As I was walked towards my boarding gate in Ahmedabad airport to catch my flight that would take me back to the US, I saw a two-year-old running across the airport with his arms spread wide, profusely laughing for what seemed to be absolutely no reason at all. On my flight from Ahmedabad to Mumbai, there was a little girl, maybe three years old, who stared at me for most of the flight as a I wrote in my journal. She looked at me with these big, curious, adorable eyes. I continue to be amazed by children, looking to them as my greatest teachers. They hold an innocence, a natural wonder and goodness that we seem to lose as we get older.
A couple of weeks back I was watching an interview with Arianna Huffington and in it she said, “We’re drowning in data and starved for wisdom”. Since I left to walk the Camino de Santiago, I am brought back to the overwhelming feeling of drowning in external noise, but consistently make it a practice to stay rooted in the small things.
It has taken me many times to get lost and to find myself to stay rooted in those small things. Nature as well as communities like Schumacher College, Moved by Love, Service Space and Gandhi Ashram taught me how much beauty can emerge in our lives. I’ve had my bouts with the small only when I started to get caught up in the theory of the world on a macro level whether it was with government, education, religion, and so on. It was then that I began to wholeheartedly understand the micro holds those golden nuggets of wisdom which are misunderstand or overstepped in the world of macro things.
I think the greatest lesson of the past 8 months has been to pay attention to the small. It has been something I’ve struggled with, but I realized I need to go back to square one to be where I am right now. Through all of the confusion, heart ache, and restlessness I experienced, through all of the happiness, laughter, and admiration I felt, through it all and in between, it all came back to this- the small.
The Camino de Santiago taught me about nature’s practice of emergence. It taught me the most miraculous moments can take place when you look up and see stars littering the sky or when you find a bed to rest your sleepy head on. I came to understand how beautiful it is that the sun comes up each morning. More than that, it taught me to appreciate waking up with the sun, to greet it with a simple smile and ‘hello’. I learned not to be embarrassed to have a conversation with the sun because even if it can’t hear me, I can hear myself and being able to listen to my heart’s deepest desires and callings felt like enough. I learned that the earth is what we have in common- it is where we came from and where we will go back to.
After two months in India, I embarked on a journey to Goa and to the south of India. In a way, it was unexpected. I didn’t expect to spend so much time in Goa nor did I expect to learn how to dance. I’ve always been horrible at expressing myself through body movements, but I came to realize that it was a fear which stopped me from that form of expression. Goa allowed me to overcome that fear while also tapping deeper into myself, thus tapping deeper into my creative side. Through body movement, a psychological block cleared for me during those days.
From Goa, I journeyed south to Auroville, a beautiful community with an alternative governing, farming, living and education structure. I had the privilege of spending a week in an eco-community called Sadhana Forest with volunteers and families from around the world. With everything from compost toilets to community meals to planting trees, the group of people I met there were some of the most committed and passionate I met. Some were incredibly dedicated to reforestation while others wanted to experience living in a community like this.
From there, I along with a friend I met up with in Auroville, Joserra, journeyed to Madurai, an ancient city in Tamil Nadu where we visited Aravind Eye Hospital. Aravind was founded by Dr. Venkataswamy who had the vision of eradicating needless blindness from a country where more than 12 million people are blind. He dramatically decreased costs of cataract surgery as 80% of India’s blind population are blind due to cataracts. At the age of 58, this was his “retirement” project. He started out with 11 beds and now there are 4,000 beds spread across the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is Dr. V’s spirit which lives on, even more than his incredible lifelong work.
Aravind Eye Hospital, named after Aravinda Ghose or better known as Sri Aurobindo, holds an unmistakable spiritual undertone and foundation. I was deeply inspired by Dr. V’s work and to see such values in practice was a blessing. It is no wonder that people from all over the world come to visit Aravind Eye Hospital to learn and replicate the model whether it is in healthcare or other industries.
