As I prepare to leave this country that has been my home for the past three months, I feel my memories have a stronger holder on me than they usually do. All through my travels in India, I’ve been haunted by the question: Do we live for the moment or live for the future? Does our sense of self reside in the unpinnable moment, or in our act of remembering times past? There are some things that are amazing to feel or see in the moment, but fail to inspire once the moment has passed, while there are some experiences that can be returned to and considered many times after the moment has passed. Which of those two experiences is more worth having? Which allow me to develop and grow my sense of self? Is an experience more worthwhile as it is being lived or as it is being remembered?
I’ve always been proud of my ability to appreciate and be moved by beauty in the multitude of forms it can take. I like that I can experience deep connection to nature and its ability to inspire wonder within me. But in India I encountered beauty that surpassed the boundaries I had set up within myself, exceeding my standards of what natural beauty can look like. I found myself feeling lost instead of joy, because I had nowhere to place this sight in my understanding of beauty. Usually I can place a view in my continuum of beautiful things- more beautiful than the sunset I saw in Martha’s Vineyard, less beautiful than the field of dandelions outside my house. But in the valleys of the foothills of the Himalayas, and some of the temples in Tamil Nadu, were more beautiful than anything I had ever seen, more beautiful than I thought a place could be. My reaction to that newness, to that lack of connection, was a scrambling to remember the sight for later. I took hundreds of pictures, as if to capture the moment so I could process it later, like I didn’t have enough brain space to fully feel the moment while it was happening, like I was living for my future self. I also knew that my future self would be nostalgic for the moment that my current self was living, and I didn’t know what to do with that knowledge besides attempt to capture that moment as best as I could, through drawing and journaling partially, but mostly through photo-taking.
I have been wondering what the act of taking a photo, the knowledge that one has successfully “captured” a moment, does to our ability to remember a moment, to capture it internally with all its complexities. Because while a photo can “accurately” capture the external moment, only our brains can capture both the internal and external experience. And does taking a photo decrease our ability to connect with a certain moment? I suspect it does. So I was stuck in these beautiful places, worried that it was too beautiful/ magical/ intense to be felt in the moment, that it needed to be saved for later processing, but my attempts of saving that moment were decreasing my ability to feel and connect in the first place. Not to mention the stress of knowing that my future self will be jealous of my current self. It was a vicious cycle of increased lack of connection and increased attempts to document.
Now that I am moving into the “future self” that I was so concerned about in those places, I am much calmer. I recognize that I will never be able to fall back through time and watch the sunset in Kheerganga again, or travelling through fields of rice paddies in the bus, or watching the clouds move behind the temple in Thanjavur. But I know that I lived in those moments, that they gave me joy, and that a moment is never going to be perfect, we are never going to be able to feel it as fully as we want to, never going to be able to capture it in our memory to our satisfaction, but we can put down our phones, and open our eyes and hearts to the sight and the feelings and the people we are with. And while I spent more time worrying than I should have, I know that I did let India in, let its beauty and its people and its confusingness inside me, to some degree. That I leave more kind, more assured, and more open than I arrived. The world has grown so much larger in my mind, and I know I will miss this place, that my future self will be jealous of my almost past self, but I am proud of her for doing her best, for doing her best to live for herself and for the Addi that is to come.