When I told my Jewish, slightly over-protective, hyper-logical mother that I had decided to spend my college semester abroad learning to meditate at a Buddhist monastery in India, her concerns, comments and questions were as follows ― numerically ordered to indicate her level of worry:
What if you decide to convert to Buddhism and stop being a Jew?
What if my grandchildren aren’t Jewish because you’re now a Buddhist and no longer a Jew?
How are you going to manage your anxiety?
Why wouldn’t you just go to France, where you speak the language?
Why can’t you meditate in America?
What will you do if you get sick?
Is it like Eat Pray Love?
Is this really necessary?
How often can you call home?
And most importantly, do they have toilet paper?
My reasoning behind the choice to spend my semester abroad this way had been less linear ― more driven by gut and curiosity than by the constant ping-pong of “what ifs” that lives inside my brain during most waking hours.
As I sat in the dean’s office finishing my final registration papers and second-guessing myself into going to Paris or Dublin instead, something in me signed on the dotted line faster than my brain could tell my pen to halt. When else am I going to get a chance to live in a Buddhist monastery in the northeast of India with 36 other college kids trying to figure out what life is all about?
I wish I could tell you that it proved the most magical three months of my life. That I came back glowing, lighter, relieved of my neuroses and a fan of curry. That I ate and that I prayed and that I loved. That meditation stilled me and cleared the gunk. But that isn’t the truth.
Instead, I found myself face-to-face with my own anxiety ― with my fear of uncertainty, with my attachment to material comfort, with my shaky sense of self, with my inability to sit still, and with the ways I didn’t like myself.
The months I spent in India left me unhinged and dismantled. So much so that I had to...