Travel Journal

The Year in Exile

I was talking with a Punjabi friend, shortly after my return to Utah. He couldn’t understand why it was challenging for me to live in the U.S. again. “It’s more difficult here? Are you more attached to India?” he asked. It’s a good question. How to answer it? I’ll say it like this: India is a beautiful, fascinating, difficult, frustrating, challenging, heartbreaking, disappointing, inspiring, amazing, colorful, beyond-your-dreams place. It takes grit as a single caucasian woman to navigate the waters of a foreign land, and male-dominated culture. At times it has left me in tears. And yet, I can honestly say I am deeply attached to India. Perhaps the struggle of living there made it more endearing; the relationship was more hard-won.

I felt there were reasons why I had been brought back to Utah, and was fully open to experiencing everything that might unfold while living there again.

Hiking in the Uintah Mountains
Me and Dadi Ji (Elna Lucy Floisand Luker)

One of the new rhythms of life was the opportunity to help care for my Dadi Ji (Punjabi for grandmother). Dadi Ji had celebrated her 94th birthday that January of 2021. She was having difficulty walking and needed daily help in her home. My aunts Evie and Karie shouldered a huge amount of the work caring for her.

At first, I felt like the odd one out. I wasn’t familiar with her daily needs. Everyone else knew what to do. I helped out by making her my special fruit-laden oatmeal or toast with jam and we sat and talked for hours. Sometimes I would make recordings as she told me stories about living in Norway during World War II. I loved thinking of unusual questions to ask her. Once, I asked, “What did you think when you held my father for the first time, after he was born?” She laughed and replied musingly, in her lilting Norwegian accent, “I felt like I could never be sad again.”

After Morning Meditation on the River Trail

I was so grateful for the opportunity of serving her. It was inspiring to experience the cheerful grace she maintained, even as her independence vanished. Eventually, we had an unspoken code; a smile and wink meant it was time for the washroom. She couldn’t walk, and my father and I struggled to help her in and out of the bed. Despite that, there was humor and joy where there could have been sadness.

Morning Walk in South Jordan

In late May Papa and I went for our bi-weekly overnight stay with Dadi Ji, and were shocked to see a dramatic change. Her room no longer smelt like the sweet scent I remembered from childhood. I knew her organs were shutting down. She was very quiet and kept her eyes mostly closed. I said to my father, “Papa, look at her, she’s doing something! She’s not just sitting there.” I could tell she was on some sort of inner journey and where she was now, we couldn’t understand or go. Her process had begun.

The next day, as we sat together, she was often in the same quiet stillness with eyes closed. Periodically, she would pop them open and glance around with a frantic look in her eyes. Perhaps fear. But then, our eyes would meet. I would calmly smile at her, openly, genuinely, with my whole heart of love. Her features would relax as she smiled at me, then her eyes would close as she settled back contentedly. Silently, I kept conversation with her soul, “It’s all okay. Everything is perfectly okay.”

A week later, Papa came in the kitchen while I was having breakfast and told me that Dadi Ji had passed in the night. As we prepared for the funeral, he said, “I know this isn’t where you want to be, but I am so glad you’re here right now.”

I answered, “Papa, I know I am exactly where I am supposed to be right now.”

I was so grateful that I had been graced with those last months with her. The opportunities to serve her, be a calm presence as her transition began, and to be there for my father through her passing were priceless gifts. If I hadn’t been forced to leave India, I wouldn’t have been there to experience those precious months with her.

Bike Ride on the Jordan River Trail, Bluffdale, UT

The year was challenging for me emotionally. I spent a lot of time working and most of my free time alone. I dove into my meditation practice and took walks in nature or rode my bike, did seva around the house with yard work or cooking, and did my music riaz (practice).

One of the joys of the year was having regular visits with my nieces, Ashlyn and Kendall. We shared all sorts of wonderful things: Gurubani Kirtan, gong baths, Tibetan singing bowls, healing crystals, essential oils, golden milk and chakra clearing drum sessions. They taught me about the mystical creatures and high-skill predator evasion games, Kendall and I had hilarious sessions of truth or dare, and we searched for clues as we investigated the whereabouts of the gorilla, who is secretly living in the ductwork of Papa’s house ๐Ÿง

My Lovely Nieces, Kendall and Ashlyn

My work life was definitely not boring. Papa often remarked that I wasn’t one to sit around idly. First, I started teaching yoga every Thursday night. Each class was unique and I really enjoyed sharing my knowledge and experience with the students.

Deep Relaxation

Over the summer, I had a few private music students coming weekly for classes. In the Autumn, my longtime friend, Khushbir Singh, invited me to teach the Sound and Mantra module for a Kundalini Yoga teacher training program. I spent many hours planning the lectures and music for those sessions, which extended over several months. I was so grateful for these wonderful opportunities to teach, and to the students for their support and feedback. They said their Sunday sessions with me were challenging, but also one of the things they looked forward to the most.

Ready for Work

In late May, I was hired as a full-time Wellness Counsellor at Dave’s Health and Nutrition in West Jordan, UT. I was really excited about my new job. I have always been a fan of natural healing and nutrition and in a short time I learned so much. My job allowed me to receive training about herbal remedies for a wide range of common ailments as well as homeopathic medications and vitamins. I was also able to study more about Ayurveda: the traditional natural healing system of India. I really loved helping the customers each day as well as working with the amazing team of ladies that were my managers and co-workers.

