On my tour, we went to a place called Sarnath. As usual, I had no idea what to expect.
We went into museum and Rashid,our guide, explained that statues of Buddha all had three interesting features. The Buddha’s long ears signified the importance of being a good listener and his ever present smile represented joyful peace. What I didn’t know was that his seemly minimalist hairstyle set an example for the unimportance of outward appearances.
We passed through doors into a beautiful place of greens, sandstone and sunshine.
After Buddha meditated for forty-nine days under a Bodhi tree, he came to Sarnath to preach for the first time, speaking about the doctrine of suffering and the eightfold Middle Path to enlightenment.
Buddha had actually lived in this place and I was in awe. The sandstone was the remains of the Buddhist monasteries that once existed here. And the large domed building was a stupa, an ancient shrine used for meditation.
Rashid pointed out a Bodhi seedling growing out of a crevice in a tree.
I chose to immerse myself in the experience and I wander through the site alone.
I came upon a group of Buddhists who had come there as part of a pilgrimage.
I noticed the bits of gold leaf that worshipers had left on the stone to pay homage.
Later, Rashid took us a short distance away to the tallest statue of Buddha in world.
I am so glad to have had this experience concerning Buddhism. There is so much to learn about all the different ways of the world. I not only want to know them but also understand them. As Buddha said, I guess I am looking for a “right understanding”.
I haven’t written since April 8. I haven’t really lived the life of The Autonomous Traveler in the last month. I have had to do things and things have happened to me. There were unexpected car problems, repairs to my rack and pinion steering, a flat tire that led to four new tires and new brake pads.
After spending nine winters in St. Augustine, I decided to give up my rented condo and try something else next winter. Because of this, March consisted of “good byes” to a lot of great people. Then there was the packing up of my stuff to take back up north. I hate packing.
On March 21, my 92 year old ex mother-in-law, who was really a mom to me, died as a result of a car accident. A week before, I got to spend some time with her. She and my 96 year old ex father were a RV rally in Georgia. She was an extremely kind person and everyone at this yearly convention loved her. She always smiled and took a genuine interest in everyone she met. Her love for me was unconditional and she really took an interest in who I was. She frequently called me to see if I was okay and each year when I made the 1300 mile trips to and from Florida she checked in on me daily. She was a person of substance and I miss her.
When I arrive at home I had to unpack all the stuff I had just spent so much time packing. And then I had to fulfill the civilized obligation to clean my house after its long winter of being empty.
And it snowed yesterday morning. The flakes seemed almost embarrassed to be falling at the end of April and were very tiny in size. They didn’t have the power to cover the grass and they moved on to somewhere else or maybe they just gave up. It’s been a long winter
On top of everything, I’m sick. I have caught something from my youngest grandson. Just before be went to urgent care and diagnosed with viral pneumonia, I held him in my arms and read him stories. He is fine now. I’m staying put and nursing a nasty cough. Grandmothers will do anything for love.
I am feeling the pull of the anchor, something we all feel from time to time after traveling or taking a vacation away from home. Traveling is so wonderful, it is movement and experiencing new things. It is present moment joy away from everyday routine. It involves interaction with new people and for the most part, discovering the kindness of strangers. Michael Crichton in his book, Travels, talked about travel as an human equalizer in which economic status, past mistakes, education level, history etc. are unknown and we are only judged by the warmth of our smiles and our kindness to others.
I am feeling the pull of the anchor. I am back home, at my base camp and there is so much to do. There are good people here but there are others I must deal with. Some people irritate me and I know I irritate them. And then there is our country’s politics and an election is coming. We are in a state of conflict and there is horrible news everyday of people calling each other names, hurting each other and even killing.
I am feeling the pull of the anchor. Why can’t I have the life of a tranquil wanderer when I come back home? I’m tired and I have this terrible cough. Anchored here, I have time to reflect on some solutions.
12/1/2001 I took a day long class on Psychology of The Mind “Thought is neutral until we take it personally.” “What other people think of you is none of your business.”
Al Anon (My dad was an alcoholic) “Live and let live.” “One day at a time.” “Keep it simple.” “First things first.” “How important is it?” “Easy does it”. “Keep an open mind.” “Think.”
