A couple of lifetimes ago, my wife and I went to Rajasthan, India. It was part of our year-long trip around the world investigating music, dance, drama, ritual, textile arts and more and we, being young, were traveling cheap and traveling light. It was a major decision to buy a souvenir, so when we bought an item in Rajasthan, it was a big deal. It was a little wooden building with miniature paintings of Hindu Gods and little doors that opened and closed. It was called a portable temple and had a functional use for spiritual pilgrims traveling around— their temple went with them. Ours has stayed on the wall in the hall of our home.
So today heading off to the first of the year’s weekend workshops to teach, I packed my laptop as usual and thought, “Portable temple.” Some of the things I worship are painted on its screen and available as I open the door. These blogs, my workshop notes, my articles, photos of friend, family and places, music from my lifetime collection of recordings, opportunities to e-mail, wireless permitting, or Skype people I care to see, talk with, write to, sometimes movies I want to see.Most folks have gone to more miniature temples— their phones or the mid-size i-Pad— but this is enough for me. It indeed is a marvelous window to the world.
But there are other windows and other worlds— like the one by my side as I fly to Kentucky in Row 10A with patchy clouds and rectangular mid-West farms below. The man to my right could be a window into an interesting conversation and who knows where that would lead? But he’s watching a movie on his temple and I’m not in the habit anyway of talking to strangers. My book is a different sort of window into another storied world, this one about Nigerians in America and Nigerians in Nigeria. My journal, still my companion in spite of its step-sibling laptop, is another place to record and remember what I have worshipped recently and/or as far back as 1973.
I wonder whether they still make and carry portable temples in Rajasthan. Whether portable temples or portable devices, the idea of carrying your world with you is an old urge and makes us feel independent, powerful, in control of access and destiny and not at the mercy of the world. In the old one-movie on a big screen in airplanes, you were out of luck if you saw it or didn’t want to. If the library was out of your book, there was no Kindle alternative at your fingertips. Who can resist such personal power? We have become as gods.
But without care, we are becoming lonely gods. No group parties up on Mt. Olympus, everyone plugged into their little world, worshipping at their private portable temple, thickening the walls of self and ego and control.
Now the captain announces the weather putting us on a holding pattern and now I have to wonder if I’ll make the connection to Louisville, Kentucky so that I can actually arrive in time to sleep tonight and teach tomorrow. Guess we’re still at the mercy of forces outside of our control and I’m not allowed to complain about it, having written the above. Who knows? Maybe there will be a big party of stranded passengers at the airport and something remarkable will happen that’s not contained on my laptop.
PS Posting this at Chicago Airport. Looks like I'll make the connection and there's no party.