I See You In Me.

Lost in connection | Seven intentions
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She brought close her forewings. With just enough space between them for the gentle air to move, she posed for another moment, as she had stood many moments before. Even as the world didn’t hold still for this becoming miracle, the energy in her wings transformed into sound. The cornered singer she was, cornered next to an outlet that would allow any water in the room to leap out. She rubbed her forewings once again releasing a melody of sounds. An hour before, I yelled at the cricket for her mischief, patronizing her for her lack of regard for private space. I “offered” her a lift, scolding her midway, and then dropping her into the secluded corner.

A fly hops from one squared tile on the floor to another. It appears to be searching sweet sugary nectar to rest itself, to allow its tentacles to receive just one passing kiss of a hint to affirm its next hop. Alert to its core, its whole body responding to the will of this creature. I hold the fly in reverie, its esteemed search, the confidence that has passed on to it from its previous generations. It remembers who it is and it remembers its purpose. Yet, when he lifted itself from the tiled floor towards me, I raised my arm to drive it away.

An arachnoid flits around at the corner of the floor bed. I tugged at my denim jacket to retrieve it from its unfailing climb. Sensing my presence, he turned across. 180 degrees. For a brief moment if only, I saw him, careful and connected to what was happening around him. Knowing to his depth that I have moved, he moved too, another 180 degrees. Taking along on his eight legs, each leg steady and sure, he floated away in a parallel. I relaxed in the preserved destiny of the denim jacket.

A moth having lived its full life stays close to an earthy brown backpack. Stillness. As I swept the room, trimming the edges and open spaces of its dust, I combed insects which had passed away in the passing of the night. There were bugs, a few ants, and another large moth. I almost combed this moth. A flick of her wings threw an epiphany. Her stillness appeared to be her death and yet life throbbed inside her.

I too, sit in the same room. Blood has gradually returned to my extremities – the toes and the fingers. I breathe in without an effort and I know I am warmer than before. I had reduced the running speed of the ceiling fan from its maximum to its minimum. One long-held turn and the temperature in the room has suddenly become comfortable. Under the flailing length of a bedcover, I sit rescued not just from the cold, but also each of the creatures I remember I share the room with. I have devices I can employ to ward them off, to demonstrate a decoded state of power resting in me. Human.

Unwantedly though, I sit with a recognition. I appeared as the sole controller in the room, guiding life forms in and out of the territories that I have rendered as my own. I knew that the room belonged to me as did each object that sat precariously defining the dimensions of my world. Almost everything was carefully selected from a myriad of choices and options to serve me. Anything else that seemed to run this principle void was seen as a direct or indirect threat to my existence or the things I owned. The denim jacket did not cry out for a rescue.

As the primal fear entwined with the egoic, I saw myself retching. A world revolted itself inside me and I came to see how intolerant I had become when it came to sharing a piece of land. No, this was not the wars I had risen against another human, this was the war I had risen against another life form. It was clear. I did not and could not tolerate other life forms invading my space, my piece of land. A cricket, a fly, a spider, a moth. Each of their existence in the same space as mine released a fear from my innards, a fear of being subdued, a fear of being overtaken, a fear of being insignificant.

A word floats as a wisp in the thin air folding itself in multitudes, flowering and then closing. It floats as that again and again, a dancing mockery of the stubborn, solid fear. Just as it opens itself once again, I try to read it with great intentions. It forms carefully in my vision. Syllables come together, a breathing space in between, and then the whole word appears. Co-existence.

The word plays around, disentangling, flowing in a banner, appearing, however, again and again. Unwillingly I allow myself to at last listen to the silence that has percolated in the room. In that moment, with the word in front of me, I feel for the first time, each creature. The cricket, the fly, the spider, and the moth. I spot another creature. Equally fragile, equally complex and devoted body, equally versatile. I spot me.

One leg over the other, I saw her perplexed and almost in tears. She appeared no different than the other creatures. She was no more, she was no less. She was neither superior nor she was taken as less than. She breathed as they breathed, she sensed danger as they did, she looked for sustenance as they did, and she will eventually die or be killed as they will.

The cricket, the fly, the spider, the moth, and the human co-existed. Each recognising how they fit within the larger purpose and beyond it. The winds strengthened in the world outside tossing the trees. A butterfly wafted. A piece of yellow cloth stridently hung to the clothesline. Yet on the inside, the world had calmed.

I looked at the moth and said, “I see you in me”. I knew she recognised me too.

A Walk around Home.

The city is soaked. The southwest monsoons, which had arrived and enveloped the city by July, continue to bring the rains. Distributed unevenly even within the city, the rain will last for a few more weeks before it recedes altogether by the month of September. Its intermittent nature is known to the inhabitants of the city; in fact, the monsoons have a design of their own and only those who have interacted with them for long can understand their language and behaviours.

In history, the arrival and descent of monsoons have been celebrated with joy, companionship, and respite – traditions that were woven into customs and daily lives of peoples of the city. The Mughal court, in particular, stands out in its revelling of the season, as it witnessed the arid city transform into a lush wilderness without bounds. The river Yamuna flowing in the east of the city would swell with floods and women, men, and children took part in celebrations. Tree branches hung under the weight of the rains and swings bound to them. The swinging women sang songs inviting the sawan and their lovers from faraway lands under the aching ecstasy of the Malhar raga. In the Mughal court, celebrations included swimming, drinking, music, revelries (popular in the court of Mohammad Shah Rangila as barsat-ki-ratein), and other sensual pleasures. Only remnants of this history remain, when I begin work on the first assignment.

