Photo Credit to J. Platt

the title of this post is also a quote from one of my favorite books “shantaram.” i just posted two entries from my first experience in India as a participant. it is remarkable how spiritual the journey was for me then. this time, being a coordinator altered the experience – it was just as meaningful in the sense that i got to experience myself in a new way, but less spiritual – probably because it was more difficult to be in the present when worrying about making sure we get to places on time or doing headcounts every hour. even though this recent trip was less obviously spiritual, there were still definite moments of moderate revelation and reflection.

on our “2 hour” journey that took twice as long (indian time), we picked up 3 students from Madras School of Social Work and made our way to a rural region of Tamil Nadu. i will refer to the MSSW students by initials.  V, Jason, and i were talking and i commented to V complimenting MSSW students on their work. we had just visited a gypsy community and were hosted by MSSW students, so we had a  lived experience of one type of field work . V humbly stated that it was their duty… that it was a duty of human beings to be of service. thus began a conversation about the role of spirituality in India and its impact on the concept of duty. (more on this journey later – TBC)

whenever i hear the word duty used in this way, i take pause – it’s really a beautiful thing. i learned in a religious studies course in undergrad that most nations who are impoverished are highly religious and those nations that are wealthy are less so. at face value, seems about right. so i became someone in possession of the thought that religion is what people turn to when they don’t have resources or when they are lacking something. growing up, i realized i was wrong. and this experience with V sealed it. India is representative of the Libran trait – the pull of opposition. for just as much good, there is evil to match. for just as much wealth, there is poverty. and in the “boths”, India still keeps to her faith.

however, it makes me wonder about a nation like the U.S. – as diverse as we are ethnically, spiritually, SES-ly (yes, that is not a correct adverb), as free as we are to be/think/do/believe how we choose, as a collective, there appears to be a lacking in the sense duty we have for one another. now what’s that about?

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as an aside, the MSSW students take on some really amazing projects for their field work. (i dislike using the word amazing bc it’s overused but it really is appropriate here). for instance, as part of the program, we were invited by MSSW students to visit a gypsy community where several students were fulfilling their practica. the community was very difficult for many people to be in (including yours truly). we had to hold a lot. there are a few pictures in the slideshow but being there and looking at pictures is obviously a completely different experience. the community was on a plot of land with thatched shelters outlining the area. the area was littered with piles of waste; pigs were roaming amongst people, a few of the young children were unclothed… we were also told that the main source of meat for the community were pigs and rats. to give a little background, the gypsys are often seen traveling as a herd, usually with a large group of children who are the ones you see tugging on the clothing of tourists, saying “maam” or “sir,” bringing their hand to their mouth gesturing for “food” with practiced expressions of sadness. many of these children, and i would presume adults as well, are conditioned to beg for survival. anyhow, the MSSW students are there to help educate the children in the community, among other things. i feel that in the U.S. when we think of helping, we think of giving tangibles – be it monetary or necessary items (clothing, shoes, bikes etc). however, we learned something very important during our time here. the MSSW students took helping to a whole other level. they work to deter dropout by coming to the community at 5am to help bathe the kids so that when they go to school, they aren’t discriminated by other kids for the way they smell/look which decreases self esteem and increases dropout rates. wow. pause. would you, a graduate student with friends/family of your own, who has classes and homework to worry about, maybe even a part time job, wake up at 4am, take a bus or taxi to get to a community at 5am to bathe about 40 children once a week? once every two weeks? that right there is heart y’all.

after experiences like these, i see the ways in which as a person and psychologist, i can grow. it’s not to say that we all have to go to skid row to bathe kids every week or entertain that we are not good people – because that kind of work isn’t for everyone and feeling guilty isn’t helpful. but i do believe we can all do more – no matter what field we’re in – to exercise the concept of having a sense of duty for other human beings. all i have to say is that i am thankful for the work that is being done all around the world, and particularly in India – India is love.