This summer I found myself traveling in the magical Nubra valley of Ladakh in northern India. We arrived at the expansive sand dunes with its double-hump camels this place is famous for and stopped at a touristy spot where rides were being offered on these majestic animals. I instantly felt a strong connection with these amazing creatures, and despite my initial resistance, decided to take a short paid ride on a camel in my attempt to come close. What I felt with the animal I was riding on was far from connection. It was clear that we had a contract and she was fulfilling her duty for the day, and I sensed that she was rather apathetic about it. Rather disappointed at the lack of rapport I could build with the camels, I gave up and sat down to relax and enjoy soaking my feet in a gorgeous stream flowing nearby.

Moments after I had relaxed completely in my body, two double-hump camels ran over to join me at the stream. Pleasantly surprised, I entered somewhat of a joyful trance and the animals started coming really close and allowed me to stroke their necks and delightful faces. The trust and connection kept getting stronger until the bigger, wilder camel, which didn’t have a harness on and seemed to be roaming free in the area, started playing with me. At some point I sat down on the grass and he had my whole head in his mouth, gently caressing but never hurting me even slightly. I rejoiced in this intimate connection with a wild animal from a distant place and it felt like a magical dream. We had connected deeply without words, without language, without even remotely belonging to the same species.

Such deep mystical connections are one of the greatest gifts life has given me. I seem to be able to connect with animals, trees and people, and share a bond of love that is beyond words. Other than giving me a sense of belonging and joy, how could this gift of connection be important as I navigate this world?

We are more connected than ever through social media, and yet, we are all familiar with a sense of rift and strife. We inhabit a world where wars are being fought, where leaders with hurtful and hostile policies get elected into powerful positions, and where large sections of our beloved planet Earth get ruthlessly destroyed in the name of ‘development’. One of the easiest ways of deriving comfort under these circumstances is to take a divisive stance, to vehemently exclaim that I am not one of ‘them’. I would have never voted for Trump, I am angry about demonetisation in India, and I am enraged about the planned construction of the Dakota access pipeline. Sure, these are really valid stances for me to take, but what about the people who disagree with me? What stance do I take towards them? None of these people are in my circle of friends, so there is no chance of a meaningful conversation. Even if some of ‘them’ are in my circle of acquaintances, experience shows me that chances of building a bridge of words with them are rather small. So then, again, perhaps my best chance to connect is to do so without words.

When I start trying to connect with ‘them’, I recognise aspects of ‘them’ in me. We are all afraid of losing something dear and precious to us, whether it is the magical experience of hiking in old-growth forests or the dizzying comfort of living in an air-conditioned penthouse. To confront the enormity of the challenges we face as humans today, compassion and connection are quintessential. We do not need to agree with each other, or even understand each other, but we do need to connect. And when words and language start failing us, we can resort to wordless connection, to send thoughts of love and compassion to people who are so different from us. Who are perhaps much more distant and different from us than the double-humped camels of Nubra valley.

With compassionate connection,
Sharmishtha