Posts of Wisdom from Facebook “Anything you can’t control is teaching you to let go.” “When you can’t control what’s happening, challenge yourself to control the way you respond to what’s happening.”
Class on Mindfulness, March 2019 “Stay in the present moment.” (Studies show this practice can enhance your health and add years to your life.)
My “sickbed” reading, How to be A Stoic, Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life by Massimo Pigliucci. (A lot of simple but clear presentations about Stoicism on youtube.com) “Remain calm under pressure and avoid emotional extremes.” “We suffer not from events in our lives but our judgement about them.” Four pillars of Stoicism-Wisdom (practical knowledge), temperance (moderation), justice (fairness and the belief in shared humanity), and courage. Life is difficult but each of us is stronger than we think and we will get through it.
My memory prods me with these messages over and over and I choose to forget them. I need to practice. I need to pull up anchor.
“Bridge over Troubled Waters” by Simon and Garfunkel (1970) “Sail on silver girl Sail on by Your time has come to shine All your dreams are on their way”
I am a gatherer, not a hunter. I wander and obtain things randomly. This trait may have been influenced by ancient ancestral memories. I first realized the roots of this when I read Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Aurel. I loved that book because of its informative portrayal of life in caveman days. Back then, primitive males seemed to be focused on the hunt and ultimately stalking and bringing down animals for food. The main character in the book was a prehistoric woman named Ayla who became an observant gatherer and a skillful medicine woman. She was a part of early human culture in which the women of the tribe collected things in their wanderings; berries, feathers for ornamentation, plant fibers for binding, herbs for flavoring and healing, and any found objects that through ingenuity and inventiveness could be put to good use.
Modern shopping may have been influenced by these prehistoric habits. Some people decide on a specific goal and go to the mall just for that one thing (example, a craftsmans saw at Sears). And then there is another group who chooses to wander through shops and stores to see what will show up.
I am in the second group. Wandering, with no set outcome in mind, not only sets the pace and scope of my traveling adventures but also dictates how I acquire things.
I love thrift stores. My short term ancestral memory draws me to them. My parents lived through The Great Depression. In my family, the stretching of dollars was practiced with great enthusiasm. This has become my life approach and causes me to direct funds toward what I really I want, namely traveling. I also love the triumphant feeling of out smarting big corporations when I find an almost new designer blouse for a mere $3.99.
Like Ayla, the attentive and cunning cavewoman, I’m a gathering huntress focused on the moment, confident in my ability to find treasures.
Yesterday, I had a particularly rewarding day. I decided to stop at a thrift store I fondly call “Sal’s”. I came up with this name in my early years of thrift store gathering when I was embarrassed to admit shopping there.
Friend:”I love your blouse. Where did you get it?”
Me: “Sal’s Boutique!” And then I’d quickly change the subject.
Yesterday, I walked into “Sal’s”, a big, bright place filled with color. It smells a particular way, a bit like old things with a faint scent of baby powder. I love the place because I know there is always a good chance I will find something both unexpected and cool.
I first scanned the jewelry case. I have learned to ask the clerk to put things aside for me until I can checkout. I have seen too many male customers carefully examining the pieces and quickly taking away the good stuff. I suspect they are undercover antique dealers.
I passed the long line of purses on the front wall. I have both bought and recycled many there. I pass the shoe racks and the hats ( I feel my nose is too big for a hat!).
And then I move on to the side wall that stretches way, way to the back of the store. Its shelves hold all sort of things grouped by color; mugs, vases, notebooks, candles, frames, etc. etc. etc. I have always loved the blue section where I have been lucky enough to find lovely pieces of Polish pottery.
The book section, because of online shopping and digital reading, is now the only “book store” in town.
I decided not to look at clothes. Real finds take time and involve going through the rack one item at a time. I was content to do the back wall with its electronic gadgets and lamps, miscellaneous stuff sorted into zip lock bags, and piles of framed pictures and prints.
Something caught my eye, a framed picture with some kind of writing on it. It was a Hindu prayer! Here I was back home in the US at a thrift store 7000 miles from India and I find this mystical piece. It spoke to me of what I had learned in India, to live in the present moment. It confirmed what I now believed, that I must squeeze the life out of everyday with no expectations or fear. And it reminded me to be thankful for all that comes my way, planned or unplanned.
