Migrating to a new culture~ Spiritual Rebirth?
Spiritual seekers have been going to India from ancient times. But why? What is so life changing for seekers who go to India?
For a century, India has been on the map for western seekers. Ram Dass, Steve Jobs, Krishna Das and countless others have travelled to India. What happens to western seekers who go to India to “find themselves”?
When they land in India, they suddenly lose all context. They are bombarded by new languages, tones, accents, foods, people shapes and sizes, clothes, strange buildings and streets. A world, where nothing is as it was before. Even their name, in many cases, is gone and they go by a ‘ Spiritual Hindu’ name. Their mind has nothing to grasp onto from their old reality. It is easy for them to break away from their old patterns of thoughts. They had to lose everything to find themselves; going to India was just an excuse.
Looking back at my own life, I realized that same thing happened to me when I moved to America.
All conditioning of the mind suddenly drops. Suddenly the mind has to figure out small things that were on auto-pilot— how a water faucet works, how to drink with the awkwardly designed water fountain (still can’t drink from those fountains), how to order a simple meal even at the college cafeteria (can’t relate even now to how lost I felt), to figuring out the cultural context of conversations…new accents and different phrases to almost getting a ticket for jay-walking across the street and why did everyone smile at me even if they didn’t know me?
Having driven in India in even places like Chandni Chowk in Delhi, before coming to United States, driving was an auto-pilot skill for me; suddenly I had to drive on the other side of the road…a reflex action for at least 10 years was thrown off and the mind was forced to focus and pay more attention. Roads, building, landscapes were completely replaced…nothing of the old landscape remained.
Suddenly all the childhood conversations about politics, sports or television were far away. The actors here didn’t belong to the world I grew up in, there was no emotional connection with these actors.
I even a got a new name… A lot of Chinese classmates at Business School took English names. In the beginning, I found it odd— why would you change your real name? There must be a beautiful meaning to their Chinese names. But soon I found out that most Americans found it difficult to pronounce my name, though most of them did try sincerely. But there is no pronunciation for ~dh in my name Nidhi. I have been called Nadia, Nadira, Needhia, Nidy and so on. To make it easier for everyone, I started calling myself Nina.
Thousands of miles away from family and friends, I didn’t know where I belonged in the society any more or where everyone else around me belonged. The whole Indian lifestyle disappeared. No more dependency on anyone except yourself. You are your own cook, maid and driver and sole caretaker of yourself and your kids.
It wasn’t a big shift but all the small shifts added up to a complete dropping of the old identity without me even knowing when it happened.
At the same time, since I did not grow up here and did not share the cultural conditioning, I could enjoy every little thing with fresh innocent eyes. Everything was fun from walking in the park, running with my son after the geese, going to the huge libraries with endless rows of books, to of course seeing all the wonderful touristy places too.
In the first few years, I still felt a strong sense of belonging to India. Almost every year I would go back and stay for a couple of months in India. A subtle change would happen every time I went back. A distance would creep in. Every time, I would go back the landscapes would have shifted, some new building, new flyover, new stores. People evolved as well, new conversations, new characters, and issues that I felt no emotional connection with anymore.
Had I never moved away to America, I would have seen the change every day and probably not thought much about it. When we live in the change every day we don’t see the change…but everything is changing constantly… impermanence..core of Buddhism.
With the distance, I could begin to see how my thoughts and patterns of thinking had been influenced by my being born in India, raised and educated in Delhi, my North Indian Hindu family from U.P. to my formal education in Engineering and Business Studies.
I started to see what mental conditioning meant a little more clearly in my own self.
Slowly, the ways of thinking and being, which I might have inherited from family, friends, society or culture all came up sharply in the awareness and dissolved away. Since I was not living these relationships every day anymore, all past identities of being a daughter, sister, cousin, friend and so on all dropped away on their own.
On one of the trips to India, I realized that the place where I grew up did not exist anymore except in my memories. Gradually I started realizing that I did not belong anywhere anymore. There was a strange acceptance of the deep loss I felt…but what did I lose?
A tremendous space opened up in my life. I was truly free to explore who I really was. I had no roles or role models to conform to. I could just be in my home or outside.
It was a blessing of rebirth on my spiritual journey. Now I know why the western seekers Go east to find themselves. Go East or Go West, doesn’t matter, You have to lose everything to find your real self.