Stop acting so small.
"Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion." ~Rumi
Brown plants, dirt, musky green trees, and garbage whirred past me through the bars of the window on the train. Each time a train going the opposite direction passed, I would hear the loud, "WHAAAAAOOOOOOWWWWwwwww," and feel the gust of warm air nudge me. Night took over, and the train gently rocked as it rushed through Maharashtra. Once night had fallen, the moon revealed itself as a smile. I had never seen the sliver of the moon sideways like that. It reminded me of the cheshire cat's smile from Alice in Wonderland, and I felt like it was challenging me. All train ride, I had felt shaken and uneasy, and fear and insecurity kept rising up in my throat. But then this moon appeared. It seemed to be mocking me for my worry - like I was so wrapped up in my world of upset that I couldn't see that it was silly, and that I was silly. I was fine, and life was actually pretty fantastic. It loosened me up, and made me feel like the worry I was experiencing could be shed like a skin. So I did, and I settled into being where I was and who I was. I felt relief, and I looked up at the moon.
This was also the first time I had taken a train, and even on a good day for traffic, it was intimidating. I had gotten a non-ac business class car (it is nice in Mumbai right now, so no a/c required), and I sat with four other businessmen in our area. Each area has two benches facing each other with a seat number above each place. Initially wary of being crowded in with unknown men, I discovered that they were great travel companions. They asked me questions and chatted, and also let me just stare out at the passing countryside for awhile, too. They helped me figure out which stop to get off on, and showed me pictures of their children that were my age, also traveling. This first week has been an anxious time for me, but I am consistently reminded of the kindness and compassion of the people I meet here. So many have been willing to help me out or show me where to go, or just be a friendly fellow human being. That is something that I love about traveling. You can prepare and organize all you want, but when it comes down to it, the things that are the most valuable are interactions with genuine, unique, beautiful human beings.
My new friend.
The last few days have been hard for me - I have been anxious in general, and mostly without an outlet for that anxiety. I had thought that the culture shock would be significantly diminished because I have been here before. It is better my second time around, but getting around and communicating is still tough, especially when going somewhere new. I also had to check out of my place in Mumbai so that I could travel to Pune and not be spending lots of money on two hotel rooms at once. I didn't want to - I wanted to leave all my stuff safe in my room, so I would feel like I have a home base. But it didn't make financial sense, and I knew I was pandering to my currently nonsensical emotions, so I put my big luggage in storage and left for Pune. Arriving in Pune was a relief. I knew I would get time on tabla here, and time listening to my guru's concert as well. It feels a bit like a vacation away from the intensity of Mumbai.
Today was transcendent. I arrived this morning at the workshop, after having been driven around in a rickshaw for over an hour, trying to find the school. I came in to a discussion (in Hindi?) and then as I sat down, I heard the language I understood! The guru was reciting tukdas, and I could recognize the bols and phrases. I sat down on the straw mats with the rest of the students, and proceeded to scribble out, recite, and count the compositions the guru was teaching. It felt so amazing. The energy and excitement for the music was incredible. There was no clapping after each composition, which I think wold have happened a lot in the U.S., but instead there was a joyous resolution upon reaching each sam (final downbeat), and then a quiet, happy reverence as we waited for the next repetition. Today I was a tadpole in a big, big lake. I could understand the material, but I also understood the depth of experience of everyone else in the room, and I felt small and hungry for any bit of it I could manage. And happy. I felt so, so happy.
In the last few years, I have learned a lot about myself. I know that I have no idea how much time most things take, I know that I need people to feel good, but I also need to recharge to feel good, as well. I learned that I can be impatient. But probably the most important thing I have learned about myself, is that I need to play tabla. After a while of not playing, I feel like a different, overly-sensitive, unstable human being. When I play, though, I feel like me. And not only me - but the best version of me. The version I want to put out into the world. It means I put some genuine effort into my day, and into myself, so that I can be better for the people around me. I can feel the smallness even now, hours later. My heart still feels that lift that it felt each time a tehaai was recited and landed on sam. The slow burn of having listened quietly all day to the transcendence of this art is peaceful and joyous. This is real life magic, and this is what it's about.
My view at the workshop from my seat on the mat.