I got pickpocketed a few months ago. I was out for a late night snack in New Delhi where a large man bumped into me. Almost instantly I knew something was wrong. I felt my left pocket, where my phone was supposed to be empty. But within those few seconds, the man had left the scene and was nowhere to be found.
As I sat in the police office, a few surprising thoughts came to mind. One bit was the almost comical nature of the police’s reaction to the incident – they spent most of the night trying to convince me not to report a crime, and that instead I had “lost” my phone. The second way was how calm I felt. Just moments after I realized I had been pickpocketed, I felt the feelings of anger and shock subsiding and becoming replaced much calmer feelings of inquisition and curiosity. In fact, I almost felt like I had earned won a behind-the-scenes ticket (albeit a rather expensive one) to a new part of India.
I’d like to attribute this attitude of calmness and perspective to my growing maturity (or at least to my increased interest in mindfulness and meditation), but I think a big part of it could and should be attributed to the simple fact that I’ve now been in India for a while. India overwhelms, physically and mentally. Every walk down the street is an opportunity for sensory overload – fascinating and nauseating smells, inspiring and heart wrenching sights, and of course, ever present honking horns. In a way, these extremes have forced me me to find a more moderate way of viewing my environment – having to react to and think about every stimuli would be incredibly tiring, and even if I wanted to, I probably couldn’t.
On one hand, this moderating process has been alarming. Sights that would bother me in the past, such as the couple living in the trash dump near my apartment, no longer affect me. The continuation of this tempering, I fear, will become an attitude of apathy. However, I’ve also begun to think about this process as an incredibly helpful one – a process that really forces oneself to think about what matters.
What matters? Not a stolen cell phone. What matters? Not a few extra minutes waiting for chaotic traffic to pass to cross the street. With its overwhelming nature, India reminds me everyday that many irritants that might previously gnawed at me simply don’t matter. In turn, I can use this renewed perspective to focus on the priorities that truly to matter to me – to discover and appreciate the world around me, to grow in empathy with others, and to continue to work in service.