All real enjoyment is as good, from the point of view of energy production and conservation, as suffering. —J.G. Bennett


My place is where I am, and your place is where you are. Not only have I got to bear my own situation, I have to bear your situation also. First of all I have to bear the truth about myself and little by little I have to bear all truths —J.G. Bennett


Penelope Sullivan

From Kerala, India to the Market Basket in Athol, Massachusetts

We are nearing the end of our remarkable 15-day pilgrimage from the southeast of India across to the southwest, visiting temples and other holy sites. We’re staying at the aptly-named Fragrant Nature Backwater Resort and Ayurveda Spa on Lake Paravur in Kollam, Kerala, India. The name is fitting because the resort’s small villas and huts are lushly surrounded with flamboyant and exotic plants and flowers which exude potent perfumes.

On this day, we embark on a small boat tour around nearby islands on the large, serene lake. We watch patient fishermen submerging themselves with their baskets to await their catch. The sun is warm on my skin and a soft breeze ruffles my hair.

This group of pilgrims has bonded over the past two weeks and we ease into a shared silence. We point out dazzling birds and laughing children waving from the shoreline. It is a deep silence and the peace behind it is tangible. The soft put-put of the engine is hypnotic. Time shifts and I am unsure where I am. I could be in any century, as the way of life here has changed so little.

That evening at our gathering and sharing, our tour guide suggests that we start to prepare for our re-entry back to our other lives at home, as our return flights are just a couple of days away. I feel a resistance but the preparation is necessary. My other life examined from this ambrosial setting seems distant, confining, and rather dull.

The following day during our morning sitting, a mental image unexpectedly comes to me. This visual image is of me by the shopping carts in the Market Basket supermarket back home. I am just standing there holding the handle of a shopping cart, looking around and taking in impressions. It is a bizarre image to have at the Fragrant Nature Backwater Resort and Ayurveda Spa in Kollam, Kerala, India.  At breakfast I mention it to our leader and we laugh together at this singular perception. It seems so mundane.

Several weeks later, now back home, I park the car at the Market Basket and the same visual image comes to mind again. I had quite forgotten about it but decide to act as the image suggests. Accordingly, I stand by the shopping carts, hold on to the handle and take in the impressions. And there are many. I take in loud announcements over the scratchy intercom, then muzak, holiday-appropriate bunting and flags, aisles and aisles of goods and produce, colors, advertisements, bright lights, and people.

It is astonishingly overwhelming—an assault on all the senses. As I progress through the store, I continue at intervals to just pause and take everything in. I notice that I am calmer than usual, feeling less rushed, especially in the check-out line where I have habitually felt impatient, irritable, and judgmental.

Since that day, more than two and a half years ago, every time I go to this store, maybe every three or four weeks, this visual image has come to me, except for two occasions. The first was when I entered by the main door instead of the side door so I was oriented differently to the shopping carts. The second was when someone gave me their cart in the parking lot, so I missed the opportunity to stand by the carts and ground myself. Both times the shopping experience was quite altered, even unpleasant, and it was only when I was in the checkout line that I woke up to my negative state.

Whenever I think about going to the store, or even just think about the store, for instance when the flyer comes in the mail, this visual image comes to me. It connects me to the Fragrant Nature Backwater Resort and Ayurveda Spa in Kollam, Kerala, India—and to that profound silence.