“Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it’s not the end.” This is a saying plucked from the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” It’s a British film about several older people relocating to India for various reasons: health, retirement, vacation, adventure and spiritual questing. I won’t even pretend to give a summary of the plot, or to extol the virtues of a spiritual quest in India.
India has been a place of searching and learning for centuries. Two women who recently (in the past few years) wrote about their journeys to India were Eat, Pray, Love’s author Elizabeth Gilbert and Some Assembly Required’s author Anne Lamott.
Anne Lamott made her long-dreamed of trip to India with a friend. She said, “…there is a phrase, rungi-chungi, jilli-milli, which means total bombardment on every level, too much of everything all at once. Every color, smell, taste, sound and echo fills the air, hot and spicy curries. Every kind of sweet, harmony and silence and horns honking…”
“ … It is layers upon layers of ancient and living civilizations, a profound and tangible sacredness that has been alive for 7,000 years, always and still evolving, so maybe not exactly the song that never ends, but more like a song that has no beginning and no end … Everything is right there on the streets – everything that ever was, everything beautiful and destitute that ever was and will be, with Stone Age fires along the streets burning outside high tech corporate offices, the Divine being transmitted and worshipped, and the reality and the continuity of that; and the dirt and the pee and the people shitting in the streets, and a million beggars right around you, and two million dogs, and as many cows and bulls, and every God everywhere, so that this sense of worship envelopes everything, permeates and emanates. … But here I was part of it, part of the dance.”
“… India showed me reality: two concentric circles further from what life will usually show of itself, because India doesn’t have the extra energy to work on the surface or the appearance or veneer. So you see how animal, how human, how divine and bodily and mystical we all are, and how this is all swirled together.”
I haven’t been to India. Yet. But I have traveled through the experiences of others. Books. Movies. Personal anecdotes.
Nevetheless, I’m on my own spiritual quest. It will take me to Cambridge this autumn, as I start graduate classes, encouraged to ask questions about how intellectual and spiritual topics fit into a vocational transformation.
Sure, the “other side” of the Charles River isn’t as far away as India. I doubt there are cows in the streets, or even usually in the Common, except for special festivals. Nor are people routinely peeing or defecating in the streets, or building fires outside executive buildings. And yet … there is a flow, a rush, a layering of life … and ideas and beliefs and possibilities … all there. Waiting for me to wade into it, dunk my head beneath its surge and tumble, only to rise up again, pushing off the bottom, gasping for air, cold and shivering and excited by whatever has touched me, drenched me, changed me.
Meanwhile, as the saying goes, “If it’s not all right, it’s not the end.”