Really Short Stories: ‘The River Sings. Listen.’

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Verdant green forests, craggy white mountains, gurgling rivers and roaring seas.  Who would not be tempted to explore these?  He set out with empty hands and a heart filled with wonder at what lay before him. Every step a sacred communion.  Every breath in – one of joy.  Every breath out – a reverent sigh. Such that he began to feel he himself was sheer transparence, light.

Until one night he arrived at a village.  The fire in the square burnt brightly. Shadows danced and stretched behind the performers.  The loud voices and impassioned gestures had everyone riveted.  The traveller was no exception.  Drawn in by the power that the ‘villain’ appeared to exhibit, he could not help but forget his way.  He forgot all about the journey and was bewitched by this unfolding drama.  Instead of moving with the winds, he seemed to grow roots in that place.  Returning every night, again and again.  Finally, his unspoken desire was given opportunity.  The actor had failed to show up.  He had been a silent understudy long enough and could step into his place.  For several nights he played villain.  Reveling in the reactions he provoked.  The gasps of fear.  The whimpers of subjugation.

Till the beauty caught his eye.  No matter what he did, she would not even  look his way.  She was bewitched by the brave ‘hero’ on stage.  Slowly he began to regret his choice. He began to wonder what she saw in that beleaguered lead.  Now bravery and honor began to look appealing.  Perhaps that was not a bad part to try out for after all.  The first chance he got, he changed roles.  Now he could play a human God.  This was even greater fun and the enchantment complete.

Within a few days he was off the stage.  He became the helpful hand.  The voice against injustice.  He owned the role so well, that soon they all forgot who he really was.  It did not stop there.  These exciting, wonderful tales – of color and vivacity – they had him completed addicted.  The laughter, the tears, the coming together of hearts and the falling away of friends.  The alternating gains and losses of the adventures he underwent.  The makeup had been on so long, it became his skin.  The costume no longer his temporary attire, but a defining part of him.

In the meantime, the weather changed.  The forests were cleared, the rivers were running dry.  The sun was scorching.  The winds were high. They were all calling out to him in their own way.  But he could not hear them.

He was lost in his play.  When he grew tired of being the leader, he played the sage.  In true identification with his role, he set off back on a mountain trail.  After days of penance, fasting and prayer, an unease arose.  He did not admit this to his followers.  He led the meditations every week.  In between, he continued to be verbose.

But one full moon night, he looked up and felt the cool breeze.  Through the cloth, the covering skin.  It touched his heart again. He could smell the forest despite the incense.  He could hear the leaves.  The sounds of the village drama, the actors, the audience – none of it deafened him anymore.

It was the waters that finally reached him. The resilient babbling of a dwindling river sang him awake.  He walked back to the neglected track.  He returned the way he came.

Quiet.  Attentive. Grateful.

And slowly but surely, with his return, the landscape blossomed once again.

Image Credit : Flikr Trey Ratcliffe (under Creative Commons)

Missing Something That’s Right Under Your Nose?

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Lighting a lamp and an incense stick at dusk is a ritual practised in many Indian households.  Pune is no exception.  As I walked along the garden track in yesterday’s dimming light, a strong fragrance of Nag Champa wafted my way.  More used to paying attention to the earthy smell of the ground and leaves, I was surprised by the incense.  My attention turned to the houses alongside the track and I saw the shadow of a lamp fall on the window.  I smiling wondered how many people were doing something similar at this very moment.

Just for the fun of it,  I decided to look out for such sweet scents for the remaining duration of my walk.  For well over twenty minutes after this point, and not only through the garden track, but out across main roads, all the way home, I became aware of different incenses.  I received this gift for all but about fifty meters (by an abandoned ground).  Now this is not as incredible as it sounds.  There are many apartments along the way and the bouquet of a strong agarbatti can extend for some distance. So by the time one fades away, another one from the next house is making itself more noticeable.  This probably happens every single day.  But today – I was looking out for it.  