I carried my lovely new treasure to the front of the store and paid for it. I hung it in my bedroom by the eastern window where the new sun always greets me. I will say the prayer every morning and soon I’ll know it by heart. Why did I acquire this beautiful bit of India? Coincidence or blessing? I have always preferred to believe in the latter.
As I stated in previous posts, I went to India with little preparation. Sure, I had the required shots including the one for typhoid and also I had prescription pills to ward off malaria. ( I was told this medicine might produce crazy dreams while I was taking it, months later I am still plagued by night dramas with intriguing and intricate plots.) I bought a new pair of shoes carefully broken in before the trip. I wisely carried bottles of hand sanitizer and peppermint oil for odoriferous street smells.
What I didn’t bring was enough historical knowledge. As a person who thinks she knows enough to “wing it”, I found my head spinning when I saw the tremendous Muslim influence in a country I had thought was purely Hindu. This was a pleasant surprise since I always hoped to see Islamic architecture in my travels and in India, of all places, I did.
It’s funny how little I was taught in school about Islam or, maybe being a teenager, I didn’t have the motivation to pay attention. Finally, the Taj Mahal caught my attention.
The Mughals were Sunni Muslims who conquered Delhi, India and ruled northern India from 1526 to 1707. Akbar, the grandson of the first emperor believed in religious tolerance and ruled over the Hindus with diplomacy. He abolished the tax on non-Muslims, banned the slaughtering of cows, and promoted Hindu warriors in his army. He became a vegetarian and married a Hindu princes. He also established a place where religious scholars of all faiths could meet and share common beliefs.
Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan, ruled from 1628-1658 and loved to build. He constructed the Tahj Mahal as a mausoleum for his dead wife, the love of his life, Mumta Mahal.
The Taj Mahal is made of ivory white marble and is the most famous example of Islamic architecture with its minarets (spire towers). a dome, and pointed arches. No images of living things are allowed in the Muslim faith but marble and inlayed flower designs are everywhere plus Islamic calligraphy.
Shah Jahan lived in the sandstone and marble Red Fort, which he also built during his reign.
Here I was able to see more Islamic architectural features including Moorish multifoil arches and muqarnas vaulting with its textured detail.
The fort was massive and fascinating.
Unfortunately, the romantic, creative Shah Jahan would have further tragedy in his life. His tyrannical son, Aurangzeb would become the last Mughal emperor. During Aurangzeb’s reign, Hindu temples and images were destroyed and the playing of music was forbidden. He imprisoned his father in the fort where legend says Shah Jahan died of a broken heart in 1660. As a prisoner, he could see the Tag Mahal in far distence but was never allowed to visit his wife at her final resting place again.
I learned both beautiful and tragic lessons in these historic places. We, as human beings, have clear choices in life, either we can create beauty or we can spend our lives destroying things, other people and maybe even ourselves. This sunny day in Agra, India made this lesson extremely clear.
When India gained its independence from Britain in 1947, a plan was made to make Pakistan an Islamic state and divide Kashmir into two, half Pakistani and half Indian. These two areas are separated by The Line Of Control , a heavy militarized unofficial boundary. These divisions brought about a lot hardship and resentment that still exist today.
On February 14 of this year, Islamic militants staged a suicide bombing in Indian Kashmir killing 40 people. On February 26, 2019, India retaliated by bombing an airstrip in Pakistan used by these militants. The world is calling for restraint since both Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons. An Indian pilot was capture by the Pakistanis but was released. Indian national elections will be held in April and May and this appears to be also holding things in limbo.
The bad feelings between Muslims and Hindus have a long history. What are the keys to compromise and cooperation? These conflicts bother me since I see the same themes in my own country. Is violence and destruction the only outcome? I hope not, for the sake of all future generations no matter what part of the world they live in.
Education is of very great importance to me, followed by the quality of stubbornness. Like many families, my relatives don’t like to talk much about feelings. Dark secrets are buried and many tales are hidden away. As Yuval Noah Harari, writes in his book, Sapien, all cultures are based on stories and those in power decide which stories are will dominate. But I have another viewpoint, that eventually the truth comes out. It leaks through holes of forgotten revelations and suddenly remembered events. These conjure up “ah-ha” moments, bursts of clarity when the mind declares “so that’s why things are the way they are”. One brain scientist stated the mind “remembers patterns not rules”. Thank goodness or we would all be living in a state of bewilderment. If we really listen and observe , we can finally see the inconsistencies in fantasies accepted as true. And if we look deeper yet, we can see the lasting influence that our past and heritage have on our lives.
