Tag Archives: Virgin Qualities

What I Learned in India

“So what did you learn about yourself in India?”

Maybe that’s the question I’ve been waiting to hear, the nudge to finally get me to put into words what that trip last month meant to me. Thanks, Dilia. Saturday night was fun, but your question really got me thinking.

A few days ago, The New York Times ran an article about the temperature in Rajasthan reaching 123.8 Fahrenheit; they invited readers in India to share how they were coping with the heat. I haven’t checked the responses. Who reads in that kind of heat? Who moves? Who thinks? Who writes to The New York Times? No one gets “used” to that kind of temperature.  It was much cooler five weeks ago when I was there, but when I did finally start writing in my journal, the first words were “I would rather stay here in a darkened hotel room and write about India, than to actually go out the door and be in India. India is waiting out there, for I see its white hot light seeping under the drawn drapes.” Such was my state of thought.

Let me be clear. I am very glad I went. I would do it differently next time, if there is a next time. I’m grateful I did it this way this time. But it was exhausting. My friend Penny who spent five weeks in Jaipur (heart of the heat wave) during November and December a year or so ago, had a totally different experience than this whirlwind tour of mine. She spoke of wearing a light sweater, walking unimpeded to the corner of the block where she was staying and negotiating a tuk-tuk to take her to the center of town where she could wander in the shops at a leisurely pace. She went to a yoga class every morning in the temple a block away. She took walks in the big park next door to the inn where she stayed the whole time. She took the time to really get to know India.

No one (that means me) who flies into Delhi, spends one night there, two nights in Agra and two nights in Jaipur, all in four star hotels, can claim to “know” anything about India.  I saw India. I’ve written briefly about the main attractions that impressed me. Our small group saw most of them in early morning light. We would arrive about seven in the morning and be making our exit between ten and eleven, emerging into teeming hordes of aggressive vendors and less aggressive sightseers.

We spent a lot of time on the bus. I have photos of teeming streets in old Delhi, tree and park-lined streets of New Delhi, and everywhere traffic.

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We looked down on tuk-tuks, pushcarts, and thousands of scooters and cycles, motorized and not.

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From that privileged vantage point high above and far-removed in air-conditioned comfort, I caught glimpses of monkeys, elephants, camels and cattle not only in the country side, but moving through the city streets of both Delhis, Agra, Jaipur and points in between. Our bus drove on the left side of the road, like they do in England. We used four lane highways going from one major town to the next, but local traffic in the country uses the same four lane highway for local purposes, staying in the outside lane, walking, driving, herding cattle, going whichever direction is convenient.  It gets crowded. I closed my eyes a lot.

There were fourteen of us on a bus that would seat more than twice that many, so we were able to move around and spread out. No one could really sleep, write, or read, as the pavement was, shall we say, “challenging.” Nor was the bus of the same standard I’ve experienced with other Smartours tours. Padding in the seats was minimal, the seats were small, and the glass in the windows was neither tempered nor tinted. But our travel conditions were so far above what the masses around us were experiencing, that to even take notice of these finer points seems churlish.

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I will mention the rock that someone hurled at us, which crashed through one of those un-tempered windows, showering glass in the seat beneath. It was the window two back from the driver and one back from where our guide, Arvind, was sitting.  The seat was vacant. No one was hurt, but the incident was upsetting to us all. Was it merely unsupervised children after school? That was the explanation offered. Perhaps. But maybe our latent guilt at being so obviously separate from those around us made us think it might have been more. I for one felt rattled.

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“The problem is,” my travel mate Marilyn counseled me, “is that you have no barriers. You engage too much. Even when you say ‘no,’ you are still engaged.” She was right. I can’t be surrounded by so much humanity and not “engage,” mentally, if not physically.  At 5’10” and totally white-headed, I definitely stood out in the Indian crowds. I felt like a lighthouse with waves crashing around my base. I defended myself by moving into an ivory tower in my head and moving my body forward. Marilyn, consciously or not, had assumed the role of my protector. She of equal height as the aggressors met them eye to eye. “Shoo!” she would say. “Go away!” Words I could not utter from my exalted height without seeming like a bully.

