Being Here Now: Lesson One from Aashray


I have been putting off the writing of this next blog post. I find myself wanting to write about the wild, foreign-ness that is India and fill you up with the details of my life here. I have even started a few posts similar to the last one with stories about how the tea and coffee is served with raw buffalo milk so fatty that it leaves a ring around the mug. And that being a woman here can feel so isolating sometimes unless you have a man to escort you and do all the negotiating! And those things are true and real and I am likely to write more about them later. But truthfully I also want to shield all of you from some of the things I have seen and heard here.

I so appreciate those of you who take your time to read what I am up to and share your thoughts and blessings. Because of you I am reminded of our interdependence and it makes me feel stronger while I am worlds away from you. But I think in all of us, there is a part that wants to keep living somewhat blindly to the horrors of the rest of the world. It is painful to let this kind of sadness and tragedy into our worlds and to sit with unrest, unknowing, and a feeling of helplessness. That part lives in me, too believe it or not. It is a part of me that feels so much pain for others as though it were my own, and a part that is afraid that no matter how much work we do in this world, that nothing will ever change. But to be honest, the scariest thing I can think of, is to develop complacency for the suffering in the world. I think we are more healthy, the more we let ourselves feel. It keeps us out of denial and strengthens our sense of global identity, community and responsibility. Knowing what is happening on our very own planet empowers us, makes us feel righteous, and a sense of ownership for each of our unique and important visions. Knowing what is happening in our world also requires that we stay in integrity with ourselves so that when we begin to feel ourselves dissociate from too much input, or too much intensity, we can take care and say, “Enough!”

So please read on, and feel, and take it in, and breathe deeply, and pause when you need to. I am here and I am doing the same thing, even as I write.

The government of India has received reports of abuse and neglect in a few of their so-called safe houses for children. As such, many of them are now under full time surveillance. Let me be clear when I say that there is absolutely no abuse happening at Aashray. STOP India has provided a safe haven for these girls and the staff are all wonderful and provide excellent care and guidance for the girls. It is difficult to know what the truth is behind the surveillance and the new rules which state that no one outside the home is allowed to stay overnight except for full time staff. But as a consequence, I am no longer allowed to stay at Aashray Family Home. This is a bummer for me because I want to be available to the girls as much as possible and the home is a 2 hour drive away from where I am staying. And of course you would never just hire a taxi because there are only certain drivers allowed to know where the home is located in order to keep the girls safe. That being said, it is simply a matter of Roma scheduling the drivers and me preparing for commuting in Delhi for 4 hours total each visit. Small price to pay in the grand scheme of things.

I visited Aashray Family Home on Friday and spent my first day with the girls who call it home. I treated 7 of the sickest girls throughout the day. In the days leading up to my visit, I was sporadically taking down the medical histories of some of these girls. Skeletal tuberculosis, pulmonary tuberculosis, broken tailbones, edema, diabetes, severe idiopathic body pains, hip displacement, depression, and many others. All of these girls have been rescued from a sex-trafficking situation, and mostly from brothels.

I noticed I was starting to develop an image in my mind as to what these girls might look like and present like prior to meeting them. Much like you probably have, too in reading this. I was thinking that maybe they would be shy and with a sense of broken-ness about them. I was thinking that eye contact would be sparse and that they would be terrified of acupuncture. What would you think?

It is a 2 hour (completely insane) drive from STOP headquarters to Aashray so as to keep the girls out of the chaos that is New Delhi and give them access to nature and quiet and a feeling of safety. The building that they live in is surrounded by a tall concrete wall with barbed wire on the top and the front gate is under full time watch. When we pulled up in our van and honked the horn to announce our arrival, the girls came running out to greet us with big beautiful smiles and hugs. They took our bags and handed us lemonade, telling us to “Please have a seat.” They were so hospitable and sweet. They were all instructed to call me Doctor Mindi (because of my level and years of training, I am considered a doctor here, even though in the US I am not.)

