In the weeks before my departure for India, I read Rebecca Solnit’s book “A field guide to getting lost” partly in preparation for the exercise in losing and being lost that would come to be my trip to and through India. In one of the chapters, a Buddhist monk in San Francisco talks about a blind man who, when faced with a street corner, yells help until someone comes to his aid and helps him cross the street. The monk used this man as an example of the ways in which we could and should place our trust in the world. To relinquish ego seems to be the ultimate goal in Buddhism, and it seems part of that process is placing trust in the world again, as many of us did when we were children.
In the United States, I was always taught to be self sufficient, to find things on my own and to not rely on anyone else. I had a smart phone to get me where I needed to go, to google the things I didn’t understand and to communicate with people when I needed to. I had no desire to ask for help from strangers, in fact I feared the idea of turning to someone on the street and to ask for directions. I became anxious when I did not have my phone, that magical device that allowed me to maintain the facade of self sufficiency. To ask for help was to appear weak, and to appear weak was to embarrass oneself. Here, in the almost service-less mountains of the Himalayas, my phone is of no use to me. So, on my first day in Macleod-ganj, when my new friend invited me to dinner at the “Japanese place,” I was forced to step outside of my zone of self-sufficiency and ask for directions, multiple times in fact. I will always remember how lost I felt without my maps function, scanning building names and searching for a face that looked friendly enough to approach.
I had always thought of public spaces as mostly things to move through, the arrow that I had to follow from one private place to another. Here, in india, public space is now something I must interact with. Its a place I must, to some degree, trust. Whether I am getting honked at for walking in the road, being offered cotton candy for a couple rupees, or asking strangers the many questions I need to ask in order to get around this country, I am unable to just move silently and quickly through the streets here. I am forced to participate, to engage, even when I don’t want to. Because my phone can no longer shield me from what I do not want to see or do. I have to trust that people are going to be kind enough to help me across the street when I yell for help. That is a buddhist principle, as I have come to understand in the home of his holiness the fourteenth Dalai Lama. Trusting the world is recognizing your part in the world, is letting go of the anxiety that manifests when we cherish ourselves too much, when we forget that we too are part of the mass that congregates in the main square of Mcleod-ganj. So as I learn about buddhist principles in the teachings by the Dalai Lama, and through my daily conversations with monks in english, I am also learning them as I learn to move through a world that does not part so easily to let me through.