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us_passportLast I reported, we had just a few days to leave India. After arriving in Delhi, we found out pretty quickly that it was going to take Mark 8-10 days just to get a new US passport, so it was clear we weren’t going to hit the deadline.

I don’t think either of us was really surprised or really cared. More time just meant more schools. We figured we’d somehow work our way around any consequences. In some ways, having to leave the country in such a hurry was the perfect excuse to jump-without-looking into something so beautiful. If we had really put to the test all of our connections and options, chances are we could have somehow managed an extension from Ahmedabad, but the fun would have been lost. It would have killed the immediacy and innocence of it all. This letter gathering campaign was not a “big idea,” it was a sweet idea, and as it has grown bigger, it remains a sweet idea.

bollingen_11The adventures in Delhi have been extraordinary. I realized a while back that my favorite type of traveling is the kind where I am tracking down inspiring or meaningful places, like the time in Switzerland I managed to find Carl Jung’s magical getaway spot in Bollingen, and had it all to myself. Or the time I accidentally ended up in the cave in which Gautama Buddha had spent six years before Enlightenment. I think the thrill of the hunt or investigation, combined with a deeper search for meaningful connection is what makes this type of travel so special.  For me, it far outweighs hitting the tourist spots or swinging on a hammock. Here in Delhi, this seems to be exactly what I have been doing daily – following meaningful leads – not meaningful because they are historic, but meaningful because of the potential that they offer.

vinoba_1For instance, we started at Nirmala Deshpande’s house, who was the former secretary of Vinoba Bhave (spiritual successor of Gandhi) and is a highly well-known and well-respected member of Parliament. That night, she just happened to be having a dinner party with 80 peace activists from Pakistan. We were also told by Jayeshbhai to meet up with George Fernandez, ex-Minister of Defense and social activist. I think Jayeshbhai had met him once, and they had made friends, but Delhi is less of a small town than Ahmedabad, and it’s more difficult to just walk in cold and meet people. Still, I spent some time in a rickshaw, stopping by random people on the street asking if they knew where he lived. Eventually, we were given his phone number from Nirmala Didi.

And it’s been a lot like that – encounters with lots of interesting people with interesting lives. The weird thing is that I feel like I can see through it all – like these are all old souls and that I can almost see in them their previous incarnations that brought them to where they are today.

The funniest part of it all, is that Mark and I have yet to learn to dress the part. Wherever we go, we end up showing up in dirty, ratty clothes – particularly Mark, who will show up in shorts with holes, ripped, stained t-shirts, and a bandana. My dress is just barely a step up. I guess we realize that this obviously must work against us, where the first impression we give is that we are a bunch of hippies, or as Mark calls us “Swedes” from off the street. Still, it hasn’t seemed to stop us, and I’m starting to conclude that we just don’t have it in us to dress up.

Even this, though, is a habit, and it would probably be a valuable exercise to experiment with clothing as part of the waking dream.

axl2_1We have managed to go to a bunch of schools from the best of the best, to a blind school, an Army school, and a couple slum schools. Delhi is a lot less open and innocent than much of India, but that innocence is there, and with a little patience, just about all doors seem to open and invite us in… and once in, it’s more often than not a pretty magical experience. At least for me.

After going through much hassle, we now have a visa to Pakistan and two and half months before we need to again leave India. Gathering letters of peace, love, and friendship has been so valuable all around, that I think we’re going to keep it going for just a little longer.

dare011From day one, Mark and I were in full agreement that this is all just a dream and that we are completely free to play with it. We have now reached the six month point, and very little has changed.

Our attention is constantly drawn to very serious things like pollution, poverty, education, etc., but we still manage to have fun with just about everything we do.

One way to stay in tune with the flow of life’s multitude of options is through daring. The very act of daring contains within it an action that is difficult and challenging – a path we would normally never take. It is in taking these unusual paths, that we break out of our routines and experience the vitality of a life on the cutting edge. Daring is something that only really works when you play with someone who is willing to take on your dares. I have always felt inclined to meet a dare so long as it falls within acceptable range; of course, it’s the willingness to keep questioning and testing this range that is the key.  In my experience, it’s rare to find others who are of the same mindset. In the realm of the dare, Mark and I are a perfect duo.

