A South Indian (Wake Up) Call to Prayer
When I first started to write this, I had a moment of hesitation. I didn’t want to plant seeds of fear for anyone who was thinking about travelling to India. I didn’t want to scare anyone away.
Then I figured it’s probably for the best. India is not the place to go if you don’t want your life to be shaken. It’s not the adventure to sign up for if you can’t handle discomfort and intensity and the feeling of coming undone.
If, on the other hand, you are irresistibly drawn to truth and awakening and are willing to endure and enjoy everything that comes with it, then you will surely have many opportunities in the midst of all her chaos and all of her grace.
All of this is really alive for me because my most recent trip to India was nothing like what I thought it would be.
I have travelled there many times over the last twenty years and I naively thought I could handle just about anything. Never again will I underestimate the intensity of the monsoon rains and the smoldering summer heat. I was in way over my head.
I spent a huge chunk of my time there miserably sick and humbly glued to the bed.
What was intended to be a lighthearted and fun trip, ended up being an uncomfortable and profound journey that rattled me to my core.
The worst of the worst days was in the South Indian port town of Kochi.
I remember lying on the bed of our dank and spinning hotel room, feverish and nauseous and emotional. My body worked hard to fight off the nasty bug that had taken over it, while the soggy heat sapped what little energy I had left.
The air was thick and soggy and old.
Dazed and delirious I stared out the window into the harbor where row after row of colorful boats mocked me with their vibrancy. A strange bird sat on our balcony and stared in menacingly. Everything seemed eerie and somber and surreal.
I’d been like this for hours.
Disoriented. Collapsed. Undone.
I felt smothered by the heaviness of my complaints and the fragility of being human.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Wasting away in that muggy room on that awful day, I just wanted out. Out of India, out of pain, out of my body.
Just after the sun set and the darkness begin to close in around us, our room filled with the booming sounds of the call to prayer from the loud speakers mounted high on the minarets of the Muslim mosque next door.
At first the mystical voices only added to the wild, dreamlike quality of the day and I wanted to bury my head under the pillows and scream.
Then I remembered that the whole point of the lyrical and thundering broadcasts is to summon everyone nearby to come and pray and connect with God. Even though I am not a Muslim, I felt this cacophonous call to prayer pierce right through the fog of my disoriented state.
This was no ordinary moment.
It became a very personal, very real, spiritual wake up call for me. Somehow transcending religious and cultural differences, I was mesmerized by the feeling of devotion, deep and sublime.
All of my resistance softened as the subtle energy beneath everything became more real than the shapes and structures around me.
Maybe I was just delusional, or exhausted or both, but I swear in that moment, I could sense the entire universe humming. Exquisite, divine and true.
I felt the teachings of yoga come to life and I saw the opportunity that I had before me. Rather than continuing to suffer my way through the rest of this journey, I could choose to draw strength from my practice and to rest into the arms of the divine.
Even in the midst of my discomfort and unease, my heart cracked open, tears slipped silently down my cheek and I remembered why I came to India in the first place.
It had nothing to do with feeling good or playing it safe.
I had wanted adventure and mystery and radical transformation and as usual, India took me to the exact place I needed to go for her to work her magic on me.
I was being drawn even deeper into a place of emptiness and unwavering grace.
I was getting a taste of the freedom that is just on the other side of holding it all together.
When I first wandered onto the spiritual path, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into.
At first glance, ego dissolution sounded almost romantic. I think I confused yoga’s promise of ultimate freedom with the promise of a better life.
Now that I am knee deep in the muck of my own unraveling, I find I am still often torn between the parts of me that want comfort and security and the parts of me that truly want to wake up.
I have to face the dense cramps of my awkward humanity and stubborn resistance almost daily.
And still… I am drawn in. Closer and closer to the flame.
I think this is what keeps pulling me back to India.
To the place where the call to prayer rings too loudly too ignore and we are constantly reminded that often, things not turning out the way we thought they would, wakes us up to something even better.