It’s the signs that get me. NO DUMPING GARBAGE HERE! This would lead to the inevitability of piles of garbage being dumped all around the base of the sign, as though it were a clear indication as to where garbage should by dumped by the roadside.
There is hope, though. Once a pile became large enough, and the cows, buffalos and pigs had eaten what was edible (and some of what wasn’t), some helpful locals would simply set fire to the pile, in a makeshift low-tech version of a combustion incinerator. With the tourist season approaching, the race was on to also rid the beach of trash. After all, there is little tourist appeal in a beach littered with debris at every second step.
Slowly but surely, over the course of several weeks, the beach was picked clean by groups of families who also reaped the benefits of what finding what treasures lay amidst the waste. The remaining debris was all piled by the main beach access in Calangute. And then one fine, clear evening, as we were enjoying a lovely meal at one of the spectacular beachside restaurants, they lit the pile. It was like a ritual purging for the town. Apparently the notion that burning garbage might be toxic or harmful in any way had not crossed their minds. Indians do not live by such ideas as these. The reverence for life is greater to them than the fear of the ill. And so they create their own reality, one where you live what you believe.
It was the same with smoking. Despite the ambient pollution from the fires and unregulated exhaust, everyone seemed to feel that adding to the haze with burning sticks of tobacco would have no negative effect on their health. It was explained to me thus by one of the doctors at the Ayurvedic center: “When you believe something is bad for you, your body will align with your belief to make that true, and it will have a bad effect on you. When you believe that it is not bad for you, or you believe that is serves another purpose, to balance you, it can have a positive effect. But smoking is bad. Do not smoke.”
This dichotomy permeates Indian life. Believe what you will, for it shall become your reality, and yet, be mindful of how you treat your physical body. As these ideas gain ground in Western New Age mythology, I couldn’t help wonder, once again, if the people of India weren’t living so far behind our cultural myths as to be ahead of us, by being aware of how our perception creates our reality.
For example, studies on people with Multiple Personality Disorder have shown that one personality might have an illness which can be diagnosed, showing clear symptoms, and yet have another personality which shows no trace of the illness. Studies on the placebo effect have also shown that subjects who are aware that the medicine they are taking is a placebo will still show a benefit from the medicine, as though some measure of belief in the potential of the substance is still able to have an effect on their physical beings.
So what is this, a hologram? Is reality “Maya”, a great illusion, as the enlightened teachers of India have long taught? These are things that we have come to feel and think while living in a place where the notions of reality have fluid boundaries, and yet, the suffering, the poverty, the struggle for survival are present everywhere you look. Is life an experiment in coming to terms with how much control we actually have over our reality? Quantum physics, metaphysics, and religion have long told us so. My own personal experiences at the edge of consciousness have brought these questions to the forefront. India has certainly put them to the test. The rest, I feel, is for each of us to figure out. Science and Religion may attempt to fill in the cracks, but our relationship with reality and the divine is as unique as each of us.