That was the dynamic we’d adopted when on our next to last day we ventured out after lunch to buy spices in Jaipur. We had spotted the little shop a block and a half away from the hotel. We negotiated the short distance without incident, and entered the dusty half light, the air redolent of meals we dreamed of making in our own kitchens at home. We poured over the directions for preparing curry and tandoori chicken.  A new shipment of saffron had just arrived. We shelled out rupees for tiny little cases of the tiny little threads. The shopkeeper prepared us tea. It was like a ritual: one cardamom pod, one thread of saffron, and a few chips of cinnamon bark in each cup. It required time to steep.  We settled in and bought more – black rock salt from the Himalayas, a chai tea mix so strong it requires only a quarter of a teaspoonful for every two cups of water and milk. Almost an hour later we emerged, precious packets of future indulgence wrapped in pink plastic bags. Now this was the India I’d dreamed about, the India I wanted to carry home! Safe India.

We blinked in the blazing sun outside the shop. The crowds were formidable, the noise overwhelming, the distance back to the hotel longer than we remembered. That’s when one small piece of Indian humanity attached himself to me. I would guess that from his size that he was four or five, but he was probably older. He grasped a wad of my skirt in his little fist and trotted alongside me to match my stride. “Missy, Missy, Missy,” was all I could decipher of what he was saying. Marilyn tried shooing. He grasped tighter. I looked down at him, but he didn’t meet my eyes. He was like a little automaton, repeating his mantra. I breathed hard and looked around as I plowed forward. There were other children watching us. I realized that if I stopped, opened my purse or reached into my pocket it would be like feeding the seagulls in Galveston. And it would all be useless. Marilyn and I soldiered on, and finally, escaped into the hotel.

But I didn’t escape that little boy. I felt helpless and sad. It was like the feelings that had been hanging heavy around me during our trip condensed into one heavy cloud. I was miserable. I dreamed about him that night, realizing that under the current circumstances, there was nothing humanly I could have done to help that one child. It wasn’t a comfort. I woke the next morning, our last day in India, eager to head home. What right did I have to swoop into this country, take in the sights, do a little shopping and blithely take my leave? I had joked about this tour, admitting to being unabashedly shallow in this approach. I wanted it that way. This was a “bucket list” trip, purely for my own indulgence. I wanted to “see” India. I didn’t want to be touched by it.

Marilyn and I went down to the hotel pool while it was still cool. She swam while I sat in the shade, thinking about the day we had before us. We were to get on the bus at 11:30, drive six hours to Delhi, have a farewell dinner and then be dropped at the airport. Our flight back to JFK would leave at 2:30 a.m. for an early morning arrival in New York. Lots of hours, lots of travel. We savored this last little bit of cool serenity. I was more than ready to leave.

At 8:30, the sun was fully up. It was hot. We crossed the white marble pool deck to descend pink marble stairs, all sharp corners and shining. When I stepped onto the white marble floor of the courtyard below, disaster struck. The staff had been watering the potted plants and the floor was covered with the leakage, absolutely invisible. I stepped onto it and my feet slid out from under me. I remember the sound of glass breaking somewhere and I came down hard on my back, my head striking the last marble step at the base of my skull. I lay there and the thought came, “This is serious.”

The last thing I wanted to do was end up in a hospital in India. I knew I wouldn’t actually end up there. I had with me my about-to-expire Air Rescue card. I’d been assured I could be whisked away to any hospital in the world that I desired. But I didn’t want to even go through a hospital experience here. People were gathering. “Marilyn,” I appealed to my protector. “I need to be quiet for a while. Can you keep them away?” She was frightened and valiant and faithful. She stood guard while I lay on the floor. Did someone put a prop under my head? I don’t remember. I just lay there.

