For a month, I dressed like a princess, wrapped in bright and colorful, embroidered and sequined silk cloth, wearing jewels on my forehead, sparkling bangles lining my arms, dangling earrings reflecting the light.
For a month, I was treated like a queen, in a country where the “guest is God,” and where part of being a good and spiritual person means opening your home and heart to visitors.
For a month, I lived the dream of traveling throughout India, hosted by friends who treated me like family, teaching with my spiritual mentor, Nithya Shanti. It was beautiful and surreal, a real “dream come true.”
There, I was guided around the country by dear friends who made all the plans, took me to visit spiritual sites, haggled for me in the marketplace. There, I stayed in homes where live-in cooks prepared delicious vegetarian meals every day, and where there were maids who did the laundry.
Then, two weeks ago, I returned home to snowy New York. Here, I have bills to pay. I cook my own meals. I do my own laundry.
After the Ecstasy, The Laundry…
It can be challenging sometimes to return to “the mundane” after living in a space that feels almost like a fantasy life. Of course, I’m all for living your dreams, and creating the kind of reality for yourself that feels like you are the star of your own movie.
And yet, for just about all of us, the details of “real life” are also a stark reality. Rich or poor, we need to eat. If we are fortunate enough to have a home, it requires maintaining. Bills need to be paid.
There is always grooming to do: showering, brushing our teeth. There is still the laundry.
The Other Side of India…
I experienced India in a kind of dream-state, able to visit ashrams, tour through cities, and enjoy spicy Indian food, thanks to the hospitality of my friends and my teacher.
The reality is that life in India is not such a beautiful dream for many people. I didn’t realize it before I traveled there, but India is home to 36% of the world’s poorest poor, who live on less than $1 a day (more than on the continent of Africa).
My teacher shared the statistic that a startling 98% of the population of India live on less than 10,000 rupees per month, which is less than $250 US dollars. That means living on well under $100 per week, for most people, and making a salary of less than $3,000 US dollars per year.
For most of us who are part of the middle-class here in the U.S., those numbers are just about inconceivable. Many of us can’t imagine making less than five figures a year. We can’t imagine not having clean water to drink, toilet paper, hot water for a shower.
The Poorest of the Poor
My experience of India was a sheltered one, and yet I also drove through some more rural areas, and was approached on the street by many beggars. Most often, a woman with a baby in her arms, with its little dirty face and big black shining eyes, would approach to ask for food.
“Please, Madame, please.” She may thrust the child towards you. “Baby. Baby,” she would say, making a hand-gesture of putting food to mouth. Help me feed my baby.
Then there were the men who were missing limbs, or parts of limbs, or lying in the street with a bucket in front of them to collect rupees.
It was difficult to witness the extreme poverty on the streets. It certainly makes you appreciate what you’ve got.
Back Home in “Real Life…”
Now, back home in “real life,” all the normal household chores face me. There is a household budget to be balanced. Bills to be paid.
My travels to India remind me that this is a privilege, that simply having a home and a bank account is more than so many have. And that being able to to pursue my dreams, rather than simply struggling to survive day to day, is such a gift.
That said, for those of us who have the luxury to live our dreams, it can still feel like a let-down after one dream is completed.
“In between” the highs of achieving our dreams, our lives are made up of lots of little moments, some of which don’t necessarily feel quite so glamorous. Brushing our teeth. Paying our bills. Doing our laundry.
The Sacred In The Everyday
One of my favorite Buddhist teachers, Jack Kornfield, offers a beautiful perspective on this in his book, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.
He talks about how those who have had profound epiphanies and transformations on the spiritual path are often shaken by it when they have to return to “ordinary life.”
“Even if our transformation is great and we feel peaceful and unshakable, some part of our return will inevitably test us. We may become confused about what to do with our life, and how to live in our family or society. We may worry how our spiritual life can fit into our ordinary way of being, our ordinary work.”
Life is Illuminated
My journey felt exalted, with moments of deep peace, joy and transformation. I got to visit a spiritual guru who I have followed for 15 years now. I taught workshops with my spiritual teacher and mentor. Life was illuminated.
Now that I’m back home, I have to do the laundry, clean the house, pay bills. Boring!
After such a whirlwind, exciting trip, after having such a big dream come true, “ordinary life” can feel like a let-down.
I am often a little bummed out after I return home from my grand adventures. It takes my body a few days to recover. It takes a few days to unpack and catch up on the usual household tasks, like the laundry.
And my mind immediately starts asking, “What’s next?”
It’s Time To Make More Of My Dreams Come True
I have a goal of completing my book manuscript this year, finishing the edits on this 459-page tome that I have written, paring it down to its essence. Then, my goal is to find an agent to represent me.
I have a goal of building out my life-coaching business this year, teaching more workshops and lining up more individual clients.
In order to achieve these goals, there are a lot of small action steps I have to take. And, I have to get through all the mundane details of daily life along the way.
Yet India gave me so much more gratitude for all that I have. Consider these startling statistics:
If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep…you are richer than 75% of this world. If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace … you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.
Staggering. We have so much.
Love Your Life
With this in mind, I remind myself that all that I “have” to do, from paying bills to doing laundry, is actually a great privilege. After all, I live in a lovely home with heat and a roof over my head and food in the refrigerator and a warm bed and clean water from the tap, that I can drink without worrying about getting sick.
I have so much more than so many in the world. What can I possibly complain about?
I remind myself that it’s possible to actually find some enjoyment in these mundane tasks, and to use them as a way to practice gratitude.
- While brushing your teeth, you can be thankful that you have teeth, and food to eat.
- While doing dishes, you can be thankful for the meal that was just on the table.
- While paying bills, you can be thankful that you have a car and a home and reasons to pay bills. You have so much more than so many!
The messy details of life can take up many minutes and hours of our lives. Can you find a way to enjoy all of these moments, too? And be grateful for them, even as you reach toward your greatest dreams?
Maybe the real route to lifelong ecstasy simply includes the laundry. Maybe the ordinary is exalted.
Live every “ordinary” moment as if it is a gift, and see how good life feels!