There are hundreds of examples of little things we’ve done. Our dares are all over the board. For instance, one time, when we were walking through stopped traffic, Mark dared me to sit on the back of a random guy’s motorcycle, without asking, and get a ride through the intersection. I did and it taught me the huge lesson that this opportunity is always there and has always been there; we just rarely surf life in this way. Since then I’ve tested it again on my own and it seems to be a valid option for getting around. :)

dare03Mark will sometimes brave dares that seem totally over-the-top – such as kissing a wooden totem pole carving on the lips in a restaurant full of waiters and customers, or spontaneously massaging the feet of a masculine Rajasthani man in traditional attire.

One episode that seriously amused Mark happened when I was sitting in the passenger seat next to the bus driver in a bus full of ornately dressed villagers from Kutch. He dared me to simulate driving the bus all the way home from Gandhi Nagar. I took it up – the whole way – with gear-shifting and all, much to the confusion and dismay of the driver and passengers. Mark simply explained to them that I was crazy, as he rolled with laughter for much of the ride home.

There was a time when I stepped under a waterfall of rain coming off a roof during monsoon, and then walked a great distance home without a shirt on (since he refused to give it back). Or the times we both rode facing backwards on the backs of motorcycles to the enjoyment of the fellow commuters.

Even in Delhi, we have kept it going. The first school we came across when going out to gather peace letters was the Army school. It seemed pretty natural that this would be a tough sell for acquiring letters of love and friendship, as these were the kids of officers who are trained to see Pakistan as the enemy. But we embraced it as a challenge, and successfully pulled it off, getting some of the best and most artistic letters yet.

When it felt like we were falling into a rut, I decided it was a good time for us to walk into the dream. I saw a holy looking Sikh man with a two-foot long white beard in the back of van. I challenged Mark to get us a ride home in that van. When we went up, we found out that it was actually a taxi… and they were asking a little too much for the ride. In the spirit of following the idea through to see what happens, I agreed to the price, however only on the terms that Mark drive the van. The man surprisingly agreed and Mark took the wheel for a seriously precarious drive through Delhi traffic.

Mark wasted no time following this up, calling me on a statement I had made many months before on a brutally hot, summer day, when I said I could drink 7 glasses of sugar cane juice. Mark had been blown away by this statement, and so I increased it to 8. I knew I could do it easily. Now months later, we were passing by a sugar cane stand, and Mark dared me to drink the 8 glasses. This time, the situation was totally different – the day wasn’t very hot, I had just eaten a meal, and wasn’t at all thirsty. My original claim meant nothing under these different circumstances, but he wanted me to prove I could do what I said. dare02With much difficulty, and having to flirt dangerously close to vomiting, I put away the 8, plus one extra, making it 9.

At times, these actions may be perceived as childlike and irresponsible, and they may eventually cause us to lose some of our credibility. All in all, though, it is an important lesson in not taking anything too seriously. If we get a few looks of disapproval, or if things occasionally backfire, well at least we enjoyed the ride and were guided not by fear, nor by the measured rules of social acceptability, but by the ever-flowing, infinitely creative play that is life.

The story that follows is about the single-most influential time period of my life – something that forever changed my life course. This story is a continuation of “The Making of a Martyr” – Part I and Part II.

swanI can’t recall the first time I noticed her, or the first time I began to develop feelings for her. She was the kind of girl who would go mostly unnoticed. Though pretty, she was quiet and seemed invisible and bookish. Perhaps that invisibility is partly what drew me to her.

I shared a few classes with her and eventually learned her name was Lina. Lina was from Bogotá, Colombia and had an identical twin sister named Claudia. No one could tell them apart.

Both were off the social radar. Claudia seemed slightly more outgoing and bubbly. Lina seemed more shy and introspective. Though they may have looked identical to everyone else, their differences to me were like night and day.

For years, my deeper love had all been directed toward just one girl, the wildly popular Tara M, but now suddenly, things began to shift. I started to notice Lina’s every gesture – the way she held her pencil, the books she read, the way her hair would fall against her shoulders, its shine – and it wasn’t long before I was head over heals in love with her.

I sat behind her in class, just staring. It wasn’t just that I was falling in love; it’s that I kept falling – deeper and deeper and deeper – into a love that seemed to have no end. Although this love was as sweet as anything could ever be, it was something that brought with it an unbearable torture. As I sat in class taking her in, I would sketch both images of love and brutal portraits of faces screaming.

