Hereby finishing this Love Affair
I hereby declare this love-affair finished.
Once and for all it is O-V-E-R.
I had to come all the way back here in order to see clearly. Like with all great love stories, Love is Blind. And blind was my Love for India- blind and filled with illusions. And thin is the veil covering the invisible line between Love and Hate. I never realized how closely I was treading on the border- how I was balancing on a fine, razor-sharp edge, all this time. I did cut myself many times, and yes, I did bleed- but I did not realize what had made me bleed. I let it flow, like tears of pain, down my cheeks.
I had to return here, in order to clear the final cobwebs veiling my vision about this Love. I had to return here, with my eyes Wide Open, to finally, with courage and knowledge, clear the veil that was the largest obstacle for me, in my life, in my heart. The veil of illusion about this Love for India.
It started before even entering the land itself. I was on my Great Asian Adventure, which would be the Final Great Trip for me, before embarking on my studies which would lead me to the career of my dreams. I had spent all summer applying for a degree in Arabic & Religions of the Middle East, which would be done at the amazing School of Oriental & African Studies. I would speak Arabic, I would have a deep understanding of the conflict in the Middle East, from a religious perspective. After completing that degree, I would take another one, in Journalism. The dream and the goal was in the shape of a TV-screen, where I could be seen, clasping a microphone plastered with the red- and white letters “BBC news” speaking passionately and with a deep knowledge about the bombs falling at that very moment behind me, in Baghdad, which was the hot-spot for the conflict at the time. With a big helmet and soot on my cheeks, I would tell the world about what was going on, I would tell the world about the injustices and the suffering of the people, and I would make them be more aware, donate money to help, and to appreciate their own little selfish, material lives.
I would risk my life in order to tell the truth about the world. My vision was incredible, and slightly over-the-top (!), idealistic.
Then, Love came into my life. Blind Love. Blindfolded by Love, I was immediately, but however unknowingly, lost in a very deep sea, with nothing more to hold onto. The sea was called India.
I started already a few countries before India with my daily, military-like yoga-regime. Each morning I was up earlier than I ever had been before in my life, performing various rituals, according to the yoga scriptures I had with me, and according to the advice of a man I had met. I had already practiced yoga for several years, but it had been in classes, impersonal classes, and almost only the physical side of yoga. Now, it was different. I discovered that yoga had many facets and many practices, and that the Western adaptation was, according to those who “knew”, severely lacking in depth and was just another form of exercise.
So I followed the routines strictly, and I studied the scriptures rigidly. They said they would transform me, these practices, that they would lead to somewhere, some kind of abstract liberation of some sort. I believed it, and I wanted it, and I did it, each morning, for hours.
I found many books with many fascinating and exotic words. They tingled something magical very deep inside me and I wanted to know more. I wanted to taste their sweet nectar. Chakra. Bodhisattva. Maya. Siddhi. Samadhi. Nirvana. Shanti. Bliss. Vidya. Transcendence. Such abstract words, but for me, words have always been more powerful than anything else. Each of them contained a universe of hidden mysteries, each of which I wanted to reveal, each of which I wanted to own. These words were to me like beautiful mysterious portals, and I wanted to open their huge, heavy doors, and go inside.
I have always been seeking. Seeking something different, different from what I knew, different from that which I had come from. Early in life I made a promise to myself: that I would never become like my grandmother and my mother. They were deeply Catholic, and to me they seemed so bound in their beliefs, suffering like Jesus on the cross, weeping blood and painfully filled with sin, guilt and shame. Life was not to be enjoyed; it was to be endured; life was suffering.
Catholicism was the religion of my mother’s family. It was the religion of my home, my source, my blood. But as I grew up in a very non-religious society, the separation was evident very early. I did not want to be different from the other kids. I hated that Saturday Catholic school that I had to go to, listening to some stupid stories, while my Swedish “normal” friends where doing what I thought were “normal” things. Things that did not include religion, anyway. My inner and outer worlds were separated, and there was no meeting point to be seen.
