Thursday, August 12, 2010

Back in the Subcontinent

Hello other side of the world, Vannakam, Namaste, Namaskaram!

I am currently sitting at my own researchers desk, adorned with name plaque, personal fan, and layers upon layers of demographic forms. The air is heavy with mumbled sanskrit mantras from the temple out the back window and the unrelenting hum of mosquitos. India. I love this place with all my soul. I really feel like a part of me has been awoken by even the few days I've been here. Marching around dusty paths lined with coconut trees and shrines in bright tunics, scarves,and my leather laptop case full of research methodology= bliss. Two worlds collide into one and it is almost too much to handle.

Flying here was a breeze. In fact, despite all of my pre-flight-to-third-world-countries-fears, once I stepped on the plane it felt like normalcy. Like swapping shoes from Boulder to some kind of reoccurring vagabond. My Colorado to New York flight was, although energetically charged with all of the goodbyes, rather uneventful. Peanuts were served, obese women cushioned my ride. Dubai, 12 hours later, was wrapped in a golden sham of dust and heat. It reminded me a lot of Burkina Faso or Ghana during the Harmattan winds. True bliss was stepping back into an air conditioned plane after a several minute walk in the thick environs.

I was surprised by my lack of total emotional chaos stepping off the plane in India (partially due to my sleep deprived stupor I am suspecting). But I gathered my bags, walked out the airport door, and the first person I saw was a beaming Indian man with a “Stroop” sign in his hands. Ravi, the professor I am working with, sent his star pupil and researcher of yoga's influence on diabetics to greet me. The 2 hour traffic jammed car ride to the jungle sanctuary where the university resided, was filled with exchanged brain facts and Sanskrit phrases. When we arrived at the campus, we met Ravi (the elusive figure I've been corresponding with now for a year and a half) and went to his house for a home cooked South Indian meal of joy. One thing is undeniable: South India food is a way to my heart. Immediately me and Ravi's mom (in her late 70's) hit it off and are now attending early morning Upanishads lectures together. She is also letting me cook dinner with her tomorrow night.

The campus is beautiful. A richly colored temple in the heart of the campus and open air yoga halls dot the landscape. Walking around the campus at any given moment you witness fleets of yogis chanting and bending their bodies in unison. Ravi took me for a walk in the surrounding jungle, where a huge Shiva statue was situated. I've been meditating under it for the past few days. The food here is primarily locally grown, all vegetarian and quasi-bland. But that is what one should expect of a yogi diet. All the students sit on the floor together in the dining hall and pray before every meal.

The past few days Ravi and I have been collecting pilot data, making changes to the software and editing our script in preparation for next Monday, when we'll be heading to the traditional gurukalam school 30 km away. This school houses boys from a very early age who have been sent to study under a guru until they are 22. It is intensive training and the form of school that existed long before the British invasion. I will be the only girl on the campus, and am lucky they are letting me in. Oh the power of neuroscience.

Yesterday I was asked to give a lecture to all of the faculty, P.h.D, graduate, undergraduate and visiting students. Haha. So I of course enthusiastically whipped up a series of slides and went to the designated lecture hall at the designated time. And, as unsurprising as it should be knowing India, I was greeted by a massive audience all sitting on the floor on bamboo mats awaiting my arrival. Oh lordy. Explaining executive and spatial attention and its relationship to neuroplasticity and meditative practice is hard enough to do to the general population, adding a room full of Indians who can barely understand my Western accent only compounded the problem. But much to my dismay, I was met with a room full of bobbing heads and many insightful questions. Walking around campus I am frequently met with a small bow and smile now. Did I mention I love India?

Okay. There is far more to be said, including lessons in html programming (wtf?), being asked to stick strips of cloth through my nose and pulled out of my mouth and put turmeric in my derriere to cleanse my energetic channels (fml). But will have to wait.

Life never ceases to amaze me.
*existential sigh *

If I cannot write again for a bit this is why:
16th-18th: Traditional gurukalam testing
19th-22nd: Visting Aadithya, Kaviya and Aruna in Chennai.
23rd-26th: Testing control group at a college in Bangalore.
26th-2nd: Either meeting the darling Lucy Richards in the north to frolic around for a bit or attending a 3 day Vipassana retreat/paying my dues to Coimbatore.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Great Grey Clouds

It is time to sweep.

Sweep up the layers of Sahara sandstorms never written about, the malarial lone travels across Togolese boarders, and the illegal Beninese motorcycling I would have loved to pay tribute to in words. But it is time to sweep up the memories that have been silently biting at me all summer, in order to finally move on. So, with a few tattered sentences holding the spaces for those memories, I resolve to let them rest in full richness only in my mind. The nice thing about sweeping, however, is that although at times a rather dirty process, it is always a good way to come clean. And at the crossroads of another adventure, clarity is most welcome.

So sweeping up West Africa with one swoop (insert frantic broom noise), I am ready to embrace the new. And what a delightful handful of new has been tossed my way since the last entry! I went from sweating profusely to the tune of tongues pouring in through a small window, to the cool summer rain of a Durango thunderstorm where I sit today. Time is a potent force. And this summer has been entirely too exemplary of its drastic impact.

The past two months I've been living in Boulder, Colorado, working at the Consciousness laboratory at Naropa University. Naropa is one of the only accredited Buddhist Universities in the world, and has been one of the major reasons my conception of reality (what a hefty assertion makes she!) has been cracked open this summer. Ironically, this crack-age was partially due to working on a project concerning quantification of a person's worldview- a line of research that is dangerously qualitative, yet unbelievably interesting (as well as absurdly thought provoking in the realm of my own worldview). I've had the pleasure of working with Dr. Peter Grossenbacher, who quickly morphed into a not only a figure of respect, but a profound role model in my life. Looking back at my decision making process for working at Naropa this summer, rather than the Cognitive Neuroscience lab in Denver or the fleets of other places I applied to, I realize hunches sometimes are worth following.

After all of this contortionist work, bending myself through different countries (13 so far this year), it was returning to the dear old Rockies of my birth that have fostered growth (curse you Candide!). Although, I am not sure if growth is even the right word for what has happened. It feels more like regression to a temporarily, but necessarily, set aside person. Perhaps forgetting yourself for awhile is a good way to remember. Rather than constructing yet another guise for a temporary place (a process I am making an art form out of), this summer I've been working on the process of unmasking. And as a product, I feel a sense of very real happiness. Wild bike rides, summer flowers, babbling books, thick books, geeky intellectualism, poetry slams, late night stupor and new faces have also been contributions to this feeling of satisfaction. Ahhh sweet summer, you have been so good to me this time around! And for that I am thankful.

So, setting overly dramatic life changing narratives of self discovery aside, I am proud to announce the next chapter: India. Three days stand before me and another transatlantic plane ride. But this time, unlike the others, it feels like I am flying towards an old friend. Homeward, these shoes.

So, alas, let the all too familiar ritual of goodbye and hello commence. The process of leaving has taken all forms in the past: complete earth-shattering sadness, numbness, and incredible joy, but this time it has a new texture. I recognize a large component of this leaving is sorrow, but one that is conditionally linked to acceptance. Ephemerality is no longer comparable to a rainbow, an analogy I've frequented, but the grey clouds left drifting in its aftermath. This kind of constancy, one that supports, but is not encompassed by ephemerality, feels very graceful to me. And although faces fluctuate and geographical distances shift, I realize my body and heart, the shreds of constancy in this transient equation, have the capacity to hold them.

And for that I feel whole, drifting.