“It’s time to get up. The time is 6:15. It’s time to get up.” The voice recording on my cell phone’s alarm is politely but firmly ushering me into a new day. I open my window, letting the cool air carry sounds of rushing water and chattering birds into my room. I can see the smoky blue outlines of the mountains waiting. Every morning I walk up towards these stunning giants, filling my lungs with cold mountain air and absorbing the beauty of the world waking up. It’s not all peaceful- I have learned to look out for Big Scary Roof Dog, who sits in silence on a low roof above the road and then starts barking like mad when people are right under her. (Her name is Shenu. I asked.) There’s nothing like barking dog on a low roof to get my heart rate going. Otherwise I continue climbing…seeing donkeys trekking up the hill with sacks of concrete on their backs, looking out for birds (today a wild peacock!), greeting now familiar faces, watching the sun peep out from behind the ridges, seeing the mountain faces illuminated with light, waving to children scrubbed neat and clean for school… all in all waking up my heart and my mind to prepare for another surprising day in India…
I know I am privileged to enjoy this morning routine. I am not waking up early to start a fire, cook breakfast for the whole family, clean dishes, feed the animals, milk the cow, tend to the fields, wash clothes, etc. I have enormous respect for the people who work alongside me every day, and for the women farmers we are working with. They are incredibly strong.
It’s fitting that I am working at Jagori Grameen, as “Jagori” means “awaken, women.” I am waking up to the realities of life here in rural, mountainous India, and these mornings provide me the space to look inside. For the holiday of Dussehra, in which Ram’s victory over the 10-headed demon Ravan is celebrated, people burn effigies of Ravan, also signifying the burning of the evil within us. In submitting to the “fire” of honest self-reflection, I imagine that as I poke around in the ashes, I can stumble upon new treasures of insight, still too hot to hold or understand yet. For all of us, we never know what might lay in the husk of our indifference…in the shell of our greed…in the ashes of our self-centeredness or self-righteousness. Or what we may truly see for the first time with smoke-stung eyes, after the walls we had so scrupulously built tumble in flames. Or when our hasty crutches and spindly interior support beams give way and we find ourselves tottering and lost, needing to find strength in new sources or finally walk on our own.
Last week I was able to see the Dalai Lama speak in Dharamsala. Sitting in a sea of scarlet robes and shaved heads, thousands of us huddled together to hear him speak as gusts of rain and wind swept through the open-air temple. Monks brought around large silver teapots and poured steaming butter tea into our cups. When speaking about meditational serenity and insight, the Dalai Lama said that ignorance is the root of all suffering. Overcoming “dysfunctional mental bondages” that constrain us from seeing reality as it is, we can find insight about the way the world truly works. In understanding emptiness we can deepen our compassion. In teaching our minds to be focused and awake, we can become more alive ourselves. With occasional onslaught of noise (honks, fireworks, crowds), the commotion of navigating a new work space, and juggling realities of discrimination, inequality, and poverty, I find I crave the space to just think and open my heart and my mind.
I’m taking things step by step, chapati by chapati, day by day. At the end of each day, my mountains insist that, in the words of the band Megafaun, “I ain’t never seen a night that didn’t have a dawn.”
…It’s time to wake up. The time is now.