So I was searching, and I was revolting against my own background. In my revolution I searched. Searching in different areas of life, little did I actually realize that I was eventually deepening my search within the very same area that was the area of my initial revolution. For me, I was finding something completely different and opposite, and I honestly saw myself as a true pioneer, going so far away from my own roots and family, thinking that I was transforming myself into something completely new and fresh.
Entering India felt natural and obvious. Originally, it was just part of my Big Asian Adventure. Now, it was My Life Love. And Mission.
I hated it. I hated Calcutta with all its dirt, pollution, dead bodies, poverty and scam-artists.
But that did not matter one bit. I had my books- and in my books it said that “it” was there, in that very country. And I was intent on finding it. The fact that I hated what I saw and felt and experienced, should have had, at that point, already been an indication of the whole Love Affair being an Illusion. A separation between the books and the reality; a separation between the inner and the outer worlds. But, as is the norm, Love is, and definitely was at the time for me, Blind, at the very blindest degree possible.
My plan was to spend six months, traveling spiritual India, staying in ashrams and holy places, unveiling the mysteries that I was discovering. This would help me grow deeper in my understanding, and eventually mastering these mystical words, reaching whatever state that these words, and this deep, ancient knowledge, was promising.
And then..I would go to Baghdad? Or not...
That idea became breathless in thick fog and with no oxygen, it got deflated. It merely existed on the fringes of my consciousness and was just a standard phrase repeated when asked by fellow travelers what my plans were.
Soon, however, my search for the mysterious India also became foggy. Strangled by a serious illness, I was confined to a room with a fan spinning round and round in the ceiling. I had been forced to leave my first ashram due to the illness, which I thought was the reason for my anger and inability to cope with the rules.
Life in India, my Love Affair with India, became a bed, a fan, and a bathroom where each detail was studied and memorized. It was like a forced, extremely severe form of asceticism. My only contact with the outside world turned, after a few weeks, into a man, who was a medical doctor, and who turned out to be the man who saved my life.
During the worst bouts of fever, my bones were rattling and the chills felt like icicles splitting my veins. My blood was boiling with ice, sending my brain into strong hallucinations.
I was invited into the circle. They asked me kindly to sit down. I tried to overcome my shyness, and fear, of being near such great beings. But they were behaving like everyone else; conversing and sitting on the ground. I sat down and looked around at the men and women. I recognized more and more of them; I saw Jesus, I saw the Virgin Mary. I spotted Mother Teresa, The Buddha, Shiva and his consort. They were all friendly, and they told me that if I had any questions, I was most welcome to ask.
Climbing on the stone steps of a building, in the town of my mother’s birth, southern Poland. I tried to look up. The light exuding from her huge body was so brilliantly white, that I could not look at her for long. I had to look down again. I crawled, I was awed by her presence. I chose to crawl. I wanted to crawl. Looking up again, I saw her huge, beautiful frame. Her dress was softly flapping in the wind, her long hair as well. She held out her arms, as if to embrace me, and she looked down at me, and smiled. Her whole being was diamond white, shining with such brilliancy. I kept crawling, with no particular destination in mind. I loved her, I wanted to be there, by her feet.
I felt better after a long time. I was headed north, to the rishis and Buddhist monks. Now, finally, my search for “it” could commence. I was happy, I was in Delhi, I was heading north. I was dancing down Chandni Chowk, eating little pieces of delicacies here and there. And within a few hours, I was down again. Another serious illness, requiring hospital stay and IVF.
Delhi made me angry. Each moment I hated it so much. I hated the poverty, the dust, the heat, the crowds. Most of all I hated being groped by young men, having my hair pulled by boys, people calling me names and whistling. I nearly felt raped, walking down the busy, crowded streets. But most of all, I felt raped by India, for stealing my health and strngth, and thereby stealing my mission to find “it”. India in reality was stopping me from realizing my dreams, from uniting with my imagined Lover. I was forced to leave my Love; as the plane lifted, I looked angrily and determined back down at the concrete of the airport, and vowed to my Love that I would come back- I would be back, prepared to conquer and unite with Love. Win, I would win my Love.
