Culture Shock: Coming Home


Culture Shock- Coming Home:

I have never known culture-shock, or jetlag, before. I feel like an alien in my own home. I long for barefoot walks through the forest, the ringing of the gong, and your smiling faces. It is wonderful setting up my classroom; I am so calm and zen-like. Friends, family, and teachers continually comment on how happy, peaceful, and zen-ed out I look. I wake up in the middle of the night and hope that when I open my eyes I’ll see bamboo and the sky. 

While being at Sadhana I felt so wonderful. I felt like I knew my place. I felt totally accepted. I felt loved. And yet there were so many things I felt but was not aware of, as I am now, being back in a big city. Like smiling faces as you walk by instead of gum-popping sneers right outside my apartment building. Like sitting in the main hut during a meal and being happy even if I’m just eating and not communicating instead of eating alone or being totally ignored. I miss the feeling of community. My only solace is that in 9 days I will begin my own little community of 5 year-olds that I will get to infuse with Sadhana-style. I think I may do a moment of silence before snack-time. And I think I may do a gratitude circle once a week during our goodbye circle. And I’m continually thinking of how I’ll implement a year-long mandala study. 

In my life I’ve always made decisions very quickly and rarely have I regretted them. Sometimes I’ve taken a long time, deliberating over a decision, and never known if I made the right choice. My first full day back in the states I knew I belonged in India, or some other heat-filled intentional community in the world. As each day passes I’m surer and surer that city-life is not for me. It feels very different starting this school year knowing it will probably be my last like this for a while. 

When I came back I would tell people about Sadhana and they would look at me like I was crazy. One teacher actually thought I was joking- making up a fake summer adventure story. People look at me with blank expressions like I’m speaking a foreign language. Then they make a comment about me being a crazy hippee or something like that. The more I tell my story about this summer, I’m realizing that my words are changing from “I’m going back next summer” to “I’m moving to India next summer. Maybe indefinitely.” I feel very connected to India, not just Sadhana. It felt real. I had this feeling 10 years ago when I moved into my own apartment in NYC, 12 years ago when I studied abroad for 6 months in Italy, and 14 years ago when I went away to college and could tell that I was about to have a whole new beginning. 

New York doesn’t feel like my home anymore. I am not excited by crazy fashion and over-the-top makeup. Or loud conversations about nothing that people will defend to their death to speak passionately about. I am not excited by tall buildings, or crowded streets, or consumer-culture in-your-face.

I’m sitting in my park, Madison Square park, trying to feel a sense of normalcy. There’s a man playing a piano next to the fountain I’m seated near. In my 10 years of living here and visiting this park on an almost-daily basis, I’ve never seen a piano here. He sounds great. He has an American flag sticking out of the side of it. Sanitation workers stop to chat. Smiling, conversing, leaning on the piano. It looks like the only real thing around me.  

I’m surrounded by tourists on benches with fancy cameras and brand-new matching backpacks. Young moms with the newest-model stroller, and Fendi hats. Mother and daughter pairs giving each other attitude about giving each other attitude. 

My feet hurt from wearing shoes. I’m tired and can’t catch up. Not sure if it’s still jet lag (4 days later) or if I’m just not cut out for this fast-paced 8+ hour workday. And I haven’t even met my students yet. Sadhana life allowed time for rest. The day was just as much about health and well-being as it was work. And the work, while often tiring, didn’t feel like work. It was also energizing. It was purposeful. And it wasn’t long hours of medium work; it was a few hours of intense, sweat-dripping-through-your-clothes work. And then a meal. And then work. And then a meal. And then rest. It made more sense. 

I keep justifying why NY doesn’t feel right. There are some good parts. There’s cultural and sexual diversity. People ask what I missed in India and I feel that I can’t be truthful and just say, “racial diversity, sexual diversity, and avocados." 

My people talk about the world and try to solve its problems. My people care about each other and show it every second. My people don’t dominate animals by putting them on leashes and teaching them to do people things. My people care about all living creatures and respect them. This re-entry thing is more difficult than I thought it would be, and yet, I anticipated this and tried to troubleshoot where and when I’d get homesick for the forest. I can’t even explain the forest properly. Friends say I can find it here. Yes, I can find grass and trees and respite from car horns and sirens. 

I want to be barefoot, surrounded by one small community, with respect for my work, and community-respect for me. I want a partnership with my surroundings. I want Sadhana Forest. Again.