View From the Top

My friends, I’m on top of the world and the view is great. Nepal is home to 8 of 10 of the highest peaks in the world, including the mother of them all: Everest. You don’t get more visibility than this. I mean, I haven’t climbed any of those monster peaks so I’m not on the top of the world per se, but being in the presence of these behemoth mountains has given me a lot of perspective. I owe some gratitude to the hippies too. That’s right, those hippies have opened my eyes.

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting here. Not on purpose, there are 8 to 12 hours of power cuts daily, so there’s a lot of free time for thinking for people like me who are a little too restless to snuggle up with a book and relax.

When I arrived in India it was with an open mindset of “whatever will be, will be.” At one rest stop I heard a gaggle of sorority-type girls from The States flirting with a cluster of Australian meatheads.
“They charge us more for beer because we’re white”

“We rode the camel, but we were so hung over.”

And other such displays of being “girlfriend material.”

One thing they said was (ok, one of them said, but I couldn’t tell where one fake tan ended and the next began with the hot mess, zebra pack approach they took) “we can’t stand the spiritual shit. We hate the spiritual shit in India” (see how one hates, they all hate? They can’t differentiate between themselves either. It’s not just me.) As much disdain as I have for these girls, those words have hung with me more than most things I’ve heard on this trip.

All along the tourist circuit you’ll hear attempted spirituality-sparking platitudes. “Amy, be like the flower. Learn to blossom in India.”

“You are much too quiet. It seems you are sad, so you don’t speak. You will come alive in India”

“Learn to trust India and she will take care of you” (India is not a “she.” With his blunt way of speaking, lackluster design and strive for size over practicality, India is a “He” for sure)

Those words “we can’t stand spiritual shit” hit me deeply. My first reaction was to continue disliking these girls and everything about them and to accuse them of being culturally insensitive. (Internally, I’ll blog later and say nothing to your face. Be careful around the writer types guys; they are real snakes). If religion is important in the place you visit, then you take the religion just as you take the daal fry, blistering heat and cow-laden traffic. It’s part of traveling: you do it and shut up. I’m so hesitant to say this, but those half-drunk, American floozies were kind of right. The spiritual shit is a bit much.

I’ve met hippie after hippie now. Sid (who’s no longer on my team and back to India now) was so great to have around. Nepali people hated seeing him coming. They knew he’s Indian and knew that they wouldn’t get away with any tourist prices with him. He got us cheap lodging, transportation and he got himself some absurd hippie clothes so he could join in the tourist fun. The best was when he met a traveling hippie. Hippies, by creed, love India and everything about India. You must. For one will never find enlightenment without loving India completely. When a hippie met Sid, they had to love him and hoped that he might be the gateway to a non-western meditation center. Meanwhile, I’ve never seen Sid act so western as when conversing with the “travelers.” He talked about Ketchup (I can’t believe what a central role ketchup has played in my journey. Who knew?), he showed them the Harlem Shake video he made and talked about how badly he wanted Mexican food, especially Taco Bell. The reaction of the hippies (time and time again) was beautiful. They were so torn and dying on the inside. The things he’s saying are venom, burning the tribal tattoos they paid so much to get, but he’s Indian. INDIAN. They have to love him. Sweet enlightenment! What to do!? This clever young man knew exactly what he was doing. He’s an artist and I miss him dearly.

With hippie after hippie talking about the sadness they feel, how those back home will never understand with their “boring lives and lack of experiences” and the need for a teacher, I’ve come to realize that the spiritual shit is all a game. Indians who are religious have a modest shrine in their homes, cars or on the street. They don’t need to bathe at the feet of Shiva everyday. They don’t pay 200 rupees for entrance to the largest temple. Religion is not flaunted, unless there’s a westerner with their pocketbook showing, that is.

The one-upmanship among hippies is fantastic.

“Oh, you’ve been traveling for three months? I spent that much time just in Thailand’s south coast.”

“I study Buddhism.” (Doubtful. You read a book and by “read a book” I mean you glossed over the words compelled by the thought of telling your friends about your “studies” while comprehending none of the words you skimmed over.)

I found a teacher and two great astrologers.”

I’m buying a thick notebook to write down the answers to my questions.”

I have very different questions. The “answers” that these people seek are so vividly obvious to me.
What is the meaning of life? It is the people you miss so dearly back home.
What should I do with my life? Just stop being a drain. That’s all. Don’t make things worse.
What is my purpose? Your purpose is the thing you’re running from. The relationships you neglect with 14 months of traveling.

Now answer my questions: if there is a “self” lying around somewhere, why do so many of them go to India? Isn’t that a long trip from California? They talk about “finding themselves” in such a way that I picture the “self” being a dried up outer later of your skin, like a human-shaped snake skin, that is laying on the banks of the ganges or the top of a Nepali Mountain waiting for you to come along wearing the most outrageous clothes you can find and “reconnect”.
If your teacher is so pure and holy, why is he wasting time on a student with a three month visa who will return to hot showers and twitter without thinking twice?
What do you expect to write in your notebook? I’d love to read a young apprentice from Australia’s notes from a baba-teacher who smokes pot all day long.

The more I see the hippies struggle, the more sure I am of myself. I have the answers. I have happiness. I have people that I love. I laugh constantly. I have a desire to be there for others as they are here for me. And one of the biggest revelations: India, like Sid, is fucking brilliant. An unrelenting tide, beating the hippies against the rocks and making them say “thank you” for the services.

I do owe some gratitude. It’s the listless wandering of others that has secured my beliefs and made me “find myself.” I’m an asshole. I’m sarcastic. I’m a skeptic. I’m deeply rooted in my community. I’m not a hippie. I know what I want out of this life. I still hate ketchup, but respect those who love it. I have specific priorities and they are glaringly obvious now. I hope the thousands of hippies find the same “enlightenment” that they’ve given me. I hope they figure out that the answers are simple. Most of all, I hope they remember to write down the answers, lest they have to spend another 2 years finding them again.

Now some pictures of my “path to enlightenment”

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