visiting the site anyway , so it’s mutual.

 I want to thank everyone who peeked in from time to time.  I’ve vowed to get serious about Facebook and LinkedIn so perhaps we will meet there or I’ll return to posting on another trip or topic. I may even post here, just for my own record.  Please keep in touch via

 India was a grand experience for me and a great deal better for sharing it with you.

Four months ago I installed at the top of this blog a quote from Martin Buber lifted from an Idaho backpacking book:  “Every journey has a secret destination of which the traveler is unaware.”  So I put myself on watch for secret meanings throughout my trip:  is this it, is that?  Must there be one and, if so, when will I know it?

My Personal Experience in India

This journey was certainly blessed, explicitly by my Centering Prayer Group and by another support group to which I belong, and by friends and family.   I tend not to believe God intervenes in our affairs; I often assume the worst.  Yet this journey felt propitious and somehow guided.  Good things kept happening and when they did not—as when I got sick and lost eight days--I figured I needed a rest.  I also needed a run-in with bureaucracy, experience a train stuffed to doors with people, go through electricity failures like all Indians and know the disappointment of not accomplishing all that I had hoped.   Part of God’s plan?  Not in the sense that God caused things to teach me a lesson, I would say.  But somehow during this set-aside time I expected things would turn out well, that people and events would unfold gracefully, and they did. 

What happened was that I had positive expectations, others added to them and then you live into them.  We do not travel alone.  The less fear we carry with us the better.

I felt spontaneous and unguarded.  Who was going to observe or judge me?  If I made a fool of myself, so what?  Rickshaw drivers often had more common sense than I did, so good for them, I was lucky to have them. I talked to everyone I could; it felt  a bit like campaigning when you are invited to talk to strangers, in fact you must do so.  Indians were easy to meet and talk to, some remarkably so.

Traveling alone and unknown was liberating.  Traveling among poor people was further encouragement to drop judgments about myself and others.  I liked being with everyone in the vast, confusing Majestic Bus Center, for example, anonymous but part of the whole. 

Once More, Katherine Boo

The most memorable event on my journey was a spontaneous trip into a Mumbai slum, as I’ve already recorded twice.  I want that experience to have continuing influence in my life.  My granddaughter, Julia Gunther, my daughter, Kristin, and perhaps others in her family will be reading it so “Beautiful Forevers” will live on in our family.

“The astonishment is that some people are good and that many try to be,” Boo writes about the people of that slum. I had the privilege of meeting one of book’s exemplars, Manjusha Waghekar or Manju, a lovely, modest young woman.  But the deeper truth is this:  “Among the poor, there is no doubt that instability fosters ingenuity…but over time, the lack of a link between effort and result could become debilitating. ‘We try to do so many things,” as one Anniwadi girl put it,’ but the world doesn’t move in our favor,” (as quoted in a New Republic book review February 8, 2012). 
The two little blue tents are where two families lived across from where I worked...
And these are kids who live there whom I would see leaving work, always playful and curious.
 Here is what Boo will tell us about her kind of journalism: “Seeing what is and seeing it clearly seems to me the crucial part of setting it right.”  What are steps toward “setting it right,” even in small ways?  When I left home I wanted to find one person or family with whom I could stay connected in later years.  Perhaps that person will be Manju or someone else in Anniwadi.  Perhaps that was my secret destination.   We shall see; I’ve got her mom’s phone number.

Two Words from Tony Doerr

It’s more likely, however, that Buber‘s secret destination was to be one of self-discovery, not a cause.  If so, two such destinations came out of my time at an ashram/monastery in southern India.

The first came at me when the power failed and the air in my claustrophobic little room got too heavy to keep reading devotional books. I needed a fiction fix.  There on my Nook was Anthony Doerr’s “Memory Walls,” which has won all kinds of international awards for short fiction.  Do you know his work?  He may be Idaho’s most accomplished writer, having moved to Boise a few years back and become a fine new force in our little state. 

These short stories are set in apartheid South Africa, Laramie, Lithuania, Sun Valley, Nazi Germany, etc.   The title piece is about a seemingly ordinary Cape Town couple who retire from the real estate business which allows the husband to pursue his first love, fossil hunting.  This takes them into one desolate place after another and it’s driving his wife nuts.  Doerr describes the old man’s passion as “… a boyish avidity.” I read that phrase several times.  Doesn’t that describe some of my enthusiasms-- avid, boyish and quickly replaced?  Might it not drive others nuts?  I learned more from those two words than the night’s reading in theology.

Unfolding, not Becoming


At the ashram I picked up another phrase worth chewing on, “unfolding, not becoming.”  It comes from “The Four O’Clock Talks” by Brother John Martin Sahajananda, a Benedictine monk who has pushed beyond his predecessor Bede Griffith’s attempt to reconcile Christianity and Hinduism.  He is interested in the realm which is “beyond all religions.”    

Growing up Catholic in Mormon country pickled me in the world of good/bad, reward/punishment, striving/achieving.  I could hear a thousand times over “God loves you unconditionally” and “Trust and surrender” and still feel I must be doing something meritorious or becoming someone I currently am not.  God has been mostly in the great beyond.

“Unfolding, not becoming,” as Martin develops it, is another phrase suggesting we are already whole, loved and saved and that the “Kingdom of God is at hand.” God is already here and God and man are already one, writes Martin.  When Mark 1:15 says ‘The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the good news,” Martin interprets this to mean “The good news is that God is everywhere and the whole of creation is in God.  Humanity, creation and God are one.  The spiritual vision of Jesus Christ invites humanity to realize this spiritual revolution.”

“Unfolding and becoming” refers to man’s desires.  We desire to become something other than what we are but, he writes, “I realize that what I want to become, I already am,” he writes.  Unfolding also means melding our will into the Divine and letting go of some of our freedom and individuality, as we will inevitably give them up at our death.  The spiritual journey is about letting go, as I’ve learned so often.  From self to Self, ego to egolessness, from many, one, and so on.

If anything, I felt ego more active in India and since, not less, as this blog might reveal.  But our motives and intentions are seldom pure.  We need a sense of humor about ourselves, don’t we?  After all, we already are who we would become!

I’m explaining only a small aspect of Martin who is no ordinary monk. He and Bede Griffiths are an intellectual hand full.  This is new territory.  If my journey is to end at a secret destination and this is it, I’m just getting under way.  But then there’s nowhere to go but where we already are. 
India has been my preoccupation since I began preparing in April through the end of 2012.  It will be percolating and influence me for the rest of my life. 








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