Chaos. It defines our modern world. There is no avoiding the hurdles of everyday life. Even in the most serene surrounds, chaos can find its way into our lives. When chaos enters everything else seems to vanish and we miss out on the beauty that lies before us.
On a recent hike into the Waipio Valley - a deeply remote and extremely gorgeous area of the northern coast of Hawaii (the “Big Island”) - I encountered modest dwellings along a riverbank established by mainland pilgrims who were looking to get “away from it all” after Vietnam. No cell towers, no electricity lines, no services. I can only imagine they enjoyed their solitude at some point. Now, tourists follow them into the valley with four-wheel-drive trucks and buses to access the remote black sand beaches along the valley shores. These pilgrims found their beauty and now they fight the chaos. I had to wonder if they could still see past it all to enjoy their solace. Unwelcoming glances and “Keep Out” signs suggested it may be a struggle.
India. I am well traveled and I am not sure I have visited a country that better represents chaos than India. I am also not sure I have seen so much beauty amid such disarray. Temples, palaces, textiles, artwork, spices, color, smiles, laughter, love. All staring you in the face no matter where you go. The beauty that stands before you is immense. It is all-encompassing and it is powerful. But for many, it is not powerful enough to block the chaos. Solace - if it exists - feels scarce.
Arriving in India, the senses ignite. First, the stench. Pollution, dust, and god-knows-what. Then, the people - all the people! - and the cars, rickshaws, trucks, and their horns - so many horns. And the cows, pigs, dogs, monkeys, camels, goats…trash, dirt, shit, mosquito-laden puddles, and more shit. Finally, the despair, the poverty, and the disdain. In the blink of an eye, India becomes one enormous disparity. A disappointment.
For a Westerner in particular this can be painful. Suddenly, all we see is suffering and we experience it ourselves through the smog, fight for space, and sorrow for our surroundings. We ask ourselves “how do they live like this?” and we start down the path. The path of judgment. The path of “not like me” or “how could they?”. The path of righteousness.
We miss the beauty. We miss the smile of a little girl at her first sight of a “funny-looking Westerner”, we miss the intricate details on the temple wall - depictions of deities long-storied and worshiped in this land and beyond; we miss the energy, the love, the sacred space where warriors, brahmans, and unconventional commoners changed history as we know it. We miss the air as it passes over our skin, the light behind our eyelids, the faint smell of sweetness beyond the smog, the richness of the spices, and the love in our hearts for our fellow human.
The journey is not to look past or to ignore but to be with. To experience. To see beyond the haze to the beauty within. If we can appreciate the beauty we can give love. If we can give love we can release suffering in the universe.
The practice of a loving-kindness meditation cannot only exist in quiet spaces. The most profound inner journey happens in extreme chaos. When you can find peace, solace, and beauty in a noisy bazaar, crowded street, or difficult situation judgment fades and our inner wisdom ignites. We can extend compassion instead of pity, love instead of shame.
“From the yoga perspective there are three special love partners to be favored: chaos, fear, and space. The first two will perhaps leave us one day. The third is absolutely loyal.”*
Spandakarika - Tantric Song of the Sacred Tremor
Then the heart realizes that
the true innate nature is both
the universal agent and
the subjectivity that perceives the
world. This immersed in
understanding it knows and
acts according to its desire.
*Odier, D., Yoga Spandakarika, Inner Traditions, Rochester, VT.