One thing that I really liked in India were all the shrines or prayer rooms throughout the country. I'm not talking solely about the public ones, but everyone we visited seemed to have a shrine in their private homes, at their work and even at the airports. Although at the airport they are labelled as prayer rooms. What I like about it is the act of practice (or in other words - a ritual) that is in service of holding and maintaining a sense of presence about a value or quality that is important to you. In India there are obviously so many Gods and Goddesses, however, in your moment of practice and presencing you focus on the one whose qualities represent that which you want to develop within your self. I love that, it's a very developmental attitude, having you grow and stretch and expand.
Our Western culture fosters thinking that has us rush out of bed in the morning, jump into the shower, and race off to work. Inside that Western thinking of constant output, performance pressure and going after our societal expectations and daily responsibilities, we get so consumed by these ways of living, you kinda' wonder whose life are you really living? Whose values are you really executing? And who said that's the way? Who made this the norm?
That's not to say that Indians are not impacted by their version of traditional and societal expectations, but I do see the power that lies in such daily "anchoring". Having a physical shrine, from my perspective, invites a "space" to do so, meaning to anchor oneself...for a few moments, before we get consumed by the external demands and responsibilities. It's a reminder and an invitation to take out the time before you enter the frenzy out there, and anchor yourself into the values and qualities you worship in the God-statue in front of you. As mentioned, I think the statue is basically just a symbolic reminder of those qualities one resonates with and desires to develop within oneself. For that matter you could really place anything in front of you, for its purpose is holding focus on the qualities it represents to you. Or it could be as simple as lighting a candle, or an incense. Basically it's about shifting attention, noticing unconscious (autopilot) attention and shift it into a conscious focus. That's the point of the practice of a daily ritual...shifting into conscious awareness of what you desire to develop and create for your day...or perhaps your life.
Whatever the Indian's underlying motivation, just doing so is part of a daily routine. It's normal, and it seems to be done in front of everyone. I remember seeing a shrine at Hemali's apartment, our tourist guide in Mumbai, when she invited us to her place for a home-made afternoon refresher as it was terribly hot outside! She made the most unbelievable, delicious and refreshing lemonade, followed by freshly blended mango juice and some food I can not pronounce. Anyhow, the shrine was right there in the living room. I assume it was shared by her, her husband, her daughter and her mother-in-law living all together.
I also recall being very surprised to see a little shrine in an office environment in Amritsar, North of India, bordering Pakistan, where we spent a couple of hours at the software company whom Mark has been developing a complex website with for the past year. These little personal shrines are mostly self-made and comprised of one or two divine statues, some incense or candles, and a few personal things, including pictures of beloved ones that passed away.
Talking about Amritsar, I was amazed by the care and generosity we experienced, just like we did with Hemali, and also Masarrat in Mumbai. When we entered the office, there was a row of about 10 employees standing in the middle of the room welcoming us and handing me a bouquet full of roses. On the floor was a colorful beautiful crafted piece of art saying "Welcome". I'm not sure what it was made of, but it was of colored powder or sandy substance artfully created by two employees of that company. Also the mirror had red hand lettering saying "Welcome", and there was a marker board saying "Welcome Mark and Tatjana". Everything was very simple, yet deeply thoughtful. These are people I have never met in my life, yet they put so much time, and care and effort into generating such a warm and beautiful experience for Mark and me in India. We were blown away by the care that we experienced. So what about us Westerners? Do you notice how quickly we feel "inconvenienced" as soon as someone "interrupts" our daily schedule, our routine of duties, and responsibilities for the day?
Anyhow, getting back to the shrines and the daily practices. It reflects what I would call a rooting and anchoring into a sense of Self sourced from within. The Indians seem, from my perspective, to value the fostering of a rich inner life, holding conscious and grounding a sense of Self that lives inside a space of wholesome qualities and values before going out and about and engage in the external structures of one's daily lives. Me coming from a perspective that loves constant self-growth and evolution I see this practice as a contribution and expansion into a deeper sense of Self that lies outside of our old (false) sense of self. In other words it's another part of us that does not source its meaning and identity from external success, achievements, money, status, etc. It's not making its existence contingent on values of external success. I know that was a mouthful. And it requires one to consider that the identity one has created inside a Western culture may not necessarily be all that one is. There is more to you. Traveling into other lands allows you to question the sense of self you have created thus far, and inquire into the underlying cultural and personal structure that has generated this kind of consciousness defining one's sense of self. It's when you step out of the familiar and get to draw a comparison to something different that we come to realize that the identity we have crafted inside our particular culture may largely arise out of reactions to the environment and beliefs that are specific to our culture. So then the question becomes who would you be if you were raised somewhere else? What kind of sense of identity would you have created, and where are you sourcing that from? In short, a sense of self, or your identity is therefore not fixed. It's adjustable. It has plasticity.
Sourcing a sense of self from within oneself (versus making one's identity contingent on external events) creates a much more stable and solid foundation that is less likely to rock one's boat in the event these external structures fall apart. Sooner or later we all experience changes and shifts in our external relationships (aging, divorce), job displacements, and other societal or economic changes. It's moments as such that can become the catalyst for us to begin reflecting (going inward) and ask "who am I apart from these roles? Who am I outside of my self image I crafted at work, inside my relationship etc. while I was consumed and immersed by those roles and expectations and responsibilities I sourced my sense of an identity from? Without being connected to one's own inner authentic values, confidence, truth and knowing we can easily get confused and become insecure while navigating the external world. Especially when the world is in flux. In fact, I'm going to dare to say that many of us, including myself, were born "lost" as most of us didn't have this model of developing trust and belief in oneself, so we looked outward, seeking affirmation and fishing for attention so as to confirm our value and self-worth from external structures...and so the circle continues, perhaps from generation to generation all looking for something to fill that gap! If it's not a person, it's a car, or a house, or a career, or one's beauty, or a god, a paradigm, etc. A legacy and lineage that can be stopped the moment we stop the frenzy and start reflecting, shifting the inquiry into our own inner truth and sourcing value from there. I call it one's authentic self.
Anywhoozy, let's talk deep like that another time. But traveling to other cultures does definitely have the tendency to expand ones peripheral vision, and therefore awareness. So, if you get the opportunity, go for it!