Israel Next-Why?

Back home, surrounded by my familiar things, I continue to learn, to wander in my mind back to India. The Hindus divide life into four stages. At age 70, I find myself in the last stage, Sannyasa, a time for renunciation. The Hindu see this as time to move away from material concerns and judgment. It can be a wonderful final chapter, a time to freely wander without expectations, an opportunity to look within and in doing so, find our true selves. It can be a time of exciting spiritual growth.

Joseph Campbell points out a different approach to life roles through his studies of the power of myths. He has written about the “hero’s journey”, the story of a person, usually a male protagonist, who overcomes a big obstacle to become victorious. And we all know the story archetype of the damsel in distress who needs to be rescued. I can’t identify with either. I’m surely not a hero having made so many mistakes in life that have hurt others. The hardest part of my new maturity is remembering, in hindsight, all the obnoxious and horrible things I’ve done. But thank goodness, I’m no longer a damsel in distress. I’m rescuing myself now, thank you very much.

I’m solidly in Sannysas or, to put it in Western terms, I’m on a quest, peacefully observing and listening. Noticing what is real, I look for the stuff beyond marketing, media, and shallow material glitz. Maybe, in a way this has been a lifelong journey, I’ve always lived the word ”why”. I love books and the secrets they hold. I remember, as a kid, pouring over my family’s maroon bound Funk and Wagnall Encyclopedia which we patiently acquired, volume by volume, as a weekly promotion at our local supermarket.

I’m leaving for Israel soon. Why? Because I know so little about what has and is happening there. Because I think it’s fascinating that three major religions share a small space within the walls of the ancient city of Jerusalem. Because I don’t want to judge. I want to continue to stay away from the sharp edges of life, labeling nothing right or wrong, good or bad. Why? Because there is a lot about my true self I still don’t know.

I will be sharing my insights about my trip on my blog. Please sign up to be a follower. That way you won’t miss anything and it will make me happy to know you’re always with me.

“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.”
― Joseph Campbell

Copyright 2019 @theautonomoustraveler.com All right reserved.

India-Cremation on The Ganges, A Celebration of Fire

We traveled The Ganges at night in a wooden boat. The sun was setting and the white sky was diminishing into blackness. As usual, I can no expectations, I was just content happy to drift on the water and be able to take it all in.

Direct experience is wonderful but to a modern American it could be a bit uncomfortable. Back home it seems we have to be continuously stimulated and have our senses shocked. Watch a fast paced car commercial and count how many times they change the image or count how many 30 second ads there are during a TV program break. Is the length of our attention span decreasing?

To drift down a river in a foreign country like India, to be stranger in a very unfamiliar context , to be in a reality with no escape or off button is overwhelming. As a captive in a present moment, I tried to get my money’s worth, “I will not pass this way again”. I was on the famous Ganges River, Gandhi was here, people come to be absolved of their sins. It is sacred. I take in as much as I can with all my senses. Will it be enough?

We are told to look to our right, I see piles of wood, flames. and a lot of activity. This is the most sacred place of cremation in the India. If a person’s body is reduced to ashes here they are guaranteed eternal light after death.

The rituals practiced on this site never stop, they go on 24/7. A source fire has been maintained for hundreds of year and provides the flames for all burnings. Bodies wrapped in cloth and sometimes flowers are carried in by mourners, lower in to the The Ganges for purification, and then placed on the burning wood pyres. Later the deceased person’s ashes are returned to the Ganges.

Our journey in the darkness continues and we are told we are going to a ritual that is repeated every night by Hindu priests, The Celebration of Fire.

So much to take in, strange rituals, an unfamiliar religion. I shouldn’t judge. I have my own needs. Like all human beings since the beginning of time I, too, deal with the fear of the unknown. You would think with all our advancements we would have everything figured out and under control by now but it seems that the things that kept us up at night just keep multiplying. Everyone deals with this in their own way; materialism, power, drugs, alcohol, anything that offers escape.

I felt totally out of place in this dark Indian night until I was handed a diya, a floating votive candle surrounded by a ring of flowers. Our guide lit it and instructed me to put in the water to remember a loved one who has died. Tears came to my eyes. I placed the symbol in The Ganges and remembered my mom. More than anyone she is responsible for my trip to India. She prepared me in so many ways, giving me the skills and the strength to set out to unknown places.