Then I did what came naturally. I turned to God. “Help! Please!” I started saying Mary Baker Eddy’s “scientific statement of being” – the “go to” position I’ve had since childhood. “There is no life, truth, intelligence nor substance in matter.” That’s the way it begins. “All is infinite Mind, and its infinite manifestation.” Then I stopped. Two sentences in and I was “engaged.” I had been trying so hard to disengage, to not think, respond or react to all that seemed to have been assaulting me this trip. “All is infinite Mind…” How could “not thinking” happen when all was infinite Mind? How could I not engage with Mind’s “infinite manifestation?” I was part of that infinite manifestation!

“What do I need to know, Father? I’m ready to listen.” I don’t know if I literally thought those words, but I experienced them. It was a major shift in attitude, lying there on that marble floor. Arvind’s concerned face looked down at me. “I’m fine,” I assured him. “I just need a little time here.” Marilyn continued her watch. She was obviously worried, but fiercely determined to honor my request. I turned my head. It hurt. “What do I need to see, Father-Mother?” I really wanted to know how to get through this. I desperately needed….I didn’t even know what I needed. I closed my eyes and just was still.

When I opened them again, it was there. I saw what I needed to see. It was all around me. My request was being honored. There was a periphery of people ready to help, eager to help, but they were giving me space, letting me do whatever it was I was doing without interference. I did not feel invaded or assaulted or pushed or shoved. I felt held totally in the love of that “infinite Mind,” which is Love itself. I felt enveloped in love, like there was nothing but me and the Universe and all was well. A flood-tide of comfort and well-being washed through me.

Then the image of that little boy came into my thought. But this time I saw him in a different way. “Why, he has as direct a line as I do, straight to Mind, straight to Love,” I thought. I wasn’t helpless, vulnerable, with a hard shell that needed to be cracked open – and neither was he. We were both made up of better stuff than mere matter. We were idea, individual shining expressions of the infinite One. The most effective thing I could do for him, for India, for myself, was see all of us as gathered into “infinite Mind,” see all of us as part of Mind’s “infinite manifestation.” My whole view of India shifted.

The pain just drained away. I left it like a jacket on the floor when I got up. I accepted some helping hands to cross the still slippery floor and went back up to our room with Marilyn. A little while later I got a call from the lobby. Some things I had ordered had been delivered. What was my pleasure? “I’ll come down,” I answered. Arvind was in the lobby, with the man making the delivery. The hotel manager was also there, along with the doctor who had been called. Would I please allow the doctor to examine me, they all asked. I realized the tour company needed this to happen, as did the hotel. It would also be an assurance to Marilyn. “Of course,” I said, and he did. There was no mark, no lump, no physical evidence of injury at all. The doctor shrugged his shoulders and left.

I’ve waited a while to write about this. I’ve learned to let experiences like this one “set.” I don’t know how else to explain it, but rushing out to tell the world about it when you’ve gone through something, well, holy, just isn’t the thing to do.  In the days following my return, I felt some soreness through my back and shoulders — mostly memory of the fall, and maybe of that fifteen hour flight back to New York in seat 51D on Air India. Those are all long gone.

What hasn’t gone is what I learned about myself. Most of what I’ve written in this blog has to do with “virgin qualities.” If you want a reminder, here’s what I’m talking about.  But just because you can talk a good game, doesn’t mean you don’t have to get out on the field and play. That’s the way we learn. India reminded me in spades that more is demanded of me than just “staying above it all,” and occasionally fumbling for change. I know now I have to engage; I can’t avoid it. But I’ve got to do it first through Love, for my own sake, as well as for the sake of others. Then if there is an opportunity or need for me to do something as one human being for another, it will come to light, and it will be just the right thing for that moment.  But the love has to come first.

 

“Pain and oppression do not have the last word.”

“For me. . . spirituality and the work for justice are entirely inseparable. If either one is authentic, it leads to the other.”

I’m not Catholic, but I stand in awe of those who serve as Sister Pat Farrell has through her life. Her grace and courage have placed her at the head of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Read about the crossroads this organization is approaching with the Vatican. 

Are the 57,000 sisters in the United States insufficiently or incorrectly spiritual? Is their primary mission to run hospitals, work with the poor and keep their mouths shut? Actually, listening to the interviews that Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air has conducted with Sister Farrell and with Bishop Leonard Blair (the Vatican-appointed guy charged with bringing the sisters into line), the main complaint is that the sisters have been silent on issues relating to birth control, abortion and same sex marriage.  Seems most of them have been doing their jobs and keeping their mouths shut, but if Sister Pat is any example, they’ve been praying hard and letting Love lead the way in each situation.

