Our Trip to India: The Journey Home (Day 18)

by Siegfried Othmer | November 11th, 2014

by Siegfried Othmer, PhD

Sue and I have just returned from a sojourn to India, where we taught our training course at the Tibetan Medical Institute, Men-Tsee-Khang.
Day 18

October 3 (Friday)

In the morning the three of us—Barbara, Sue, and I—headed for the Delhi airport to retrace our steps back to LA. We would be flying premium coach on our return, which is quite adequate for retaining one’s dignity since our flights were during the daytime. Here was our chance to take in the scenery along the way. The military guard at the door took an endless amount of time perusing our itinerary. Just what could be so interesting or informative about that? It appeared to be yet another exercise in self-importance. I have the power to keep you here as long as I want, he seemed to be implying. Meanwhile, you can behold my precisely trimmed beard and gaze upon my smartly tailored and meticulously ironed uniform. Not a wrinkle. The military guards did indeed show India in its best light.

A strange shift was taking place. It’s known as the horse heading for the barn. With that re-orientation came a return to my customary time sense. We settled down at yet another Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, and the wait for service was endless. We had the time, but the delay was irritating nonetheless. It was odd that such a triviality would be so irksome. This was perhaps an indication of the cumulative fatigue from the entire adventure, where there had been so little respite. Nerves were getting to be just a bit raw, but this only surfaced once the pressure of performance had been entirely removed.

At the start of the flight, Barbara mosied over and asked whether I might be interested in reading Steven Levine’s treatment of meditation on her Kindle. Of course I was. Levine was one of a number of early adopters who were trying to build a bridge between American psychology and Buddhist approaches to mental wellbeing. The group included Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Sharon Salzberg and Ram Dass. This was back in the 1970’s, and the two epicenters of this activity were San Francisco and Cambridge, Mass. The book, titled A Gradual Awakening, sucked me in and occupied me for most of the rest of the trip. The book gave a very accessible entrée into meditation, and went on from there. It had been the original impetus for Barbara’s long-term interest in Buddhist psychology.

The flight plan had us retracing the flight path that had been laid out on our inbound flight. It was slated to retrace the course of MH 17 right over Ukraine. Before getting there, though, we had to pass over Afghanistan. I found myself gazing at an utterly bleak place, a moonscape. I could see no sign of human impact anywhere. We were cutting across the mountainous northeast region. By the time we got to the longitude of Ukraine, the path had been shifted northward into Russia just as on the inbound flight. We continued on a northerly trajectory, even flying north of Berlin to reach our destination.

In London we stayed at the Hilton right at Heathrow Terminal 4. This did, however, require us to enter Great Britain by going through passport control. We found ourselves within a sea of travelers, some that had just arrived from Africa. Was Ebola on our minds? Of course. Our society is once again launched on its pacification campaign, doing its best to diminish the sense of risk. That works only so long as government utterances retain their credibility. Transmission only via bodily fluids? A single sneeze efficiently aerosolizes bodily fluids, which then remain suspended in the air by Brownian motion. Non-infection in the absence of a fever? Some cases of Ebola are not accompanied by fever. 101.5 degree threshold on fever. Really? Three-week incubation period, period. And the evidence for this is what exactly? In any event, biological systems cannot be nailed down with that kind of specificity. No risk of infection unless a person is symptomatic? All sorts of diseases are transmitted during that interval while people are infectious but not yet aware that they are sick and should be home in bed, thus quarantining themselves.

Reality does not conform to the elegant simplicity of a CDC public announcement. These are the same folks who downplay Lyme disease. Hospital-based infections have been a growing scourge for some years. By now we are losing 500 souls per week to superbugs in the US, and yet we are still feeding antibiotics routinely to livestock. In West Africa we are facing a doubling time of a month in the severity of the problem. That’s a growth rate as bad as payday loans! Once a response is decided upon, one wishes that it had been mounted a month earlier. And yet everything that has happened has been largely predictable.

Our Trip to India Continues

The Journey Home: Day 19

Siegfried Othmer, PhD

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