Gopal D. Patel

Gopal D. Patel is Director of the Bhumi Project , and Co-Chair of the United Nations Multifaith Advisory Council.

What is your relationship with flying?

Where I am now is a period of trying to shift my engagement with the whole issue of traveling. I grew up near Heathrow Airport - ever since I was young I always used to love going to the airport to pick up family. As a child, we didn't fly that much, maybe like three or five international holidays up until the age of 21. Then when I started working in my current position at the age of 27, I started flying a lot, and there was a period where I was flying to India maybe like five or six times a year.

There was a really intense period of about five or six years where I was flying not just to India regularly but to Japan, Europe and the US. At that point, I felt good about myself. I felt like I was living the life. I enjoyed it because I like new cultures, and I enjoyed the experience of going to new places. I also enjoyed it because I felt I was “better” than other people and I was doing something that my peers weren't. I came from a low-income family and lived in a two-bed apartment with five people. I felt like I had made it, whatever that means.

How, if at all, has your relationship to flying changed?

In the last couple of years, my international travel has reduced significantly, because the nature of my work has changed. This year (2019), I've only taken one international trip to India and I am feeling fine about that.

I have also just applied for my green card, and now I can't leave the country for five months until its processed. I'm literally stranded here in America! That's forcing me to not travel and I am really leaning into being settled in one place. To be honest with you, I'm feeling a little bit conflicted, but I feel like if I can make one or two trips a year and maybe one trip to India every couple of years and significantly reduce or almost eliminate my work-related travel, I feel I'll be okay and can live with that.

It’s a difficult choice to make! What prompted this?

I have a spiritual practice. When I was traveling a lot, my spiritual practice was not great, because travel was disruptive for me. I like the routine. I like schedule, I like to do the same thing at the same time every day. Travel, although it was exciting, threw my schedule off and therefore threw my meditation schedule, my diet, and everything else off.

Are there any benefits so far?

I'm really looking forward to not having to travel so that I can get back down to my spiritual practice -- which at its essence is to be grounded in your locality, and not to be worried too much about what's happening tomorrow or what's happening in far-off lands, just really be present where you are. My changing attitude to flying both from a climate perspective but also because of my green card application is allowing me to refocus my spiritual practice in just being present here in New York City.

What have been some of the challenges?

My wife enjoys travel. She went to college in Hawaii. I kind of feel that's where the rub is going to be because I'm kind of done with travel and don't have a desire to go to these exotic places. For me, downtown Manhattan is exotic enough.

How does your faith come into play?

The essence of our religion is, how do you serve? How do you add value wherever you are, whatever you're doing in life? The lack of flying is allowing me to answer those essential spiritual questions. I'm enjoying it because it's a new challenge for me to calm my mind and feel like, "This is your home now, and you can't just keep flying off all the time. You have to be here now, so what are you going to do?"

You once said that “Flying used to be a badge of honor, now it’s a badge of shame.” Do you still feel that way?

The statement doesn't resonate as strongly with me now as it did back then, because I've done some thinking about it, and our Grounding in Faith workshop played a big part in that. I still agree it was a badge of honor for sure. It's not so much a badge of “shame” anymore, because that's an unhealthy feeling to have. I don't want to be ashamed because shame is when you haven't come to terms or come to grips with an issue. I feel I've come to terms with my flying, and I feel like cutting down my professional travel and maintaining a steady professional travel balance is good. I would say uneasy or uncomfortable is a better way of how I would describe myself now when I think of travel.

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