20 February 2015

Bombackground

Dream on; dream until your dreams come true.
– Steven Tyler

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. 
–Henry David Thoreau


This summer will be the 20th anniversary of my first trip to India. In the late summer of 1995, I quit my teaching job, bought a backpack, a combination lock, and a Swiss Army Knife, and headed to the other side of world. 

I grew up in South Florida and was raised within Conservative Judaism (which is not a political signifier- my parents were quite liberal actually- but refers to American Jews whose religious practice falls somewhere between orthodoxy and secularism).  As the grandson of a Rabbi I went to Hebrew school for 8 years and became a bar mitzvah at the age of 13. Religion was an important part of my life, and while there were certainly many years of rebellion, by the time I went to University, it was a subject with which i was fascinated. I was not asinterested in studying the religions of the world from the outside; I was much more interested in religious and spiritual experience- what it's like for the practitioner; the experience of the mystic. I studied physics, philosophy, psychology, and religion, and after a glorious 5 1/2 years of erudition, enjoyment, and enlightenment, I graduated with a degree in religion. 

I then moved to California, in the summer of 1990, and went to graduate school in Interdisciplinary Consciousness Studies. The program has since changed a bit, but it was an academically rigorous attempt to reestablish phenomenology as a way to gather knowledge about nonphysical aspects of human experience. Put simply, it recognized that there is more to life than the physical world, and that even though science can't study them, such experiences can be studied in a scientific way, by acknowledging the role of subjectivity. We looked at the role the observer plays in quantum physics, mystical or spiritual experiences and their effects, alternate states of consciousness like dreams, out of body experiences, and psychedelic experiences, and other ways in which the individual can influence experience. 

Science, you see, has turned out to be a terrific way of learning about the physical world, but is not a complete description of human experience. By definition, the individual scientist shouldn't have an effect on the results of any experiment. Two scientists should have the same results if they do the same experiment, and in that way, we learn what rules about the physical world are universal. Who the individual scientist is, what her history and expectations are, should not matter at all.

But we all know that individuals can and do bring a lot to any situation.Who we are, what our history, emotions, and expectations are can drastically effect our experience of a situation. So clearly, there is more to human life than that which can be explained with science. That's what we studied.

 Although I had been introduced to the religions of India as an undergrad, as a graduate student I studied them, and south Asian religious history, more extensively. I grew to love the subject and that part of the world, especially due to teachers such as David Komito and Vernice Solimar

After grad school, I started teaching middle school math and science, but after a few years the pull I was feeling grew inescapably compelling, and I left that school, and headed off to India.

That first trip, in the fall of 1995, was magical. From the moment I landed, I felt at home. It was (and remains) difficult to explain, but I felt so comfortable and happy among the chaos and beauty. On that trip, which lasted 3.5 months, I saw a total solar eclipse, went on a 10-day Tibetan Buddhist meditation retreat in the hills above Dharamsala, had a brief affair with a young woman from Sweden, visited the birthplace of Lord Krishna, met many lovely people, and ate a lot of great food. I got sick a couple of times, and there are always frustrating and difficult moments traveling here, but I loved every minute of it.

Twenty years and a few more trips later, I have returned to live here in Bombay, aamchi Mumbai, the 8th biggest city in the world, the most progressive and populous city in India, Maximum City, the City of Dreams, to call myself a Mumbaiker, to make this incredible place my home. I do realize how fortunate I am. I am grateful every day.

What will happen? Will I stay 6 months or 6 years? Will I teach music, do voiceovers, appear in Bollywood movies? Will I find love? So many mysteries lie ahead. I'm ready for the unfolding. I surrender to you, mother India. Take care of me, as you always have. Return my love, as you always have. 

This should be interesting...

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