A few weeks ago I made reference to the Himalayan pilgrimage that I took in 2007. Shortly after that post, I was contacted by a former client who thought he knew me fairly well until he learned about this trip to India; he wanted to know more about it. After reading my blog Pilgrimage to the Himalayas, he and I sat down to discuss the journey and its impact on me.
I thought that I would take this opportunity to share one of the lessons that remains deeply ingrained in who I am, and how I attempt to show up every day. Below is the original blog entry.
Traffic. Flooded roads. Travel delays. I am sure you have experienced them, as have I. However, never have I experienced them in the same way as in India.
Shortly after leaving for Gangotri, we find that the road ahead is blocked by a landslide. We turn around, and head back a few minutes to the last village we had passed. There is time for breakfast. As we enter the small eatery (I am not sure that I have ever seen an American equivalent), our guide and drivers have already started assisting the proprietor at the stove. Soon we are being served chai, freshly prepared bread (one of the many forms that bread takes in India, though I don’t remember which), and butter. There is a school located up the hill behind us, and as we eat several boys come in to buy new pens. I am sitting at the front table, closest to the cash register, and observe these transactions. For most, it is a quick exchange, pen for rupees. Then one young boy, perhaps eight or nine years of age, comes in. He must try the pen, then another, and yet another. The clear plastic barrels, the colored caps, the ink are all the same yet he tests each one, comparing the results, before finally settling on one of them. I wonder whether this is a habit that will follow him through life, and how it will serve him.
Breakfast is leisurely. We know that when we get back on the road, it will be open, or it will still be blocked. There is no need to rush to find out.
In fact, we discover that the landslide that allowed us breakfast has been cleared. However, not many kilometers ahead there is another. This one is much more substantial. As we drive toward it we pass a huge bulldozer starting to warm up. It will be a few hours before we see it again. When we travel as far as we can, we pull to the side of the road and park. The parking is a bit random, some vehicles on one side of the road, some vehicles on the other. There are buses of pilgrims, taxis, motor scooters, cars, and trucks. Everyone knows that we will be here for hours. I confirm that for myself firsthand when I walk down the road and see the massive rocks blocking our way.
Imagine this. You have a travel itinerary, a destination. The plan is to drive to Gangotri, drop some gear at a guesthouse, and begin the next trek. Instead, you and hundreds of others will be waiting for a significant period of time on a mountain road, a national highway no less. For us, the experience was very Indian, amazing, and thought provoking.
Some took the opportunity to nap, either in their vehicles or along the rocks on the side of the road. Others read. People walked up and down, stopping to meet others and to talk. We had passed a waterfall shortly before we stopped. The sun was out, so it became a place for people to do their laundry. Some (myself included) set shoes and clothes out in the sun to dry. There was dancing and singing. There were processions of pilgrims. What was missing was the anger, the vitriol, the impatience, the honking of horns, the expressions of rage that such a circumstance would have elicited anywhere I had ever been before.
Eventually, the road is opened. It took a bulldozer, dynamite, and a large road crew. It is 3:10 in the afternoon; we have been here over six hours. People move back to their vehicles and, slowly, our pilgrimages resume. We reach our destination three hours later. Tonight we will spend at a guesthouse in Gangotri. Landslides happen, itineraries change. It is about the journey.
Whether dealing with a major change, or just experiencing day-to-day life, the unanticipated happens. Plans and expectations are disrupted. It is amazing how much emotional (and sometimes physical) energy gets consumed when this happens. So many of us continue to be surprised by the surprises; indignant at the flight delay (or, as I witnessed once, indignant because travelers were delayed getting to the airport by snowy roads and their flight took off on time without them); frozen by disbelief when the promotion doesn’t come…or the divorce papers do. We allow ourselves to be victimized by things we cannot control.
What if, instead, we were able to begin from a point of acceptance for what is? There are surprises; flights are delayed, even in the best of weather, and do depart on time even during storms; sometimes we don’t get the job; sometimes relationships end.
I learned to play pinochle from my grandparents. My grandfather taught me, You can’t control the hand you are dealt; you can control how you play it. Spending six hours on a national highway in India waiting for a landslide to be cleared brought that lesson home to me more deeply than it had ever touched me before. And, while it isn’t always easy, it remains a lesson I attempt to apply every day. With the energy that is conserved, I can then look at how–given the circumstances–forward momentum can be restored.
What is your experience with “accepting what is?” Has it served you well, or gotten in the way? Does it come easily, or is it a challenge? Comment below.