Thursday, August 7, 2008


They were all there to greet me when I arrived.  Andrew was still at home on his winter break from college, Robert had a day off from school and on their way to the airport, they collected Florentina from NYU.  I was overjoyed to see them, they looked well.  I wondered if they had missed me as much as I had missed them. Yet I didn’t want to find out.  I would feel hurt if they hadn’t, and guilty if they had. 

  Cold in my thin Indian clothes and sandals, I was grateful that Hugh had brought the car to the terminal and I quickly climbed in, glad to be in the warm again.  On the drive home I looked at the familiar landscape speeding past the car and the beloved faces inside.  It’d only taken one smooth plane ride to get back.  Would I one day be similarly amazed at finding my Self?  Amazed perhaps to discover that finding myself involved nothing more arduous than waking up from a dream?


  Walking into the house I took in the familiar smells of hardwood floors and of the espresso Hugh was making.

The cat came down the stairs.  Nose twitching, she cocked her head and looked at me, then like a model on a catwalk she slinked toward me and rubbed her body against my leg. She had not lost weight. 

  I took the hot cafĂ©-latte from Hugh, the rich vapors wafting to my nose and I breathed deeply as though from an inhaler. I like Chai and while in India I looked forward to it in the morning and afternoon, but I had missed the milky coffee that Hugh and I have at the start of the day. 

In my bedroom the turned-down bed was inviting.  It looked just as I had seen it in my mind’s eyes that first sleepless night of the tour, on the floor in the school in Telassery, Northern Kerala.  Soon hot water was filling the tub.  I had looked forward to a long soak and when I came out, my feet were finally clean, no more black around the toes and heels.

 I climbed into bed and turned to face the window.  The trees outside were still bare but I fancied I could see the hint of buds on the branches.

“Mummy, would you like to come down for dinner or do you want to eat in bed?”

My goodness; it was already dark outside.  It was seven o’clock in the evening, had I slept that long?


The precious silence that I found in India had come home with me and I didn’t want to lose it by plunging back into the world. Many days went by before I left the house, or talked to anyone other than the family.  

With my tiny pocket mirror forgotten in my bag, I’d only rarely seen myself while in India; now that I was home, I stood in front of my bedroom mirror and saw that my stomach had shrunk.  My appetite had also shrunk, and I dared think that I had conquered the hungry ghost within. 


Sunday, July 13, 2008



  Nova was on her way back to England and I was on my way home to New York.  Soon I would see my husband and children again.  I was the one who had gone off with three changes of clothes, a collapsible bucket, a Thermarest mattress and Bruno, my son Andrew’s old teddy bear for comfort, but this journey had been undertaken by the whole family.

I had traveled from one end of the Indian Subcontinent to the other.  Riding for hours on end on a jolting, swaying bus, as we went from one city stop to another, I came to feel that I no longer inhabited the same world as my family.  My luggage was all that was familiar to me, and the mosquito net I hung above the Thermarest was my room.  The challenges I faced were both physical and emotional.  The reality of a spiritual

boot-camp was harder than I had imagined from the cozy comfort of my home.

 “Why is Esmeralda putting herself through this?  Is there no easier way of getting to Heaven?”  a friend asked Hugh in an email soon after I left.  When my husband forwarded it to me, I was still struggling with sleeping on the floor and going to the toilet un-western style was difficult for me and things got a bit hard!  I had had to adjust to “showers” in the toilet with a bucket, being careful not to drop anything.  With a hole on the floor and not even a nail on the walls, I worked out a way of hanging my collapsible bucket from the door, thereby avoiding any of my things touching the floor.  I would slide the bucket’s nylon handle over the latch, before hooking it into the metal hole on the doorframe.  The bucket contained my toiletries and my towel and I also used it for my laundry.

  No, I hadn’t come looking for Heaven per se. I had come at my soul’s urging to find my Self.  Alas, the path to Self-discovery was rugged and uphill.

I missed the children and cried a lot.  Bruno the Teddy Bear was supposed to cheer me up but made me cry instead, because every time I looked at him, it brought back memories of the children when they were little.  And those memories fuelled the sense of loss I carried, unexamined, within me.  In the end, I took the difficult decision to pack Bruno away in my duffle bag. He didn’t come out again until Bombay, when I discovered that the woman on the floor next to me had lost her ten-year old son in a car accident.  Upon hearing this, Bruno leapt out of the bag and threw himself into her arms to comfort her.  By then I had traveled a long way, and not just geographically.


As time wore on, fatigue, illness and general weariness had gradually chipped away at the armor and brought me to a state of openness to and acceptance of the present moment.   When the tour started, I quickly learned that being first off the bus, when we arrived at one of the program stops, also meant first pick of the sleeping floor.  Being last in meant that the only free floorspace left was in the middle of the room, which made it difficult to hang the mosquito net.  It also meant that people had to walk over you on their way in and out of the room.  And so, for the first part of the tour, one of my primary concerns was securing a prime corner or window spot on the floor.  Then I got really sick in Bombay and even thought that I might not be able to finish the tour. It was only thanks to my friend Kayvalia, one of the doctors,  that I managed to get up from the floor and onto the bus.  When we arrived in Ahmedabad from Bombay after a sixteen-hour bus drive, I had to reach deep within to summon the strength to get off the bus and stagger up three steep flights of stairs to get to our accommodation.  When I got there I opened my straw mat and fell on it.  Softened by tiredness, weeks of existing on only mouthfuls of food (I didn’t like the food, and when I got ill, I just didn’t eat for forty-eight hours), something within me shifted.   I stopped relying on the mosquito net for privacy; in fact I stopped using it.  I still tried to get a comfortable spot on the floor if I could, but I no longer made a beeline for it.  I had realized that true freedom, and all the health and wealth of the Universe lay within me.  Relying on anything – anyone – meant allowing my happiness to be contingent on external factors not within my control.  As the tour progressed, the swaying and jolting of the bus no longer bothered me and I stopped wanting to keep track of date and time.  Forgetting I had a small mirror in my bag, I didn’t see my face (or body) for weeks and I stopped being concerned with my looks or weight.  My hair was short and I combed it with my fingers, my only concern with clothes was that they be clean and even that was a flexible definition.  After the initial upset at not being able to dial out with my cell phone, I found that I could get by with my husband calling me every couple of days.  Then the phone stopped allowing me to even receive calls and after only a few swear words I shrugged my shoulders and did without.  From then on, my husband and I stayed in touch by email, and luckily there were Internet places at most of the tour stops.

 By the time we reached Calcutta, the last stop of the tour, I noticed that the constant noise of incessant thinking had subsided, revealing a peaceful silence instead.

By the time I boarded my flight from Dubai to JFK, on the second leg of the homeward journey, I had become so accustomed to traveling for anywhere between twelve to twenty-four hours on a bus, that the fourteen-hour flight did not bother me.  I sat quietly in my seat and enjoyed the peace and silence of my being.  I was glad to have gone, glad to have made it to the end, and glad that soon I would see my family again.