We had arrived at the airport five hours early only to discover that we were an entire day late. We had stayed in Tiruvalamanai for an extra day in order to go to Satsong with a man named Mooji. Mooji was dear and shiny and full of compassion, but maybe not worth the ensuing three days of testing our resolve in Chennai. Or maybe sitting in Satsong with him was a major contributing factor for Alyssa and I not killing each other during our sleep while we were stuck in Chennai. I suppose you could look at it either way. So, we saw Mooji, said goodbye to our friends, found our magic bus out of Tiru and sang our way to the East coast of India. We were high on life and feeling very proud for once again getting on the right bus and enjoying the sights and people as we traveled. We got off the bus and negotiated a great rate for what we thought was to be our very last rickshaw ride. Over our five weeks in India, Alyssa had mastered a firm yet fair approach to negotiating rates for a ride. Something street came out in her and she was always ready to walk away if she felt we were being had. I learned a lot. I learned that I always want to be on her side of any negotiation. We arrived at the airport plenty early to find hundreds and hundreds of people milling about. We looked at each other, smiled, and took a deep breath.
In India people send their loved ones off at the airport. I kid you not. I counted 30 people saying goodbye to one couple on the first night we arrived. It was wild. I’m not sure how long this young couple was planning on being away, but from the sad looks the family was giving them, it was going to be a long time. I tell you this so you can get some idea of the vast number of people standing around. Standing energy is not the same as traveling energy. There is no hurry, no forward motion, and no real travel intention. No inertia to facilitate the process of movement. That night there seemed to be more of the standers than the travelers. And although this may be nice for the people being sent off, it creates somewhat of a log- jam for the rest of us. Family is important in India and if your third cousin is going away for a week, departing on a Saturday night, then it’s an event. That is what is happening for the entire family. It wasn’t easy to navigate our huge backpacks through this emotionally charged cloud of goodbyes. And as we are learning that expressing gratitude makes everything more graceful and can be quite heart opening, I was very grateful for my travel partner and for the cart that she had scored upon our arrival.
We were sharing one print out of our itinerary, which made our legitimacy of slight concern for the armed guards at the outer door of the airport. One of the things we have come to learn about India is that people (men in particular) like to negotiate. Friction seems to be the best part of any conversation especially between one who is serving and one who is being served. My name really wasn’t on any of the paperwork that we were holding, but Alyssa had reserved two seats under her name. And so it goes, Alyssa (read master negotiator) firmly expressed the reality of the situation and proceeded to push us past not one but two men holding guns. It seems once you engage in some sort of back and forth, some type of verbal banter than your argument gains some credibility. “You can see right here sir, that we have obviously paid for two tickets” “These tickets were purchased months ago in the US and we have had no problem traveling with them” “Here is the airline name” “Here is my name, the same as the passport” “and you can see from this number two here that there are two people traveling” “thank you!” Easy. This technique continued to serve us well for the next three days.
We cued up to take our backpacks through the x-ray machine. I was so curious about how some of the standers, family members, had talked their way into the airport to continue the goodbyes. They proved to be very protective of the cueing process and so Alyssa and I kept cool and calm as we waited in line to get our luggage screened. The gentleman monitoring this line tried to tell us after spending an hour in line that we were too early and that we needed to step aside. Ouch. We disagreed and used our “we are right you are wrong;” “we know something that you don’t” approach which worked perfectly. We were steps closer.
One thing we have come to take note of is the energy present not only internally but externally as we travel and move around in this world. Our internal experience was slightly altered as we had had a very long day starting with Mooji and a four-hour bus ride and now the slight chaos of the airport. My internal gauge was not so sharp, but something in the way we were being handled had me curious about our flight. We had only briefly talked about it earlier in the week and I knew we were departing early morning on the 10th but that was all I could remember. Alyssa must have been feeling the same thing as we both glanced at our paperwork and I said to her quietly yet with some unfortunate certainty, “I think we were supposed to be here last night.” It was a very calm realization and utterly true. What was there to do in that moment except to move forward? And so we did. More deep breaths.
Sure enough, it was confirmed that we had indeed missed our early am flight and that the planes leaving the city for the next two days to Thailand were completely full. No hopes of standing by, but we did anyway on that first night. It was emotionally draining and physically tiring. We approached the counter time and again only to be told no, there were no seats and could we stand a little farther away from the counter. Sure. Hours and hours passed while Alyssa listened to her ipod and I watched people while making up stories about their lives. We watched one gentleman race to the ticket counter as it was shutting down for the night. He tried with great effort to plead his case but to no avail. They denied him access as he was over 30 minutes late and the plane was scheduled to depart in less than 15 minutes. I did find it curious though that his seat was available at the time we last checked for seats and later during the course of their heated talks we found out that there were two seats on the plane that night. Apparently we had other things to do in Chennai. We were not meant to fly that night, nor the next. We made an agreement to come back two days later for the same flight and the man behind the counter said it would be no charge and then he initialed our paperwork. Seriously, this would not happen in the US. Initialing paperwork to make it valid, people giving their word that we would be able to fly in a couple of days for no fee. Wow. He said if we had any trouble with security to give them his name. That felt good.
