The next stage of my pilgrimage took me out of ashrams and into worlds that very few westerners or middle class people enter. I flew into the state of Andra Pradesh, with friends from Luxembourg who run a fund-raising NGO called DIGNITY. There we met with the leaders of a partner NGO -- Centre for World Solidarity headquartered in Hyderabad -- and received updates about the projects that Dignity finances for struggling rural tribal communities in the mountains. While based in the small mountain town of Paderu, we daily made long trips through windy roads into isolated tribal communities. The scenery was breath-taking high in the mountains: we passed an ancient Buddhist shrine in the rocks, rice paddies, green treed areas, tiny traditional villages, herds of sheep on the roads, many goats and cows grazing roadside… and monkeys!
Although my five years of living in an indigenous community in northern Canada gave me some foundation for my experiences in these villages, still everything was so new and astonishing to me. Each evening I found myself incapable of processing the day – my mind just couldn’t deal with all the unfamiliar stimuli nor the sense of stepping into another time dimension. Upon entering most of the villages we were treated as royalty: water poured over our feet; given bouquets of flowers; Pooja anointing of rice & turmeric on our foreheads; crowns sewn of leaves; drumming and dancing. How to handle this? Images that are imprinted in my consciousness include: extremely simple, crowded housing where families sleep together on one mat; pride & joy in the faces of those who showed us grain and bean samples of successful crops; concave bellies in villages where the rice paddies didn’t get enough rain; women carrying water from the river; chickens & goats living amongst all the human activity; palpable sense of despair in some villages; women carrying heavy loads of cabbages on their heads from field to truck; an elderly woman pumping hard to show us the well was dry; women pounding rice with heavy wooden posts throughout our meeting; beautiful babies, shy small children staring at us with big eyes; men standing in Paderu market looking very nervous to sell their crops of ginger root and amala nuts; children and teens living in residential schools segregated by gender in larger villages, learning a contemporary lifestyle. I had so many wonderings to hold within myself.
A week after my return to health, this is the big INSIGHT that came through: When I was daily bombarded with so much stimuli that shocked me, knocked me off my inner balance, and overwhelmed my awareness… my place of inner alignment hit its edge. I couldn’t digest the contradictions, the time warp, and my relationship with these people. I think I moved into duality of “me” and “them” as a way of coping with the despair and pain that my awareness picked up. That became separation … distancing from my Heart. And so I stopped seeing the Divinity, the Light in them. Hmmm… doing that literally makes me sick. Can you feel that? One tribal women’s gathering gave me the name LAKSHMI (the name of a powerful Hindu goddess), along with placing a huge mala of roses around my neck as people do with statues of deities. While confusing to me at the time, I now see that it was a call back to knowing my own Divine Self and to calling these awesome women to see the Divine in each of their own Selves! I share this inner journey in the hope that some of you might might find it inspiring on your path. If not, just know that this sabbatical in India is indeed a pilgrimage for me…
Henri is with me now and we are at Saccidananda Ashram resting, meditating, exploring local villages, and engaging with a fascinating spiritual Teacher. We enjoyed part of the local Hindu celebration of Thaiapoosum at the recent full moon, and we are loving the Hindu expressions of Divinity everywhere!