Checking My Attitude

“Be the change you wish to see in the world”. It was written everywhere. It was on the paper flowers pinned onto us every time we went somewhere new. It was painted on the walls. It was written on shirts. Be the change. The past four days were spent in Ahmedadbad. No internet. No air conditioning. Indian toilets. Bucket showers. Reflection. Perspectives.

We stepped off our bus at the airport and were immediately greeted by a huge crowd of cheering women in bright and beautiful saris. We were at a sanitation ashram. Ashram is Hindi for simple living. It was simple living all right. It was hot and sticky. The bathrooms were without toilet paper but not without bugs and lizards. I was uncomfortable. Things weren’t going my way. I was getting sucked into a dark tunnel of negativity. External factors outside of my control were affecting my internal experience which was inside of my control.

I needed to change my attitude. I remembered a quote I had seen many times as a young child on my mother’s Mary Engelbreit calendars: “If you don’t like something change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it”. Maybe I couldn’t change the fact that it was hot and there were mosquitos. But I could change my attitude about it. I could stop focusing on all of the seemingly negative things happening and focus on the more positive ones. I needed to find inner peace. I realized it was wrong to let the external forces out of my hands control my experience in Ahmedadbad. I had more control over my situation than I originally knew. If I could get my attitude in check the external factors outside of my power would not control me. I could in fact change they way I thought about my situation at the ashram.

I learned a prayer in my Catholic elementary school: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”. It was referenced during a prayer service we had the next day. The prayer came into play during our community visits to surrounding villages. The visit marked the change in my attitude.

We pulled up to the village school to be met by rows and rows of children sitting cross legged on the ground. Stepping off the bus we were greeted by loud cheers. We walked up an aisle between the rows of children and took our seats in the front of the group. They waited 45 minutes in the hot sun for us to arrive. We spent maybe 25 minutes with them. That would be enough to make me grumpy. But they weren’t. They were excited and happy to see us. It was incredible. There enthusiasm was contagious. It gave me a certain kind of control.  I hardly noticed the temperature outside and the drops of sweat glistening on my face. They gave me an attitude check.

We then traveled inside of the village where we met the host families we were to be having lunch with. Everyone in our group was separated and we each went with different families. The families did not speak English. I did not speak Gujarati. A lot of sign language went on. I was welcomed into three different houses. I was given tours of their homes. I rode on a motorcycle through the dirt streets to the town delegate’s house. I met his two boys and took pictures with his family. His wife pointed to a picture on the wall and then pointed at me, indicating that they were going to hang the pictures they took of me on the wall. I was flattered and embarrassed. All the negativity I had been feeling the past couple of days made me feel that I didn’t deserve that honor. It was another an attitude check.

Going to the village and seeing some of the most welcoming people I have every met did a lot to change my perspective on our experience in Ahmedadbad. I realized there are more than just external pleasures. There are internal ones too. I realized I can’t change the weather or the amount of bugs. I cannot expect there to be western toilets in rural India. I can change my attitude about them though. I can be more like the village people. I can be happy and welcoming even when things don’t seem to be going my way.

Ahmedadbad gave me a chance to reflect on my situation. It gave me a chance to examine my situation from a new perspective. I will admit that it is nice to be back at the cricket club with air conditioning, comfy lounge chairs, and toilet paper. However, I also know that it is possible to be happy without those things. The village people were an example of that. Their less than ideal living conditions did not dictate their overall happiness. There was no resentment that I came from America or took pictures of their village with my iPhone. There was only curiosity and excitement for the strange girl in their villages. They showed me that external pleasures do not need to determine my happiness. I can determine my own happiness by controlling my attitude. It is not easy, but it is something I should be striving for.

Will I move to an Indian ashram? Maybe not. Regardless, the experience of living in one for four days gave me a new and extremely valuable perspective. It gave me “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can and the wisdom to know the difference”. That is enough for me.