India Repotting Journey

December 2020

As I write this, the World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 a pandemic and India has declared its emergency by invoking the rarely used Section 2 of its Epidemic Diseases Act. Travel to and from India has been shut down, yet all of the insights gleaned from my time there are more alive than ever. I’ll share just a couple of those below.

I was in an all too familiar mode: the world and my life felt like a combination of being joyful, overwhelmed, optimistic, pessimistic, grateful and also unclear about how I could impact the people and causes I care about while maintaining my health, sense of vitality and equanimity. There were points of light and people who I believed in, doing the hard work to create positive change. It left me questioning how, if I already have so much on my plate, can I possibly live my values and make a dent in all of the things and all of the people I care about?

I joined a small delegation to travel with the American Jewish World Service for a journey of justice to Delhi and Calcutta, India. We visited with grassroots leaders and allowed ourselves the insights gleaned only from being proximate to those who are most vulnerable. This Repotting journey was informed by meeting with local game-changers committed to improving the lives of young girls and women by using various tactics to end forced child marriage. Perhaps the best way to describe what feels like a personal transformation is reflected in Praneeta’s statement:

"Learning about the plight of millions of young women and girls in India--young women and girls who are forced to leave school and be married at a young age--leaves me feeling helpless and overwhelmed. And all I have on my plate right now compounds that--I'm stuck and need a transformational experience. It's time to pull up my roots for a bit and Repot"
BARBARA WAXMAN, PRE-INDIA 12/2019

“We are not working for one girl to succeed against all odds. We are working to change the odds for all girls.”

Two insights from my Repotting experience in India:

Mindset is Everything

One of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met is Michael. A 55-year-old middlescent Indian man, a devotee of Gandhi’s teachings, and a calm grounded intelligent presence committed to supporting the indigenous people of India. He told me he didn’t earn his first paycheck until he was in his 40’s! Until then, he and his wife had (and continue to have) a mindset of abundance. “If you take care of society”, he told me, “society will take care of you”. And that has been his experience and his truth for his entire adult life.

Another great factoid and photo about Michael–he lives in a remote area far from cell service but now works with AJWS and needs connectivity. What to do? The challenge was seemingly impossible for others. But not for Michael. He has the best case of an open mindset I think I’ve ever heard of.

This is what he refers to as ‘Michael’s bamboo cellphone tower in Gujarat, India’. He climbs up a hill every time he needs to work and have connectivity on his computer. He ties his cellphone to this bamboo pole, and voila! A temporary cell tower powering just enough to let him connect with the larger world. Can you or I ever again complain about needing more to do our work?

Unplug to Unemcumber

During this 3 week Repotting experience I unplugged from life in America—I purposely did not sign on for an international data or call plan and rarely checked in. And guess what happened?

I slept better than I had before I left. Though our days were full of visits, learning, engagement, my heart and mind felt unencumbered by the noise of everyday life. Upon returning home I decided to maintain less of a digital connection and committed to more space for my head to feel clear of the cobwebs that were shutting down my sense of ease and creativity. And it’s working!

Now more than ever, having had this opportunity to pull up my roots albeit temporarily and replant in the soil of Mother India, I have been given the gift of an expanded and energized mindset. The once daunting questions of “Where do I fit in?” and “How can I do more?” is no longer at the forefront of my mind. Instead, I find myself focusing on simplifying and ensuring the behaviors I choose every day are in alignment with my values and what truly matters most.

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