Whatever the underlying cause, there’s a host of evidence that introverts are more sensitive than extroverts to various kinds of stimulation, from coffee to a loud bang to the dull roar of a networking event . . . .
(Susan Cain – Quiet – page 124)
I have just returned from an exacting test of temperament. Mumbai and introversion are not a good mix.
For me, I think the city would come close to number one in the top ten of worst destinations for an introvert like me to visit especially when it is getting so hot (36 degrees C). There is an unsettling frenzy about the place. To say its traffic roars would be an outrageous understatement. Three wheeler motorised rickshaws, pushbikes, taxis, motorbikes, cars and the occasional hand-drawn cart jostle with hands constantly on horns for ever so slight advantages through nerve-shreddingly narrow gaps on bumpy and broken roads that run alongside ramshackle huts and makeshift markets that spill into their edges. This ‘can’t wait’ mentality spawns and reinforces much of the endemic and extreme corruption as well the permanent cacophonous collective death wish of the streets, I think.
For various reasons we were stuck in Mumbai the whole time, something that hadn’t happened in any of my previous trips to India. I love the mountain district near Pune for example. We have often gone to Panchgani in the past where there is silence, greenery and open spaces for refreshing walks and time to simply ‘be’ with people and with nature. I don’t think I quite realised how discordant I would find fifteen days in the heart of Mumbai’s mania.
A thread that was woven into this pattern highlighted for me how far I have still to go on my spiritual path. I had taken with me, along with Susan Cain’s brilliant Quiet, Earl Redman’s moving and inspiring book ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst. At a similar age to me exactly one hundred years ago, once He was given his freedom to travel, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá undertook a gruelling three and a half year journey from what is present day Israel through Egypt to England then to North America and back again, including Scotland in his itinerary.
He travelled over vast distances the length and breadth of the United States, often on the hard seats of third class carriages rather than in a sleeper. He spoke tirelessly to innumerable gatherings of widely divergent people and patiently received an incessant stream of visitors in his rooms. The extreme contrast between the Eastern environment from which He came and the Western one through which he tirelessly travelled could not possibly have been greater. His feats of uncomplaining endurance contrasted starkly with my own lack of stamina.
There were moments in the book though where the starkness of this contrast was softened with another way of responding (page 244 for example):
On [the] last night of [this long train] journey, none of the servants brought up the possibility of the sleeper compartment, but ‘Abdu’l-Bahá suddenly told them to reserve six berths because ‘We slept in our seats last night and that is enough, Let us not suffer any more hardship.’
This was fortunate as I might have otherwise slipped into a state of despair over my own deplorable condition. Also, as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explained there were other forces at work in His case far more powerfully than in mine (page 19):
Before the meeting, the Master had a high fever and was in bed. Juliet Thompson tried to get Him to stay and rest but He laughed, ‘I work by the confirmations of the Holy Spirit. I do not work by hygienic laws. If I did, I would get nothing done.’
To recognise that difference is not a reason not to strive to do more but needs to mitigate our inevitable disappointment when we fail to emulate the perfect Example of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. There were moments when I wondered how long it would take for the frenzied impatience I was experiencing around me in Mumbai to be replaced by the peaceful compassion I was reading about and which can be found beautifully exemplified in India itself in the stillness of yoga, the quiet rapture of Buddhist meditation and the timeless rhythms of the ragas. I suppose, in the end, that depends upon us and how much effort we are prepared to make.