Yesterday at Liz Heffernan's Valentines' Day yoga class, she reminded us how the yogis view the world as both the manifestation of dense matter (our bodies, trees, parking meters) and an interconnected, ineffable spirit of which we all are a part. Our lives, then, are a constant balancing act between grounding our consciousness into the material existence of our individual selves and expanding our perspective into the "bigger picture" of our interconnectedness.
What on earth does this mean? Here's a clue: the yogis believe that this balancing act takes place at the energy center located at our heart (hence the timing of this lesson on February 14). Our heart is what leads us to care about others--we can feel for them because they are not only like us, but they are us--yet our heart also runs the engine of our individual bodies. So when people say, "follow your heart," it's a shorthand for "find the place where you connect with the greater world, but stay attentive to your individual existence."
Because one cannot "follow your heart" without attending to the details of the body. I am following my heart back to India next week, but not if I break my leg skiing before I go. And yes, I want to go to there so I can expand my consciousness through immersing myself back into India's mystic traditions, but I'd rather do it without my body becoming violently ill (though illness can bring on mystical revelations, I prefer meditation.)
With a week left before my trip, it's time to start packing. Before my first visit to India, I treated my nervousness of going to an unfamiliar country on the other side of the world by myself by following the cues of our culture: I shopped. I bought a whole bag of junk that I didn't use. Fortunately, being detail-oriented to an almost-pathological degree, I took good notes last time. And now, for any of you who may go to India someday, or for any simply curious readers, here are some travel-packing tips in handy categories:
What One Must Bring Because It Cannot Be Found There:
- Thick socks. Indians are not known for making quality socks.
- Sleep Mask. A must for buses and meditation-center dorm rooms.
- Ear plugs ** The most crucial item of all unless you want to induce mystical revelations through long-term sleep deprivation. Indians don't need ear plugs because they must be used to the relentless noise of traffic, shouting, temple bells ringing at 4 am, and chai wallahs shouting from 5 am onward: "Chai, chai, masala chai chai!"
- Emergen-C. I take this Vitamin C powder anytime I'm near someone with a cold. The Indian version is so loaded with sugar you may as well eat Sweet Tarts instead.
- Clif, Power, or Luna Bars. Great for long bus rides, hikes, or anytime your blood sugar is too low to deal with procuring food.
- Q-tips. Indians have various methods for cleaning their ears, but I'm patriotic when it comes to good old American swabs.
- Hair conditioner. Indians use hair oil, so good luck finding any of this.
- Tweezers. Indians thread. While it's fun to go into a salon and have a girl bent over you, holding one thread between her teeth and sawing the other thread like a violin bow, there are some unwanted hairs you just want to tweeze and be done with it.
- Sunscreen. Indians stay in the shade, even at the beach.
- A Cute Swimsuit (for tourist beaches only). You won't find one of these in the land of the sea-soaked sari.
- T-shirt and swimming shorts (for other beaches). We had to rent these suits to go inside a water park because to wear a bikini around Indians, you may as well be naked.
What I Wish I'd Had Last Time So I Will Be Damn Sure It Gets Into My Pack:
- An audio recorder. Sounds such as the call of the muezzin, Hindu priests chanting, Indian yoga teachers singing during savasana all seem unforgettable, but one does forget.
- A sleep sack. This is a bedsheet folded in half and sewn up to make a sack that one can crawl inside of at night. Especially useful for budget lodging. I didn't bring one last time, and when the itching started, I had one made, but it was too late. I itched a lot that trip.
- A smart phone. Even if international cell service is too expensive, most places have wi-fi (which is free to use on an American phone) and having a tiny camera with video capability is a must in a land of monkeys and elephants.
What Is Nice To Have Without Having to Ask an Indian Pharmacist For:
- Sleeping pills for jet lag. When you're deliriously jet-lagged from the 20+ hours of travel and the 10.5 hour time difference, just pop a pill. Get your body's sleep cycles adjusted first, then go searching for drugs to bring home.
- Condoms. I won't need any for this trip (so relax, Pete), but what the single gal opening her heart chakra does on her vacation is simply not the pharmacist's business.
- Antibiotics for stomach ailments. I know antibiotics are not cool or yogic, but when bad bugs get inside you, antibiotics can be just the thing. And I know that by the time I need antibiotics, I'm too incapacitated to venture out for anything.
- Oral rehydration salts or electrolyte powder. Trust me - you don't want to leave your room during a bout of diarrhea, and these will bring you back to life. Walgreens sells this stuff in the baby aisle.
What I Brought Last Time But Didn't Use, So I Can Ditch:
- Water-purifying tablets. Unless you're going on some crazy trek into the wilderness, you'll be able to find bottled water. I promise. Besides, these tablets make water taste too gross to drink.
- Photos from home to show to new friends. Everyone looks at photos on facebook just like we do at home.
- American Money. Yes it is weird to go across the world with no cash in your pocket. But you'll get rupees at the ATM in the airport and the American cash will spend the whole trip in your travel belt.
- A Fake Wedding Ring. It's a fun idea, but someone has to represent all of us mature American women who choose to remain unmarried. Besides, Indian men tend to hit on women thirty and under, so the rest of us can breathe easy.
- Immodium. Every travel guide says to bring this, but the purpose of diarrhea is to cleanse the body of illness, so don't try to stop that shit up. If you think you have to travel with diarrhea, change your damn plans. You're in India, for God's sake, not New York City. Slow down and get through your illness.
What I Brought Last Time But Should Have Gotten In India:
- A mosquito net. I paid $26 for one at REI and could have bought one for 100 rupees ($2) almost anywhere in India.
- Peanut butter. The Indians are onto us: it is very easy to find this bit of America.
- Fancy hiking sandals. After my $100 Keens got stolen, I learned that I could hike up a mountain wearing worn-out Teva knockoffs with ripped soles. "Good shoes" are an American concept.
- PVC-free water bottle. It started leaking so I threw it away and used disposable plastic bottles for the rest of my trip. Should have saved myself the $12.
- A polyester salwar kameez, or Indian pantsuit. I got it on Devon Ave in Chicago so I could fit in when I got to India. Sure, I blended in with the crowd, but I sweat through the polyester. You want cotton.
I bought this blue cotton material and some pretty edging in Rishikesh, where I found a tailor to make this suit for me. The whole project--materials and labor--set me back 510 rupees, about $11.50 at the time. So you don't need to bring any clothes with you - get them all made by hand!