This time last year, I was in Delhi, India. I woke on Christmas morning, having arrived the night before, and felt as excited as any child waiting to see what Santa brought. What would Christmas in India be like? There was a red, felt stocking hanging outside my door, full of sweets and silliness. Gold baubles and tinsel decorated the hotel lobby and breakfast room. ‘Happy Christmas, Ma’am,’ was said with a nod and a smile as I passed any of the staff. By the time I got to Jodhpur later that day, Christmas was forgotten. I wasn’t sad.
I had a festive lunch with my family, the week before I left. To me, that was Christmas. I had the fun, the feast and the frivolity without the queues, the exorbitant seafood prices and the angst of sharing the day by time slots. I would prefer to do this every year.
I was hyped by the thrill of adventure, of a journey through parts of India I had not been before. I was on my way to an ashram 28km north of Jodhpur on the edge of the Thar Desert, for a women’s festival celebrating shakti, sisterhood and spirituality, plus teachings on the environment – past, present and future – and what we can do to enhance our creativity and heal nature.
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love and Big Magic, invited me – personally, I felt – on Instagram. I could barely wait!
A few days later, I was at the ashram and had made friends already. We were women of all ages from many countries, and thrilled to be there.
I saw films made by young, Indian women about seed banks and the Bishnois who were the first tree huggers. I learned about the school for kids with disabilities, run by Sneh Gupta, founder of Indiability, and the support offered by Urmi Basu’s New Light Kolkata for women and their children in the red-light district. I had the honour of meeting these women.
My eyes were wide open and my mind, highly receptive.
The food was pure, organic and vegetarian. Also, delicious. There was no alcohol but plenty of milky masala chai.
I watched Liz Gilbert interact with other learners, volunteers, activists, leaders, high achievers, the broken, the fragile, creatives, village women and festival organisers, and was moved by her grace, compassion, and insights. She was one of us and it was empowering.
I was okay. I was an observer and a participant in something that was much bigger than me but felt easy and right. I was part of a team. Whenever something made me sad, I went to the dogs – literally. The female ashram dogs were sweet and gentle.
I got Ayurvedic health advice from Shreejan Sita, the programme director and Ayurvedic Yoga Therapist. I discovered enneagrams and TRE (tension, stress and trauma release exercise) and had a tarot card reading, which was surprisingly accurate. I listened to women’s stories.
Apart from the cold and austerity of the ashram, I had a ball.
On New Year’s Eve, we partied. We danced in the vast red tent – friends and village girls – while Guruji and Shree looked on. We chanted around the fire, burning words on bits of paper to dispel the unwanted leftovers of 2019. No champagne. No mind-altering substances at all. We were high on the sisterhood and the freezing cold desert around us.
The year 2020 was not what I expected. The massive devastation left by the bushfires in NSW Australia was heartbreaking. A close friend died. The settlement on the sale of my marital home was difficult. Covid struck. Relationships became strained. My father’s health deteriorated and he died. Family and friends had challenges. All around me, I witnessed stress, heartache and adjustments.
And yet, I had many good times too: a new home and successful renovations; progress, albeit slow, on the writing of my book; friendships were strengthened; my sons’ lives developed, and their relationships grew stronger. I made new friends and found a new community. I have proved to myself how capable I am. And am learning to be more comfortable in my own skin.
This Christmas will not be as joyful as the last. There will be fewer loved ones at my table. Covid 19 has broken out again in NSW and state borders have closed. The virus plagues the world and India is unreachable and suffering more than ever.
But I am lucky. I have family. I have friends. I have health, a comfortable home, an abundance of fresh food, clean air and sunshine. There is much to be grateful for.
I will drink champagne on New Year’s Eve with a friend or two. I will remember last year’s NYE and the year that was. I might light a smudge stick and set some intentions. We’ll see! I have learned that plans need to be fluid. One of my intentions is to not be so hard on myself when they are.
I wish you a safe and gracious Christmas. May you maintain a smile throughout 2021 and infect the world with it.
Utsava Maa, Shri Jasnath Asan, 2019