I remember my grandfather, sitting in the kitchen of his house on Welch Avenue in Niagara Falls, NY. I was about four but I can still see the brown radio on a little wooden shelf way above his head and mine. It was always on when he was present, squawking Polish, his native lauguage, or playing happy Polkas He was always reading a newspaper, coming from who know where, written in the language of the “old country”.
It was years later that my cousin told me the legend of my grandfather and my grandmother. A story that has impacted me and will influence future generations in my family forever.
Before coming to this country before World War I, my grandfather was part of a prosperous family of doctors who expected him to pursue a career in medicine. My grandfather had other ideas, he wanted to marry my grandmother and be a duck farmer. His family was livid and ridiculed his decision by making fun of my grandmother who was illiterate. But she was extremely stubborn and would not allow herself to be shamed. She secretly slipped two duck eggs into her apron, sold them at the market in town, bought chalk and a small slate, and taught herself to read and write.
This spirit of perseverance and the belief that education was the key to a better life and a sense of pride was passed down to my mother who was unfortunately a victim of history. She never went passed the eighth grade because she worked during The Great Depression cleaning houses for a dollar a day. She later worked as a cafeteria lady and a cook but she had learned how important education was. By working hard and saving , my mom put aside enough money so my two sisters and I were able to go to college. She stubbornly rejected the advise of some family members who said education wasn’t important for girls. I owe so much to the strength and persistence of my grandmother and mother. Education was my golden ticket to a professional career as a teacher and now has provided me with the resources to travel. My education has also made me a curious lifelong learner, something I enjoy everyday
Of course, when I visited India I was interested in their education system. School attendance is compulsory for children ages six to fourteen. But I learned there are glaring discrepancies. Private school have more resources.
What is even more disturbing is the fact that about 60% of the Indian population lives in rural areas and according to a study in 2008, the absentee rate for teachers in rural schools was on average 48% each day.
And to make matters worse, as of 2018, 28% of schools (19% public schools) have internet, 9% have computers (4 % for public schools) and only 68% of all school have usable toilets.
Those who have enough money for a good education, mainly those who go to private schools and /or have additional funds for the services of tutors are more likely to get into one of India’s 900 universities or 40,000 colleges. This privileged group does very well as professionals in the fields of technology, information, medicine, engineering, management, and economics. They have great social mobility and are sought by corporations and businesses in the US.
There is hope. Progressive companies in India like Tata Consulting Services (TCS) runs the largest private digital education school for potential employees. 400,000 employable students are coached in data analytics, cloud computing, and the “internet of things.” The company also rotates 200,000 employees at a time in a program to continuously update their techs in 600,000 competencies. “Based on market demand or project specifics, education for workers is always immediately relevant”.
Aravind Eye Care System also trains its workers and is able to provide eye care for poor Indian citizens. They have gone a step further and opened a plant that manufactures intraocular lenses that cost one fourth of those imported from the US.
It’s heartbreaking to see the woundedness of India. The country needs a better education system but also upgrades in security, protection of property rights, health services, and infrastructure. Change is slow because of governmental corruption. Bribery and patronage are very common and widespread.
India needs a strong dose of stubbornness. The people have power in their numbers. Those who are poor and rural must rise from the shame of their situation. The light of justice must be focused on corruption so the government is more effect in serving all Indians. Also, the leaders in employee training need to be encouraged and recognized so their reforms can spread across all of India.
I owe so much to my grandmother who would not allow herself to be shamed. She had the strenghth and ingenuity to do something to better herself and I’m very proud of her stubborn determination. As she lived her story, she planted the seeds of power into the heart of her daughter, my mother. Because of my mom, my sisters and I were able to go to college. Now the grandchildren, and great grandchildren in my family believe in the importance of education also and this light will go on and on. We will all be stubborn and resilient in our resolve. Thank you so much, Mom. Thank you so much, Babci (the Polish word for grandmother)!