Once in London, I went straight to my university and changed the course for my degree. I had a mission to know everything about my Love, I would conquer it with knowledge. I demanded to change my degree to Indian religions & philosophy, and I added Sanskrit as my language course. I felt proud and excited about embarking on this study, and I was convinced I would get closer to my Love.
The fact that I had not liked India never occurred to me as a sign of something being wrong, of me being Blinded. When I spoke to other “spiritual” people, I heard them say that India was the mother, the source, the essence, and when it was a challenge, it was due to our Western Ego and minds, which needed curbing. The curbing was to be done with the tools of meditation, yoga, and a guru. The trick was to find peace, to find the balance, and the middle, to be happy and blissful inside one’s self, when walking through the human disaster-zones of an everyday Indian situation. That was, according to their view, the “highest achievement”- to be able to find peace within chaos. I thought silently to myself that I must have a huge Ego- and I continued to practice my strict and austere yoga regime each morning. I practiced for hours, I followed the routines given to me. I thought that the more I know about chakras, lotuses and Buddhas, the more will I curb my Ego, the bigger will my understanding be.
Understanding of what, I never actually questioned. Something very special, I was sure, something hidden behind the veil. Some kind of beautiful, blissful state, maybe even including certain powers. I was sure I was destined for something special, and I kept going towards it. “Practice and all will come” one teacher had said. I practiced and practiced. Alone in my room, for hours each day, I practiced.
Three years of study. I learnt many things. I learnt the meaning of all those words. I was angry at the university professors for being stern and grim-faced when talking of these beautiful words. Why were they not softly starry-eyed and mesmerized into pink clouds? How could they dissect such a beautiful tradition into a scientific, dry, academic discourse? Us, We, the People Practicing this Art, we were the ones who had really understood it. These professors were “stuck in their heads” and were to be felt sorry for.
Three years of following my “mentor”. A kind of teacher and lover. Having discourses about yoga philosophy. Living a Yoga World, a Yoga Dream. He had many dreams for me, for us. We would become Yoga teachers together, celebrated throughout the world. He had said to me, knowingly and with what he claimed to be a deep intuition due to all his years of practice, that he “knew I would be a great yoga teacher". As soon as he met me, he said to have “seen” this.
Three years of attending chanting circles, reiki courses, healing sessions, tarot sessions, astrology lectures, sittings with psychics, learning about crystals, wearing bindis and long skirts, being a vegan and sometimes raw, Hugging people and then looking them in the eyes for minutes, “seeing their soul”-“connecting”. Considering myself as part of the “yoga-community” and also the “spiritual community”- a place in society that was a little bit more elevated. We called ourselves “conscious” and we looked down on those consumed by the bitter materialism. We were a little bit more special, we “saw” life a little bit more clear.
And simultaneously, a war was going on inside me. As I hated the world and the view of academia, it was slowly changing my way of thinking. It taught me to be critical in my thinking, to analyze facts, and above all, to not take any statement as the truth- to check the source of each statement. This created the war, as many statements were thrown out and around in these spiritual circles. I started getting annoyed with people mispronouncing Sanskrit words, and using wrong facts, or facts based solely on the view of a single guru, and not historically proven. I heard conversations about things that had no factual grounding whatsoever, and misconceptions regarding the Hindu faith, yoga, meditation and everything coming out of India. Suddenly, I found myself at war with all three facets of my life- academia, the mentor, and the spiritual community. Suddenly, I did not know where to turn- they all seemed a lie. I was angry with all of them, and most of all, myself, for going so deeply into this, without knowing were I was headed.
Eventually, I had to face the facts of my own health state. Due to my strict veganism, my health had deteriorated. I had previously believed the people who convinced me that the effects and the symptoms were those of "healing”. I was healing my karma and my previous lives, and therefore I had those symptoms, I was told.
The anger and the war inside me was increasing each day. I was stubbornly following my diet and my yoga regime, but I secretly envied those sitting in the cafes in Covent Garden on the weekends, lazily reading the papers and indulging in chocolate croissants and cappuccinos. I tried to explain to myself that they were “less conscious” and that I had chosen the “right, but more difficult path”. Mine was one of yoga, meditation, eating vegan and healthy foods, and reading spiritual scriptures. I had the look, too- I was thin and frail and looked the part of a spiritual person. But I was boiling inside.
