What Varanasi Taught me about Devotion & Prayers for the World

As our first group arrives into Delhi and we prepare for an entirely new adventure, I find I am still processing the very full week that Jeanie Manchester and I just spent in Varanasi. Kashi. The city of light. Smoky. Surreal. Intense. Holy. Chaotic. An ancient city, so wildly loud, disgustingly filthy and still, undeniably saturated in prayers. Amidst the ever present smoke from the burning bodies on the cremation grounds we squirmed with the uncomfortable truth of our own impermanence and simultaneously felt held by a culture that actually allows death to be a part of life. 

Much harder to accept was the pollution... dark and thick and sad. Sometimes, during the night, we would wake up coughing and tearful and barely able to breathe. Choking on black air and the heartbreaking realization that without some serious changes and radical support for the environment, this is the future of our planet. A truth that is becoming impossible to ignore and so, so hard to feel. 

On our last day in there, we carefully made our way through the colorful and winding streets, tiptoeing around pile after pile of cow dung, laughing with school children as they giggled their way past stubborn goats and a toothless but bright grandmother, artfully dodging the fake sadhus and chatty young men who were hoping to convince us to go to their family’s silk shops.

We eventually stepped out of the bustling madness and into the sacred grounds of the Vishwanath Temple. It relaxed me to feel the cool stone beneath my feet and get wrapped up in the scent of incense and marigolds. The persistent sounds of the city were softened by exquisite chanting and ringing bells. 

At one point, I turned to see a young man stretch his arms out wide and joyfully lift his face and heart towards the shimmering gold magnificence of this Shiva Temple. There was something in the way he held his body... the serene and blissful look on his face... and the absolute love that poured from him that moved me deeply. I swear I learned more about devotion in those few moments that I stood along side him than in my entire life so far.

Somehow, his openness gave me hope. He reminded me that there is still good in this world and that we can’t give up.  Could it be that the key to knowing that type deep peace is to find what we are truly devoted to and live in wild, unapologetic, heartfelt dedication to that?

Today, I throw my arms wide and lift my heart full of prayers for our world. For clean air, clean water... and love... always love.

Kirsten Warner