I’ve written a lot, though not lately, in this blog about “virgin qualities.” The genius of Guadalupe, the relevance of virgin qualities however they appear on the human scene, is that there is no preaching, doctrine or diatribe involved. It is the virgin presence that speaks for itself, and no words are able to express it. But, oh, how powerful it is. Sister Pat knows. That’s why she can stand at this crossroads and speak of her “deep knowing that pain and oppression do not have the last word.” Many of us will be standing with her in spirit.

 

Keeping Company with Older Virgins

I miss my mom. I miss my mother-in-law. Both in their own ways gave me focus inspiration, and guidance. The relationships we had were not always comfortable, but now that they are both gone, and I look around the room at family dinners and don’t see anyone older than ME, I get a little panicky. Who made me the matriarch? I never even had children — except that sixty-five year old perpetual teenager I’ve been married to for 43 years this summer, who just started up his new Harley down in the basement and is going over to see someone who can make his pipes sound louder.

This blog has been centered, more or less, on experiences and examples illustrating what I call “virgin qualities.” Just to review, in case you don’t want to follow that link I went to a lot of trouble to insert, being “virgin” means being centered, untouched, un-invaded, whole, complete, and intact. Another virgin quality — being focused. In that regard, I have lately been a whole lot less than virginal. Witness these first two paragraphs.

I need practice. I need a good example.

I’ve found one. One of my mother-in-law’s best friends from long ago has been blogging. Joyce Wethe Robertson is in her nineties. I just found her blog through her daughter Robin, who is my Facebook friend. Robin posted photos of a trip to Catalina she and her mom took day before yesterday, and included a link to the blog post Joyce made about it. I read through it, and then, like one does after eating the first lichee nut fresh off the tree, (they happen to be in season here, but I digress) I went for another. And one after that. And one more. Pure delicious gold.  And she has enough posts to provide me a daily dose for weeks to come! How have I been missing these?

People have been asking me if I’m writing again.  Well, I’m making a stab at it. Sort of.  I feel like I entered one of those outer space wormholes last Christmas, and am just now emerging to …. well, I’m still not sure. So it’s good to hear a familiar voice, well-written, tightly focused words of encouragement, and have a laugh, as well.  So I say to those who want to read me, read Joyce for a while. Thanks, Joyce, for “being there.”

Here’s the link again: Getting Older is Getting Better, a blog by Joyce Wethe Robertson

 

Majora Carter — Being Present in the Ghetto, Making a Difference

Maria Hinojosa interviews Majora Carter on why she still lives in the South Bronx and how she’s making a difference. Parks from dump sites! Majora is a good example of Guadalupe qualities — show up and make a difference by being what you are: whole, intact, un-invaded, and powerful.

http://www.worldcompass.org/sites/all/modules/flowplayer/flowplayer/flowplayer.swf

If a Married Lesbian Couple Saves 40 Teens from the Norway Massacre and No One Writes About it, Did it Really Happen?

If a Married Lesbian Couple Saves 40 Teens from the Norway Massacre and No One Writes About it, Did it Really Happen?. Yes it did! Who gets to define who’s a hero? WE DO — every time we tell the story.

My Inner Guadalupe Is Getting to Work

This is to let subscribers to this Welcome to Virgin Territory blog know what I’m doing. Or at least as I’m trying to figure it out, I thought I’d let you in on my process.  A new blog of mine, “Clothed With the Sun, Feet on the Ground,” is where I’m starting to get back to doing what I used to be pretty good at — before I turned into a reactionary, screaming angry harridan who internalized all those feelings, moved to Mexico, got embroiled with countless health issues and almost checked out. What I was pretty good at back before I got sidetracked by all that was finding a spiritual perspective on daily life.

