in 2010 on the last night of a 10 day vipassana silent meditation course in markal, india (just north of pune) i became violently ill and dizzy. it's not fun being sick, but especially unpleasant being sick in a foreign country where little english is spoken or understood. the long story, like most post travel to india, is filled with fairytale like moments that don't seem possible on the earthly plane.
i'll give you the short of it: on the grounds of the meditation retreat i was starting to lose it. i really thought i could die…perhaps i caught some crazy disease and had hours to live…seriously. everyone was leaving the center and i didn't know how i could travel under the circumstances. i could barely walk. after some time surrounded by indian men (who had also just finished the intense course) scratching their heads coming up with crackpot schemes to save the sick american man, a buddhist monk approached me, placed his hand on my forehead, and told me to close my eyes. after a moment he said i would be ok, and for me this was the beginning of letting go. he invited me to ride with he and his friends in an already packed car. i sat on the monks lap in the backseat with my backpack perched on my neck. the ride into pune wasn't long, but it felt like eternity. the car overheated, and several times we pulled over so i could be sick. the monk rubbed my back, and a woman pulled an image of buddha from her bag and handed it to me. "here, buddha will take care of you". i had no choice but to submit to this process of being taken care of, by these people, by buddha. the monk took me back to his monastery, in a very poor buddhist community within pune city. he and the other monks put me to rest on a makeshift bed. underneath the bed were the monks alms bowls. over the next few days, this community nursed me back to health. after sleep i would always wake to a bag of bananas, rice, and/or a coconut by my side. when i was up and walking again, i was invited into the homes of neighbors and fed. one boy atish and his mother who lived directly across the street took a particular interest in me. one night they fed me. we sat in their 10 foot squared home where atish, his three sisters, and mother slept. his father passed a few years before. after i ate they presented me with a small acrylic statue of buddha as a gift for being a guest in their home. it brought me to tears. i've never in my life been taken care of with such selfless loving kindness. it's something we should all have the opportunity to experience, if only once. it was a practice just for me to accept my helplessness in the situation. here i was, the westerner, seemingly having everything in the world, and there they were seemingly having very little. but in the end they had exactly what i needed. love, and attention.
over the next few days i slept on the monastery floor at night and was woken early each day by a couple of young monks chanting through the loudspeaker. the sound filled the neighborhood, and the boys were most certainly happy to return to sleeping when they finished…back onto the floor under the blankets, rolling to their sides, moaning a little, and back to sleep. in the daytime young people of the community would come to see the westerner who happened upon their home. with barely a word of english, we played games, they performed dances for me, and we took photos of each other. it was an accidental experiment in crossing cultures which wouldn't normally meet under any circumstances. and after three days, they bought me a bus ticket and sent me back into india.
i will never forget this community and their willingness, no. not even willingness…for them it was dharma (duty). they didn't will anything. they simply did what needed to be done, and i am forever grateful.