A Mind Once Stretched (India – Week #026)

The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson


Contemplating at Temple in India

Contemplating at Temple in India

Have you ever stopped to consider that an eternity, one’s destiny, can change in the blink of an eye?

Me at 12 and 52

Me at 12 and 52

Just yesterday, I was a lanky, red-headed 12 year old not realizing there was a blank canvas ahead of me beckoning me to paint the masterpiece of my life. Blink, blink. I am a 52 year old professional, not quite so lanky, with white hair prominent where red used to flourish wondering how more than half my life span could pass so quickly.

All Grown Up!

My Kids All Grown Up!

Just yesterday, my new born children, were swaddled in blankets and nestled in my arms as I read the “ABC” book by Dr Seuss (the greatest children’s book ever written) to them before laying them into bed for the night. Blink. Blink. I open my eyes and discover they are fully independent adults contributing to society.

I am afraid to blink again for fear that I will open my eyes and find them holding my completely dependent hand as I blink my final blink on earth. That blink will come a bit easier to me with the knowledge that the three of them are the masterpieces on my canvas, living masterpieces able and free to paint their own amazing future, one far more amazing than I could ever have dreamed for them.

Moving to India, March 2013

Moving to India, March 2013

Just yesterday, I was both nervous and excited as I boarded a plane in Chicago to begin a two year adventure in the mysterious, far Eastern land of India. Blink. Blink. I have been living in India for six months and find myself worried that I am not fully maximizing this experience and excited that I still have a year and a half ahead of me to continue adding the color of India to the canvas of my life.

If I blink now, will I open my eyes and find myself back home in Chicago with India a fading memory? That’s a possibility, though, an unlikely one. There are aspects of home, primarily people, I miss and wish were part of my daily life, however, India still has much to to teach me so going home now would be premature.

Still, I dare not blink for one never truly knows what happens when eyes are closed. Does the world cease to exist? Does reality stop when light ceases to penetrate the eye? Do other’s exist solely when I can see them? Will I wake up and find I was only dreaming of living in India?

As I write this, I am sitting in Goa, India 6 months to the day since I settled in the cradle of the most ancient continuous civilization on planet Earth. I wake every morning amazed at the blessing that sees me living here.

As of today, my mind has had had six months to expand, six months to push me out of my comfort zone, six months to become more pliable, six months to stretch with experiences one can never realize growing up in the safety and comfort of one’s native land.


Highlights of My First 6 Months

Work: I really enjoy my work. After years of People Management, I was not keen on returning Project Management. I agreed to return to projects because it opened the door that allowed me to move to India.  A core responsibility of leadership, people or project, is to selflessly help people grow, to help them see beyond their own preconceived limitations, then guide them along the path to their potential. This is what I did during my coaching days when I sought to build into the youth I coached. Those days were undoubtedly some of the most rewarding years of my life. It is what I did as a people manager and is what I incorporate into project management.

The work force here is young and enthusiastic. I love working with enthusiastic people as they tend to be driven to make their mark and exude and enthusiasm that feeds me. I give them big challenges and thrill as many exceed their own expectations. In late October, I will begin running the third installment of my self-developed leadership training program for the leaders on my project team and, shortly thereafter, for other leaders in the organization. It will be interesting to see how I need to adjust my materials so they are relevant to a different culture. I love helping leaders grow so this should make my time in India even more exciting.

My plan: By the time I leave India, the people whom I am privileged to lead will be flourishing in their expanded roles, fully independent of the gardener that strove to help them grow. My desire is that the student outshines the sensei.

Travel: An allure of being in India is that it’s a vast country with amazing history and has a unique, decidedly non Western, culture both which make it ripe for exploration. And, it’s a few hours away from other countries which would be more difficult to visit if I was still living in the US. A recent trip to the Philippines is one that I would have been less likely to undertake had I been required to fly all the way from Chicago.

Prior to the monsoons, I spent time visiting local temples including Bhuleshwar Temple which was particularly impressive. I love exploring man’s creations to gods as they typically portray man at his most creative. Creativity, it seems to me, is when man most reflects the glory of his gods.

I visited Agakhan Palace where the British imprisoned Mahatma Gandhi in a vain attempt to squelch his message of freedom for the oppressed Indians. It was inspiring to realize that I was walking in the footsteps of one of this century’s greatest leaders, a man whose humility rocked the arrogant British empire and brought it to it’s knees. I find it ironic that another of the greatest leaders of the 20th century, Winston Churchill, was anti Gandhi. I guess it shows that even the greatest of leaders are blind in some areas of their lives.