My final straw was that of acupuncture. The final alternative therapy I had not yet tried. My main complaint was really bad hair-loss, and thinning of hair. What was revealed was a universe of complaints, and the main one was, of course, a major blood-deficiency. I was told, by the main doctor of the place, that I needed to eat meat, or else “I would die". My explanations to him about the spiritual path I was on had no effects; he said to me that I needed to start enjoying life a little. They told me I was of a type that really needed iron, and vegetarianism was not functioning for my blood.
The first meat I had was sushi. I was sitting in Hyde Park on a sunny spring afternoon, and I opened the takeaway-box, and I started eating. I felt as if I had not had food for years. The sushi filled an empty hole inside me, it filled up my stomach, it filled me with such joy and such life-force. Slowly, I began to eat foods that would nourish me, and slowly, slowly, I was waking up. I was waking up, and I was smelling the coffee. And loving it. How could I have deprived myself like that, for years? For what purpose? Like an ascetic, living off nothing, for some abstract purpose. I had lost the purpose- or, to be honest- I had realized that there never was one. I was seeing clearly and I was breaking up. This love affair had gone sour.
One thing remained. The one thing that had motivated me and kept me going during those years. The Return to India, the Place of the Love Affair.
The return- but this time, with my eyes Wide Open.
To conquer India, to not get sick, to see I clearly, to have the knowledge this time as my perspective. Would I still be in love now that I knew the meaning of Bodhisattva, Maya, and Karma?
So I return, five years later. My mission this time is truth and clarity. I gather my knowledge as my army, I clear my eyes as my shield. The divorce process had already begun- but I needed to come back, physically, to determine the outcome. I want the ending to be rational and clean.
I still hate it. I hate the dirt, the spitting, the noise, the poverty, the oppression of the lower castes. But I see something else this time. What I used to see as a spiritual community, I now see in a different light. That used to be me, looking for something, something else, something different from that which I came from. I go back to the same ashram, the one I was not sure I had to leave due to illness or due to inability to follow their rules, and I see young, western seekers, mesmerized by words and worlds of karma and nirvana. They are rigidly following this structure, dressing the part, and they have stars in their eyes. I see myself in them, and I wonder if they know where they think they are headed.
The whole philosophical system of yoga is an independent system, and not a religion. It is, however, culturally conditioned by the geographical area it originates in, and it does bear a lot of resemblance with Indian Religion. It has the same goal- Liberation. Liberation from the cycle of birth and death- and this is the reason for our human suffering, and this is what we are, as yoga practitioners, trying to get out of, and stop the process. I had realized during my studies and internal war that I do not believe in these things, and thereby, do not follow a yogic path. I am looking at these young Westerners, and while talking to them, I hear that they really want to believe in these things, at least some of them- but in actuality, most of them do not even go that deep into the teachings. What they see is a magical array of mysterious words and worlds, like I did. And they want to know more, they want to go beyond, they want to understand. And as long as there is no mastery, there is still mystery.
Two little things come my way.
1. A book.
2. A Spanish woman.
The book, The Last Temptation, also made film by Scorsese, was banned by the Vatican. Much like those “outer” and “mystical” teachings of other orthodox religious systems, it tells the teachings of a historical person or a saint from a different perspective. The book tells the story of Jesus, his life, his teachings, and it is written through the struggle of a human perception and a human heart. His teachings are simple, pure, beautiful- and much like those other “mystical” teachings, they talk about love and equality and personal communion with God. In short- to me, reading this, was like a huge revelation, the revelation being that most spiritual, sacred and religious teachings are, in their essence, much the same. They are beautiful, they are real, they are independent. This is the first Christianity-related material I have read since I was that strange Catholic kid amongst “normal” Swedish kids. I am baffled, shocked. And I realize, looking around me at India Live, that what I see here, is the exact same thing as in the Catholic countries- it is original insight, turned scripture, turned religion, turned system, turned into rules and regulations and fear and power and....
