A Hug in Nawalgarh

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He's scurrying around our hotel room, rifling through and under our unmade beds. He checks the drawers and opens the closet, just to make sure we haven't left anything behind. (God forbid the American girl forgets her phone charger or her hair straightener.) He reaches for my bag of bricks and possibly a dead body giant backpack as I give him a "no, no, I'll carry it, it's too heavy", gesture. He motions his insistence on carrying it. How can I thank him for his kindness? How can I properly acknowledge the impact he's had on us these last three days?  A "Namaste" couldn't ever be enough. And no amount of Rupees can express my gratitude for him and the gift he clearly has for making others feel seen and heard. So I think, 'What's the worst that can happen?' He finally slows down and is facing me, ready to lug my bag to our bus. I need to hug him. 'This isn't allowed', I quickly warn myself. 'Public displays of affection are not proper here. There are rules'.  'Do it anyway', says my intuition. So I open my arms, and hope for the best...

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On our third day in India, we arrived in the rural village of Nawalgarh, located in the state of Rajasthan about six hours outside of New Delhi, where our trip had begun. Though located in a poverty-stricken part of India, the hotel we stayed in, The Roop Niwas Palace, was just that...a palace. Green grass, fountains, Marigolds and peacocks...everywhere. Oh, and there was laundry service, Laughing Yoga and loud, echoing chanting that seemed to come from somewhere off in the far distance each morning...at 4am. But the most special part of this place...was this guy:

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There was something so special about him; an innate joy, a deep appreciation for the people around him. He had an urgency to show he cares and a contagious habit of smiling. I never heard his voice, as I later found out he is mute, but his language was a series of accommodating gestures, genuine smiles and dance escapades with us, on the terrace. No words needed. I understand this language, loud and clear...

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I wrap my arms around him and to my pleasant surprise, he wraps his arms around me.  I can tell he won't let go until I do, which I appreciate. I want these microseconds to last forever. I want to tell him how much I appreciate him, how he's such an important part of this journey I'm on. "Thank You", I whisper, in a raspy, cry-stiffling voice. I couldn't get all the words I wanted to out, but if my hug had words, it would have said: 'Thank you for keeping us comfortable and safe. Thank you for dancing with us. Thank you for bringing us fire pits so we could stay outside well into the night. Thank you for hot tea in the morning and clean sheets at night. Thank you for seeing us. Thank you for seeing me.' We separate and he smiles as he wipes the tear streaming down my cheek. He smiles, cups my face in his hands and kisses my forehead.

In many ways, I'm still reeling from my trip to India. I wanted so badly to learn all the lessons I was "supposed" to learn, if not in India, then certainly in the first few days of being home. But it didn't happen that way. It never does. Things are coming up for me, eight months later, that I couldn't have acknowledged six months or even six days ago. But if there's one thing I've always known for sure, one thing I'm deeply certain of, one thing I've never ignored or overlooked, it is...if you want to hug someone, just do it.

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The Old Prayer

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Thank you India Thank you providence Thank you disillusionment Thank you nothingness Thank you clarity Thank you, thank you silence -Alanis Morrissette

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I can't stress enough how many expectations I had for my trip to India. From Yoga, to seeing a Fortune Teller, visiting an Ashram and celebrating Holi, I was desperately seeking a Spiritual Awakening, an epiphany, a reason to accept my life, my body and my status as a twenty-eight year old single woman, just as it is. Those two weeks flew by in a way you can't even imagine, and though I had taken part in some of the most astounding, memorable, and significant activities I've ever experienced, that lingering wish, unanswered question, and life-affirming wisdom I convinced myself I'd find in this country, still had not presented itself to me.

Upon checking in to our first hotel in Delhi, I spotted The Old Prayer, a small boutique located in the foyer, out of the corner of my eye. The thirteen of us travelers congregated just outside the shop to discuss upcoming activities for the day, exchanging laughs and mutual jokes about having traveled 7,986 miles to hang out with other white people (well, at least that's how I heard it. Actually, that was my joke to myself. Never mind.) The point is, I made a mental note to go into The Old Prayer before we departed back to America two weeks later, as I knew we would be returning to this hotel for our last night in India.

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By the end of our trip, I had heard enough honking, smelled enough sewage, peed in enough holes in the ground, been nearly run over by every rickshaw and tuk tuk in Northern India, eaten enough curry, and cried enough tears to correct California's drought. Haha, just kidding...I actually didn't eat much curry. In any case, my senses were shot, I was overstimulated and just ready to come home.

