As I prepare for this next 10 months, my mind racing, my heart pounding I’m cozying up to a complex collaboration of feelings, and a swarming of overlapping questions. My intention now and in India, is to stay alert to all of this and to let the feelings and questions serve as guides for integrating experience and stepping into uncertainty. In the past few days, my mounting excitement crumbled slightly to uncover some underlying fears, the kind of fear that comes from change. In navigating this fear, I have been drawing on an experience I had this summer where I spent ten days mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. This trip included climbing some very challenging peaks at a high altitude, and with snow on the ground. It was a profoundly beautiful exercise in being present and in understanding the nuances of fear, because there were many moments where I quite literally felt fear for my life. And yet in those spaces, the ones where it was just me in the vastness of majestic wilderness, I chose movement forward, to continue to live inside the fear itself. The metaphor was so clear, with opportunity, extreme beauty, a sense of accomplishment, and humility spilling forth from the mouth of fear. While moving to India is arguably quite different from climbing these mountains, this experience sourced me with a sense of belief and hope that anything is possible, and a reminder that fear can be a gift when embraced.
Now too, as I move into newness and out of my comfort zone, I’m choosing to move towards the belly of my fears. Fear about leaving my loved ones, living in the urban chaos of Delhi, living in integrity with myself, finding a sense of home, and working in an Indian NGO. Yet somehow, these fears feel playful. I can dance with them and trust them. I am reminding myself about this feeling I have when I am in India. It’s something about walking on ancient earth, smelling burning milk and garbage, taking in contrast and color. In this unlikely combination, somehow everything just lines up inside of me. Nothing and everything makes sense at the same time. I see layers of history, of humanity, of suffering, and it makes life, all life, meaningful. This year, this fellowship, is part of a journey that is professional and spiritual, political and personal for me. The choice is about liberation and healing, uncomfortability and boundary pushing, and change both big and small – that is the kind of change that comes with doing hard work and being alive and awake and honest. The kind of change that where fear turns to openness and positive action.
In the midst of this meditation on fear and change, I have been thinking a lot about the extreme poverty in India, how that lives alongside wealth, often with no dialogue in between, yet in an irrefutable relationship. In fact, a huge reason why I am going to Delhi is to somehow give voice and expression to this conversation and to the people who are the most vulnerable in its wake. My intention here is to keep my heart open, to see and bear witness with compassion that leads towards action, to seek out the stories of resilience, and yet to do this without being overcome or overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all. I often have this same question in my hometown of NYC. It is so easy to turn your head to poverty, disease, homelessness. Perhaps it’s because it simply isn’t pretty. Perhaps it’s because we feel like we can’t do anything about it. And it is true that I sometimes find that in those moments, I don’t want to give money or look or even acknowledge, and yet it only take 15 seconds of my time to look at someone and acknowledge their humanness and respond to them with dignity. And this is already a contradiction in their lives and in my life. There’s got to be some kind of message of hope in that.
I’ve been thinking about how this might translate to being in India. My mentor at Katha, where I will be working, said to me: “It’s fine to take the time to build personal relationships with people you are working with Marielle, but in Delhi, in the slum communities, it is on a whole other level. It’s not one or ten or twenty people. There will be hundreds who will come and each will have their own powerful story, and you will have only two hours to be with them. How then will you manage this?” And the truth is, I have no idea. The best I can do is hold out the intention to treat everyone with respect, to show myself boldly, to express like and love, and to trust the individual and collective intelligence of the group. I’m just going to live the question of what exactly this looks like on the ground. Stay tuned!
Now for the big questions – they cross the personal and the professional, and they truly underline my whole approach to this next year, and my choice to have this experience. I am asking myself a lot about attempting to critically examine my role in the development field in India, and act responsibly and ethically. This means holding on to a complex understanding of colonialism and imperialism, culture and context, systems of oppression, globalization, and international development. This means being in a vigilant practice of self-reflection on my own identity as a person from the US. This means being flexible and releasing expectations. How can I practice critical humility along the way? How do I acknowledge my privilege and then use it to advance the struggles for liberation? What is the role that makes the most sense for me as an outsider, and how can my identity actually offer something that wouldn’t be possible if I was of Indian origin? How can be more courageous? How can I be an activist educator in reflection and action? What is the relationship between human rights and spiritual development? How can my professional and personal growth inform and enhance each other? These are my questions and my guides.
I am grateful for this opportunity to live and work and learn in India.
Alignment in my center speaking truth. Adventure. Service. Love. Change-making.
Here I go.