It is all the same. In their essence, all religions are the same. Beautiful and mystical. What later happened, when they became orthodox systems, is to me no longer beautiful and mystical. I therefore turned the back on “my own” faith and looked elsewhere. But I looked into the original scriptures of Indian philosophy- and in reality, in the actual country, there is just “normal” life. No one practices yoga, really. They perform their rituals and go to the temple, in a way that resembles going to the supermarket shopping for daily groceries- much like a Catholic does. I could have just looked into the original scriptures and teachings of my “own” religion to find those same words and the same wisdom.
There is much wisdom in all traditions. All traditions are slightly different, depending on their geographical location. Which faith we are born into is usually decided by either a geographical conditioning or by our ancestral heritage. Most of us tend to take that faith which we are naturally given, as the one and only truth. This is instilled in us through the power that the words of the religious system hold over us; the fear it imprints in us. Marx’s words are forever true in the case of religion; that it is “the opium of the people”. We do find great comfort in it; it gives our lives meaning and something to hold onto. It numbs our fear of life and or fear of being little and powerless. It gives us an injection of explanation.
The Spanish woman sits next to me in an internet café. She phones home via Skype and holds a loud and clear conversation. She is a yoga teacher at home, I can tell by her Skype id and email address, and has come to India for the first time. She is shocked into disgust, at how India is. No one practices yoga except for the tourists, she explains. It is so dirty everywhere, I cannot believe my eyes. People spit and pee and it stinks. Dead dogs and rats are lying bloody on the street.
Her illusion on spiritual India had been crushed. But maybe soon, she will start to encounter the idea of “finding peace within the chaos”. I re-lived years of my life within her conversation. It all rang so true. It was true. India is dirty and disgusting, and the rats are plump and the people spit everywhere. I am angry most of the time here. The horns blaring nonstop are killing my ears. I am still not finding any peace. And I do not think I ever will, because I do not want to anymore.
But, I still am asking questions. What is we are doing? What have we done, us seeking Westerners? It seems we have created some kind of collective illusion about spirituality. We created a spiritual east, where spirituality was beyond the orthodox church of our home, where we could be free, happy and everything was beautiful. WE took the original scriptures of another tradition and re-modeled them into suitability, and we go on sacred pilgrimages to a country where those things originated- they are no more practiced, in general, but, we can live very cheap here, we can pretend to not live n a material world here, as we are not spending much money, we are living simple and basic. We have created a whole sub-society of spirituality, a sub-culture of a new age-religion. In the West, yoga is such a massive business, with much money being spent and earned. And India in turn, is no also massively profiting from this seeking westerner, coming to India in search of that magical something. Yoga classes and all the clothes, books and everything to complete the looks is on sale everywhere.
Religion is the same in India as in Europe, with original scriptures/teachings that developed into systems, which people over time started following without questioning.
However, in Europe, due to materialism and education and many different factors, religion is disintegrating, especially during the last few generations. This, I think, is the reason that we needed to look East- we need something to hold onto, we need our opium. WE needed a replacement drug and we found it in India.
Why can we not just admit that we do not know?
So, I do not like India. And I no longer am in love. I practice yoga as it makes me feel great but I do not do it rigidly, I do it for joy and for health. My aim is NOT to attain nirvana, moksha, kaivalya or samadhi. I admit that I do not know why I am here in this world, or what the meaning of life is.
I am here, in India, filing for divorce.
In no-mans-land. That is where I stand now. There is land on each side of me, but I stand here in the middle. A few towers with men, currently sipping their hot tea, surround me. They are not looking at me, but I see their rifles poking up behind their backs. Barb-wire is on each wall. The walls I need to climb to enter whichever land I now choose. It will not be easy. Baghdad seems so hard, so dangerous, so unappreciative of coming from such wealth, stability and safety. Why would I not choose that? Choosing stability, wealth and safety seems lazy somehow. To just stand by and watch as the world is falling apart in other places.
I do not want more opium, I am brave enough to face life without it. I do not need more illusions or Love Affairs nearly slitting my throat on the narrow razorblade's edge.
I have a clean, empty slate, an ending, and a new beginning.
I look up to the skies, and I ask you, God Almighty, please help me. What were those illusions I had during my malaria fever about, anyway?