Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Cheese About the Blues

Blue Cheesers,

For every penny, rupee, shillingi, or real I try to save, for every ounce or pound of guilt I create for myself as the burden of privilege, the universe does something to balance my debt, to lighten my load.


Last Thursday morning I was leaving from a friend's house in Kozhikode (the 'zh' sound in Malayalam is pronounced, by the way, as a curled 'r', the way Americans pronounce the 'r' in 'American') where my mother and I had been visiting. When I realized I had forgotten a belt for my pants, I didn't think it would be more than a mild inconvenience. (I'll ruin the fun right here. No, my pants don't fall off in a crowded public area in this story.)

In the bus to Sultan Batheri I sat trying to Reiki and sleep away some sniffles that had been hanging over my head for a good few weeks. I expected to only have to get off at the last stop, so I wasn't too alert when we reached the middle of the town and the driver told me to get out, which I found out later was because the station for this bus was a little ways out of town. Not wanting to delay him further (He was already impatient. They often are.) I grabbed my bags and left without checking the seat as I usually do.

On the next bus I reached into my back pocket for money and didn't find my wallet. My throat and chest tightened up and I simultaneously tried to a) figure out how to get my wallet, wherever it was, b) figure out how to manage if I didn't get it, and c) relax myself out of the familiar heavy guilty sensations and thought processes of being an absolute idiot.

The answer to b) was that I had just enough coins to get myself a ticket to Cheengode, my last stop for today, from where the only problem would be breaking the extra 500 point note I had hidden in my bag for emergencies (aah, not so absolutely an idiot after all), which I could probably do with someone at Kanavu, the place I was visiting for the night, before I left for Mangalore the next morning, after which I would be with my uncle, which was almost like being safe at home. (Home? Where is home? Will I ever figure that out? Sure, for now I say its here with my grandparents and my mother in this burgeoning village but as my grandmother points out, how often am I here? For how long? Where am I watching my plants grow?)

The answer to a) was that, since I had been absolutely alone at the back of the bus (the area reserved for women. Don't worry, it's not always the back, often its the front, it's not a inferiority thing. Though that's not to say there isn't serious sexism around here.) and walked straight to the next bus without allowing anyone near me so I couldn't have been pickpocketed, I was 99% sure that it was my beltless pants that had allowed my wallet to go AWOL. It occurred to me that my last chance at c), recovering myself from idiocy, was to leap out and get myself to the other bus station in case the bus hadn't left with my stowaway wallet yet. I really had to pee, which didn't help my clarity of thought, but that seemed like the best plan. Of course, in the process of leaping out, asking in broken Malayalam (because my throat and chest were tight and I had to pee. My Malayalam is actually passable these days when I'm not stressed.) where the station was, fumbling in my pocket for the ticket to give back to the conductor since I wasn't taking the bus, I succeeding in revealing my idiocy to the entire bus.

I broke my note and found out the station was "2km" away (which means an undefined distance, somewhere between short and long. Our friend Ankur Shah says that it means "I've never been there". Gujurati and Malayalam translate differently, but the overbearing certainty of a false notion is common to humans across South Asia, I think), which I would have walked if I weren't trying to chase my wallet. Funny how chasing time and money necessarily means spending both. I took the recommended 12 point autorickshaw ride, only to find that Sultan Batheri wasn't the last destination of the bus as I had thought (because of the sign in the front of the bus saying Sultan Batheri), and it had left for Mysore a while ago.

I briefly wondered if some kind soul would see the address inserted in the wallet and be channeled by our friend Doug Pulleyblank (who goes out of his way to get lost wallets back to their homes).


I walked back the "2k" with a lump in my throat. My last cheese to you was also right after my wallet fell out of my pocket (and then was stolen). Would I never learn? Would life never thump some sense into my befuddled careless brain? Travelling light, indeed. What right did I have to philosophize? What right did I have carrying anything of value? What was I wandering around for anyway, when was I going to stop being a child?

I knew there was no sense in crying over spilled wallets, and I was being too hard on myself, and I needed to treat myself gently and kindly, but the questions and doubts and self-flagellations continued and the lump in my throat thickened.

Later that night at Kanavu (an Adivasi, or indigenous, learning community in the hills of north Kerala that I've been visiting for the last few years) I woke up to the sound of people hooting at wild elephants to scare them away from their fields. I lay awake thinking I could have called my mother or uncle and asked them to call the Transport office and see if they could get the bus driver to check for the wallet. Many of them have cell phones these days. And my sniffles made their way from a cold into a sore throat.

I usually sit generally blissed out in buses and trains. But the next morning the series of long bus rides to Mangalore had me mostly ranging from dull to ruffled to teary.

By Sunday, I had sniffled my way to a bad cough and cold, and spiraled my way into a depression.

This monster is familiar to me. I've had it with me at least since I was 7. Some years ago it built up towards a major crisis, and since then, with help, I've been healing, trying to shake this thing off.

It started to build up again last year, for various intangible reasons. It really dug its heels in when Denali and I were crew on a sailboat from San Diego to the south of Mexico for several weeks, a phenomenal magickal experience, much of which I spent fighting back tears and feeling terribly horribly Not Good Enough. (Some time I'll write you about all the good parts too. It was a much awaited, and in many ways, very successful adventure.)

This time the monster has been very different, though. I am slowly realizing that I can no more shake it off than I can my brown skin that I so wanted to not have so many years ago. Slowly coming to see that perhaps it's not a monster at all. Not something to fear, to hate, to get away from, but something to be with, to understand, to be kind to.

Some of you know this about me already, but for some of you, this may come as a bit of a shock. I'm writing this partly so you can help me in my journey towards wholeness, if you want to (and haven't already started). I also know some of you have monsters of your own. In fact, I'll bet most of you have some monster or another under your skin that you are learning to live with. So I'm also writing to ask to be part of your journey too, monsters and angels and all, if you want me to.

That's plenty of cheese to chew on for now, so I'll leave you with a poem by Rumi, along with so many unwritten letters composed in my head to each of you, as I sit on one moving vehicle after another, and my deep deep love.

Ammu Malavika Mali Emu


The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


(I found this poem, and the quote I have now as my email signature, in a book called The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness, by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn. It is helping me tremendously. I seriously recommend it for anyone who is open, whether or not you experience depression.)

How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races – the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses. Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are only princesses waiting for us to act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.
So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises before you larger than any you've ever seen, if an anxiety like light and cloud shadows moves across your hands and everything that you do. You must realize that something has happened to you; that life has not forgotten you; it holds you in its hands and will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.
- Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet


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