One would think that in the country of a billion-plus, it would be impossible to be self-involved. You might think the country would never allow you to be – how could you? It demands your attention, a toppling wave of noise, smells, riots of color, and abrupt and jarring experiences that crashes over oneself whether prepared or not. Your survival seems to depend largely on if you can allow your body to move with the wave, finding a kind of dance and beauty in the chaos, or if you fight it, flailing arms and legs rebelliously against a motion that feels unnatural. In addition to this, the huge amount of suffering that occurs amongst India’s impoverished populations would also lead one to believe that being focused on oneself here would be next to impossible. I am finding, that strangely enough, it is not. Not in the least, actually. In response to this crashing wave that is India, I often find myself thinking more about myself than ever before. Part of this stems from survival. In Udaipur, running around the city as a single lady, one has to remain conscious of one’s surroundings and take care of needs that spring up as life goes on. But I think in times of stress and under some of the extreme circumstances that can be found in this country, my reaction often is one of a clam. I shut tight, my edges sealed, my self contained in the warm comfort of the inside of my own brain. But other people suffer from this. I become detached, negative, and a less-than-satisfactory friend. I become dissatisfied with my own performance in my work, my life, my relationships, and my thought processes. And although this clam-like existence can be deceptively comfortable for a while, becoming enclosed in oneself leads inevitably to a depth of unhappiness and discomfort unprecedented by the stress and circumstances that led to it. As I have discovered these trends within my own self, and have begun to recognize this personal reaction, I have been trying to figure out what is the best method to pry my closed-tight shell apart again, and let the light of positivity and others-centered thinking shine in. It has been difficult – its not easy to force one to come out of oneself even when you know it is not a healthy place to dwell. But as my family spent time with me over the past 10 days, I feel like I am slowing learning how. Be thankful is the most important step. Sometimes this is difficult. It is easier to find negative things to dwell on, but the things that bless my life vastly outnumber them. I have begun to write these down. As I force my brain to think differently, if only for a while, it creates little holes in my self-focused thought. It makes me realize how amazing my family is, how lucky I am to have such a supportive group of friends here in Udaipur, and how the work that I am doing at ARTH is interesting and meaningful. Second to this practice, I am learning not to be so hard on myself. Just because I did not accomplish my to-do list of fixing my Internet, buying chairs, and becoming fluent in Hindi in 1 day does not mean I am an unsuccessful person. My father quoted Francis Shaeffer to me as he left; “If it is to be perfection or nothing, it will nothing every time.”
So as I pry my reluctant clam shell apart, I will continue to try to be thankful for the innumerable blessings in my life and to accept that living here is not always easy, and that if I do not conquer all my goals in a self-allotted amount of time, it does not mean that I am a failure. And most of all, that as I learn to dance in the chaotic, unfathomable, and gorgeous wave that is India, I grow in my ability to understand and love the world a little bit better.