Standing on the balcony, if I look up, I can only see a small patch of the sky existing as a negative space circumvented by modern-day multi-floored buildings. To see more of the sky and its inhabitants, I must prostrate over a balustrade built nearly fifty years ago; it is not safe particularly during the monsoon. The balustrade in itself is a beautiful piece of construction graced with latticework. Hexagonal cuts alternate stone blocks with petalled flowers in a horizontal and vertical fashion. The space existing between the lattices is often used by small spiders to web their own delicate weaves. Garden and fire ants use the crisscross pattern to navigate between different points in the balcony. On rainy days, the ants are unseen.

Written as part of an assignment under Holyscapes: Mapping Your Personal Spiritual Ecology at Udemy.

On Rilke, God & Happiness.

Standing for any number of years, at the perpendicular crossroad on the street I live, is a gulmohar tree. Well-meaning residents have ordered the trimming of the tree year after year believing its voluptuous branches create shadows unfit for thriving residential localities. The gulmohar stands, witnessing the transition of seasons, weather, and human imagination, true to its nature. Each year as spring descends making way for the arrival of summer, its flame-red flowers rise up, billowing, and sending messages of patience and perseverance. By nightfall, the flowers of the gulmohar can be seen on the street, trodden upon, often without malice, by humans and animals alike. The tree has personal significance too. For the ten years I have lived on this street, I have walked past it almost every day. Some of its flowers, I have picked and kept between the pages of books I have read over time. Underneath this gulmohar, on a winter evening, a person I loved has kissed me.

Joanna Macy – Rilke and the Dance of Despair | An Elegant ...
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Today, when I reached the crossroad, I was still listening to Joanna Macy: A Wild Love for the World, a podcast under the On Being with Krista Tippett project. In this conversation, the Rilke translator, environmental activist, and Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy talks about her spiritual experience, her dissociation with the Church, and how her search for God brought her to exactly that. When the podcast originally went on air in 2010, Macy, in her nineties had already authored eight books, some of them her translations of the eighteenth-century poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s poems. Macy was reading Rilke’s The Swan

This laboring of ours with all that remains undone,
as if still bound to it,
is like the lumbering gait of the swan.

And then our dying — releasing ourselves
from the very ground on which we stood —
is like the way he hesitantly lowers himself

into the water. It gently receives him,
and, gladly yielding, flows back beneath him,
as wave follows wave,
while he, now wholly serene and sure,
with regal composure,
allows himself to glide.

The Swan, a poem on mortality and the sweeping undercurrent of death that seems to find its way again and again in Rilke’s poems, comes to me at a time when I too need affirmation as I leave “the very ground on which we [I] stood”. Not only questions on mortality but dilemmas acutely intertwined with the existential reality have been affecting my constitution, of late. In his collection of poems The House of Belonging, the poet David Whyte writes Sweet Darkness, a description of apathy that descends the human spirit when it is kept away for far too long from the one-source—

When your eyes are tired
The world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
No part of the world can find you.

Rilke’s Widening Circles – 2015 – Greg Lookerse
Image Courtesy: Rilke’s Widening Circles – 2015 – Greg Lookerse |

Therefore, I seek answers, but only in places where I am encouraged, if not guaranteed to find them, that is, books and human beings. This is where I meet Macy, an earth-mother, sweet and sensitive, who leads me to Rilke, a poet who lived before her. In her own words, Rilke challenged the “constrictions that my culture had made around the sacred” allowing her to lift the cloak of civilized ignorance and un-tire her eyes. Macy, translating Rilke writes, “I live my life in widening circles,” acknowledging the relationship one shares with the Creator even when one cannot quantify it or assess the strength of one’s faith or turn to it at all times.

For this purpose, Viktor E Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning: The Classic Tribute to Hope from the Holocaust is another book I read. What permits some individuals to retain their moral dignity in the midst of vile, inexhaustible events? What must one do in order to develop that degree of depth and moral conviction? More importantly, was it something I could do even as I dawdle, for the most part not knowing my role in the schemata? Answering my questions and many others’, Frankl, a leading psychiatrist and neurologist of his time, the founder of logotherapy, and a Holocaust survivor writes,

“Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress… there is also purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior: namely, in man’s attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external forces. A creative and a life of enjoyment are banned to him. But not only creativeness and enjoyment are meaningful. If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.”

At the crossroad, as it was on this day, the gulmohar, in its deformed state appeared more sacred and representing the divine and morally dignified. Even in its current state, it has continued and continues, without recriminations, its creative pursuits, following the rhythms and flows of the Universe. To my infantile mind, one that finds joy in metaphysical (magical) explanations, this relationship between the gulmohar and the Universe represented a kind that was limitless, a union that transcended the physical dimension; a relationship that remains absolute even when seriousness bounds or there is human intervention to correct the terms of the relationship. This relationship is summed, without comparison, in Rilke’s Go to the Limits of Your Longing in his Book of Hours

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.

For a while at least, the despondency that had stung my spirit has left me and in its place is a strong movement toward aspiration, particularly toward developing a spiritual relationship that withstands temporal matters. On most occasions, even this much movement is enough to keep away the dithery, wronging state of moral deprivation. Yet I hope, almost childlike, I do not lose this sweet, untiring state that I have known and know even now, as happiness. Here again, Frankl talking about a female patient, a prisoner in the concentration camp, who as she lay dying told him of the answer the chestnut tree outside the hut’s window told her, recollects, “I am here—I am here—I am life, eternal life.” To her the chestnut tree; to me, I hope, the gulmohar.