Posts Tagged ‘consciousness’

A prayer for the long-term traveler: Let me always remember that this world rewards my attention handsomely. Beware the whirlpool of meaninglessness that lurks when I lose sight of the horizon, when the world’s endless mosaic before me seems daunting and impossibly demanding. There is a hazard to travel over the long term: that it become a chronicling or mere tracking of the “galvanic twitches of the eternal pointless present,” as Wallace Stegner memorably puts it. Too many people and sights that become interesting in the same way, too little agency to act beyond my prescribed role as a stranger in these contexts. But I have faith that, as I keep learning about my surroundings and keep my eyes open to new kinds of surprises, this experience can be endlessly engaging. (more…)


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In Burma, it’s all a little magical. Everyday life is so bizarre, so full of contradictions, that it feels as if the very idea of reality were coming loose. And that may well be the case in Burma. More than once during our travels, I think of Alice in Wonderland. I’ve fallen into a rabbit hole, clearly, I continue to fall, and there is no telling how deep this hole is. (more…)

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Tell me about Bangladesh: How is it different from India? This is the question that everyone from home asks me. In our first destination, Sylhet, we find that the lungi is deeply in style, and this combined with the pervasive stares makes us feel like we are transported back to Tamil Nadu. A new development, however, is that whenever we stop to do anything on the street, a crowd of 10 or 20 men gathers within moments to watch. Look, the foreigners are trying to buy water at the store. Look, the foreigners are arguing with a baby-taxi driver. Look, the foreigners are drinking tea, are visiting a tailor, are admiring a shop full of saris and lungis.

These crowds are unnerving for sure, but deeply benign. A disagreement over price can be easily resolved when people from the crowd intervene on behalf of fairness. A language barrier in rickshaw directions can be overcome when the crowd member with the best English steps forward to interpret. (more…)

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This advent, I have been thinking about light. Light allows me to see more detail, but I have found that sometimes darkness helps me look calmly at only a few things. I also feel less exposed in the dark and feel like I can watch without exposing others. With warm, soft light, we find the courage to see each other.

First Advent: Bodhgaya

At the Bangladeshi Vihara, devotees have lit thousands of butter lamps to remind of the Buddha’s enlightenment. (more…)

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Kolkata as a city defied my expectations dramatically. As predicted, it was a vibrant Indian city; it was the most cosmopolitan place I’ve seen in India by far. Also, as I could have foreseen, it had a bit of the dark Kali energy lurking in places. Ultimately I was surprised that it lacked the pervasive and crushing poverty I expected from its reputation. It was much cleaner than Chennai in terms of sidewalk and street condition, and there were far fewer people living in the streets where we explored.

Street view in Kolkata.

Turn the page to the Buddhist village of Bodhgaya. Here, it is refreshing to be a part of an international presence that is not about the interests, demands, and money of white people. True, there are more beggars and as many touts here as anywhere we’ve been, but the real business of this town is to serve the monks who are pilgrims to the holy site of the Buddha’s enlightenment. (more…)

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After our three-day vacation in Puri, it is hard to reactivate the engaged mind of a traveler. Even in Bhubaneswar, our next destination, I feel myself settled into dangerous rhythms and habits of mind. Having established internally that India is the new background for my life, I am no longer content to just watch it all go by. Suddenly, disturbingly, I have trouble coming up with “something to do.” Eat? Shop? Play cards? Visit the internet? Read? I go through these options like a checklist when in doubt.

Watching laundry dry.

How did this happen? I have somewhat forgotten how to watch and see with freshness of mind. One most noteworthy casualty: my eye for photos. I am not looking for shots, I am not seeing beyond the background. My senses are numbed. Subconsciously, I have adjusted to the smells of India; I now only identify smell sensations as negative or positive and pass over the actual content of the experience. (more…)

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