Religion, let us live and let live. I will continue to learn and respect the beliefs of all people and hope others will do the same for me. My faith is how I deal with the puzzles of life. It’s so nice to know there are others who do the same.

India-Blown Away by The Ganges River,The World is Not Flat

Visiting The Ganges River in Varanasi, India was not at all what I expected. It is world famous and I have seen pictures of it but to be there, to have direct experience, is a whole other thing. I have had this disconnect between a pictorial presentation and an actual site before, namely The Great Wall of China. It was truly magnificent but somehow appeared different from what I imagined.

Once I talked to an acquaintance as he sat alone in this living room watching the travel channel. The high definition picture on a very large screen was breathtaking but the viewer’s reaction to the program really troubled me. He believed the TV way of seeing the world was adequate enough and made travel irrelevant. I’m afraid in this world of smartphones, his outlook is becoming common.

I am very visual, I look at everything. For me, a snapshot isn’t enough. I want to see the sky, hear the sounds, smell the smells, witness the movement of humans as I try to understand what they feel. I want see in all directions, be totally immersed in three dimensional awareness and feel the energy of all experiences. A flat screen or picture will never do this for me.

And with this attitude I took in the Ganges. It was so much more colorful and vibrant than I had imagined.

This area of The Ganges River is called The Ghat, the steps to the river.

Worshippers put diyas, floating candles, in the river to remember a loved one who has died.

Millions of Hindu pilgrims come to bathe in these waters. They believe it’s an act of purification, the wiping away of sins, and the the facilitation of Moksha, the liberation from the continuous cycle of of life and death.

Through traveling, I have become part of something bigger. I have become part of the sphere of humanity by reaching out with sincerity and accepting different landscapes and people. And I have come to realize that though each one of us is a small part of the whole, we are all significant.

I hope you enjoyed my pictures. You are a traveler on the journey of life. Slow down and take the time to really see what is around you. Start from where you are. And remember, the world is not flat.

Copyright 2019@theautonomoustraveler.com

India-The Hindu Salutation of the Dawn

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.

India-Overcoming My Ignorance

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

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.

India- Beneath the Colorful Sights,Women’s Issues

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.

Eye holes in one of the walls at the old residence of one of the powerful maharajas. One of his wives could look out on the world though these holes but it was very important that she be seen as little as possible.

India-The Huge Monkey Problem

There are two types of monkeys in India and they are protected by law since a great majority of the country’s population is Hindu and believe in the interconnectedness of all life.

There are the Langurs, the bigger monkey of the two. They have grey white bodies and black faces and seem to be the gentler group. Although, I approached one and he bared his teeth at me. But when you think about it, a rare and strange American tourist might be a little unnerving to a poor creature that had never seen one before.

Some Indians workshop Hanuman, the half man, half monkey god and feel that it is good karma to feed the monkeys. This really adds to the proliferation of these primates.

The real villains of this story are the Rhesus Macaques, smaller creatures with brown fur.

Don’t be taken in by their cuteness. They break into houses, steal food, bathe in water supplies, terrorize the natives and tourists, and the braver ones bite. They are capable of transmitting rabies and a fatal type of herpes but this is very rare. However, a bite wound from a Rhesus almost always becomes infected. And in 2007, the Deputy Major of Delhi fell off the balcony of his home and died when a gang of monkeys attacked him.

Over the years, many attempts have been made to stop the monkey problem. Langurs were used by monkey chasers to scare the Rhesus away but a animal rights group stopped this saying it was cruel to use the gray monkeys in this way. Now the monkey chasers use slingshots to ineffectively pursue offenders. The government is looking into some kind of contraceptive program but right now the monkeys of India seem to rule.

India-Hinduism

79.8% of India’s population is Hindu, 14.2% Muslim, and 6% is of various religions including Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism and others. The people in my tour group learned to spot active and inactive temples. They were like living things and if people did not use them and bring offering they basically closed up and metaphorically died.  Active temples had  priests present and flew flags to show they were thriving and open to worshipers.

 

Our tour went to Jaipur and the temples of Badoli, my first visit to a Hindu site.

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I’m in awe when I see religious sites from the past. Across the world, many gathering places of worship amazed me as I witnessed the hard work and devotion of the people who created them. The remains of the temples at Badoli  dated back to 10th-11th century and were very impressive with their intricate detail.

