I had an early and intense education from birth to 17 years old on fitting in and rapid cultural integration, by changing the country I lived in every two to four years. At three months old I left the USA for Malaysia (Malaya then), Spain, Indonesia, The Philippines, and Hong Kong, in that order, with trips back to the US periodically. Always exploring the far reaches, as my father preferred.
It was a rapid learning process finding the familiar in everyone, and certainly learning to respect all cultures, and both genders. It wasn’t something I put a lot of thought into, as the challenge to fit in and keep moving forward with life was constant, in addition to simply enjoying the whirlwind of change, country to country. With so much exposure to every facet of humanity, prejudices were impossible to form – I knew too much already about how alike we all were.
Given such an active childhood, and the many things I hadn’t yet figured out, I gained greatly from learning TM when I was 21. I needed something to put it all together, not that I expected it to take 40-plus years! That was *definitely* not in the brochure or introductory lecture. 🙂
All of the being around the world for so long made it easier to accept Maharishi when I was exposed to Him and His teacher, Brahmananda Saraswati. South East Asia has a lot of similarities to India, except the Himalayas. 🙂 Maharishi never struck me as foreign or exotic, simply Indian. When I was growing up I was always in the racial minority, so a brown face is always more familiar than a white one.
After taking me to temples all my life and having a house filled with Hindu icons and a prominent painting of a Puja, my parents could not have been too surprised when I learned TM.
Coming back to the US is still an education. I am a US citizen though I am always looking in from outside – the rhythms, cultural norms and assumptions, and certainly the look and feel of this place is so completely different from South East Asia. A Japanese fellow I knew said I was a hard boiled egg, yellow (Asian) on the inside and white on the outside. An accurate observation.
I was climbing around Borobudur in Jogjakarta before I had heard of Disneyland, and living by kerosene lamp while my peers in “the states” were watching TV. I saw coconut palms and flame trees before oaks and maples. Fried rice was a staple. I tasted mango, rambutan and papaya long before I ever had an apple, or saw an orange.
This was one of many disconnects I experienced in school using American textbooks – I wasn’t familiar with many of the references, adding to my confusion and boredom with school. I was bright enough to get near perfect grades and even skipped a grade at one point, but for the most part after learning the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic around 11 years old, I was done and found it a dry and stifling experience.
I read voraciously though middle and high school, churning through many of the well known authors. Out of all of them, John Steinbeck is probably my favorite and I read all of his books, along with Herman Hesse, Hemingway, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Kafka, JRR Tolkein, Robert Ludlum, Robert Heinlein, Kahlil Gibran, the late great Richard Brautigan, and many others. As an aside I find reading Shakespeare as tough as reading the Vedas – sitting on a brief paragraph until it overwhelms me. His is cosmic writing.
The United States was always observed from afar as the promised land, typified by me as a young boy by those glossy full color menus available in the diners and casual chains. The variety and color was amazing! I would get lost in the possibilities. Having had no access to much except water buffalo, chicken and fish until I was about 15, I still consider a cheeseburger as high cuisine. People here always find that funny. That is a full day’s meal right there. Cheap and delicious too. I guess this means I am not a vegetarian either :-)… Why would I be??
I have no plans on leaving this strange and wonderful country again, and now my task is to embrace it and love it and heal it, along with the rest of the world.
As the joke goes, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time 🙂