A journey to simplicity

First-time author learns to lighten up by traveling with family to India

The author, Dena Moes, with dancers in Naggar, India.

The author, Dena Moes, with dancers in Naggar, India.

photo courtesy of dena moes

Book Launch for The Buddha Sat Right Here, with reading and talk by author Dena Moes, Tuesday, April 9, 7-9 p.m.
1078 Gallery
1710 Park Ave.

Dena Moes’ path to enlightenment started while looking in the mirror. A mother of two daughters, a devoted wife, and owner of a busy home-birth practice, Moes says she was beginning to lose it. “At times I would catch myself feeling so frazzled, so overwhelmed by how much energy it took to keep up the kids’ activities, keep up the house, keep up the business, keep the marriage enlivened and healthy, I just really questioned, Is this how it’s supposed to be?

Caught in a never-ending juggling act, Moes says serendipity stepped in to push her out of the routine. Her sister, a foreign correspondent living in India, was having a baby. After a short solo trip for the birth when she saw first-hand the role of extended family, spirituality, and a simpler approach to almost everything, Moes decided to return with her family. She hadn’t planned on writing a book about the trip, but The Buddha Sat Right Here: A Family Odyssey Through India and Nepal would be born soon after.

“I started fantasizing about walking away from this whole thing that we’d created, to take a break from it all and get some new perspective,” Moes said. Her husband, Adam, a self-employed acupuncturist, was already a dedicated practitioner of Buddhism and teacher of meditation—they had met at a spiritual retreat 23 years prior. For Moes, the journey would be a welcome break from the materialistic focus she felt their life as family had taken on. They made a plan for a year and a half out, the beginning of 2014. They would rent out the house, close their businesses and pull the girls out of classes for part of the school year. In Moes’ words, “This would be an adventure of togetherness, an adventure of learning about the world and our global family.”

Eight months in India proved to be a soul-changing experience for everyone. With the help of her sister, the family was able to time their travels around India’s gushing monsoons and extreme heat, and they seemed to find themselves in the right place at the right time for events like meeting the Dalai Lama and receiving a coveted hug from Amma, a Hindu spiritual leader known as the “hugging saint.” “I almost named the book Just in Time,” Moes said, “because everywhere we went people were like, ‘Ah! You’re just in time!’”

Despite all the fortuity and bonding, the book reveals a long and sometimes difficult trip that tested Moes’ marriage and actually split the family in two for a portion of the journey. “We weren’t just there to see tourist sites and have fun,” she said. “We considered it a pilgrimage.”

Upon arriving home, Moes found it difficult to answer the nonstop, “So, how was the trip?” questions. “How could I begin to explain the incredible transformation and adventure that we had had? I started thinking I needed to write a book to answer the question,” she said. Once set to the task, the writing flowed and she was able to finish it in a year and a half.

After landing an agent and receiving a few rejections from bigger publishing houses, she decided to go with the female-run independent publisher She Writes Press. She is now on the cusp of a countrywide book tour that kicks off at the 1078 Gallery this Tuesday (April 9).

Moes learned to lighten up on the trip, and says she was able to forgive herself for what she had considered a laundry list of failures as a mother and wife. In contrast to the supportive, simplified approach to life that she had witnessed during her travels, she realized that she had been struggling to maintain an unrealistic American ideal for years.

On the message of the book, Moes describes it as layered: “Motherhood, family and Buddhist dharma. I think people will read the story and learn about the Buddhist teachings as a side thing, but that is the philosophical framework—the love and compassion that is our true nature underneath everything else.”

But Moes makes sure not to sugarcoat the path to everyday enlightenment: “You can be flawed and funny and make mistakes, and still do incredible things.”