One of the most intense sleeping nights we had had so far during the trip was on the front end of Chennai. We booked that hotel because we had arrived late at the airport and needed just a few hours of rest before our bus ride. The room was so dirty that we simply brushed our teeth and stayed in our clothes lying on top of the covers. Well, here we were again. An unexpected late night need for a hotel near the airport in Chennai. We bargained to the best of our ability and made our way to a less bug infested “three star” hotel. I was feeling deflated, defeated, and drained. The room had a terrible smell and I was struggling to find some gratitude. The day that had started out so well and turned into a weird night feeling stuck in a place which neither of us had intended. We said goodnight and sleep came.
We skipped out on what could have been our second night at the airport. They had offered for us to come and “stand by” again with little to no hope of getting on board. After a long day of calling different travel groups and checking the internet, we yielded to Chennai and surrendered to our bug infested hotel room.
On that second day we decided to put our USM tools to practice and take this as a learning opportunity. It isn’t the issue that is important but how you relate to the issue. Well our issue was being stuck in a place that we did not like. Not only did we not like it, we had upset about it, we kind of hated it. So, what do you imagine it was reflecting to us? There was friction all around and definitely inside of us as well. Everything that Alyssa said was wrong and I think I even started to judge the way she was breathing. I think it was her though that made the plan to take advantage of this learning opportunity. We knew we were not likely to leave the country for another day and a half. So we devised a plan. Let’s go see a movie. Oh my god, a movie. That was an amazing idea. How do we even find a movie in India? We were excited about this new challenge and the research began. The plan was to spend the next afternoon and what we hoped would be our last day in India at a very fancy movie theater far far away from our hotel. We chose the movie Australia. At the time we thought it would be a good way to warm up. (fast forward, or rewind as the case may be, to the part of the blog where Alyssa and I cancel our flights to Australia and New Zealand). We had a great time planning our day and devising our plans for transport inside of the city. It seemed with the movie plan in action that our second night at the hotel was somewhat more bearable than the first. We each took a Tylenol PM just to ease our process and we were off to sleep.
Not only did our third day bring the hope of a movie, but Alyssa plucked my eyebrows for the first time. This was indeed a long overdue procedure. It seemed as if things really were turning around for us. Our attitude, though not detailed in this writing, did become quite piss poor during our first stuck day. It wasn’t until the second day while feeling all of the internal upset about what should be different and seeing negative reflections all around that we both clued in to what we could shift about the experience. Us. We still had dominion over our internal process even though Chennai was ruling our physical world. We made a conscious choice to be more open and more loving not only with ourselves but with each other and our environment as well. We made our way to the most beautiful movie theater I have ever seen and enjoyed Australia to the fullest. We were somewhat alarmed though when a little over an hour into the movie the screen went blank and everyone started walking out. Seeing our confusion, our neighbor leaned over to explain that this was an intermission. How nice. How weird and nice. It was a good day. The movie and the intention of the day had been a success. We made our way back to the hotel, grabbed our backpacks and departed for the airport. We had high hopes, low expectations, and less of an attachment to the outcome.
With our cautious optimism and nervous stomachs we arrived again and waved our way past the familiar security guards. We had kept our security ties on our bags from two days earlier and this made it easy to skip out on an entire line of pushing and poking. I actually kept the tie on the lower half of my bag for the rest of our trip. It was like a badge I had gotten at camp for accomplishing something. (see picture)
Again more deep breaths and smiling at our new found equilibrium. So this is what Goenka meant about equilibrium during our Vipassanna training. It was helpful, once we had remembered to be aware of it. Our experience was easy and graceful. It was perfect timing. We gave up our bags, made our way to the gate, then into the plane and found our seats. It wasn’t until the airplane doors were closed that I actually believed we might be leaving India. I felt as if we had made some great escape. Maybe that’s the relief a smuggler has after reaching his destination. It is sweet!
Transitions can be some of the most challenging part of our lives. We found that from country to country that the few days arriving, of getting grounded and integrating the newness of our environment can prove challenging. We found that meditating and being completely responsible for our own experience was very helpful in traveling together. The space between where you are and where you are going is the only place that you are. The power of the now. The only time to do anything with or about. And in this space, the now, all you have dominion over is your internal experience. Bringing our consciousness to our “stuckness” and choosing to use a different filter, to shift our perspective, shifted our experience. Once we surrendered to Chennai we were back in the flow. Life does not want a fight. Chennai helped us put into practice things we were learning for the past two years. It was a challenging, opening, rewarding experience. I am grateful for the lessons and for all of the transitions in my life. Transitions are a time to reflect, to gather my resources, and to know that all is well. All is well.