Excerpts from the Travel Journal of Sister Joan Mikulski, MHSH
From my college days in the late ‘60s, I have been influenced by the practice of Yoga; it has been instrumental in my personal goals of attaining body, mind and spiritual integration. The practice originated in the Hindu scriptures, written thousands of years ago in India.
As I celebrated 30 years as a Mission Helper, I thought it was time to visit that ancient land with its deep spirituality and a need for volunteers to serve its burgeoning population. After extensive research, I decided on the Cross-Cultural Solutions International Volunteer program. I loved its mission of both service and cultural immersion.
After 22 hours in the air, I arrived in New Delhi on May 5th. I met the program director and the other 12 volunteers who shared the month-long adventure with me. On May 7th, we were flown to Dharamsala in the state of Himchal Pradesh in the shadow of the Himalayas. It was a different world from the congestion of Delhi.
From Monday through Friday, I taught English at a government run daycare center. My students were two- and three-year-olds. Their mothers were very hospitable to me and some of them stayed in the classroom to learn English along with their toddlers. Later in the month, I taught a class of adult women.
Every day was an adventure and every day I made new friends. The Dali Lama lives about six miles from Dharamsala—we saw his house—and there are many Tibetan Buddhists living in the area. For security reasons, we could not go inside the residence, but we did have the opportunity to hear his monks chanting in their temple. We sat on the floor very near them for about thirty minutes. The vibration of the chanting was an intense experience; it penetrated the depth of my being.
The trip included a good combination of Hindu, Buddhist and Christian experiences of culture and religions. The deepest and most memorable of all of my spiritual experiences was a weekend in Amritsar near the Pakistan border. We visited the Golden Temple at night and at sunrise. This is the holiest of shrines for the Sikkhs. Our guide took special care of us in providing a spiritual experience. There is continual chanting of the holy book, which people wait, prayerfully, in long lines to see.
The temple is made of pure gold and is surrounded by beautiful water. I was also touched by a visit to the temple kitchen, which is run by 100,000 volunteers. They serve at least 15,000 people every day. No one is turned away for a meal. Entire families come for meals, some sleep on the marble floors in the midst of the continuous chanting. The Sikkhs do great works of charity worldwide, not just in India.
I was told that embedded in the culture of the Indian people is that “the stranger is to be treated like a God.” I truly was treated like a Goddess, especially when I made the effort to have a conversation in Hindi, which I had been studying for the previous year.
I was invited into homes for a cup of chai (tea) and snacks. Words cannot describe the love and honor I experienced from total strangers. I never felt fear of, or from, anyone, only acceptance and a desire to give hospitality.
There is a quote from Mahatma Gandhi that comes to mind when I think of India: “Be the change you wish to see in the world…” I have been changed due to the love and acceptance of the people of India. India beckons me to return, and I know that I will.
Sister Joan will share more of her experiences in India in future blog posts.