Poetic Sidewalks

Trundling along with friends on a New York City sidewalk, and all of a sudden we are walking on poetry and quotations from famous authors. Rectangular pieces of brass, words in the centre, art-work around it.

What a wonderful way to introduce or remind people of good writers!

(Never mind that most New Yorkers are rushing by, stamping on the quotes in complete oblivion, drinking their coffee, talking on the phone, listening to music…).

Here is one that resonated:

A word is dead

When it is said,

Some say.

I say it just

Begins to live

That day.

– Emily Dickinson

The life of words

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Day On, Day Off

It is so easy to know the days that one does not meditate. You snap at an innocent question that seems needling. You eat more junk food, and more food in general. Reaction time is lessened — you don’t catch surges of emotion in time. The sensation of clarity is gone.

It reminds me of the old movie, ‘Karate Kid’ and the phrase that got so famous, ‘wax on, wax off’.  Consistency, thoroughness and doing something well. So easy to say “oh, I have so much to do” or give priority to everything else than that 30 minutes or hour or two hours on the cushion, on the floor.

People sometimes talk of the frustration of not making progress in their meditation. But even if one does not immediately see the gain that the practice is giving you, the lack of the practice can be seen with crystal clarity.

Wax on, wax off.

Juiced!

My first taste of fresh vegetable juice. “Masticated, not centrifugal or compressed,” said the resident expert. This one had carrots, celery and apple.

Yum!

Tomorrow is going to be apple, celery, parsnip and cucumber. Thank you, dear friend.

Becoming A Disciple of My Own Experience

Viral is such a huge part of what led me to the practice of stillness. His commitment to cultivation runs deep and has been a central part of his life for well over a decade now. Here is a link to a piece he wrote recently that describes his first experience at a 10-day meditation retreat when he was 17…

http://nipun.charityfocus.org/write/viral/index.php?pg=first10day

What is Your Gandhi Story?

Two nights ago about ten or twelve friends were gathered around a dinner table. About half were Indian. I asked the group what memories have been passed on from their parents or grandparents about having met or encountered Gandhi, or participated in any way in India’s freedom movement. With each passing generation the chances of those stories falling off the collective family history get higher. Here are some of the recollections:

  • One friend’s grandfather carried Gandhi on his shoulders across a flooded stream, to get him to a gathering on the other side.
  • During religious riots her grandparents sheltered their Muslim neighbours in their house. When rioting Hindus knocked on the door, her grandmother, a small woman of formidable presence, drew herself up to her full force and stood in the doorway. “Nobody’s here. You are welcome to come in and check,” she said. The rioters were uncertain, decided to believe her and went away.
  • Another friend’s mother in-law was deeply involved, in Delhi, in settling the refugees who were pouring across the border during Partition. She did not ask for donations of cooking utensils or blankets from friends and family. Instead, she would visit each home, stride into the kitchen and say, “You have four pots. You can make do with two.”
  • My grandmother would often talk about her one small encounter with Gandhiji. She was about ten years old. An adult in the family took her to a public gathering that Gandhiji was addressing.  She does not remember how she got there and back, or even what was said. All she remembered was a snapshot: being held up to look over the heads of hundreds of Indians, and this small, thin man with glasses and a winsome smile, sitting with his legs bent sideways, talking to the crowds.

So, what are the Gandhi stories from your family?

Same Same But Different

A short summary of the last two months:
• A three day  CharityFocus book jam discussing the hows and
the whats and the whys of its journey in generosity.
• A three week yoga course near Dehra Dun watching and learning from the intelligence of breath, body and mind in motion
• A one month stretch embedded in the fabric of relentless service for sight at Aravind
• A  quick stop at Sri Aurobindo’s ashram in Pondicherry where perfectibility of the human spirit is practiced in different fields with inner surrender and an opening to grace.
• Ten days surrounded by vivid thangkas of Green Tara and the Boddhisattva of Compassion, whirling mantra-filled prayer wheels and the dedication of hundreds of lamas in Dharamsala.
• A little over a week amidst the Hanuman temples, chanting, and lamp-lit arathis of Neem Karoli Baba’s ashram in Kainchi
• And now by the time this is posted we will be in Kutch at a silent 10-day Vipassana retreat learning from the intelligence of the breath, body and mind in stillness.
Recently in a conversation with Viral I brought up how strangely special it is that all these different periods have found a chord of resonance within, each so unique and yet related to the others in a way that makes the sum of this time feel stunningly rich not scattered – and somehow perfect too because there are inexplicable threads woven between Aravind, Sri Aurobindo, Neem Karoli Baba’s disciples, CharityFocus, Vipassana – labels that are not nearly as important as the underlying affinities that exist beneath the surface. So many paths, each with their own qualities of beauty and strength.
As they say in India … Same Same – But Different.

