thoughts: life minus expectations
"Hallo? Boat ride?"
Most mornings start like this. He is lanky and wears sunglasses and a floppy plaid hat. He approaches me with the same enthusiasm every time. I used to anticipate the day when he'd recognize me and stop asking. But after three weeks I instead meet him with a smile and nod my head no.
The sun is barely visible behind the palm trees. It backlights the beach in a way that makes everything appear as shadows, figures in the water and boats being pushed out to the shiny sea. I walk with my feet in the water. The air is just cool enough that the water feels warm. Each wave peels back and pulls at the grains of sand, revealing tiny crabs that quickly burrow and leave behind pin-sized holes until the next wave picks them up again.
It's quiet in the morning. The restaurants aren't open. Foreigners run just beyond where the water breaks. Some practice yoga or meditate and are often joined by a curious stray dog. Cows amble toward boats that will later offer shade and respite from the rising sun.
I walk toward the bay. Up and down a tower of makeshift sandy steps, carved into the steep incline. I'm barefoot. It only took a week for this place to break me of my regular conventions. I'm always barefoot. On the beach, in yoga class, on the uneven asphalt town roads. I used to be baffled by people, foreign and local, opting to go barefoot on the hot, dirty roads. But now it turns out it's easier to clean my feet than my shoes, so India wins again. It has wore me down on yet another thing.
Last year it was motorbikes. I was met with one as my only mode of transportation on my first day in India. After hours of travel that had included a missed airplane connection, sleeping in the Mumbai airport, and a missed bus in Bangalore, I was proudly and wearily walked into my hotel with my reservation in hand only to be informed that the room were already all full. After an hour of phone calls the booking company had found me a new hotel and said transportation had been arranged to get me there. They didn't mention that it was a motorbike.
I climbed on warily with my backpack, unsure of where to hold on. Other women sat sidesaddle, hands resting in their laps, while I grasped the sidebars so tightly that my nails dug into my palms. Each jerky acceleration pulled my pack and me along with it, and I glued my eyes to the back of the driver's head thinking, "please don't let me die on my first day in India." Because occasionally my mind leans toward the dramatic.
For months more motorbike rides found me when car traffic was jammed or taxis were unavailable. Each subsequent ride was met with fear and a slight rolling of my eyes. Until Rishikesh. Five months into my trip it was again a choice of missing my bus or jumping on a motorbike. I took the motorbike. We weaved through several miles of stopped cars on the mountain roads and dodged the usual cows and dogs. But the ride stands out in my mind because I was bored. Unlike my first white-knuckle, cling-for-dear-life ride, it felt normal, uneventful even. The ride was the same, but I had softened. And I haven't been met with the option of a motorbike since. They say you get the same teachers again and again until you learn the lesson. And India has a way of making these lessons painfully obvious.
And so I am barefoot, softened on yet another thing. The bay is followed by more stairs, a dirt road along the coast, and a paved road through a small village. The thatched huts have storefronts of clothes, jewelry, snacks, and coconuts. Some have signs for laundry and tours. The road is flanked by thick greenery and palm trees, and eventually it opens up to yet another beach. It's quieter here. Less foreigners, less locals, less urgency, less sales to be made. No one speaks to you on this beach. Sometimes no one is even within earshot. Proof that even with one billion people in India quiet spaces exist.
When I walk the same path back to the yoga retreat there are more cows on the road, out for an afternoon graze. I begin to open a plastic bag of leftover mango pieces, and before I can pull one out, a cow has her entire face in the bag, yanking it away from me. They recognize these bags, typically discarded on the side of the road with scraps.
The yoga shala is peaceful. The only sounds are distant waves and the buzzing of birds and monkeys so clear that they resonate like a recording of "jungle noises" for a sound machine. There are no walls. My voice felt foreign and weak here for days. I couldn't figure out how to project with nothing for the sound to bounce off. Now the openness is inviting. The students all come from different backgrounds, countries, languages, and yoga experiences, and there's nothing but space. Freedom to teach and practice and breathe as whatever you need right now.
Today India has other plans. I set my students up for savasana, suggesting that they relax their toes and ankles as a stray, wet dog bounds into the shala. And I watch. My words continue as my mind wanders. The dog takes a bolster in his mouth like a toy and runs to the water. My eyes follow him as he discards it in the small waves and leaps back toward my students. My words continue. Several students open their eyes and smile as the dog proceeds to rub his wet fur against the hanging tapestries. I've said all I need to say, so I watch. I watch as he takes the tapestry in his mouth, turns in circles to tear it down, and shakes it victoriously. His tongue hangs out, smiling, and he looks at me with pride.
After taking inventory of his work, he leaves. My eyes return to the students, all of whom have since closed their eyes. I take note of the destruction. The wet, sandy paw prints and crumpled fabric. And I sit still. I stay still until the end of savasana when I guide my students back to seated and close class with a mantra.
At dinner one of my students asks me what I was thinking when the dog was disrupting class. I pause, for a moment wondering if I should have done something. If I should have reacted rather than being still.
"I thought... I'm in India, and this is what happens."
And this is the best way that I can explain what I love about this place. There's nothing that I expect here. Everything is fair game. A train can arrive 30 minutes early or 5 hours late. An ATM can dispense 10,000 rupees one day and be out of money the next. A restaurant menu contains things that are unavailable for weeks. Power outages happen for no apparent reason. A stray dog will try to tear down the yoga studio while you're teaching class. It's all just what happens. The chaos and unpredictable nature of this place leaves little room for expectations.
There are, of course, plenty of things that we can change, that are worth our reactions and effort. But so often our attention and peace of mind is stolen by things that are naturally ever-changing and that don't actually matter in the scheme of things. Our brains are hard-wired to react, and yoga asks us to pause. To remain in the pose when it gets uncomfortable. To remember that the sensation is temporary.
Typically our expectations robs us of far more joy than our circumstances. And I've never been somewhere that makes that more obvious than here.
1/26/2017 08:27:04 am
1/27/2017 01:58:22 am
Thanks Jim! Lots of love to you and your family!
2/6/2017 12:13:07 am
Love this Amanda xx
2/7/2017 12:55:34 am
Thanks Sarah! Hope you are well :)
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