Little Rupa, Sneha, & Jyoti

These girls were just like any girls their age! Not at all what I had created in my mind. Granted, most of the ones I was meeting had been through rehabilitation for one or more years now thanks to STOP. But they were vibrant, secretive like adolescent girls can be, and so silly! I was so wrong about them!

We rested for a short while after the drive and then I went upstairs to the medical room that was set up and began seeing the girls for treatments. The girls piled into the treatment room, so eager to see what was to come. They watched me remove each and every item from my bags and picked things up for closer inspection. They stared at me when I wasn’t looking and giggled when I spoke to them in broken Hindi. Before I knew it, the girls who I had been hearing about were now surrounding me and sitting in front of me on a treatment table, with their small, soft hands resting in mine and their dark, penetrating eyes gazing up at me, Doctor Mindi.

As I listened intently to their pulses, I couldn’t help but to notice the occasional flooding of their stories through my mind. Not to mention, these girls are littered in torture marks; scars from cigarette burns on their scalps and all the way down to the underside of their feet as well as marks from lashings on their backs and gashes on their abdomens and breasts – likely punishment for crying out in pain while being raped or from being too sick to work. One girl has a burn covering half of her face and several others walk with limps, some slight and others more obvious. Whew. These girls are just girls, even now. Eleven, 14, 15, 17 years old. How could anyone inflict such violence on these precious, beautiful girls? It is so much to take in.

My eyes would fill with tears and my heart would sink heavily into my chest as these thoughts came in and the torture marks were becoming exposed during treatment. I would feel so overwhelmed with emotion and pain: fear, outrage, despair. My stomach tied in knots and I could feel myself dissociating.

As soon as I noticed myself “leaving the room,” I would allow my gaze to return to the soft eyes of the girls in front of me and hear their excitement and fears about getting acupuncture (mostly in the form of squeals and nervous laughter) and was able to come back to them and back into my heart. Ahh. It is nearly impossible to hold these stories in my mind and heart AND be the best practitioner I can be to these girls. Not only that, but it wont serve them at all in their own healing. What a journey.

I called on my basic shamatha meditation practice as best I could. This is where you focus your attention on your breath, both the inhale and the exhale. Then as you notice thoughts arising, they are given no specific value. So when they show up, no matter how tempting they are to attach to, you just label them with “thinking” and move back into your breath. This is a very simple practice for arriving in the present moment. For me with the girls, it went something like this…

“This girl was sold by her own family. …thinking…inhaling….. Exhaling…Is that a cigarette burn on her neck? …thinking… I hate Indian men…thinking… inhaling…exhaling… How could someone violate this precious child? …thinking… inhaling… Exhaling…I wonder if I could adopt this girl and bring her home? …thinking…inhaling…exhaling… I am so angry, I cant concentrate. …thinking…

You get the picture.

I practiced this for several hours while spending this most amazing time with the girls at Aashray. This was probably the most challenging practice I have ever had. But I didn’t want to be holding their stories in my mind while I was working with their delicate and resilient little bodies, bright minds, and strong spirits. Clearly they were not lying there thinking about the past. Why should I?

I wanted to hold their light and their smiles, their strength of spirit, their possibilities instead. I wanted to hold their potential to heal, in my heart and in my fingertips as I treated them. I wanted to help them end this cycle of trauma and violence and not create an identity around it. I wanted to empower them.

This is the work that feels so important.

So, day one at Aashray…heart-opening, tenderizing, expanding my capacity to love each of them, feel protective of them, and to better help and empower the girls by staying in the present and in my heart-seat. Allowing myself to be angry. Allowing myself to be sad. Allowing myself to be scared. Simply allowing myself to be. Be. Here. Now.

P.s. Please don’t forget that it was all of you who have made this possible. I have not forgotten. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Below are some photos of my treatment room where I am treating Rama, Shehkar, the STOP staff, and the Aashray girls who are not in school…

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