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The Hindu religion has 33 million deities. I felt that I would need a guide book with pictures to make sense of it all.

 

But it all came together.  Our guide pointed out the things that were significant and I did some reading when I got home.

Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world. It has no single founder, no single scripture, and no single governing body. Its foundation is dharma, a right way of living based on duty, conduct, and virtue. The three stages of  Hindu life are birth, death, and rebirth.  Salvation (Moksha) in the afterlife is obtain through good actions and deeds (karma). There are three main deities, Brahma (creator of the universe),Vishnu (the protector of the universe), and Shiva (the destroyer of negativity).  All living creatures have a soul, the eternal true self.

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I learned the most about Hinduism from observing the wonderful spirit of acceptance, tolerance, and joy in the Indian people. Their religion teaches  interconnectedness, to see oneself in all being and all beings in oneself. What a great way to live!

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India-WHY?

I have a strange way of picking my travel destinations. I do it by whim, waiting to be inspired by some sign or a feeling of intuitive direction. If you are a regular follower of my blog, you might remember that I chose to go to Barcelona, Spain because I saw the city on an episode of  “The Bachelorette.”   I’m a little ashamed about this bit of impulsiveness but Barcelona turned out to be one of my favorite trips as I learned about the famed architect, Antoni Gaudi, and discovered The Age of Modernism.

I picked India for my 2018 trip in the same unconventional way. While walking through St. Augustine, Florida on a trip during March,  I came upon a sudden explosion of eastern culture, a colorful float and joyous smiling people singing and dancing in lovely vibrate clothing.

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Looking for some sort of explanation, I approached a card table set up with Hindu books and various other items. I was welcomed warmly as I quietly looked at the titles. I  immediately felt included in all that was happening.  I mentioned that some day I would like to go to India and was given a set of Hindu prayer beads.  I asked how much they cost, was told they were a gift, and was invited to join the group for lunch after a parade through St. Augustine.  I was convinced, my next trip would be India.

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I signed up for a 17 day tour called “Mystical India”.  Before I went, the tour company sent me packets of historical information which overwhelmed me and I stopped reading them because I wanted go on this adventure with an open mind. But I can’t help but wonder if I  took this attitude because I was a “teacher” or  because I’m an arrogant American. In my career in education,  I was taught to promote “enduring understandings” that would stick in young minds forever.  For example, World War I  was reduced to the fact that King Ferdinand was shot and the entirety of economics was explained by the simple concepts of supply and demand. As I soon learned, these quick shots of education were far from adequate.

My  pre trip enduring understandings of India were neatly wrapped up in three concepts: Gandhi,  cows, and “Slumdog Millionaire”.  My gracious tour guide, Rashid, dealt with me patiently as I misunderstood the great Mughal Empire as something to do with the Mongols and thought Britain took over India after WW I instead of long before in 1857.  Rashid , if you are reading this, I hope you have forgiven me.  

However, I did take along with me something of value that kept poking around in my memory. A few years ago I listened to a”Great Courses” set of lectures called “Power over People-A History of Political Thought”. The very interesting talks by Professor Dennis Dalton from Barnard University ended with a segment about Thoreau and Civil Disobedience which promoted me to take a trip to Walden Pond.  But I remembered something else. The professor had started his survey of political history with a lesson about Hinduism. Why had he chosen India to start a course about political thought? Though my direct experiences in India and some focused discovery since I returned home, I  found out why.  It is quite a lesson that has great value for all of us especially in today’s world.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”― Marcel Proust

copyright 2018@ theautonomoustraveler.com

A note to my readers: I will  be taking you on my journey through India  for the next few weeks. Please click on the “follow” button on my blog so you don’t miss a day. Thanks!

Going to India

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India has been on my list of trips for awhile but what finally made me decide to go  was a Hindu celebration held  in St. Augustine in April.  I loved the color and joy I witnessed.  I told one of the participants about my travel list and was given prayer beads and enthusiastic encouragement to choose India.

I am a lifelong learner who knows little about Hinduism.  I have paid my deposit and reserved my place for “The Mystical India” tour with Odyssey Tours. I will be going in the fall.  After my 17 day trip, I will have many pictures and observations to share on this blog.

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