On this day last year, I landed in the Delhi airport alongside my teacher, Jennifer Prugh, and several other American travelers. We’d come from San Francisco to spend three weeks in Northern India, seeing a variety of religious sites, celebrating with Pushkar locals at the annual Camel Fair, and immersing ourselves fully in the experience of India as practicing yogis.
We traveled first to Clement Town, wherein we visited students at a Tibetan school. Per the majority, Tibetan schools are not as abundant as they once were in India, and many families send their children out of their native Tibet to receive a traditional Tibetan Buddhist education in Clement Town, India. We spent time with the students, checked in on the school’s computer lab (which had been made possible through donations from patrons all across the world, although mostly in California), and were treated to as much chai as we could drink. This was the first of many amazing experiences we would share together over the coming weeks.
Before leaving for India, I was terrified. My fears were rooted in the unknown. Not only had I never been to Asia before, but I’d never been to a place where I knew nothing of the language. Having traveled throughout parts of western Europe and the UK did not prepare me for this. That’s where the fear mostly came in- I felt completely, utterly unprepared for my impending experience in India. What if I got sick? What if I contracted a rare illness? What if my budding career in nonprofit would take a hit from me being gone for nearly a month? The “What-Ifs” consumed me. And, I almost let them stop me from going.
I was fortunate in so many ways to be in a position to travel. My employer not only allowed it, but my supervisor encouraged my journey. Having been to India herself several times, CCOF Foundation Director Jessy Beckett Parr knew it would be the trip of a lifetime. All my doctor’s appointments checked out; I received vaccinations with no hassle. I got my visas approved and ready to go, everything was falling into place. And still, underneath the seamless pre-travel checklists, I was afraid. Jennifer had known me for many years at this point, and she’d seen me dive head-first into healing. After agreeing to travel to India I got cold feet, told her I couldn’t go, and she asked me to do something very difficult for me: she asked me to trust her.
This trip taught me countless lessons I am only beginning to unpack, a year later. One I can share now with certainty is that this trip taught me how to surrender my will over to all the what-ifs. There will always be what-ifs. There are what-ifs that can, and will, cripple you if you let them. But, there are also so many wonderful experiences waiting for you on the other side of your what-ifs. All you have to do is trust.
The moment my feet touched the ground in Delhi, I knew I’d made the right decision. I’d never been so happy to have taken a risk in my life, a risk from which I still reap rewards to this day. After about 5 days in country I had one more moment of panic.
Our group was on a motorboat on the Ganges River in Varanasi during the heart of India’s Diwali celebration. My brain was looking for things to be concerned about, and my body was having a physiological response to the worries. But, my brain had hit a snag- there really was nothing to worry about. My body was full of energy, ready to panic, ready to put into action all the preventative measures needed to protect myself from potential pain, from potentially upsetting experiences. We stopped the motorboat alongside hundreds of other boats, anchored at the base of one of Varanasi’s infamous ghats, watching and listening to Aarti, a traditional ceremony taking place every night on the riverbank. People travel from all over the country and the world to make pilgrimage to the Ganges River, this sacred place in India.
Internally, I was panicking. My face was calm, but everything inside me wanted to run- the fight or flight response had started but, since I was on a boat in the middle of a foreign country, I had no where to go. My only option was stillness. I approached my teacher like a child approaches a parent and told her, “I’m sort of freaking out.” She responded simply, and calmly, “You’re here. You did it.” Then, like a tidal wave, years of fear and worry began to leave my body. I cried softly as the bells chimed and worshippers chanted at the Aarti. I felt safe in my self for the first time in years. I trusted, and through this surrender I had one of the most profound experiences of my short life.
And, if I’d let the what-ifs keep me safe, I never would have known the feeling of freedom I felt that day in Varanasi.
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