The sun is high in the sky, the hall is darkened, the drums are beating and I am tapping my feet to the music. It is good dance music. I am suddenly pulled from my seat close to the stage. There are smiling young faces everywhere, happy, twirling to the music. South India music, with traditional drums beating. You forget time, you forget place. You are in the moment. The sun is up outside and everyone is dancing. Intoxicating, freedom, liberation!
Is it freedom; is it liberation, escapism or just plain running away? I have done this often in my life. Is looking for more such a bad thing. We have a saying where I come from when people want more than their lot they are given, or have taken up some spiritual conquest the common saying is ‘oh she is looking for something’. But what, where? This was a question which I used to ask myself most days.
So what drives us to give up all we know for new horizons? I for one have been contemplating this for a long time. I often think why I have partially given up on the land of my birth, to come and make a new life in one of the most populous countries in the world. One where hardship is a way of life and comfort is not a priority in their everyday world. After all, in villages there are no luxury lounges to sit on but someone’s hard bed where they sleep every night of their lives and be perfectly happy.
Where I come from, we spend our precious lives working so that we can pay for that house, which has a lovely lounge, a big stove that multiple meals can be cooked on and yet there are only one or two of you, 12 inch thick beds with the finest woven cotton sheets, the latest flat screen TV. I have heard it said that ‘for the sake of comfort we give up knowing the world’ and there is definitely something in that.
I have always loved my personal freedom to do what I like when I like. I guess a free spirit in a limited way. Where I grew up and was educated, preached conformity as the norm. I went to a public school where everyone learnt at the pace of the slowest learner and was taught that everyone was equal. It’s only when you leave your sheltered life of family, school and a country town that you realize it is very different outside the bubble of this small world that we inhabit as a child.
The old saying goes something like ‘that to see where you are is to look closely at the past’. In my case, this is true. How does one go from growing up on a grazing property in outback Queensland to village life in rural India?
Is it karma or destiny? Does it choose us or do we choose it? It is hard to see which one comes first. As a seeker, I always looked for new horizons, to get out of the small country town that I grew up in, fearing that I would marry a local farmer, spend my days raising children, milking cows and facing the daily challenges of lack of water and how to use it sparingly as my mother did. Of existing in a parched landscape where to have a thriving green lawn one year only to have it completely die into a dust bowl the following season due to drought. To fighting bush fires fearing that our home would engulfed in the mountain of flames that raged menacingly across the landscape towards us.
Where does the notion that it doesn’t all quite fit for you come from? To have an idea and the resourcefulness to leave what you know and how to survive in a prosperous country where owing a car by the time you are 18 is a rite of passage and owing your dream by the age of 30.
I did what was expected of me or what I thought was expected of me, however I did buck the system and refused to marry the local farmer and ‘settle down’ but I did everything else. Had a steady job to pay for the mortgage, travelled on my holidays somewhere different most years. But there was something missing, in my life. As my mid forties loomed, I could see myself becoming more disgruntled, more dissatisfied with my lot…climbing the corporate ladder, a great house in a great suburb, overseas trips, and the latest car. What more could I want….but there was more, and I had to find out.
With a leap of faith, I quit my well paying job, sold my nice new car and all the belongings that I had accumulated over the years when it is important, rented out my house, filled my trusty backpack and headed off with a plan to return in 5 years. By then my questions would have been answered, my searching would be over and I could return settle down again and return to the life as we know it. At least that’s what I thought would happen and I told those around me.
So 16 years later, here I am, still in India searching less, finding more questions to be asked and in the immersion finding peace and having more a sense of who I am. Having lived in two extreme cultures one of privilege and one of survival, one built on trust, the other built on instincts, I think I have found my place…to find people similar to me. People around this table, people with a shared interest, who are in a country not of their birth for their own reasons, who choose this place as well as their own to survive in. Of the simplicity and yet the cultural complexity of our country of choice.
On a trip two years ago to Bali, I visited a local holy man. Not the tourist kind, but someone my guide said he goes to when he is troubled. He was dressed and looked like a Sadhu, in saffron robes and his hair in a top knot. I was intrigued when he diagnosed a medical problem straight up and proceeded to cough up mountains of flem into a cigarette box to clear my bad stomach problems. He also said I had been an Indian healer in my previous life and many people came to me for healing. And that I had a wife who I neglected and had ‘bad relations’ with her.
I was blown away by this. How did he know that I lived in India for a long time (no one told him)…it was a ‘light bulb’ moment for me. Living in India now made sense, having a string of unsuccessful relationships with partners all made perfect sense. Past lives, karma. I think it was one of those defining moments where suddenly all my life’s choices make sense. All the struggles, the reluctance to go back to settle back into a faster, easier life, the need to return again and again to this country where you are stared at constantly, reminded that you are a ‘foreigner’ and it will never be any different no matter how long you stay in India.