During this period, my depth began to grow. I tapped into my own genius and began expressing it through poetry, writing, and art, though these skills weren’t developed enough to adequately capture the passion and fire that was blazing inside.

johnkidMy love for Lina wasn’t anything normal. For one, it was completely asexual. There wasn’t a trace of sexual thought anywhere near her. To me, these worlds were very different and I wanted the love to be as pure as it could possibly be. To me, Lina was pure innocence. Probably what she really represented was a simple and pure part of myself that had been long misplaced somewhere in my ego formation – a part of myself I longed to reacquaint with.

Secondly, I didn’t want her to become real. I both yearned to talk with her and dreaded it as I didn’t want the reality of her identity to interfere with the goddess-like image I had built up of her in my mind.

This was an impossible attraction from the start. She was too simple and innocent for a relationship. My chest condition created an impassable barrier anyway. Then, add to that a romantic notion that wanted to keep her mythical. It was a disaster in formation, and as my love continued to expand into ever-deepening territories, this tragedy began to unfold.

Just as it’s hard for someone to really understand pain or sickness when they are not experiencing it, it’s hard for me to convey my true experiences during this period. I was taken into realms of existence that I didn’t know were possible. I was tapped into forces of nature that are not commonly encountered. It felt literally as if the Gods were manipulating me like a puppet – my body being smashed and slammed against the oceans of sensation. It became humanly impossible for my limited self to contain the profound love that I was feeling and it began ripping and tearing me apart. Although the pain was exquisite, I was in direct contact with the very essence of Life, and this pain was felt as unimaginable bliss.

There were times when I would go and stand outside of her home at night and quietly scream with reckless abandon, completely immersed in the infinite depth of the passion. My surrender was nearly total. During the screams, I noticed a tiny spark, or part of myself that remained as just a witness. I hated this part of myself for being so cold and for not disappearing with me into the immersion.

A part of me so desperately wanted to see this love realized, and despite my own objections, I forced myself to talk with her on several occasions. The moments leading up to these approaches were some of the most wonderfully nervous and difficult moments ever. There was even a time I braved asking her to the prom. Caught off guard, she quickly lied and said that someone else had already asked her.

At a certain point, it became evident that this could never be. Because of my chest and my refusal to attend gym class, it was already determined that I would be unable to graduate high school. With my future prospects crumbling, there wasn’t a compelling case for me to stay in school.

Compared to my profound love for Lina, nothing else had much value or meaning. When everything you want in the world can be concentrated into just one thing, and that one thing is wholly unattainable, then there is really nothing left to live for. With nothing left to live for, it was time for me to go away and die.

At the time, my only spiritual reference was Jesus. Because my experiences did not fit into anything I could comprehend, I thought that perhaps this is who I was. I offered myself to God, vowing to live my life in service to the world.

It was now time to tell my friends and parents I was going away.

My friends were easy. They either didn’t believe me, or thought it was cool. I was able to make them realize the beauty in waking up and grabbing hold of life while young.

I was in the 11th grade and I had made my decision. Though in many ways tragic, I was fulfilling my romantic dreams – to go away and die – perhaps in a ditch somewhere, I didn’t know. Though difficult for anyone to understand, my decision was one with the pulse of life. I was tapped into something extraordinary, and there were no other options. I was in an infinitely pure place.

My relationship with my family was good. I gathered the courage and told my mother of my plans to leave and gave them a two week time period to prepare. Where I was going, I really didn’t know. Intuitively, I felt that the “west winds were calling,” and that I would probably just follow any signs saying “west.”

My parents understood my utter conviction, and felt that it was time for some urgent intervention.  They asked me to see a psychologist three times before leaving. I knew it was pointless, but with respect to them, I agreed to meet their request. I met with the psychologist of their choice and I got the sense in my three sessions with him that he yearned to be in my shoes, following his heart and walking out into the unknown.

sunset01The sessions failed to make a difference and my parents pleaded for one last option. They found a specialist and asked me to just meet with him once. Again, I loved them and knew this was a big deal – it was the least I could do, so I grudgingly agreed. Unfortunately, this man was horrible – a Sigmund Freud cookie cutter quack, who quickly went to work trying to dismantle and categorize my psyche into his pre-defined columns of neuroses. He assumed that I was somehow diseased and went to work with a hammer drill trying to find it. It was a pretty pathetic ending to a beautiful departure.

He found nothing. I was surrendering to love. And it was exquisite.

I packed my belongings into my ’78 Honda Civic, said my goodbyes, and drove away, heading westward.

>> This is a special poem I wrote about Lina during this time.