Kushbir and his partner, Donda, gave me some fantastic opportunities to do handyman work around their home. I did a lot of gardening, landscaping, various painting projects, grout repair, light carpentry, a little cleaning and some organizing. I also got to take care of their sweet cat, Gracie, while they went away for a week. Gracie gave me lots of kitty love while I took rest breaks. In the evenings, whenever she heard me start to practice, she would run into the sitting room, lay down and stare at me.

My special friend, Gracie
Kitty Likes Classical Indian Raag

What about my music studies? A couple of times each month, I was able to join an online group class with Ustad Ji. I didn’t have much spare time, so I would do my personal singing practice on my drive to and from work. Some days, I would take my lunch hour to sit in the car and practice.

I could tell I was still progressing, albeit slowly. Yet, I was frustrated and challenged by a shaking that had come into my voice, shortly before leaving India. I don’t know the direct cause, but I feel it was brought on by both emotional stress and Kundalini energy blockage in the fifth chakra. The shaking has lessening over time, but I still feel it during certain points in my practice.

It’s funny how fear works though. With the concern over my shaking voice, my hands began to shake while playing; It was a snowball effect. It made me extremely self-conscious about singing in front of anyone, but I decided not to let that stop me from teaching or singing whenever an opportunity arose.

Karta Purkh Singh (Stephen Valdean) and Me

Khushbir arranged a few opportunities for me to share my music with the local 3ho community. Another dear friend, Karta Purkh Singh (AKA Stephen Valdean), graciously accompanied me with percussion a couple of times. I am always so grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with him.

3ho Utah, Summer Solstice Kirtan 2022
Meditating in the Meadow: Galena Soo’nkahni Nature Preserve

I made fresh juice for my family almost every day and savored some of the foods not available in India.

4th of July Evening Bike Ride through the Galena Soo’nkahni Nature Preserve
Uintah Hike

In December, two big things happened. The first was another moment that made me grateful for being in Utah. Our cat, Seal, had been experiencing declining health. Her joints were stiff and she struggled to walk, falling down often. Jumping up onto the couch or even a low stool were no longer possible. Sometimes it was clear that she was in pain. We decided the compassionate choice was to not prolong her suffering, but it was hard to say goodbye. That last day of her life, I held her in my arms for many hours.

The second change that month, was the announcement of the long-awaited shift in India. It had finally re-opened to tourist visa holders; but only for a maximum 30 days stay. There were a few good reasons for me to go back, even if just for a short trip. It would allow me to resolve straggling issues with my old rental house, spend time with Ustad Ji, and my “brother” in India, Manpreet Singh (Mehtab’s uncle), was soon to be married. His fiancรฉ, Gurmilap Kaur, was living in California. In February I was able to arrange leave from my job, and Gurmilap and I decided to make the trip to India together.

While there I spent time with my “niece” Mehtab, my “little brother” Wahenoor, and got to meet Ustad Ji’s beautiful twin grandchildren, Brahm Mauli Kaur and Bir Taj Singh, for the first time. It was a whirl-wind trip that sped by with lots of work. Before I knew it, I was back in Utah.

Subji Wala in Chheharta, Amritsar

I had a strong intuition that in the near future, India’s Covid restrictions for tourist visa holders would be fully released. My tentative plan was to save money until perhaps September and then return to my studies.

But soon everything unexpectedly changed again. A month after my return, my employer announced they would be closing the store I worked in. I was in complete shock realizing I wouldn’t have a job. On the heels of that was the news that India had fully reopened to tourists for long-term stay.

I felt strongly that in July, I should return to India and my studies. There were three things of great importance to me. One, I really needed some dedicated time to work on my book: I had only been able to complete seven illustrations for it while in Utah and I had over 30 more to go. Two, my music practice and class time with Ustad Ji had been extremely less while working in Utah. The ability to have more hours in the day for practice and frequent classes with Ustad Ji would only be possible if I could go back to living the student life a little longer. Three, I felt a deep, powerful calling to make time for extended, silent meditation retreat.

City Creek Canyon

My plans were not met with support by some. “I just don’t understand why you want to go to back to India to do NOTHING!” The words blasted at me. Well, I guess for some people learning to speak, read and write a new language, study the fine art of Indian classical music and work on writing and illustrating a book are nothing. I have dedicated and focused thousands of hours of my life in these areas. For me, to do nothing would be to throw away all I have labored so long and diligently to cultivate. As far as my meditation practice, who has the right to censure another persons method of spiritual practice? I understood that the criticism shot at me was in ignorance, but it still hurt.

Papa and me Sharing Cake Before my Departure

Five pads of drawing paper, India ink, nib pens, my computer and my Gurbani Kirtan notation books were carefully packed. Several friends met with me for some last, loving visits. Then before I knew it, I was on an airplane, heading back to my second homeland.

Khushbir, Donda and Me

In the following months, I made a full-time job of working on my book. In total 81 illustrations have been completed. I am a bit amazed to tell you that as I write this, the manuscript is with an editor, beginning the fine tuning stages in preparation for publication. Stay tuned for upcoming posts where I will give you glimpses into the magical Himalayan landscape that was my studio/office, and sneak peaks at the book!

Namaste, Sut Nam Waheguru and blessings to you all ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿฝ

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Uprooted

April 6, 2021