May 5, 2016

The Dark & Light Teachings of India: Compelling Reasons to Visit.

indian woman sari

Friends and colleagues often ask me, “Why would you ever want go to India?”

As a yoga teacher I am naturally drawn to India.

To go to India, to actually be on the hallowed ground that delivered the saints and spiritual masters of the yogic system is an opportunity unlike any other.

Though India today is vastly different from the India of 6,000 years ago when the Vedic scriptures were first composed, there still remains a living, breathing, untouched element of ancient spirituality on the subcontinent, and this is an amazing energy to experience.

In India, the first thing one does in the morning is to pray, appeasing the household Gods with one’s recognition and obeisance. This universal act of humility and faith pervades India like incense wafting through a crowded room. In contrast to our ultra pragmatic, secular American society—which reserves its worship mostly for Sundays—Indians worship their deities all day, every day and throughout the entire week. Throughout India, roadside temples, shrines and altars of various sizes, shapes and origins are erected and maintained to accommodate this communal urge.

Although not everyone in India is still this devotional, on balance, the culture has a much more surrendered and spiritual orientation than the west. And this living presence of bhakti (devotion), is a refreshing contrast to the American emphasis on individuality and material success.

Raised as a secular humanist with a later liberal arts education, I had an introduction to religion without any real exposure to faith, surrender or devotion, that is, bhakti. Unbeknownst to even myself, I was yearning to get outside of myself to experience the awesome, the numinous, the fantastic and otherworldly. Early on, this hunger manifested itself in an interest in all things esoteric as well as a love for adventure.

I was young, excitable and eager for experience. I wanted to dive in and lose myself to each occurrence; to test the world and run it through me, experiencing all of its colors, sensations and nuances.

And why not? What are we here for, if not the joy of our human experience?

I tried everything more or less in moderation and I believe in it, I still believe in it all. But I now realize that all of my experiences expressed an urge to dance with Brahma, the universe, spirit, love, God, unity or source energy.

Moreover, these were only my experiences to have. And given my nature, the filter that is my personality, I would most likely do everything all over again and in much the same way. But somewhere along the line I began to desire a “framework,” an understanding for all my gathered experiences. And it was this hunger for meaning and understanding, as well as my yoga practice that led me to Indian spirituality…albeit through the back door.

So I traveled to India, at first unconsciously and then progressively with greater intention. But nowhere in the world is the contrast between the light and the dark more strong than in India. One travels to the subcontinent to experience her abundant and active spirituality, but ends up encountering material horrors in the form of overpopulation, pollution, mob behavior, caste discrimination, sexism and on and on.

Or as one friend reminded me: the closer one gets to the light, the darker the shadows.

In India this came true for me on a personal level as well. Traveling alone, outside my usual support systems, away from the normal workaday distractions, I had many dark nights of the soul—real, sustained and intimate contact with my “demons.”

While initially deeply uncomfortable, the end result—recognition, surrender and transformation—was actually quite exhilarating. I had gone to India and survived, not only the adventure of India itself, but also the descent into my own shadow.

According to advaita (non dualism), we live in a world of duality, or as one philosopher states it, “contrast.” Light and dark, good and bad, heaven and hell, black and white, all of these oppositions exist within and outside all of us and it is our particular duty, or dharma, to transcend this illusory duality through the practices of yoga, spiritual study and meditation.

I have been drawn to Indian philosophy for years, but I am only now just beginning to truly intuit or “grok” these rather heady spiritual abstractions.

While before I regarded eastern philosophy as colorful, exotic, somewhat “witchy” and intriguing, I now understand eastern philosophy—and yogic doctrine in particular—as a practical, purposeful and spiritually efficient code through which to understand and experience the human condition.

So here I am, a late life yogi with maybe just a little bit of wisdom—the hard earned knowledge that comes from worldly experience—and a new willingness and hunger for unity which leads me to lightly tread, with all my acknowledged and still flourishing humanity, the yogic path.

It’s not for everybody, it’s not even that necessary to go to India to acquire some of these teachings as they are now abundantly available in the west. But it’s part of my nature and my ongoing hunger for empirical experience that I had to go and see and feel these things in India—the contrast of India—for myself. I traveled to India to experience both the nature of her sublime spirituality as well as the duality of her over populated, underdeveloped and over stimulating modern material essence as well as the contrast of light and dark within myself. I don’t have any answers to the paradox that is modernizing India, I have only my experience and my hunger for more teachings.

And surprisingly, this latest visit radicalized me on the material as well as on the spiritual planes as I became interested in India as a rapidly developing nation as well as in Indian philosophy. Despite and maybe even because of her obvious development issues, India’s future is as fascinating as her esoteric, brilliant past. With her robust technological labor force, staggering population density and multicultural demographics, India will most certainly have a major position in the future world economy. Moreover, with her nascent westernizing markets and natural resources, India is like the wild west, and as such she is undoubtedly our future.

Westerners have always traveled to the east to access the eastern teachings. Now increasingly, easterners are traveling to the west for education and the ability to work. Somewhere between these two modern migration patterns there is a potential for greater learning and the practical application of both types of knowledge. As we emerge into the 21st century together, the unity of the spiritual and the material within ourselves as well as in our communities will be necessary to navigate the coming challenges of the global world.

So, “Why India?” you may ask.

I traveled half way around the world to gain some yogic teachings. But I also got a glimpse at our collective future—both the light and the dark—in India as well as within myself. As a result of encountering India, all of India, I came to realize that the necessary transformations for the coming world begin right back where I started—within myself, or “Home Sweet Home.”


Author: Keralee Froebel

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Image: Ali Naqi/Pexels

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Keralee Froebel