Gift from the Burning Ghats: How To Expand Time and Create Memorable Experiences For Your Clients

Building at burning ghats of Varanasi, India. Circa 2004.

Building at burning ghats of Varanasi, India. Circa 2004.

“Everyone knows if you want to torch old scaffolding, you travel solo. I am here for internal arson. Don’t touch me.”

Somebody wasn’t in the best frame of mind! Ah, holidays. Perhaps you can relate. I was also younger and wildly unhappy at the time.

Above is the pull quote from a story I wrote for the inaugural issue of Swink Magazine inspired by a month-long trip I took to India. If I can, I prefer to travel during this time of year – especially to exotic places where they don’t celebrate these holidays. I chose to frame my Indian adventure by seeking out Death and Tigers. I hadn’t seen either one up close. The story is called “Death Is Not Ping-Pong.” Here are the opening few lines.

“One morning in Varanasi, I find myself at the Manikarnika burning ghat staring at the cremations in the misty, predawn light. Seven pyres burn simultaneously. One body per pyre – minimum 200 kg of costly sandalwood – in various stages of fiery destruction…The main fire…has supposedly been burning for 5000 years.”

We Americans are not so comfortable with death – including me. So I have always been drawn to cultures that are more intimate with death and dying, who have rituals, who prepare – and who also embrace life with more passion than we tend to do. I want to learn.

I stood there in Varanasi on the banks of the burning ghats, watching the cremations as if hypnotized. Strangely peaceful. From dawn until deep into the night. Hours passed. I had no sense of time. Then…

“A brass band plays cheerfully and out of tune. A corpse is carried down the ghats. As the corpse gets nearer, I see it is a woman, quite young, no, middle-aged…maybe my age…with lustrous black hair that fans seductively on the bamboo stretcher. Rose petals shudder softly on her eyelids, and as she passes, red powder shakes free from her raiment. Though sheathed in layers of shiny gold and red silk, her form is pleasing. What did she die from? What did she do to bring this on? Is it possible she’s napping? I’m freaked, for the first time. No I’m not. I am meant to see her. I think of the moment in Luis Bunuel’s memoir My Last Sigh where he spies a dead woman’s hair spilling from a broken tomb lid, shining in a moonlit cemetery. He is both stricken with its beauty, and utterly terrified.

Through the scrim of gray air, this woman emerges from the fog wrapped like the perfect, unexpected gift.”

In this moment, I confronted my own death in some way. My future physical death — and, the current psychological death of an old, troubled me. A tranquil bliss suffused my entire being. Pure, whole-hearted peace. The entire time I stood there at the burning ghat, and the hours melted by, felt like an instant. And an eternity.

What is that about? Granted, this is an extreme example. And – this writing makes some things clear. You could say many things about these short excerpts from the much longer story – except that they’re boring. I was not only never bored in India, I was on sensory overload – every milli-second. I exaggerate not. When I came back, it took me six months before I could tell stories about the trip I was in such a state of culture shock.

I found a way to articulate what happened to me in India, that relates to time and story, in a great Scientific American article, “Time On The Brain:  How You Are Always Living In The Past And Other Quirks Of Perception.”

Here’s the relevant passage:

“When we’re sitting through a boring event, it seems to take forever. But when we look back on it, it went by in a flash. Conversely, when you’re doing something exciting, time seems to race by, but when you look back on it, it stretched out. In the first case, there was little to remember, so your brain collapsed the feeling of duration. In the second, there was so much to remember, so the event seemed to expand. Time flies when you’re having fun, but crawls when you recollect in tranquility.”

Isn’t that brilliant? I bet you can fill in the blanks with some of your own experiences at various conferences, events, or those blogs you start reading, then stop midway…

Time flies when you’re having fun, but crawls when you recollect in tranquility.

Wouldn’t we all like to create memorable experiences like that for our current and prospective clients?

Most of you have heard me repeat, the biggest sin is to bore. Entrepreneurs, you do not want to bore your current or prospective clients. The amount of white noise out there now is, frankly, the equivalent of India. Things are coming at you non-stop, crazytown, and from every angle. (Another time, I’ll try to describe what driving in India is like. Suffice to say, every single insane second you expect to smash – into a building, an autorickshaw, a sacred cow…)

Writing tip:  Read your story drafts out loud after you’ve written them. If you bore yourself? Guaranteed you’ll bore others. So go back to work, mercilessly cut out the boring stuff — and bring that story to life!

How will you stand out? You must conjure details! You must create excitement. You must render your story like a mini-movie. You may or may not have liked what I wrote – but I bet you’ll remember at least some of it.

Let me know if anything sticks in your head. That’s the test. And in order to do that, you must see the scene clearly. Vividly. You must feel it viscerally.

When something is exciting to you, when you are invested, you will notice more details. You will take care to capture them on the page, on the stage. And when you do? You will slow down time – for yourself, and for your prospective and current clients.

Then your story will become memorable.

You will have gifted them an experience.

And here’s the kicker:

Your memory is a marketing tool.

So get busy living stories, making memories. Then capture them in vibrant words.

