I spent three weeks backpacking through India and now on the other side of the experience, I sit at my desk, sipping on my cold Kombucha (just purchased from the civilized Whole Foods) wondering to myself: “Did that just happen?” It’s always a funny feeling to be on the other side of an experience- reflecting on the first inception of the idea to travel, anticipating what it would be like, being in the experience itself, and then looking back on it, unpacking what it was all about.
Anyone who has spent time in India knows there aren’t really words for what happens there; for what it’s like to actually experience the sheer chaos of the land. Albeit a tremendous simplification, here are a few learnings I drew from my time in India.
1. I’m not 23 anymore: Sure, I’m only 27, but this 4 year gap feels huge to me. The reason I mention this point is because it’s important to me to fully experience and embrace whatever stage of life I’m in, instead of clinging to a previous one or reaching for something that hasn’t yet happened. I want to engage with every single moment of my life, for the sake of experiencing the complete spectrum of the human condition. When I was 23 and traveled around Asia for the year- I slept on beaches, seldomly showered, forgot to shave my legs for a year, and spent as little money as I possibly could. And I didn’t think twice about any of it. In fact, it elated me to live this way. Now? I want air conditioning. I don’t want to take the 16 hour sleeper train with 5,000 other Indians- I want to take an airplane. I want to sleep in the $15 room, instead of the $1 room. I don’t want to risk my health for the sake of the adventure and the story. I’m not talking luxury travel here, I’m just talking a bed without bugs in it. 4 years ago, I would have judged the 27 year old me like crazy, but as the 27 year old me looking back- all I can think about is how glad I am to have fully engaged with 23 year old me, because I am never going back to that time. I am so grateful I didn’t miss out on this moment of life.
2. India is fucking insane: No one tells you this. Well, people tell you, but not enough. There are 1.3 billion people living in the country so at any given moment, no matter which way you look, there are crowds and crowds of humans. This alone is overwhelming (keep in mind I live in NYC). New York seems like a walk in the Montana countryside compared to India. In addition to the mass crowds, the poverty and human suffering is unfathomable and heartbreaking. The scorching May sun beats down on already overheated bodies, while men with missing limbs crawl through the streets, desperately begging for rupees. Newborn babies sleep on the sidewalks, while young starving children run around with dirty faces and no shoes. Old women, some blind, wander up to tuk tuks, again, begging for some money to feed themselves. Cows roam the streets as well, and eat out of garbage cans, shitting every few feet, while skeleton- thin dogs rummage through street trash, hoping to find their next meal. It is the most “in your face” place I’ve ever been. Anything us westerners hide from in life- poverty, death, disease- is shoved at you by India; you are forced to look it right in the eye. And even amidst all of the human suffering, there is a liveliness and richness to India that is unmatched by possibly any place on earth: the vibrant colors, the tantalizing smells, the constant noise (mostly car horns). Most of the country is starving, yet it is so full with life.
3. We go in, only for the sake of going out: I spent the first half of my twenties extremely introspective, constantly relating my outer experiences to my inner world. I withdrew into myself. I am grateful for this time because it offered me the chance to get to know myself in an intimate way, however, living in an extreme state of introspection no longer calls to me. I am much more interested in living outwards where I can fully participate in the world. I want to be ravished by the moment, instead of being conscious of the moment. I also use to desperately seek moments of spiritual connection when I was younger - I ached for profound experiences that would make me feel deeply. I no longer have this same longing, and have instead grown more trusting and understanding of my process. In India, I realized more than ever that moments of spiritual connection take time to build and they don’t happen all the time. We have glimpses of them- standing on top of a mountain peak, looking into my baby brothers eyes, watching the sunrise illuminate the morning sky. In my experience, profound, spiritual moments cannot be sought after, they just happen. Like love, we can’t go searching for them or put pressure on ourselves to find them. And we most certainly cannot overthink them or they will never come. What we can do is jump out of our minds and jump into the world. As writer Aimee Bender puts it: “ The world dries up and dies when there’s too much thought and not enough heart.” I try not to forget this part.