>> This story continues here.

meandog02_1Living in Mithakali, we came to gain many dog friends. Amongst them was a strong, muscular male dog, who Mark named Scooter. Scooter looked intimidating – the kind of dog you would not want to have against you. Fortunately, Scooter took a particular liking to us and came running to greet us whenever he caught site. He would jump up on us and would love to be pet. Mark said that if anyone ever tried to harm us, Scooter would always have our back.

One day, Loveleen and I went to say hi to him and he let off some quiet growls. This didn’t fit at all with his affection for us, so I thought he must be growling at a nearby dog, protecting his unique bond with us.

Several weeks later, Scooter came by with his lady friend and again said hi. He was again happy to see us, but again let out some quiet growls. This time, Scooter had an enormous wound on his head. It’s likely that someone threw a brick at him, which seems to be very common. We had seen this far too often and felt disgusted and sad.

hulkScooter was licking our hands like crazy, but still letting out occasional growls. All of a sudden, he started nipping at our hands a little, aggressively. Mark and I both sensed some danger. Mark left and I stayed, hoping to overcome any hostile behavior with affection. It was clear that something started switching on and off in his mind. Like the Incredible Hulk, he would suddenly shift into an attack mindset and his little nips started to become more menacing.

It was clearly as if human cruelty had splintered his spirit and he began to start losing it indiscriminately. Likely, memories of abuse would flash on and he would project them onto my form as a human.

Soon again, he would revert back into all loving licks, and then again start growing more fierce. This time, the violent switch turned on completely and in an altered state of mind, he bit me on the leg. It was just a small bite with a minor puncture that left both a bruise on my flesh, and also on my feelings. It was immediately after this that I wrote the poem “Something More.”

I am very sad for Scooter. He won’t survive long here as a violent dog. I’m actually not looking forward to the next time I see him, for fear of being attacked. I’ve always felt that love and benevolence can overcome any negativity, but this was a clear example of an altered state where all sight of my kind meandog011intentions disappeared. I suppose this is a good lesson going into Pakistan. Overall, I’m certain the people are at least as kind and good as you’ll find anywhere in the world, but as “Americans”, there are definitely exceptions there who would love nothing more than to harm us. I tend to feel that my love and gentleness are enough to shield me from all harm. But perhaps this lesson reveals that this just isn’t so.

preciouscargoA lot has been happening lately. With so little time, we managed to get extraordinary participation from about 4000 students in Ahmedabad – most of whom stopped all of their activities to make the cards on the spot. Going into the classrooms and talking to all the kids about peace and love has been priceless. The most dramatic contribution came from the H.B. Kapadia New High School which delivered us an ENORMOUS box about 10 minutes before departure. How we would ever manage to carry this with us would be a serious challenge, but right now, I am writing from Delhi, so we’ve managed to lug it – and all the other letters – this far.

Flipping through the letters is magical. Every child has expressed their feelings in so many different ways. It’s hard not to be deeply moved. Some are in English, some in Hindi, and some in Gujarati, but they are almost all accompanied with the most amazing illustrations! They are filled with wishes of hope, questions about common interests, and tons of invitations to come visit. Here is a poem from Sumer, from Swastik’s Sattva Vikas School, which I just plucked out from the collection:

If I got a little chance,
I would ask for friendship between India and Pakistan.

From the center of my heart it say,
Let’s unite together & stay.

We haven’t opened the box from the Kapadia school yet, but when we do, Muktak Kapadia, their managing trustee, guarantees that we will call him from Pakistan.  From peeking at this Times of India photo, I have a feeling we’re not going to be let down.  He has requested that we show it to timesofindiapic_1both Prime Minister Singh and President Musharaf. We’ve also received letters from the communal harmony theatrical group, Ekta, as well as from a group of living Gandhian freedom fighters. Many have requested that their letters also reach the heads of state.

Before we left, a small whirlwind of media covered the story, so we’re not exactly sure what kind of effect we’ve left behind or are carrying with us. What we do know is that we are custodians for some seriously precious cargo. It’s hard to believe that these letters won’t have a tremendous impact wherever they finally end up. The last few days have been a pretty fun ride, but chances are the adventure is only beginning.

The following story includes the mention of a rickshaw driver who’s life took a major u-turn before our eyes. At the end of the outing, I realized this would make a superb blog donation (I’ll tell you who you are), and gave him a generous 500 rupees — to make him feel extra special about the day, and because it was so worth it. For just about $12, one man entered a space that would forever change his life. Through his transformation, he taught us a radical lesson in the power of forgiveness and the value of reaching in to make connections, even at times when it seems counter-intuitive, or even impossible.