This exercise in selective attention reminded me of another time when I had selectively switched off my attention from an odour.  Traveling on a long distance bus, the cleaner was seated across the aisle. Let us just say that his lack of a bath for many days made itself evident in the closed, air-conditioned bus.  That day, I did a single round of EFT to remind myself that the senses are constantly receiving information and we selectively pay attention to only a tiny fraction of it.  Hence, I could easily choose to ignore this sensory information as well.  I completed my five hour journey in comfort.

However, most of the time, we are operating from unawareness.  We get locked into habitual ways of perceiving things and tend to neglect information that is contradictory to our belief systems.  (I elaborated on this in “What’s Good and New?”)

What new possibilities would open up for us if we were to adopt a more conscious way from hereon?  I often give this analogy to my clients – trapped emotions, cellular memories and limiting beliefs lock us into habitual ways of seeing the situation.  We consequently drive ourselves into ‘panic rooms’ and are virtually blind to other options.  When we clear these ‘clouding blindfolds’ and adopt a more receptive perspective, suddenly where we saw only one shut door, we begin to see other unexplored ones.  We see that we may actually be able to free ourselves from this ‘trapped’ position.   For once we start seeing that other alternatives exist – that in itself empowers us to address our existing entrapment in a radically new way.

Access Consciousness pose some useful questions that help us to start seeing differently.  One of the most simple and useful ones is:

“What else is possible?”

How we direct our attention – with or without awareness, openness and choice – can make all the difference.  The next time you feel trapped by a situation, try asking yourself the above question.  If you have been brought here, a way out surely exists. Perhaps this approach will help you find that way forward.

Otherwise, in a lighter vein, our own distracted ways may continue to beguile us as easily as the ‘best pickpocket in the world’ does in this video:

 

Image Source:  Flickr Robin Elaine (under Creative Commons)

Lessons From Shaping Clay

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Noticing a sign announcing a pottery class, my friend and I impulsively stopped our bike and inquired if we could have a class right away.  With only a few hours left before we headed back to our city, we could not have imagined how easily this opportunity had presented itself.  She an artist and me an experimenter at heart, we were both curious to try our hand at the potter’s wheel.  Knowing fully well that this short time could only be a playful trial, we were still keen to experience a taste of this art.

The virtual experience of the best of apps cannot compare with reality. The feel of the cold, wet, tough clay was enlivening.    The teacher’s patience extraordinary and my lack of skill obvious.  It was soon evident that a great deal of strength and attention was required to knead the clay malleable.  The young man was giving me gentle, encouraging instructions.  The wet mixture felt wonderful to handle.  Like reconnecting with earth itself.  But it was challenging work.  All through the exercise, he kept repeating, “Good, good!  But slow down! Slow down! Just a nudge. Slowly”.  The clay would break and I would give a disappointed sigh and start again.  By the end of the hour, I had a few shakeable bowls ready.

Apparently, I had no difficulty in doing the hard work, being focused, keeping a steady hand, making fresh attempts or making a clean cut.  Nor with leaving behind my creations without the slightest hesitation.  (I was not even tempted to take snaps to hold on to them.)  But I was thoughtful.  With the side of my hand feeling slightly grazed, I washed up and awaited his comments.  He repeated, “Fine for a first try. But it takes time. Slower. Go slower.  It takes time. You don’t have to work it so much.  Just go slower.”  I almost laughed out loud.

The very reminder I needed to hear at this point.  Patience.  All in good time.  Keep at it.  Presented again to me through this spontaneous, unexpected hands on experience.

“You must have trained for years?” I asked. “You make it look so easy.”  He smiled and said he began as a child and for six months only made the basic bowl.  The whole day.  Every day.  The challenge was to make four  absolutely identical bowls.  Only then would he be taught the next step.  I was reminded of the martial art movies and the intense discipline they describe.  This was not very different.

