On our last night in Bodh Gaya, we meditated at the Maha Bodhi temple while the sun was setting. A number of things happened while we were sitting. The sky became darker and darker. Tibetan monks tested music on speakers to get ready for a program that would be occuring for the Karmapa the next day. Theatrical tunes started and abruptly stopped. Some dogs came up and walked around us curiously. The sun went down, and Robert rang the bell for meditation to end. We uncrossed our legs and put our feet out in front of us. As the feeling came back into our feet, we all turned to look up at the Stupa and the nearby moon. The sandy color and angular designs were especially visible against the nearly black sky that night. Once we could feel our feet again, we looked for a little bit longer.
It was supposed to take three days to get from Bodh Gaya to the U.S. One train from Bodh Gaya to Delhi, one flight from Delhi to London and for me, one more from London to L.A. It’s been five days now, and I’m still in London. A few inches of snow have thrown Heathrow airport into chaos.
When we had our orientation in London, Robert explained that London was functioning as a liminal space for us — somewhere between home in India so that we wouldn’t have to deal with meeting each other, being in India and not being home all at once. We had more orientation in Delhi, another liminal space, I think so that we wouldn’t have to deal with the jet lag and the unairconditioned hundred degree weather all at once.
As we were making our way to India, all these transitions worked quite nicely. But now here in London, this limbo between the warm, green simple life in a monastery in India and Christmas in America feels rather strange. It began when we arrived in the Delhi YMCA after a 24 hour train ride. There were Christmas decorations and music in the lobby. While were still in Bodh Gaya, it was hard to believe that Christmas was coming. There were no pine trees, no snow, no adds for Christmas sales, and no ginger flavored drinks at Starbucks. In a way, the decorations at the Y were a nice reminder of the Christmas we thought we were about to go home too. But then, they also seemed out of place against the luscious backdrop of Delhi outside.
The Delhi airport was an even bigger shock. We were technically still in India there, but it kind of felt like we’d already left. The international terminal is basically a luxury mall. I bought some chocolate, and they put it in a nice bag with tissue paper as I stood and watched in confusion.
Now I’m in London, and the pine trees with lights and the snow make it obvious that Christmas really is near, but also that I am still very far from my family, and far from India. The western world still does seem strange to me, and my family isn’t here to remind me that really, it’s normal. London is so clean. The only place that consistently looked this clean in India was on the inside of a computer screen. I wandered around the Tate Modern yesterday, and felt like I was in a virtual reality. Everything was so clean, so organized, but also so bizarre. In India, there are very few images that follow the laws of perspective, so the strange 3D paintings by Salvador Dalí looked compellingly but frighteningly real. And I thought that the world literally looks different now after a few months in a foreign place, and I wonder if it will keep looking different for long.