On our last day, after checking out of our room, Hailey, --I think I've mentioned her before; herehere, here, here, and here-- and I had planned to meet a few of the other girls for lunch before roaming the streets of Delhi. After dropping our bags at the front desk, we made our way over to the Old Prayer because our remaining Rupees were burning a hole in our wallets, and one of the other girls, who had already headed to the airport, asked if we could take a photo of the shop keeper for her. That somewhat strange, but simple request shifted my entire experience in the shop, and in India, in more ways than I ever could have imagined.

The shop itself was no bigger than a bedroom, with floral wall paper, a small chandelier, and racks of gauzy pastel clothing lining the walls. A chicly-dressed woman, who appeared to be in her sixties, sat at a small desk in the back corner of the shop, and paid us little attention for the first several minutes. Finally, I spoke up and asked if I could take a photo of her for our friend who had purchased a scarf from her the day before. Initially, she was self-conscious because of her neck brace, but quickly agreed. She came to her feet and stood next to me. I put my arm around her inviting, curvy shoulders and smiled and tried to pose to appear as thin as possible. Though Hailey was camera phone-ready, the woman started talking to us, limiting the ability to get a decent "shot". At first I tried to "energetically" tell her, please, hold still. But as she kept talking, Hailey realized video mode was more appropriate. That is what happens when someone has known you for twenty-one years; they know what you need to remember and how you need to remember it. Thanks, Hay :-)

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Having a deep, deep love for the art of storytelling, lesson-learning and a profound interest in the human experience, I've always put myself in the way of a great story, often requiring a box of tissues by my side. I didn't have a box of tissues handy, but I cried anyway, listening to this woman tell her story. She told us how her father died at age forty-six, her husband died at age forty-five and her son died at age twenty-four. She told us that we must be worthy of our misfortunes; that there is always a lesson to be learned and that we must be worthy of learning it. (This is when I started bawling, by the way). The woman asked why I was crying and Hailey gently explained, "She's searching. She's reading everything..."

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I listened, and cried, and listened some more. I heard her tell me that India loves when white girls come to visit, because we're always searching for something outside of ourselves. She said the self-proclaimed "Gurus" of India don't know what they're talking about. She told me they're "full of shit", that they've never done anything, been anywhere other than India, never asked questions of themselves or others. In fact, I was the one who has done things, I am the one who's left the comfort of my own home to explore someone else's. I mean, who is the real Guru, here? As I listened with such intention and heart, I thought of the thirteen women I was traveling with; how disinterested I was in getting to know them these last two weeks. How I had -shamefully- made conscious decisions to socially and emotionally separate myself from them. How one night in our hotel room, I'd told Hailey that "these girls are fine...but I'm not going to be, like, friends with them", because after all, I was only there to find an answer that white girls my age didn't have, couldn't have.

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But you know what? They were the Gurus. They were the ones with things to say. These thirteen women were the ones who'd taken a chance, traveling to a foreign land, based on a blog they follow. They were the ones taking risks and liberties in their life. They were the ones with things to say. And so was I.

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Toward the end of our hour and ten minute conversation, I made a very odd request to solidify our time together; I asked the woman if she'd OM with me. As the Sound of the Universe, a real OM, particularly a public one, requires a great deal of lung capacity, diaphragm efficiency...and a whole lotta self-confidence balls.  In America, even in Yoga Teacher Training, I had never felt really free to let myself make that sound, for fear that mine would sound the weirdest, last the longest and be discussed after I'd left the room. It's right up there with orgasming too loud, which, I...never mind.
She agreed to OM with me. I told her I wanted to OM three times. She said okay. Hailey closed the door of the shop, ensuring free-to-om sound quality. The woman asked me to lead the OMs;
Close your eyes. Take a big exhale, releasing everything out of your lungs. Inhale, fill your belly. Exhale. Inhale, prepare for OM...

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OM number one was for my parents; for wanting me to be here, to enjoy my life and for showing me, in their separate ways, that I can and should be whoever I want to be.
OM number two was for Hailey and the thirteen talented, unique, authentic, wisdom-holding, totally hilarious Gurus who did not exist in old buildings, but rather on my bus, laughing and communicating all the live-long day.
OM number three was for me; for my willingness to take a break from the seeking, the searching, the reading, the wondering, the longing. I OM'd for the day I wouldn't feel the need to look outside myself for the answers. And I OM'd for the days I would.

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 Ultimately, I got the answer I didn't know I needed, on the very last day, at the very last minute of this voyage. Sometimes it comes from meditation. Sometimes it comes from a book. And sometimes, if we're really lucky, all we need to do is ask to take someone's picture.

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