I had a good talk with Roman today. Have I mentioned lately that I am so lucky to have such an amazing boyfriend? 🙂 We’ve been having a relatively quiet few days in Delhi. It’s not like during our last visit to Delhi, when I think I was going a bit stir crazy and I know for sure I was in a pretty bad mental (and hormonal) space. But I have been feeling a bit restless lately, and it’s proving a good opportunity to take stock of my mental state and remember the original motivation behind this trip.
My friend Ritu is away on business, her mom has got a cold and Roman is seriously embroiled in a major IT project, trying to resuscitate Ritu’s failing laptop. So things have been a bit on the quiet side, and we’ve been choosing to take it easy. We’ve been sorting out all the logistics for the next bit of the trip, spending hours pouring over Lonely Planet and surfing through the internet and eventually making bookings. We’ve done some leisurely bits of tourism, I’ve finally gotten around to mending that needed doing. We’ve watched a couple of movies, I’ve been enjoying Ritu’s small library (reading Jack Kornfield for the first time – a buddhist who is recommending impartial and compassionate observation of the self as a good starting place for increasing inner peace. One metaphor in the book is seeing the true self as the sky, and our emotions and reactions as weather patterns that come and go across that sky. Seems like a pretty smart guy. 🙂 ). The guys at the local Cafe Coffee Day practically know us by name at this point. And of course my love affair with food has continued. So it’s not like we’ve been doing nothing.
But it’s enough of a relaxed pace to kick up some of my little neurosis. 🙂
There’s the immediate guilt at the thought that we are in India for goodness sake, we should be doing more, we should be doing everything! If I’m not sight-seeing, exploring away from the tourist spots, practicing yoga, taking cultural classes, volunteering with street kids, Tibetan refugees and conservation efforts, having insight-providing conversations, making new friends, trying new foods, deepening my relationship with Roman, keeping up with the folks back home, experiencing inner growth, writing postcards, relaxing fully and having the time of my life, well then, I’m simply not doing enough! 😉
The saving grace is that while part of me really feels that way, another (saner) part of me can also see me feeling this way and making these demands of myself and just laugh. I have the perspective (and a wonderful boyfriend) to remind me that we are on vacation and there are no rules about what we should or should not be doing. To boot, we are just at the start of our extended holiday. We both worked extremely hard in the months and years leading up to this – some down time is not uncalled for. 🙂
Overcoming that though, there is still plenty of static going on in my brain.
When I left the US to come to Switzerland all those years ago, I had the opportunity to really live for myself. With no ties in Zürich in the beginning, I had no obligations towards anything aside from my job. Non-business hours were mine and mine alone. Back in the States, my love for and need to please the people in my life meant that I had overextended myself beyond my physical, energetic and emotional means. During the first few months in Zürich, I had the luxury of being able to do only what I really wanted to with my time. And with no distractions – no social engagements, no TV, no internet, no expectations – I had the space to find out how to listen to myself and discover what it was that I wanted, both in general and in the moment. I felt genuinely present in my life and in the moment for the majority of the time, and I loved it.
I was lucky enough to experience this at different points during my time in Zürich. But as I mentioned in my first post, towards the end I was feeling less and less ‘in my own life’ – less connected to myself and less present. For me, coming on this trip is, in part, about trying to be more present again.
So, I also have to laugh at myself, watching how my brain is fighting doing just that during these days of down time in Delhi.
Traveling and seeing new things, it’s easier to be present because I am simply taking in the new sights and experiences – my ego takes a back seat. But take away the entertainment of something new, and my brain steps in right away. I’ve been diving into books, podcasts, iPhone games (good when used for downtime, less good when used for escapism) as one means of avoiding the present.
I also find that I am daydreaming about what happens after the big trip is over. Which is somewhat ridiculous considering it’s only just started. I’m not too concerned about it as I’m not building up any expectations or spending any real energy on it – it’s just light-hearted daydreaming – but it’s still being anything but present in the here and now.
I’ve also been spending a lot (and I mean a lot) of energy on my favorite pass time – worrying about other people’s comfort and other people’s perception of me.
Are we over staying our welcome at my friends’ house? Am I getting on her mothers’ nerves? Are we being entertaining house guests? Are we polite enough? Are we being too polite? How should I act so that I can put the women working in the house at ease while not being too informal with them which might be awkward? Am I behaving too much like a tourist or too much like a tourist who is trying not to behave like a tourist when we are hanging out at the Cafe Coffee Day? What do the local people there think of us? What about the other tourists? Is it culturally awkward for me to be wearing a salwar kameez? Am I being culturally aware enough? Am I being poised enough? Am I pretty enough? Smart enough? Generous enough? Present enough???
And that is just the short list.
All of the nervous energy spent on those questions is very effective at keeping me from being present and just experiencing. Roman was talking about the difference between the need to control a situation when you feel like you are separate from it, feel like an outsider, versus the ability to just be present and experience a situation when you know that you are a part of it. Knowing that you are where you are meant to be in your life and that we are all part of the same thing, trusting that what is going on for the people around you is perfect as it is and their reaction is not your responsibility, trusting that you just have to be responsible for yourself and that where you are is just perfect too – a trust based on a degree of faith I suppose.
I understand these concepts on an intellectual level. When I was at the center of my life during those wonderful months in Switzerland, I was also living those concepts. But I guess I need some more practice to really ‘get it’ to the point that I can act from this knowing.
I am grateful that at this point in my life I have the ability to (mostly) see my thoughts and reactions for what they are. I am grateful I have the opportunity now to practice – to let go of fears and insecurities based on the beliefs that I am not good enough, that I am separate from the world and responsible for its reaction to me, rather than for my reaction to it. To see these how these thoughts and insecurities thrashing through my brain keep me from engaging in a genuine way with the present moment. And to try to disengage with those thoughts in my head and instead start genuinely engaging with the experiences and people right in front of me.
It’s great to have this time in Delhi (even with the slight discomforts I am creating for myself), to remember some of the original motivation for this trip. Here’s hoping I’ll get better at this whole being present thing as we get deeper into our journeys! And that I’ll have the compassion and perspective not to beat myself up about it when I don’t get it perfect all the time. 🙂