What did I do in India? you ask.

A whole lot of unlearning.

The short of it is this: I traveled to Jaipur with my incredible friend Carly at Tribe Alive to check in on a design project with the fine folks at CAUSEBOX. (More on that front, obv.)

The long of it is this: I traveled to the other side of the world to see there’s no such thing as the other side of the world. The world doesn’t flip, after all.

We do.

Here’s the first truth:

A week before my flight, I’d considered cancelling the trip we’d been planning for months. Scout came to us quickly. He was still so young, and the importance of attachment was so big, and the timing of it all felt stilted, forced. Too soon.

Was there space in my schedule for an overseas trek? I wondered.

Was there space in my heart?

And so, I left for India feeling empty, depleted.

I packed at the last minute – a blur of distraction – stuffing my bags taut with far more than I needed in the way of linen tees, huarache sandals, rosewater spray. My shoulders felt the weight of too much as I lugged my weekender through security, past the gate, onto the plane.

The heaviness mocked my already weary spirit.

But then, day two in Jaipur. We wake early, still jet-lagged, still bleary-eyed. We meet Priti for breakfast, readying ourselves for chickpeas and conversation. We smooth our indigo dresses and sit down on a quiet, breezy rooftop to order iced coffees, hot teas. We read through the menu, chatter along about upcoming block printing visits, trips to dye houses, a visit to the seamstresses. We rave about our love for Jyoti, for Raj. We make plans to see the Taj Mahal.

Our waiter brings bottled water and a stack of paper cups. Printed on each are these words:

A cup can never be empty, as it is filled with space.

And in a single sentence, I realized it all:

My spirit wasn’t empty. It was simply making room for something else.

I’ve always operated under perceived scarcity. Is there enough time in my day for this? Enough space for this? Do we have room for that? Is it essential, necessary? Are you sure?

And yet, abundance exists. There is enough time to go around, enough space for us all.

There always has been.

A cup can never be empty, as it is filled with space.

As the week progressed, relationships were formed and gifts were exchanged. Lunches and second lunches were served, dinners and second dinners were enjoyed. Another chai? Here, cookies.

The India I visited was rooted in community, in generosity, in abundance. There was one answer and one answer alone to the question, “More curry?” and to tell you the correct answer, I will show you my post-Jaipur waistline. (No I won’t.)

In India, you say yes and in India, you say thank you.

Yes, I’d love to stay with you. Thank you.
Yes, we’ll be at the wedding. Thank you.
Yes, we can help.

Thank you.

Yes, yes, yes.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And for all of the work I’ve done as an adult to learn how to say No, I must say: Yes was a refreshing change of pace.

Saying no has become a badge of honor in our culture. Minimalism is the new black! we cheer, and we pride ourselves on living a life of regiments and routines, on time and money management. We download productivity apps. We KonMari our closets. We slow down our lives, move to the country. We seek deeper relationships with fewer people.

We call this being responsible. We call this self control. We call this wisdom.

We call this editing our life.

“But life isn’t something that should be edited. Life shouldn’t be cut. The only way you’ll ever discover what it truly means to be alive and human is by sharing the full experience of what it means to be human and each blemish and freckle that comes with it.”

Iain Thomas wrote this.

We pride ourselves on saving time, on protecting our space.

But is it really our time, our space?

A cup can never be empty, as it is filled with space.

Or is it everyone’s?

There’s a Hindu proverb I read in the middle of a crowded airport in Delhi, and it is this:

Help your brother’s boat across, and your own will reach the shore.

Here’s the second truth, then:

I have, for many years, given reason upon reason that I cannot help my brother’s boat.

I’m in a busy family season with small children.
I’m under-qualified.
I don’t have the time.
I don’t have the energy.
I don’t have the resources, the skills, the talent.

But a cup can never be empty, as it is filled with space.

Things are never as they seem.

India taught me the art of abundance. Of generosity. Of depleting yourself, of emptying your cup, of trusting that it will be filled with the precise amount your community will need.

Not filled the precise amount we will need, of course.

Filled with the precise amount our community will need.

It’s not really about us, is it?

It never really was.

