Part One: India has a way of stripping you naked.
It strips you out of your clothes, your identity, and your external self. It exposes your core, the self that is connected to the entire universe and God. In India everything is happening right in front of you. People are living and dying, smiling and crying. You are a part of it and they are a part of you.
In the West and particularly Los Angeles, we are so separate from one another. Or at least we feel separate. Western cultures are individualistic cultures, meaning that importance is placed on the individual. Whereas most cultures in Asia are collectivist, the importance is placed on the group, usually the family unit. Despite abject poverty and dire circumstances in India, there is an underlying joy amongst the people, because they are in it together.
I traveled around India for three weeks. While it was not a huge amount of time, I managed to cover some ground starting on the Southern beaches of Goa and ending at the foothills of the Himalayas in Rishikesh. I saw big cities and small towns. I saw villages made of tarps along the train tracks. And despite desperate conditions in many of these places, people were happy and smiling.
It hurt my heart to think that I get upset or angry when I get stuck in traffic or someone gets my order wrong at Starbucks. Yet here a family of ten is living with one bed, under a plastic sheet and they seem purely and truly happy.
What I realized was that despite not having many material items, these families have something much richer and deeper: each other. In the Western world, we cannot wait to individuate from our families and move out on our own.
Many people don’t just leave home, but end up leaving the city or even the state their family lives. Friends then step into the roles of family members, but as we get further into our careers and career takes precedence, relationships become less and less central.
It is no wonder that depression and anxiety are so prevalent in the Western world where people are struggling to stay afloat all by themselves. Los Angeles is a particularly difficult place to feel connected to people. Unlike New York where you are in the street and on the pulse of the city, in Los Angeles we drive alone in our fish bowls from one appointment to the next. We’re usually rushing, because traffic is so heinous and therefore too busy to hang out with people for longer than a prescribed amount of time.
In India and many other Asian countries, you will see people sitting for hours just hanging out with one another. These people are comfortable with what they have; they have enough and therefore spend their free time with others.
It makes you wonder if the feeling of wanting more and not having enough that most of us have in the West is a legitimate desire to be successful or if we are just empty because of a lack of connection with others. If we slowed down and made relationships into a priority, would we still need to work so hard?
Fortunately, though we may feel alone and separate, being in a place like India is a reminder that we are really all interconnected. Energetically, spiritually and physically, we are woven together, along with the universe and God, in a very powerful way. We get glimpses of this connection when we fall in love or have children and can physically feel a tie between our self and another, but this connection is always there.
This union is yoga.
Editor: Andrea B.