Many of these ecosystems I have been a part of have held similar beginnings. Sadhana Forest started off with a small family’s vision to create a community around planting trees on a barren piece of land. Dr. V started off with little money and an 11 bed hospital. Manav Sadhna was started when one of the founders, Virenbhai, spent time walking through the slums, talking to the the residents, and giving out peanuts to the kids. Ishwarkaka, also known as the toilet guru of India, started his sanitation work when he was 16 and had experienced the inequality of scavengers who gather human waste. With the simple intention of raising consciousness to sanitation and caste inequality, he has built more than 200,000 toilets and helped launch now more than 118 organizations. With his passing, his spirit like Dr. V, also continues to live on. Awakin Circles, started by Nipun Mehta and some friends, began as a couple of friends sitting in a room together and meditating.
Each story has started with a vision to do good, with a small intention – no other strings attached. I have seen the ripples of these beautiful initiatives branch out to friends of like Vinit and Vidhi who do Karma Meals each Sunday in their cities or Jaideep who has dedicated his time to working with India’s youth through an initiative called Know Your Star. I’m constantly amazed by the power which lives within the subtle. An undeterred focus and simplicity which has the potential to stir millions of souls.
I am now back in the United States, in my childhood bedroom as I write this message to all of you (we moved here when I was 11, so I guess you could say it is my tween/teenage bedroom). These small stories have planted seeds within me. Even being in this bedroom, I find myself feeling as though I have received the fruits of the vision my parents had when they first stepped foot in the United States. No one can truly tell how far their inherent goodness and the pain they had to endure will go. Even in the few days I’ve been home, I look at my father and see how much he has silently done to bring forth the opportunities my sisters and I have. I look at my mother and can feel how her hands of support have invisibly kept the wheels of this family functioning.
Before I left India, I decided to spend my last days at a Moved By Love retreat on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. The theme was “the meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit”. It couldn’t have been more fitting as I find myself with an overwhelming level of gratitude for those who planted those trees both literally and metaphorically.
In conclusion, I thought I would share a story from the Camino de Santiago I’ve thought back to a couple of times over the past few weeks.
In the third stage of the Camino lies a stretch called the Spanish Meseta which leads to a town called Calzadilla de la Cueza. During this stretch of around 16 kilometers, there is nowhere to stop and barely any shade. Pilgrims like to call it a never-ending desert. On this particular day that I walked this stretch, I decided to walk a total of around 45 kilometers. Along the way, I had run into a friend, Ben, who also decided to keep on walking. Most people told us we were crazy, which we already knew. It was a challenge we were up for!
Along this stretch, Ben and I were hot, thirsty, and really tired. We kept going and decided it was best to keep breaks at a minimum since it might be hard to get up again. When we did want to stop, we had to search long and hard to find a tree close to the trail. Miles would go by and we barely saw another soul. Ben’s humor coupled with my sarcasm under the sun during the hottest part of the day could have made for a humorous travel documentary.
As we were searching for a tree for a second break, Ben and I saw a tree from afar. Upon coming closer to it, we saw another pair of pilgrims sitting under it. As we came closer, they silently got up and continued their walk, like a camaraderie, allowing us to have the space to sit. There was little shade, so Ben and I had the squeeze into the space under the shade of the tree. It was in that moment that I had never been more grateful for a tree and the forces that had left it there, standing, while there were no other trees in sight. I can still remember that beautiful, small space of shade the tree provided us to sit under.
I don’t know what force planted that tree or brought such people into my life, but I know they were thinking of me without even knowing who I am. They were thinking of all of us, regardless of how we turned out to be.
So, when I think about our world today, where we have an influx of information coming at us from all sides, I think about that toddler in the airport who had been profusely laughing with his arms spread wide. I think about the overwhelming amount of information he will grow up with in addition to the complexities of the human brain, the confusion that might grip him at certain periods of his life.
I also think about the infinite wisdom he came with, the innocence and things he inherently knows and feels. Faith tells me there were many planters long before he came who will remind him of this as he moves through life. Faith tells me he may even meet some of these planters in his lifetime, who themselves were reminded of the qualities they hold within by other planters.
I guess this is why I do what I do – travel, meditate, listen, write, volunteer - it brings me closer to myself, allowing me to uncover the inherent wisdom I know is also somewhere inside of me.