People Want You To Be Happy

From a collection of 365 poems by Rumi (from my sister)
People want you to be happy.  
Don’t keep serving them your pain.
If you could untie your wings
And free your soul of jealousy,
You and everyone around you
Would fly up like doves.
– Rumi

Foibles Of One’s Own

At a friend’s house, I found William Shirer’s memoir on Mahatma Gandhi. Shirer, at the age of twenty-seven, was a journalist for the Chicago Tribune and left for India in August of 1930.

He writes about his first encounter with Gandhiji:

“He greeted me warmly, with a smile that lit up his face and made his lively eyes twinkle. The welcome was so disarming, his manner so friendly and radiant, that my nervousness evaporated before I could say a word.”


“As our talk began I tried to take in not only what Gandhi was saying but how he looked. I had seen many photographs of him but I was nevertheless somewhat surprised at his actual appearance. His face at first glance did not convey at all the stature of the man, his obvious greatness. It was not one you would have especially noticed in a crowd. It struck me as not ugly, as some has said – – indeed it radiated a certain beauty – – but it was not uncommon either.”


“His large ears spread out, rabbitlike. His gray eyes lit up and sharpened when they peered at you through his steel-rimmed spectacles and then they softened when he lapsed, as he frequently did, into a mood of almost puckish humor. I was almost taken back by the gaiety in them. This was a man inwardly secure, who despite the burdens he carried, the hardships he had endured, could chuckle at man’s foibles, including his own.”

How many of us recognize and make peace with our foibles, let alone get to the stage where we can chuckle at them?  (And, doing so while leading a populous nation to its freedom, in a movement and manner that was truly revolutionary)?!

Meditate Like Christ

A story that put a lump in my throat. Heard from a lungi-clad westerner who first met Neem Karoli Baba (or Maharaji as he is affectionately known) as a twenty-something-year-old in the early 70s – Once in an early face-to-face encounter with the guru, he’d asked him for a practice. Maharaji rarely if ever gave instructions at that level. In this case he did. ‘Meditate like Christ,” he ordered tersely, and then, “Jao.” (Go). He was famous for summary dismissals like that.

“Meditate like Christ” baffling instructions to a Jewish devotee from the Hindu saint who built at least a dozen shrines to Hanuman in his lifetime. The next day, Ram Dass and a few other American visitors at his side he the young man asked for clarification. “Maharaji – but how did Christ meditate?” Neem Karoli Baba turned very still and very silent at that moment (not something he tended to do around devotees). He remained that way, eyes closed for a few minutes as his bewildered followers looked on.

When Maharaji opened his eyes they were filled with tears (“For us there it was like when you’re a child and you see a parent cry – you have absolutely no idea what to do”) The articulated question charges the air between them: How did Christ meditate? Then — “He lost Himself in love,” said Maharaji.

Coming Home

There are a number of things that make a house, a home.  The deep sense of comfort and familiarity that comes from your family sharing it with you, objects lovingly chosen for the space and having a sense of belonging. Knowing that come evening, the kids will be thumping their school bags down, or your spouse comes in from work. Or identifying, on a completely sub-conscious level, by the sound of footsteps and churning and clinking, that it is your mother rummaging through her purse for her keys. Most people feel at home at one or two houses. Possibly your own and that of your parents. If you are lucky, then your grandparents house.

It is rare to be in a house that belongs to people not immediately related to you, and be completely at home. To be at home to such an extent that even if you are visiting after a number of years, you know which drawer in the kitchen has the big pots, and where the tiny blue espresso cups that get pulled out only for big parties are stored. That wonderful sense of familiarity of sinking into a couch and knowing just how far down your body will go. Or what the evening meal is going to bring. Knowing too, that just like being in your own home, you can be your complete self – – no veneer of cautious politeness, no need to be on best behaviour. If you are feeling grumpy, it’s ok.

What is remarkable about this home, and the two extraordinary people who own it, is that they have made it a home, not just for me, but also for easily more than a hundred people over the past three decades or so. If you add their friends and relatives that have gone through these doors it would easily be in the thousands. There are people scattered over three continents who know where the key to the back-door is ‘hidden’. Numerous romances have taken place under this roof, while others have nursed broken hearts and healed.

There are multiple ways to be generous. Opening one’s home in this every-day manner certainly ranks high up. After all, people often retreat to their home to be private, to be quiet. Here – – there is no such thing as separating their lives from ours. It is all of the same continuous flow. A deep connection and caring for all those that come through. As Pavi says about Neem Karoli Baba’s message: ‘Love All. Serve All. Feed All.’ Manifested miles away from northern India, in New England,  in a different way, but very much the same spirit.

What you receive in this house from this couple is: lots of love, wonderful food, laughter and great conversation. You open the creaking garden-gate, walk up the stairs and slide the back door open. Take your shoes off and know, deep down in the depth of your bones (and your heart), that you are, home.