I haven’t written in a few weeks, I have been caught up in American culture. I went to a college sorority reunion and spent a few days at an ocean resort. I reside now in a sort of purgatory. I’m a student of Eastern practices (mindfulness and meditation) living in the Western world. I’m a typical American striving to become rather than just be. With baby boomer enthusiasm, I flit from activity to activity hoping in retirement to make up for lost time.
A typical day starts with my morning weigh in. As I squint to see if the numbers have gone down, I remember to put on my glasses. On a recent morning, I didn’t have time to feed the coffee maker and press its buttons. I wasn’t able to watch the news to find out if our country was stable or at least kind once more. I knew in my heart nothing has changed. Maybe I watch every morning because I am mesmerized by how many different ways the same old stuff is presented over and over again. I had to be at the car dealership on this particular morning to have repairs done to my rack and pinion steering. Being an independent woman, I knew what that meant, it was expensive. $500? $1000? No, $1500. I cursed silently in my mind. I have an emergency fund. It will come out of there but my mom taught me to be a saver so the money will have to to be replaced.
My car was repaired, the bill paid, I was agitated. I had courtesy coffee at the dealership but I decide to break one of my rules and have a midday coffee. Under the circumstances, I felt I deserved it. I knew just where to go. I put on a gentle jazz CD in the car player and headed down the highway. I slowed down a bit as I passed some trucks and heavy construction equipment along the side of the road. A group of workers watched as a yellow machine attacked a tree and like an angry dinosaur munched it to pieces.
My destination was a quick stop that boasts of the best coffee in the world. The beans are ground on the spot for each cup. I approached the computerized wall of robot coffee servers and programed one of the screens on their bellies. “Columbian, small”, and then I chose the prompt “leave space” rather than ” fill to the top”.
I decided to stay instead of running home. I sat at the very last table at the end of a shaft separated from the rest of the quick stop by a glass wall. Alone in the corner of this “temple” of capitalism I searched for a little peace. I became mindful, awakening all my senses. Since the entrance was at the far end of my secluded tunnel, I could hear and watch customers come and go. I concentrated on the taste of my premium coffee, felt the temperature of air around me, and smelled the hot dogs perpetually traveling on a revolving grill. My mind took over as I looked ahead. I became uncomfortably aware of the manufactured symmetry, the labels and branding on everything. All objects were priced and ready to be bought. I moved my attention away from my breaths to my traveler’s mind which always seems to contemplate oddities and the lessons they bring.
My eyes settled on a sign over the lottery dispensing machine, “find real riches”. Real riches. What are real riches? Are they all the things that money can buy? Do they bring real happiness?
My mind went back to India, to a Hindu temple with a holy man on duty who was sitting peacefully as if he was waiting for me.
I approached him, bowing and saying “Namaste”. He asked if he could bless me. I had left my purse on our tour bus and I told I had no money with me. He said it didn’t matter and when he was done he tied an orange string around my wrist.
After three and a half months, the token from this kind and gentle man still remains on my wrist.
And I think his blessing still remains, also.
By chance, I happened to be listening to a morning news program when a young Indian man, Parag Khanna, was being interviewed about his latest book, The Future is Asia. I searched out a copy and discovered it was about international opportunities in business. It was extremely interesting because it contrasted Western business models with those influenced by Eastern thought. Asian philosophy encourages unity of self with others, an alliance of man and nature, and an open ended approach to knowledge as something that can change according to circumstances. In Western cultures, we don’t always respect nature and the environment and we are more interest in the advancement of individuals over groups or community. We are more interested in wealth maximization than the welfare of people. Mr. Khanna presented two different business approaches. First, he talked about our current Western approach, “global rules based on order”. And then he quoted a Chinese saying. In it is a vision for our rapidly changing diverse global society, namely that we should strive for “a community of common destiny.” Since I strongly believe, and will always believe, that we are all in this together, I will chose to live this second path.
I’m a stubborn optimist. But maybe I carry it too far. I wanted so badly to bring back home a lovely picture of India and dispel the dirty, dark shadows that label this country.
