Calm amidst chaos

Calm amidst chaos

Maybe it’s the seasonal turning, but I’ve noticed that I’m beginning to feel a familiar sensation which seems unique to the developing world… “Time” becomes thick and real, and you can feel yourself swimming through it with each step. And strangely, even though the sensation is one of “slow motion”, every once in a while you become cognizant of the calendar, and the incredible speed with which days themselves are sliding by. It’s disorienting, but exciting too. This experience of time is so much more enjoyable than the “dread” and “anxiety” that is so often carried on the wings of time in the West. This experience of time makes you somehow more committed to the completeness of moments, using all your senses to observe them as they come and go.

For example, as I took my Sunday trip into the market yesterday (for “essentials” such as apples, grapes, peanuts, samosas, rice and spices), I opted for a new route, knowing only that it might take me toward one of Deoghar’s famous temples. I walked for some time, carefully absorbing the bustle and mania of a Sunday afternoon in Deoghar’s tight, market roadways. My eyes scanned the hectic jumble and color of fruits, fabrics, pottery, and bangles crammed into the tiny, adjacent shop-stalls. My ears filled to the point of pain with the chaotic, noisy chorus of voices, horns, bells, and even (wedding parade) brass marching bands. My nose made keen recognition of the garbage, cows, goats, and generously fried foods around which I was constantly surrounded.

Then, amidst all this, a scene… which almost seemed to be “visual calm” amidst the market chaos.

Lean, brown bodies, wrapped only in loosely tied short cloths, were stretching themselves out, face down, on the dirty, hot market pathways, amidst feet, wheels, animals and pedestrians. Each time they lay, they extended arms above their heads, and paused for a moment. Then, they stood, and moved only as far as their finger tips had reached… there, they placed their feet, and laid down on their bellies again, slowly repeating the purposeful, private movement. For some time, I simply stood and watched the three men, each engulfed in his silent, personal pilgrimage.

I learned that these individuals, through their actions, were effectively “worshiping with every step”, and they would perform this “temple trek” from some unknown starting point all the way into the depths of the market and to the door of the temple. I could only imagine that this would take hours and hours of slow, deliberate effort, moving against the dirt and heat, mindless to physical discomfort, engulfed in the passion of belief.

As I made my way home again, I found myself reflecting on this act of worship, and the sensory contrast that it provided in the moments that I observed it. It struck me that I am fascinated and drawn to the developing world not only because of the issues and the work that is to be done. I’m drawn to these places out of a desire to more fully understand and experience the complexity of the human spirit. How this spirit is rooted, is born, and blossoms in spite of its geography. How it is always, essentially “the same”, except for those unique qualities that it is challenged to develop to some extra degree – whether because of the body, family, environment or country into which it is placed.

Here, in Deoghar, my experience of human spirit once again reminds me of our innate ability to “tap a different source”… To move beyond the characteristic, mentally-focused striving of the West to accomplish our tasks. To move beyond even the emotionally-based need to be physically comfortable and satisfied. To move forward into a given moment, propelled simply and purely by heart and will, believing that there is purpose and belonging so much greater than confines of the “self”.


[This is an excerpt from a journal I kept while working in India years ago. I lived and worked in a very remote, rural town called Deoghar, near the border of Bangladesh. This specific journal entry was written on March 3, 2008.]

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