Although the recent craziness in the U.S. capital has nudged me back toward the angry harridan position, I am refusing to go. I insist, dang it, that I will draw on those Inner Guadalupe virgin qualities, take refuge in virginity innate wholeness, sanity, and steadfast presence of Mind. (OK, I’m repeating this to myself, reminding myself. It’s a constant process.) My true treasure — my ability to love life and live love — remains pure and intact. No one in Washington can touch that.

I’m not quite up to loving my fellow beings on the political scene. Maybe because I’m still American and they’re like, well, family. You expect a lot more from your family, and it hurts more when they hurt you.

I’m reminded of a story I heard as a jail chaplain. Two inmates shared a cell. Each felt they were in jail because of betrayal and false charges by someone close to them, one by an employer, the other by a brother-in-law. After “getting religion” they each knew that love and forgiveness were key elements toward winning their freedom — freedom on so many levels. But each felt incapable of loving or forgiving the person close to them.

“So, why don’t I take on sending love and light to your brother-in-law, and you send love and light to my @#$%* boss?” one asked the other one day.

“Agreed,” came the reply. “I don’t know your @#$% boss, but he can’t be as bad as my @#$%. brother-in-law. I’ll be happy to send him love and light.” So they did. And it wasn’t long before both the @#$%s had rethought their stories and all charges were dropped against the two cellmates.

I’m wondering if that can’t work on an international level. Maybe I should ask my Canadian friends to send a little love and light to our U.S. Congress and President. I, in the meantime, will take on the drug violence in Mexico. And that’s where “Clothed with the Sun, Feet on the Ground” is headed. I’m making that blog a frequent practice in sending love and light to that particular situation. I invite you to join me there, and on the corresponding Facebook page put up by my friend Chris Raymond, Corazon a Corazon – A Spiritual Defense of Mexico. That’s an open page, which means if you have a little love and light to lend you can post it yourself. Heart to heart, we’ll get through all this.

* Did you catch the * after the @#$%? I decided to use @#$% because all profanity is either sexist, racist, unintelligible or unimaginative.  This way you can create your own.

Let’s provide asylum for Marisol

I’ve written before about the young woman who took over as chief of police in Praxedis G. Guerrero, a town overrun and overcome with the violence resulting from the rivalry of two drug cartels. According to today’s Fort Worth Star Telegram she is now seeking asylum in the U.S. She fled here four months ago after receiving death threats. The seriousness of those threats was born out after an attack last Wednesday on a policewoman who remained behind.

Last March I revised the title of my original October, 2010, post to indicate that Marisol Valles Garcia’s “Guadalupe Presence” was now “gone.” Identifying “virgin qualities” has been a recurring theme of this blog. To unabashedly quote myself:

Virginity is powerful.  In its original concept, it had NOTHING to do with physiology. Being a virgin meant having authority, because a virgin was “author” of her own experience. She carried no labels from any faction. She was defined by no relationship other than the one she maintained with her Creator. She was no one’s daughter, servant, wife, lover, or mother. She was “one-in-herself.” She was whole, complete, un-captured, unbroken, un-invaded, intact.

Revision is a necessity when we place one person on a pedestal and say “SHE” or “HE” is the embodiment of whatever good we’re searching for — and trust that that individual will come up with solutions — will be “the answer” for whatever ails us. Surveying the current field of Republican hopefuls in the States, taking account of the current incumbent, and then doing the same thing for a field of Mexican presidential hopefuls, I am convinced that the days of looking for “a hero,” male or female, are past us. The “pickin’s” are rather sparse in the hero department these days. They seem to be even sparser in the virgin department, whatever variety of virgin you might consider. But enough has been written about that.

Or maybe not. If anything comes out of the constant litany of hero failures and moral shortcomings of elected officials, it may be a heightened longing for virtues lost. In our forty year long “War on Drugs” the U.S. has used practically every violent and subversive means to counteract violent and subversive means — even providing arms to drug cartels. Recriminations on this subject are many, but recriminations only go so far. A practical, positive step toward redeeming our collective “virgin qualities” would be to provide safe harbor for those virtues when someone has tried to live them. Let’s provide asylum for Marisol Valles Garcia.