Transitions | India | Living in Mexico

Transitions

My life can be divided into four parts: childhood, dissolute youth, father and worker, and retiree. Some people retreat to lives of pastimes and parties, some to new careers, some in San Miguel spend much of their retirements sitting on the benches in the jardín facing the Parroquoia—a location known as The Waiting Room.

In the fourth phase of life, I see retirement as freedom to release my inner teen, to become playful, to take myself less seriously. A friend proposed this image: a man wandering around town wearing an earring and a guayabara, playing guitar and carrying a parrot on his shoulder.

I'm too straight for that. While I haven't fully regressed to adolescence, I've seen some major transitions during the last five years. I've stopped working. I've left the USA and become a permanent resident of Mexico. I've transformed myself from a techie to a traveler. I've had a heart attack and have had a defibrillator implanted. I take much better care of myself.

The year 2008 saw one more large transition: Jean and I separated in January after more than twenty-three years of marriage. Our divorce became final this month, setting us on different, independent paths. I wish Jean happiness and fulfillment on hers.

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To ease their transitions into non-working lives, Indians can't call on IRAs, Social Security or pensions. They don't play golf or go on cruises or join bridge clubs. Most work for far too long and then rely on their children when they can't work anymore. But there is an Indian retirement plan: Becoming a Sadhu. I photographed a half dozen of them sitting along the railway from Pathankot to Jodhpur.

SA01

Sandhus have left worldly life behind, renouncing all material things to pursue their last years attaining Moksha, meaning liberation, by meditating and contemplating God. A Sadhu has entered the fourth phase of a devout male Hindu's life, after being a student, a father and a pilgrim. The fourth phase of their lives is profoundly different from mine.

Sadhus live lives of privation. Some spend years in caves meditating, others live in monasteries, still others walk throughout India blessing all those who intersect their paths, as did this Sadhu when I met him. He was immediately recognizable by the ochre clothing he wore.

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In the photo you can see he is standing on one leg, one of the forms of privation practiced by Sadhus. He greeted me and I put fifty rupees (about a dollar) in his brass basket. He tied an amulet made from an exotic seed on my arm with red and ochre homespun cotton string. Then he kissed my hand and my forehead and blessed me. I experienced some kind of transformation—a healing spirit entered me.

Some Sadhus practice Hatha Yoga, purifying their bodies to prepare themselves for a higher form of meditation. On the web, I found this image of a Sadhu practicing an extreme form of privation. Is he meditating? Is he practicing yoga? How many hours has he been hanging there?

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Image found on the web.

Theirs is a retirement of rigor. A few came to this stage from lives of privilege. Their example causes me to contemplate my less dedicated life. What do they see that I don't?

Some people say that Sadhus use their status to enhance success in begging, practiced by so many in India. Beggars greet travelers everywhere; theirs is a competitive calling. The deformed earn more than the whole, and Sadhus seem to earn more than everyone else. But clearly they're not getting rich.

The man who blessed me was no professional beggar. He had a holy aura such as I've seen only a few times: once a nun whose eyes were peaceful pools reflecting God, another time a Zen master who effortlessly read my discomfort as easily as if he were reading the comics. Through renunciation and asceticism, the Sadhu I met had found a serenity and spirituality most of us cannot even imagine.

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