For a month, I dressed like a goddess, 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 right 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.
It was beautiful and surreal, a real “dream come true.”
I was guided around the country by dear friends who made all the plans, took me to visit religious sites, and haggled for me in the marketplace. I stayed in homes where live-in cooks prepared delicious vegetarian meals every day, and where there were maids who did the laundry.
Then, I returned home to snowy Troy, New York. Now I have bills to pay. And it’s back to cooking my own meals and doing my own laundry.
After ecstasy there is laundry
It can sometimes be challenging to return to “the mundane” after living in a place 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 life.
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 laundry.
The other side of traveling to 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 most destitute 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 wage 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.
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 her 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. Witnessing extreme poverty on the streets was difficult. It certainly makes you appreciate what you have back home.
Now, back home in “real life,” all the routine household chores face me. There is a household budget to be balanced — bills to be paid.
My travels to India reminded me that this is a privilege, that merely having a home and a bank account is more than many people have. And that being able to pursue my dreams, rather than only 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 a dream is complete.
“In between” the highs of achieving your dreams, your life is made up of lots of little moments, some of which don’t necessarily feel quite so glamorous. Brushing teeth. Paying bills. Doing laundry.
Ecstasy in the everyday
One of my favorite Buddhist teachers, Jack Kornfield, offers a beautiful perspective on this in his best-selling book, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path.
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 lives, 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.”
My journey to India felt exalted, with moments of deep peace, joy, and transformation. I was able to visit a spiritual guru who I have followed for 15 years. I taught workshops. 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 bit sad after I achieve a dream on my bucket list. It takes me a while to recover. When I’ve lived a travel dream, it takes me 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 on my dream bucket list?”
Time to make more dreams come true
I have a goal of completing a book manuscript, 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.
I have another goal of building out my life-coaching business, teaching more workshops and lining up more political clients.
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.
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.
Be grateful for your life as it is right now
With this in mind, I remind myself that all that I “have” to do, from paying bills to doing laundry, is 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. For example:
• 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.
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 the ecstasy in doing your laundry.
Lisa Powell Graham
Lisa Graham is an inspirational writer, life coach, motivational speaker, and globe-trotter whose passion is to help others to find happiness and meaning their daily lives. A political activist at heart, Lisa would like to empower more women to run for political office as a way to create positive change in the world. You can find her on the Madam President Project.
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