Chapter 17

The Boy with Flip-Flops on his Hands

One of the teachers in our program was an elegant woman who goes by the spiritual name Siddhi, which means “perfection.” She was serene and walked with an unspoken grace that expressed her name. Nothing seemed to upset her except for students who didn’t manage to get to class on time. Siddhi calmly led us through her sub-specialty: mudras, positions mostly of the hands and fingers used for meditation. In most Eastern iconography, deities are portrayed with their hands in these mudras. The guyan mudra is what most people can picture: the tip of the index finger touching the tip of the thumb to form a circle, with the three remaining fingers straightened. But there is a whole range of mudras used to direct energy in the body—change the finger positions and energize a different area of the brain. It’s like a remote control, except you can’t lose it! As a sonogram shows, our development in the womb naturally places our hands and fingers against the head. This alignment is expressed through the energetic process of the mudras; by applying pressure to the fingertips, we stimulate certain areas of the brain. I found Siddhi’s class to be one of the most transformative I encountered in India. I would often feel a tangible energy during mudra meditation. While changing the hand positions, I could feel the force of pulling something through the air, as if I were drawing the energy out of thin air through the tips of my fingers. After the mudra class, Siddhi started to speak about the children of Rishikesh. We were in the midst of a city that swarmed with children, many of them begging for money or selling scribbled portraits of flowers. We had all seen these children and been affected by them. Most of them were thin and dressed in dirty clothing. Very few people could be living in this environment for some time and not wonder how they could help. Do you give them money? If so, how much and to whom? Do you give every time you see them? Because of the sheer volume of children, the issue became more complex. Siddhi focused the discussion on a boy she met on the streets of Rishikesh a few years before. She stopped to give him some coins and realized he was unique among the street kids because he didn’t walk on his feet. He was born with a body so contorted that he crawled on his hands and knees. He wore flip-flops on his hands to protect them from the street and, although his legs sprouted mantis-like from his body, he was startlingly quick. His deformity was the result of a bout of polio when he was younger. He did not know where his parents were, but he had a brother he hadn’t seen for some time. This child lived and slept on the streets alone with begging as his only source of income. When Siddhi expressed concern about him living by himself, the boy responded: “I am not alone. I am never alone. I am always with God. God is always with me.”  Siddhi contemplated what she could do to help this boy, even considering taking him back to her home in Santa Barbara, where she was based. She decided that it might be too much of a shock to remove him from all that he had ever known, and instead arranged to transfer to him a monetary allowance that would cover food and shelter. Because of her, the boy now sleeps on a mattress in a room that she rents, and he has plenty to eat. Yet he has not lost his sense of grace. Siddhi told us that just this past year, she had taken the boy to the market to shop for new clothes. He picked one sweater and seemed to be done. When she prodded him to get a second sweater, he was puzzled. “Why?” he asked. “I already have one.” This story moved me instantly. I thought, I have traveled halfway around the world and spent a great deal of money and time to try and find what this homeless boy already has. The realization was stunning and simple: When nobody else is providing for you in this world, God enters purely. My life would always be so much easier than this boy’s. But I would never know this truth as he does. Sometime after I heard his story, I saw this boy on the suspension bridge in Rishikesh, in a high-traffic tourist area. I approached him and gave him the equivalent of ten dollars. He smiled and thanked me. It was the smallest of gestures and one that likely did much more for me than for him. But of all of the images from India that I brought back with me, the boy with flips-flops on his hands continues to be one of the most vivid. I see him now in my mind, 100 feet above the shimmering mosaic of the Ganga, the wind blowing through his black hair and a breeze of pure light crossing him, carrying love across his face. Gurmukh says often that when you don’t know what to do for somebody, pray for that person. Maybe I couldn’t feed and shelter every child in India, but I could always pray for them. At the end of every kundalini class, we always sing a blessing. To me, the words are perfect: May the long time sun shine upon you All love surround you And the pure light within you Guide your way on.