Thursday, March 21, 2013

There Is No Place Like India

The following blog post is copied from a GPM Spring 2013 session participants' personal blog. The session ended yesterday. Erin, 19 really captures some of the deep lessons one learns from service with the children living in the slums. We found her insights profound and we are grateful for sharing her ideas and feelings with us all:

Thursday, March 21st - 7:23 p.m. - Paridhi Apartments, Thane Nth Mumbai

As I sit down to write what will be my last Mumbai blog post, I am experiencing a lot of mixed emotions. In a few hours, I will leave Mumbai and travel to Sydney, Australia where I will be living and working for a couple of months. Although I am looking forward to that, I now feel that India has become my home. Things that used to make me turn my head, I now overlook as normal. I feel absolutely indebted to this land and its people for everything it has taught and shown me. I have seen and felt immense sadness and hardship, and I have seen unbelievable joy. I have seen images that will haunt my mind forever, and I have witnessed things I will never forget.

I have had crazy adventures in the police office, and seen cows and goats grazing on trash. I have been amazed to see crowds of Indians standing in line to buy train tickets, when it would be just as easy to simply hop on without paying. I have seen that women can do almost every job that men do and many more. I have watched cricket matches, and my photograph is on a billion Indian peoples’ cameras that I will never see again. And only in India have I seen an oxcart walk straight down the street as I sit in Baskin Robbins.

I have learned that humans are capable of not being wasteful. We visited an old-fashioned family-operated oil press in which, after extraction, the leftovers are used as fertilizer. People find uses for other people’s trash. Things most of us would find meaningless and worthless are sorted through, re-used and sold. Food is never wasted, and all parts of a slaughtered animal are put to use.

It was here in India, that for the first time, a beggar allowed me to buy them food, and it is here in India that all the different world religions find a way to live together in harmony. I have blessed a bride and groom on their wedding day, and I have perfected the art of bargaining (well… almost); and I have witnessed the most magical nights here in this city.

India has taught me to be thankful- that you can always find the positive in seemingly negative situations. When I first came, I was slightly annoyed that our shower floor was the same thing as our bathroom floor, and it would always be flooded with water. But why should I be annoyed? It cleans itself! Our showers are always cold? So many out there cannot escape the heat! Gratefulness is everything. It helps us to see things in a completely different light. When riding the train through the city, I see so much poverty around me. So many live in such poverty, and I have nothing to be but thankful. I do not feel bad for people, or guilty myself for not being born into poverty, because I personally believe in karma and life lessons and that we are where we are meant to be in life. However, that does not change the fact that we must always be grateful- in every area of our life and with every fiber of our being. It is also a mistake to believe that the things we own constitute our abundance, when in reality, it is what we choose to appreciate and enjoy that can make us feel like the luckiest person in the world.

India has shown me that I can impact people’s lives so immensely without my knowledge –that it is difficult to comprehend the effect your actions can have on another.

I would like to share a beautiful example of this. The other day, we took a group of about thirty kids from the slums on a field trip to a beautiful park by a lake. With the exception of one child, none of them had ever left the slums. They were so, so excited, and were all dressed up in their finest clothes. After hours of games and laughter, it was time for us to take the children home. As they were boarding the bus, one little girl said, “Today must have cost so much money for you all- the bus, the games, and so much good food… Why did you spend so much time and money on us, instead of spending it on yourselves?”

Wow. For me at least, the day had felt effortless. We got to spend the day by a beautiful lake on a gorgeous afternoon and play games with children. It hadn’t seemed like a big deal to me. Although I knew they were probably in awe of the foreign world outside the slums, I hadn’t really thought about what they were thinking of us. But when I heard about the words that this beautiful child spoke, it made me think. Such an easy, normal thing for us to do was absolutely life-changing for these kids. We showed them a joyous and fun day, and for a few hours, took them out of the heat and poverty of the slums where they spend every day of their lives. But it was more than that. We showed them that they are worthy, that they are important, and that there are people out there who care about them.

Similarly, I have spent five days a week over the past two months in classrooms helping to teach these children in the slums. But it didn’t feel like work to me. The sweet smiles and the “Good morning, teacher!” that would greet me as soon as I saw them made it all worth it. Every day, the time I had with them would fly by. But I started thinking about this, as well. Not only had I helped to teach these kids lessons that would provide for them a foothold to one day leave the slums, but I had shown them, simply by my presence, that they matter, that their education is important, and that we want them to make the most of their lives. Being a teacher is not just about what you teach to your students, but about how you are coming across to them and the lessons you are silently conveying. Much of the learning in this world is acquired without verbal language. Therefore, it is important to always choose the kind path. Smile at everyone and be compassionate, let your intentions be good ones, and give with your whole heart.

Overall, I feel that living in India has been a big confidence booster for me. I feel so strongly that wherever I am, whoever I am with, and however I feel, I am never, ever alone. There is help and love available to me from every angle and from every dimension. I feel at peace, and there is no need to fear the world or anything in it. Every soul in this universe is the same although there is an illusion that we are all separate and different. We can see ourselves in another’s eyes if only we look deeply enough, and although we don’t always speak the same language, we can understand each other’s hearts and humanity. True communication goes beyond; it is a language of the heart.

One of the most important things? Enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Live life with every sense that you have, and process the world around you with your entire mind. A few weeks ago, while standing on a beautiful beach with a light breeze, staring out into a golden sunset with wet sand between my toes, these words came to my mind: “We as humans rarely stop to enjoy the present moment. We are always thinking of places we wish we could be and then once we are there, we become bored very quickly. This is because the holy grail of contentment does not lie in any external place or possession, but from within. So many come to believe that happiness is a destination, when in reality, it is a manner of traveling. Be thankful for what you are given, and use that to bless others’ lives. Instead of always thinking bigger, next, and more, think NOW. For now is all there is.”

Since coming here, I have heard from so many people: “India can make or break you.” or “You either love India or you hate it.” There is a lot of truth in these statements, but for me, it has been a lot about attitude. New things are going to seem foreign at first, but with a positive attitude, you can turn every situation into a learning experience, and even a joy.

Two weekends ago, as I was cruising in the back of a rickshaw down a rural road on the coast, I experienced absolutely happiness. It was as if everything else in my life just melted away and it was only me and the present moment- and pure happiness. Apparently I had the biggest smile on my face because I was asked why I looked so happy. Grinning, I said the first thing that came to my mind. “Because I AM so happy. I’m so fortunate to be here – it’s beautiful. What reason do I not have to smile?”

I am so grateful to my parents for allowing me to take this leap of faith and make this journey. Doing things “by the book” is not mandatory for a fulfilling life. I hope that now and in the future, you all will have the strength and insight to know what is best for yourself. Remember, if you ever find yourself getting discouraged by the small things, weighed down by life… Just stop for a second. Reflect. Imagine life as a whole. Expand your viewpoint. There is so much more to the world- so many people, and oh so much to live for. Never lose hope in the place that you find yourself in, mentally or physically. See problems as a chance to excel, and always keep your head up.

In conclusion, I would like to share a quote from my favorite movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

"For what it's worth: it's never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit, start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of, and if you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again."

Love and blessings,


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