And I suppose that’s what traveling does to you. It’s an act of surrender, of abandon – an acrobatic exercise. You fling yourself into a culture so unlike your own, and you grasp onto tiny truths that land you safely into a new perspective. Your mind flips.

Your heart does, too.

I don’t know how I’ll live out India’s lessons in my own life, in my own little family, in our own little home. But I know there’s room for a somersault or two.

I know there’s space.

I know there’s a thin tightrope we walk between independence and selfishness, between minimalism and wastefulness, between intention and rigidness.

Sometimes, the tightrope wobbles just beneath and we lose our footing.

Other times, we string it taut between two boats – yours and mine – and we help each other to the other side.

I nearly said No to India.

And if I had, I would’ve missed the boat entirely.





To Michael Newsted, for these amazing photos: Yes, yes, yes. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • You write so beautifully… And now I realize I might have made a mistake by saying no to India this year… yet, I still feel not necessarily too young, but not mature enough to experience it. I hope, however, India and I will meet soon. Thank you for sharing your experience and your insight!


    • Jo, you are so kind!!! Thank you for sharing this one, and yes – I have no doubt you’ll meet and fall in love with India in good time, in your own way! What a beautiful spirit you have!

  • Perceived scarcity… I need to think deeply about how that shows up in my life. Beautiful words, Erin. Thank you.

  • I don’t feel like I’ve quite processed all of this beautiful essay yet. It will be on my mind the next few days.

    “the line between independence and selfishness” – I’ve been wobbling on that line lately. Thanks for your thoughts!

  • This really spoke to me. I’ve been in a long season of saying “no” to many things. It is not hard for me to say no at all. And for that season it was the right thing to do. But now I’m entering a season where I can say yes more and it is a real goal of mine, to expand my own life experiences and the experiences of my larger family.

    I also loved your line, “There is enough time to go around, enough space for us all.” I’ve also been trying really hard to just relax more with my family, to have faith that things will all work out one way or another, that there’s no need to rush. What am I rushing for, anyway? Just let it be and have faith that there is both time and space for everyone.

    • OH Kathleen, I have been in precisely the same boat (no pun intended, ha). No is good and worthy, but can often feel exclusive and selfish. I’m working toward a better way, toward trusting that there is an abundance available to all and there is enough of us to go around. :)

  • I’ve kept an eye on your blog for years. this is the first time i’m commenting. Thank you for this. thank you for these words. Thank you for being so open and introspective. in the wayyou needed india, this article article is what i needed today (even if it was in a much smaller, day by day sort of way).

    • Katey, thank you for commenting, and for your kind support and encouragement. What a gift your words were to me today!

  • Well written and very true. Pushing past our own self imposed limitations provides a different view of what is really happening around us. Onward!!

    • Oh thank you, Liesbeth! All credit to my friend Michael on the photos – he’s incredible!

  • And if you look at it the right way, all of life is an acrobatic exercise. You fling yourself at it and trust that you will land safely.

    I’m so glad you said yes to India!

  • This spoke to me. Thank you for writing about what you learned. I know I’m going to revisit this and ponder on it a bit more. Good for you for saying yes.

  • I had to read this post twice, once just words, the second, slowly with pictures. Absolutely beautiful, all of it. Yes. “A cup can never be empty, as it is filled with space” So perfect. Thank you for sharing.

  • I love this post because I think it’s so easy to think that when we settle into something like being comfortable with saying no that that is how it should be forever and sometimes we hold on too tightly to what once worked and felt good. But life changes and shifts and if we don’t embrace the change we will probably miss out on so much good. Thank you for reminding me that it is o.k. to evolve and think differently and at least allow something new to be an option! I’m so happy you went to India! And, oh man, that curry and naan look so good!:)

    • ah jana, i completely agree! it’s such a good reminder, too, i think for how we relate to others. some of my dearest friends are in “no” seasons that i can’t relate to, but that doesn’t mean i never will. :) here’s to the ebb and flow!

  • What happened to the “design” of the Design for Mankind?? Well, it was nice while it lasted, thank you for everything, see you in 18years maybe…

Comments are closed.