Vishnu clearly seemed like he was planted there by universal forces, and fortunately, we were attentive enough to pick it out. Here is a quick story of this most amazing day…

Read the rest of this entry »

cardpakistanMark and I are soon heading off to Pakistan. On Sunday, August 7th, we will meet with the school children from Manav Sadhna at the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad and they will make cards – with love – to give to children in Pakistan. Many schools throughout Ahmedabad will also be participating and we hope to gather hundreds or thousands of cards in the next few days. It’s possible we will also be able to collect more from the school children in Delhi. Whether we get 10 cards or 10,000 – the number really doesn’t matter. What does matter though is that for each and every child who sits down and writes from their heart to another child in a place where there are perceived tensions, an internal connection will be made, and a seed of hope for a harmonious future will be planted. Because of this, the more cards the better.

The plan is for us to then take these cards with us to Pakistan, visit some schools, and hand deliver them to the kids there.  Our time happens to coincide with Pakistani Independence Day on August 14th and Indian Independence Day on August 15th.  Perhaps we will even get some cards from the Pakistani kids to take back with us. In the process, we get to interact with a ton of great kids from both countries.

We are also opening this invitation to kids (or anyone) in America (or anywhere). We are leaving super soon, so we can do this in two rounds:

  • Round One (immediately, via email only) – These letters we can take with us now – make a card, scan it (sized 100k or less), and attach it in an email to me. Simple emails won’t be as colorful, but will also suffice. We will print out these emails and bring them with us. Go ahead and get your neighbors and cousins to send cards as well, and extra credit if you can get whole classes or schools to participate.
  • Round Two (ongoing) – You can continue to send us scanned cards, emails (as above), or better yet, mail the cards to India! Send them:

To Pakistan with LOVE!
Care of: Manav Sadhna

Gandhi Ashram (Sabarmati)
Ahmedabad, Gujarat

The key, of course, is that these messages genuinely come from the heart. There is a lot of political tension and misinformation that occurs, and the intention here is to transcend barriers and bridge human hearts. This is the greatest hope for a peaceful tomorrow (and today).

indianvisaThe time had finally arrived. This week, Mark and I were gearing up for one of our first major public activities. There was much to do and the timing was going to be very tight. We discussed for a while whether or not we thought we could pull it off. We felt like we could do it, but we would have to use our time extraordinarily well.

I remembered that our Indian visas required that we leave the country within 6 months of arrival. Originally, we thought we would have to just leave and come back, but were told that it was pretty easy to register with the police and have the visa extended. All the Indicorps volunteers did this. With just over a week left until the deadline, I thought it would be smart to take care of this, having a few spare days just in case we encountered any obstacles. When we got to the police commissioners, we found out that what we had been told was not accurate. We indeed had to leave the country, and had only a week or so to do it.

Even worse, we would need a visa to enter another country, which would require an added trip to Bombay or Delhi. Of course Mark’s passport had also been stolen, which would require even more time there…

slitedetrSo much for our big plans!

Clearly, this is one of those ridiculous things. We are here in India giving all that we can, and doing so out of our own savings accounts.  Logic alone would say: let these guys stay and continue spending their money and giving of themselves here in India. But in a legal bureaucracy, pure logic does not always call the shots. Instead, we have to take a hit – both financially and in the loss of time – just to make a silly trip out of and back into the country.

We discussed our options: Pakistan… hmmm, Nepal… not exactly Shangri La these days, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh? Everything sounded like an expensive distraction.  If only we could bring some kind of meaning to this detour…

I left behind
A home of incense and candles,
Of love and trust.
Abundance and joy

To walk in step
With a deeper surrender.

What exactly is it that I’m capable of reaching?
How much precisely
Am I capable of giving?

Life so often is filled with regrets,
Yet, here I am,
On the other side of regret,
Having followed that scary voice that said,
Into the unknown,
Into the dream.
Reach in, as deep as you can and give it all away.”

But here,
It is not always so clear.
And at moments like now,
The incense and candles,
The love and trust,

Abundance and joy…

Home seems so dear,
So near,
And so far away.

Having taken
A step away from Love,
It would be unforgivable not to take ten or one hundred or
one trillion steps
To an even Greater Love,
One that embraces both the home that is still there waiting,
And the darkness that drags on our world.

If I am to reach,
Let it be deep
And let it be now.

1 August 2005
Ahmedabad, India