Three months later, a orange piece of twine remains on my wrist, tied there by a Hindu holy man as a reminder of his blessing. This simple gesture has allowed me to stay close to India. This winter on the other side of the earth, I am taking yoga, a mindfulness class, and breath and meditation classes in an effort to keep memories and feelings alive. India is here with me as I look through my pictures, write, and do research to understand more.
I have learned that behind the smiles I encountered on almost every feminine face I saw, there is a lot of pain. I have taken the time to read about the cultural injustice towards women in India and here, back at home, have found its extreme contrast with my life very disturbing.
India has gone from the fourth most dangerous country for women to number one with its high level of gender based violence and discrimination. Women fear gang rapes, sex trafficking, and forced servitude. They have been victims of acid attacks, female genital mutilation and stoning. Their devaluation has lead to the killing of girl babies, and feticide (the destruction of the female fetus in the womb), and grown women being murdured in a practice called “bride killing” in which victims are “accidently” burned to death.
Even a basic right is denied to females. One out of every three households have toilet facilities. It is the custom of men to relieve themselves on walls anywhere in cities and villages. I witnessed this many times during my tour. Women must sometimes walk long distances to find a secluded spot to maintain modesty while engaging in the simplest bodily functions. The Indian government is attempting to solve the problem by building more public bathrooms but progress is slow.
Women are over half the population but we still fall short in attaining equal rights and power in the world. The degree of injustice has a varied spectrum. Of course, some women, like those in India, are at the extreme end of discrimination. But the cultural story remains the same all over the world, that woman are just not quite on the level of men. I have experienced the subtle nuances; of not being listened to, being written off and not taken seriously. I have felt the pain of believing I was not good enough because of a perceived lack of intellect or because I have not been the perfect ideal of feminine physical beauty. And I have also experienced abuse.
But there is hope, women’s voices are being raised in India. We visited a family who had adopted four girls who had been abandoned by their families And I have since read about a protest on January 1st of 2019 in which thousands and thousands of India’s women stood shoulder to shoulder to form a human line 385 miles long. The government had lifted the ban that stated that women of menstruating age , 10 to 50, were not allowed in the Hindu Sabarimala Temple. Even though the law was passed in September 2018 it was not honored. This wonderful show of solitary named “The Women’s Wall” not only brought attention to this issue but also was a call for all women in the country to speak out about gender equality and social reform.
I believe in the power of positive acts, no matter how small. Each pinpoint of light dispels the darkness. I’m so thankful to the many, many women all through history all over the world who have, bit by bit, worked to raise the dignity of women. As they lifted their voices, they many times faced great danger and humiliation. But their examples as role models have strengthened all of us and we are graced today and will continue to be graced with their dedication. Our vast numbers, all of us, are a positive power in the world and we must continue to work to make sure all women and girls live lives that are never diminished.
I was thrilled that my tour included a “safari” through The Ranthambore National Park, a refuge for tigers. My five year old grandson’s favorite color is orange and therefore, using little kid logic, his favorite animal is a tiger. I promised to bring him one back from India and a lot of pictures.
Ranthambore was once the hunting grounds of the Maharajas of Jaipur. Remains of many of its buildings still dot the area. In 1955, the land became a sanctuary and in 1980, a national park.
The preserve is mostly grassland and semi-desert with enough trees and waterways to sustain a lot of wildlife.
We went out with our naturalist two times the first day, really early in the morning and then before sundown.
No tigers but a lot of very interesting animals.
The next day we went out for a third time. My daughter-in-law had emailed to say that my grandson was asking when I was coming home with his tiger. The sun was setting and I started to think I was going to disappoint him without even a picture.
But suddenly the driver stopped the jeep and our guide signaled us to be quiet. He pointed down a dry riverbed. A tiger was leisurely walking toward us.
We were thrilled. It was Noor, one of the females known as a great hunter and good mother to her cubs.
Noor proceeded to saunter around our jeep allowing all of us to take great pictures.
,As Noor exited into the trees, another jeep filled with more tourists pulled up to us. This group’s guide talked to our guide. Another tiger had been sighted and our two jeeps sped down the trial.
Wow! We were rewarded with another tiger simply named Number 97. He was magnificence as he remained quiet and unafraid, lounging under a tree.
I had my pictures for my grandson and was able to buy him a realistic stuffed animal tiger. He loves it. Grandma came through again. Thank goodness!