Food: The food in India is outstanding. True, it’s difficult to get my beloved beef her, yet, I rarely find myself missing it. The craving I had for beef in the US has become virtually non existent. I am a hard core meat eater yet find myself relishing vegetarian meals because the spices transform veggies into mouthwatering delectables.  The sheer variety of spice transforms many potentially bland meals into savory dishes with flavors that at first tease then hypnotize my taste buds. Not wanting to get stuck in a cuisine rut and possibly miss the next taste sensation, when I go out with people for a meal, I almost always have them order something they enjoy for my meal.  This has stretched my taste buds in directions nearly impossible for someone growing up in the Midwest United States.


6 Month Regret

Language: Before transplanting to India, I had a primary goal to finally become fluent in a 2nd language. I believe language molds the development of one’s thoughts and helps one to think along different paths. I believe, languages help one person see the same picture from different angles as language exposes nuances not expressible in a single language.

Regretfully, I have still not learned to communicate in Hindi, the local language. I had a driver who was teaching me Hindi on the ride to and from work but, since my trip to the Philippines, he refused to work with the hiring company. The company that hired him refused to pay a suitable wage so he had to seek greener pastures to support his family. My driver’s since did not have his fluency in English nor did they exhibit his teaching abilities.

I do enjoy throwing out the few words and phrases I have learned. I get a little thrill when I hear natives speak and amongst a barrage of indecipherable sounds emerges a word I actually understand. I grasp onto and savor those words.

I don’t see this changing much in the near future as my work schedule is not conducive to taking language classes during the week. Of course, this is probably just an excuse to mask a certain laziness on my part. I do have hope though. As of late this week, after pressure exerted by both me and my company, he was rehired and assigned to me with a wage that will allow him to support his family.


6 Months Learning

Before moving to India, I had never lived alone for longer than a couple of weeks and that was so long ago I have no recollection of my feelings during the experience. So, I was not sure how I would handle coming home to a flat where I was the one and only occupant.

It seems I have a tendency to being a loner. Not in a psychotic, people give me the creeps sense. I enjoy hanging out with people but am not afraid to be without company. I am a loner in that I am very content being alone.  Spending alone time gives me the opportunity to read more widely, write more frequently, explorer the inner sanctum of my mind more regularly and, hopefully, become a more well rounded human being.



The balloon is filled, the rubber band pulled, the mind stretched. My new found knowledge from living in a ‘foreign land’ is a revelation and a curse. When you don’t know what you don’t know it is easy to fall into a state of blissful ignorance.

The Revelation: For 52 years, despite believing I was on the worldly end of the spectrum, I now understand that I was barely above the blissfully ignorant water line. This understanding opens my thinking to a plethora of possibilities.

The Curse:My inner world has gotten bigger. The physical world has gotten smaller. I now understand that I was living in a technicolor world but could only experience it in black and white. After living in India for 6 months, I am beginning to finally see the color that was always there. I can only expect this color to deep with my experiences

The Realization:  My mind, now stretched, hungers for increased nourishment. The nourishment it craves is continued immersion in varied cultures where it will be bombarded by new sensations. I really don’t believe I can ever again be truly content living in the US.

About David A Olson

I often find my mind wandering to various subjects, subjects that make me stop and think. The blog, Musings of a Middle Aged Man, is a catalog of those thoughts I muse upon as I search for significance in life. I am the father of 3 children and the grandfather to 2. I spend my days working for a medium sized multinational corporation where I am an Agile Coach. I view myself as a Servant Leader, have a passion for leadership, particularly, in helping people develop their individual leadership skills and abilities. In October 2012, I went to India on business. After a week of being there, I still had not talked to or texted my 7-year-old grandson. He asked his mom, "Is Papa dead? He hasn't texted me all week." To facilitate communication now that he and I no longer live together, I started a blog for us to communicate. It's titled, "Correspondence Between Luke and His Papi". In April 2013, I moved to Pune, India on an 18-month delegation. It's an adventure that was 1.5 years in the making...The experience is captured on my blog, "The Adventures of an American Living Abroad" My two latest blogs are "The Learning Leader", a topic I have been studying since 1990, and "Lipstick on a Pig", a foray into the fashion sense of this middle aged man.
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4 Responses to A Mind Once Stretched (India – Week #026)

  1. Cindi says:

    As a middle aged expat woman, with adult daughters making their mark on the world and a frustration with my inability to really understand and communicate in my new country’s language even after six and a half years here, I relate to just about everything you’ve written! I’m responding “off the cuff” but will be coming back to read more deeply of your thoughts. Thank you for this post, and your writing and your expression of the inner feelings of your first six months in India.

  2. Cindi says:

    For me it is, for many reasons that are an entire (long) blog post but, if I actually wrote it, would read as a series of excuses. But I’m finding contentment here as life continues to unfold, and sometimes not understanding all of the conversation around me can be a gift. 🙂

    The expat/traveler blogosphere in cyberland has been a big part of that contentment. Glad to have “met” you here, and I look forward to reading more of your thoughts!

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