The Train Station as Home, Community, Bathroom and Livelihood
We awoke early this morning (3:30 am!) to head across the Ganges, pile into taxis and take the pre-dawn drive back to the train station in Haridwar. I’d say, again, that driving at night is much more scary than driving during the day. The oncoming headlights blind you to the pedestrians, herds of cows, bicyclists, and porters. It all seems like an accident waiting to happen.
One thing that amazes me personally…I’ve been in three car accidents in the States. Each time I was a passenger. Friends can tell you that I have resulting reflexes…I grab the door or brace the dashboard in moments where I sense “danger.” It feels entirely wired into my system from the previous accidents. Here, I have none of those urges, even though I am sitting up front next to the driver and there are clearly far, far fewer driving “rules!”
Upon arriving at the train station, we hustle out of our taxis and into the large, brightly lit foyer where we have to walk around and through hundreds of people sleeping. Entire families are curled up under blankets together. A small girl sits up, sleepy headed, as we scoot by. I try not to disturb anyone by running into them or catching a corner of their blanket, but it really is a maze and quite difficult to miss people altogether.
We climb a big ramp, cross an overhead bridge, go down another ramp, and then find our waiting place on the platform. The now familiar smell takes over. We are just in time to catch site of three women squatting down on the edge of the platform to relieve their bladders. The men may make it onto the train tracks below, but the women leave small puddles on the edgeway.
Having an hour to wait for our train, which wasn’t on time (of course!), gave us plenty of opportunity for more “viewing.” The train tracks are also used for evacuating the bowel, spitting, throwing cigarette butts, compost and other garbage, and as a walkway between platforms. Yes, groups of barefoot families climb down onto the filthy tracks and cross over and up to the next platform. We were civilized in using the designed ramp ways and bridges!
The platform, similar to the foyer, is home to beggars who each seem to have their special sleeping area. Again whole families are huddled together under thin blankets. When people awaken, they cough, hack, and, the old men, light up cigarettes. They may wash their faces in the communal sink and then adjust their belongings (so few!) in preparation for the day’s begging. Some of the men seemed so old and infirm, I imagined them dying in their sleep without any one noticing for days.
We walked by one man who was sitting lotus style, hands in mudras on his knees, doing neck exercises to awaken for the day. He was also wearing a clean, cheese-cloth shirt and head turban (He was not one of the train depot family members.)
I wrapped my own scarves around my shoulders, head, nose and mouth, to keep warm and to avoid breathing the stink and dust. Chai wallahs came by offering hot chai, chai, chai; but I refused the possibly warming beverage for the dangers it might have presented.
My mind drifted back to the backwater communities in Allepey. By comparison, they were certainly far, far better off than this community.
I’m compelled, again, to reflect on what it means to have a place in the world and how we feed our own sense of impoverishment unnecessarily by the mental habits of comparison, desire, judgment, aversion, and story-making. Great teachers continually tell us that simply “wanting things to be different” is a sure path to suffering.
Without falling into passivity or numbness, how do we reconcile radically accepting what is, in terms of our life situation (financial, emotional, in our families, our health, our economy and our jobs) or the life situation of others, with the reality of our vision or the inner call to action? I’m not asking how do we reconcile radical acceptance with our personal desires. I’m distinguishing desire that is personal from the inner pull that is magnetic. By magnetic I mean, there is a pull toward something larger than us that feels quite impersonal, though the enthusiasm for the action/vision has “chosen us.” Enthusiasm, by the way, means to be filled with God.
Eckart describes this, as does Catherine, as allowing the music of life to be played through you. I often say it’s a kind of Yes that you couldn’t say No to. The “Yesness” is obvious, unarguable, and natural.
My sense is that the reconciliation, if there is one, occurs in the silence, the stillness, the moments of deep presence in which the habitual flurries of the mind evaporate. What remains is lucid, patient and enormously loving.
The Poverty and Social Justice
As I’ve been in India now for three weeks, I’m reflecting on my reactions and responses to the poverty, filth, illness, and homelessness. I’m surprised to find myself not feeling overwhelmed, not having the urge to rescue anyone, not having the instinct to give money to the outstretched hands. I was enough forewarned by many people (including my friend Catherine Ingram, with whom I share similar enough tendencies and reflections about life and social justice), that I thought my heart would be more pulled upon. I thought I would experience greater heart-ache.
On my trip over the ocean on February 16th, I started these reflections looking through the lens of the Enneagram*. The One is the highly principled ruler, charismatic leader, and champion of social justice, truth, and fairness. I’d guess that Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr,, and probably, even Obama, are all Ones. The Four is more oriented by her emotions as the “deep-sea-diver of the psyche,” but for evolution she moves to the One, in her own ways. (*Of course, ultimately all of these paradigms and systems dissolve in the ocean of our unity and consciousness. They’re, ultimately, only amusing and intriguing pointers!)
Given what I understand about myself as a Four, in this regard, and given my life experience and my compulsions to serve, to restore and to social justice, I’m surprised to find that not only does my heart not ache the way I thought it would, I’m not besieged with inner ideologies and plans for action on how all of this might change. Perhaps it’s just too big for me to comprehend. I wouldn’t begin to agree with the situation as it is, for indeed it is devastating. But I can’t fathom how this would ever change.
I’m sure at times in my own life I appeared lost and impoverished to others (not just the religious types who have knocked on my door to attempt to convert me). I’m sure there are ways that I have unconsciously contributed to the global problem of social injustice through my purchasing habits, fossil fuel usage, avoidance of certain streams of news, and even my moments of ingratitude or lack of appreciation for my own life situation.
Perhaps the first area of personal accountability in this unfathomable devastation and injustice is to bring even greater integrity yet to my choices, thoughts and actions in purchasing, consuming, scheduling, driving, listening, responding to and appreciating life. While that seems small, considering the things I’m exposed to here, I also know it’s do-able; and that change begins with small, personal steps.
Additionally, I do trust that India will keep making her impression on me, even after my arrival home. I also trust that if there is a larger call to action, I will know it instinctively. And finally, as I’ve evolved in my own ways, I can see that simply contributing to and supporting the change other people are leading would be deeply satisfying. (This softens the visionary part of my nature (the One) that started Living Yoga, such that I wouldn’t have to start another organization for this aspect of our global injustice!)