We’d love to hear your comments. Did you have any A-Has from this Raw Feature? Did you remember any exciting trips or adventures you’ve taken? Or maybe you’re now going to plan one! How will you relate this article to your upcoming blog writing? Speaking engagements? About page? Did it give you a clue about your own Signature Story? Let us know. And feel free to ask any questions. You are part of our community. We’re here to support you!

Yrs in truth,


P.S. If you haven’t yet signed up for our revamped, rebranded Raw + Real ezine, you’re missing out! We also have a Personal Note there from me, and juicy Real Results from current and past clients. Just click on the home page of our site, then click on the upper right corner and drop in your name, email — and we’ll get you the current Raw + Real ezine right away! It’s so fresh, we haven’t changed the opt in box yet. Join the fun!

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10 Responses to Gift from the Burning Ghats: How To Expand Time and Create Memorable Experiences For Your Clients

  1. Christina Larsen December 12, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

    Thank you Rachel… I am reminded of my 2 week adventure to Bali with my husband. I am inspired to write about it at length. I’m going back to contemplation and work and I’ll be merciless.

    • Rachel December 15, 2013 at 8:53 pm #

      You’re so welcome, Christina. Lovely to hear from you! I’m sooo glad the post jiggered a memory of your own. That’s the point! I can’t wait to hear about your 2 week adventure in Blia with your husband! Where will you write it? I’m thrilled you’re inspired! If we’re able to do that with blog posts — then all is well, and possible. Love how you say you’ll return to contemplation — and be merciless! Brava, Christina.

  2. Sarah Steenland December 13, 2013 at 4:21 am #

    Ah yes, I will never forget the experience of Varanasi. India is one of those places where I would love to spend 6-12 months in. I find it such an interesting place that need to let soak in.

    Nice website makeover


    • Rachel December 15, 2013 at 8:56 pm #

      Sarah Steenland — I can’t wait to get to know more about you. Your art is effortless, charming, funny — I want more more more! I hope to write something that spurs a drawing. You intrigue me and your talent electrifies. Of course you’ve been to Varanasi! I agree. 6-12 months would be just the thing. It truly is one of the most interesting places. Aren’t you based in Australia? Y’all do travel!

      Actually, the website didn’t get a makeover. The brand-spanking new Raw + Real ezine did — so this is just a part of it. The blog. If you’re interested, you can zip to the homepage of this site and click on the upper right corner — drop in your name, email, and get the ezine. I’m writing a new issue right now! ‘Til soon, Instigator.

  3. Elaine Wellman December 15, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

    Rachel, always teaching. I’m so impressed by how you take an experience, a memory, and tie it into a relevant teaching moment about business. It’s a true gift you have to connect the dots so seamlessly and take us along for the ride at the same time. Thank you for pounding it into my head that my Monaco adventures are worth a millionaire mindset. Surely I can come up with lessons around my 3-month long honeymoon in Thailand! Marching band … my old Kentucky home … much to mine.

  4. Rachel December 15, 2013 at 9:16 pm #

    Elaine, thank so much for your generous and thoughtful comment. You know, I think you’ve inspired me for my new Raw + Real ezine issue! You pointing out the connect-the-dots angle is something I think I haven’t touched upon. It’s so natural. And, so critical for forging those bonds between our material! our memory, experiences, those moments that pop — and some business message. Yay on the millionaire mindset you embody so brilliantly — and that hiding-in-plain-sight Monaco adventure tie-in! Just perfect, and so fun. There is no question you can come up with fantastic lessons inspired by your 3-month long honeymoon in Thailand (do tell!!!) Not to mention marching band…your old Kentucky home, haha — yes! I cannot wait to see. You’re such a gifted writer — unleashed on the world now, and we are the lucky ones.

  5. Jill Place December 15, 2013 at 11:24 pm #

    Rachel, you always surprise. And unleash your raw thoughts to course through cyberspace. I must admit that, at first, I didn’t get the curling helix of those thoughts. But they all converged crashing into something profound. I also love the idea of reading things aloud to see if they bore me.

  6. Aly Pain December 16, 2013 at 9:49 am #

    You are so right, Rachel! Telling a story from the facts and details is like watching grass grow. And speaking of grow, in order to tell a story from visceral detail and emotional experience, may of us need to ‘grow a pair’ and learn to be vulnerable!! People do not follow facts and details, people want to follow real people who laugh and cry and feel like the rest of us. Leadership, and marketing, is not an intellectual craft, it is an emotional craft.

  7. Pamela Wills December 20, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

    “Create excitement” and “Your memory is a marketing tool.” Brilliance unleashed! Rachel, I thank you again and again and again for sharing your genius with us. For reminding us to experience, create memories, LIVE and then share the most useful and relevant pieces with our tribe. I, for one, am very glad you experienced India. xo

  8. Virag November 13, 2015 at 10:27 am #

    My novel Sister India is set in Varanasi (it was a NY Times Notable novel of the year when it came out.)Looking at these pictures ralely takes me back to the winter I spent there taking notes. It was like a bonus life within my regular life. Extraordinary! And it doesn’t appear to have changed at all.Somehow seeing these, even with the garbage and cow dung, puts me more in the Christmas/New Year/holy day spirit.(Lee and Lisa Rosen told me about this link. Really good blog!)

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