The Act of Devotion
I haven't really written in a while because I haven't felt inspired. And it's not for lack of traveling, because we are on the move, as always. This summer has seen us in Cannes for the second time, sipping champagne with the strange beasts of Hollywood and catching midnight screenings on the beach, we had an epic cross-America road trip that lasted 10 days and included one dog and one 7 month old baby, we spent a few months back in Malibu enjoying the surf and wineries and placidity. All in all it has been a very, very busy few months. And yet I haven't written a stitch on my so-called travel blog. Actually I haven't been really writing at all. At least not for personal reasons. I'm completing a screenplay that I hope to be my first feature, but that doesn't count. I write proposals (and more proposals, and more proposals) but that's just grunt work. Nope, I haven't picked up a journal the entire summer. In fact I can't even find my purple bound leather one that has been with me this past year. I just haven't felt inspired.
I also haven't felt inspired to do yoga or meditate or any of the other things that help keep me sane. In my life I have always felt the urge, had a little tug on my heart when it was time to practice. But lately, it's simply vanished. I keep wondering when it will return, if it will return. So much has happened in this past year that I am a changed person. Very, very different from who I was a year ago today. I often catch myself staring into my own eyes in the mirror and trying to see who this new person is. It's like I don't recognize myself sometimes. Okay, a lot of the time. With all these thoughts swirling around in my head, you can imagine why I just assumed that I probably wasn't going to practice yoga or meditate anymore. The new me would have to find a new method of letting go. Maybe I wasn't even going to write in a journal anymore, I thought, even though I had been doing it since I learned how to write. So while I was proposing this whole new lifestyle of whoknowswhat to myself....months were slipping by. I started gaining weight, feeling extremely tired all of the time and eating a lot. Healthy food, mostly. But A LOT of healthy food. At every sitting. I couldn't drag myself out of bed in the morning and by 8pm I was ready to retire. I felt waves of anger and misery wash over me at irregular intervals. I felt ugly. That was the biggest thing. I felt so unattractive that it was causing me heartache. The cycle was unhealthy at best and dangerous at worst. And I have been there before.
With all of this going on, we came back to Sri Lanka to run a film camp for teens. It was decided to set the camp in Jaffna this year, which is the war-ravaged Northern province of Sri Lanka. With the fighting finished, this sleepy little city has been experiencing a resurgence lately with southern tourists coming up in droves for festivals and the famous Jaffna crab curry. It is a beautiful place which has seen more trouble than any one area ever should. It is also the place of my ancestry, seeing as both my parents have roots in small villages outside of Jaffna town. I came once before with my family in 2001, during the wartime. I was terrified and overwhelmed and clinging to my western idealism. The trip radically changed my life. The day I stepped foot in my grandmother's bullet-ridden house was the day I started on a spiritual path, though I didn't know it at the time.
As I write this I sit under mosquito netting in our sparsely furnished room, 8 days into our 10 day trip. With the camp going on it has been intense and precious peppered with my usual bout of food-poisoning/dysentery that I am now becoming famous for. All I can say is that I now realize why my father is always getting sick when he comes to Jaffna. Between the murder-hot food, the crispy fried chickpea snacks and the alcohol that ferments inside of palm trees----it has been an adventure. And then I got sick. Really sick. I didn't eat for four days. But by the final day, after the fever had cleared...I noticed something. I had an immense amount of energy! Two days later I am eating less and feeling like I could run a marathon. Okay, not quite, There is still the little issue of my yoga-denial. Why could I just not find it in me to get on the mat?
This morning I was supposed to sleep in. I had worked until 4am and had every inclination of having a lazy day of lolling around bed, reading and eating the prickly covered, lychee-like fruit called Rambutan which we had just procured. When I stepped in the door, I heard the daily buddhist chanting start. Then at 5 am the babe awoke, accompanied by another musical call to prayer on the street--of which denomination I do not know. That's the thing about Sri Lanka. Religion is not a choice. It infiltrates every aspect of daily life, until you are forced to acknowledge it. Or question it. Or both. I think it's why I like it so much here.
9 am rolled around and I was having a fitful sleep. I could hear the others getting ready to go to the Nallur Kovil for the last day of the huge festival that had been happening all week. I suddenly realized that I would be remiss to not have gone and seen this event. Over half a million people have gathered from Sri Lanka and South India at the temple. I may not get a chance to see it again. So on day three of not showering due to work, work and more work, I threw on some sunglasses and waved the car down before it was leaving the guest house.
Needless to say, I'm glad I went. The festival was like something out of a story book or ancient text. Putting aside the crammed streets and the market vendors selling anything and everything you could possibly imagine. Putting aside the music and the colours and the various intoxicating smells. The thing that struck me most, the thing that was unbelievably fascinating was the devotion.This wasn't just a community event, although it was certainly a place to meet and socialize. The people were there to pray and give devotions to their God of choice. They were there to prove their faith, to proclaim it out in the most mystifying and humiliating ways possible. There were groups of villagers chanting and praying and playing drums. There were young children carrying heavy ornamental wooden structures on their backs, milk being poured over them, parading through the streets and stopping to dance every so often. We saw men who had chosen to roll on their backs in the street all the way from their villages, 20 km or more away.
But the most stunning display of devotion was not for the faint of heart. Several times we encountered men hung from hooks in their backs, suspended ten feet in the air off of a makeshift crane, traveling throughout the city. They carried flowers in their mouths and their family rode on the back of the truck, dressed in their best. Often times another man would be on the top of the crane, using his weight to bounce the suspended man up and down. The men looked blissed out and serene. It was completely surreal.
What devotion they must have to practice such things! An emotion that we have certainly lost hold of in the West. For us, devotion means going to church every Sunday. My mother is the most devoted person I know. Between Catholic mass, Buddhist temple and Hindu temple, yoga and meditation, her week is full. It keeps her happy and peaceful and I often wish I could have as much dedication as she does. But I don't. And here I sit, trying to find a connection between me and the display of ego-lessness I saw today. Is it community that makes these people willing to donate body and soul to God? Maybe you have to be more than willing though. Maybe you have to be prescient. An unknowing way of doing things without strength of practice is not the answer. To maintain God, we must retain God. We must sustain God.
So this is the reason I forced myself to leave the house. I think something was calling me to be a witness to this incredible display of self-sacrifice. Self-sustenance. The thing I'm learning from this experience is that infinite love grows exponentially. To get we have to give. Giving makes us not only receive, but the act of giving creates more giving, and more and more and more. So, if I give love it will inevitably create more love. If I pay attention to myself, the universe will pay more attention to me as well.
Love begets Love. It's as simple as 1+1.