I'm back from India and have everything and nothing to say. Do you ever feel like that? Caught in between two extremes? This was my fourth trip to India and I’m often asked why I continue journeying to this amazing land. I am drawn to the extremes and the lessons of surrender they bring. My life in America is pretty balanced and I feel like I have control over things for the most part; my temperature, my diet, transportation, water temperature, water availability, knowing I can find a bathroom - simple things, right? Things we take for granted.
I think I go to India every year to continually wake myself up. My trips are rooted in spirituality, so my experiences in India most definitely reground my heart and soul. But with every trip, I reenergize my senses. The days are thick with new smells, tastes, sounds, sights, and new things to touch. I return home to New York with new eyes, new ears, new taste buds…I feel like who I am, the real me, gets fortified. I strengthen my resolve.
In India, there is a constant subtle chaos that seemingly creates extreme circumstances. Water heaters either provide scalding water for your shower or liquid ice cubes pour from the faucet. The middle ground of warm is hard to come by. I am lucky that I travel with groups (shout out to Yogamaya New York!) that strive to provide us with the optimal circumstances, (this year, 3 out of 5 of our hotel accommodations were converted palaces!) But even with their best efforts, the extremes show their faces, and we are left to surrender to whatever conditions are available. And this is what I love – not getting comfortable or complacent. Really appreciating what is offered despite it not being our ideal situation or what we’re used to.
When I step out of my comfort zone, my senses are heightened. I am more aware of my surroundings, and I feel like I’m living on a higher frequency. Colors are more vibrant, smells are more intoxicating, food tastes extra sweet, extra spicy, extra sour, extra savory, and the sounds of constant horns blowing, temple bells ringing, and street vendors bellowing act as a musical soundtrack that I’ve come to expect and love. I always feel like I am an extra on the set of some exotic movie when I am in India. And like any actor, whether a supporting character or the lead, our job is to stay fully present.
My teacher Dhanurdhara Swami, whom I always see during these trips when we go to Vrindavan, teaches that only black and white exist, they are the absolutes. The color gray is just an illusion. The sand under our feet may look gray, but our mind creates this color when we see specks of black sand next to specks of white sand. These absolutes of color are also extremes. What other times in our lives do we take extremes and temper them to create something new? Yes, ideally, hot + cold = warm. In India, at bath time you often fill a bucket of the scalding water and let it cool and then take a ‘bucket shower.’ The hot spice of a dish can be calmed with yogurt. In New York, I go to concerts and wear earplugs. They don’t mute sound, but they muffle the hard edges and soften the sound, and actually allow me to hear the music better. When I travel in India I often wear earplugs to soften the sounds around me.
These extremes, more than anything, deepen my experience of life. They remind me to be grateful for what I have, to make the best of situations, to feel things more intensely. They remind me not to coast, to keep my eyes and ears open. More importantly, to keep my mind and my heart open.
You don’t have to travel to India to find the extremes of life, or to learn their lessons. We are smacked daily with feelings of abundance/depletion, experiences of racism/acceptance, feeling loved/unloved, or greeted with success/failure. These absolutes can be overwhelming. So what to do? We temper the circumstances the best we can. Adjust. Look for balance, the illusion of gray. These seem like absolutes, like whatever is happening is locked into being black or white, right?
When I am faced with extreme circumstances, I try to ask myself ‘who am I’ despite what is going on around me. Dhanurdhara Swami also taught me that our essence is ‘that quality which cannot be changed.’ Wherever I go - India, home to Missouri, back to New York City - life will always hand me something different. Whether I rue or marvel at what I’m facing, I must greet it with my truest self. My essence, my core, the part of me that cannot be changed.
When we were in Jaipur, we were treated to lassis. In America, most lassis come in the mango variety, one of my least favorite flavors, so I normally pass. This lassi experience was presented in an extreme way. ”These are the best lassis in all of India. You will be in bliss, you will be sipping ambrosia, tasting divine nectar, you don’t want to miss this.” Well, when you put it that way…
This lassi also came in only two flavors, not a mango in sight, simply SWEET and SALTY. Such a metaphor for India – and life! I chose sweet.
Oh. My. Krishna.
Bliss. Ambrosia. Divine nectar. It was the best lassi in all of India.
This is my humble effort to recreate what I tasted. Pretend you're in India, drinking an exotic smoothie!
- 2 cups plain yogurt (I used fatfree Greek.)
- 1 1/2 cups milk (I used soy.)
- 9 tablespoons honey
- 4 ice cubes
- 1 pinch of saffron threads
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- chopped pistachios for garnish
In an electric blender, smooth out the yogurt with a little bit of milk, blending for one minute. Add the remaining milk and honey. Blend for one minute. Add the ice cubes and blend for one minute. Add the saffron and cardamom and blend for 30 seconds until frothy. Pour into 2 glasses and garnish with the chopped pistachios.