We went on to hear his fascinating journey from potter to actor/director/filmmaker. Apparently, he stayed in the city and would return home to relax with his pottery.  He found it cleared his head.  (I could well understand how that could happen.)  It also explained his immense talent, humility and mature demeanour.  Here was a man who had learned from the many streams of life and could live it with simplicity.  The ease of being present that probably came largely as a consequence of hundreds of hours of being present to the task at hand – the wielding, yielding, breaking and remaking of clay forms.

Who we are  shows up in everything we do. It follows that being observant of any of our activities can inform us greatly about the inner workings of our mind and heart at that point. For example, it is easy to notice the change in pace when we walk, or the change in our pitch, tone and volume as we speak in different moods.  But these simple ways of self awareness are often forgotten in the busy rush of daily life.

Taking a break from routine activity and watching ourselves in an alien environment is an easy way of making the subtle more obvious. Perhaps that is why so many seekers are drawn to travel. Being in fresh, unfamiliar surroundings can accentuate our otherwise hidden traits and make us more aware of our strengths and challenges.

Artistic endeavours provide a light hearted way to receive the message you need to hear in the moment.  The insights that can be gleaned from a few splashes of paint, weaving of a few threads or as in this case – playing with a little clay – can be meaningful.

I came away feeling a little calmer and a little lighter.  Calmer because of the kinesthetic reminder, “It’s all okay. Slow down. Keep going. Everything in its own time.”  Lighter – because of the playfulness and joy of impulse, exploration, trial, success and failure.  And the ease of surrendering it all – letting it all go.

My invitation to you – go ahead and sing that song, or dance that dance you have been meaning to try.  

You may not get it all right in the first attempt.  But you will surely be happy to have lived the experience.

As for life, it will continue to flow.

Maati kahe kumhar se, tu kya rondhe mohe
Ek din aisa aayega, mein rondhugi tohe”~ Kabir

Image:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/kellinahandbasket/ (Creative Commons)

Unpeeling Our Labels

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When we call a dog a ‘dog’, there is an implicit expectation that we are both in agreement with who/what a dog is.  But this is an incomplete communication of what a ‘dog’ means to each person in the conversation.  For example, for one – it is immediately associated with a soul friend, for another with fear and for yet another, it’s simply a four legged mammal that can be domesticated.  All of these views are equally valid and concurrently true for each one.   The point is that even when we think we are having a reasonable discussion around ‘facts’ or data points, we may be describing something completely different to each other and then wondering at the conflict.  The words are mere pointers that can easily mislead us without a sufficient acknowledgement of context.

The challenge of this is highlighted in the use of labels.  And let there be no mistake, ‘mother’, ‘friend’, ‘widow’, ‘divorcee’,  ‘doctor’, ‘teacher’,  etc…  are all often used as labels.  Convenient short forms used to convey a part of the story.  Superficial, if not totally misleading.  Because the details of that role can only be known to the individual living his or her own unique story.

The roles that we play also change from time to time, as we can never really be one thing all the time.  I have written about the fundamental flaw in type casting ourselves in “Through the Looking Glass“.   Realistically, for many of us, the willingness to step out of the need for any and all self definition may come slowly, perhaps at a later point in the journey.

But to proceed further on the path of freeing ourselves from unconsciousness, the questioning of definitions could be highly useful and may even be of burning relevance in many cases. Unexamined thoughts and implicit assumptions can be major contributors to the challenges you may be facing right now.  Because we assume there is one definitive norm to be lived up to, we battle expectations and judgments that (knowingly or unknowingly) influence our choices and behaviour.  In the attempt to fit in to the box defined for us, we embrace confusion and consequent frustration and exhaustion.

So here is an exercise that you could try:

  1. Keep some quiet time for yourself.
  2. Sit in silence for a few minutes, with your eyes closed.  Imagine as though you are breathing in and out of your heart.
  3. Select an area of your life that you are troubled about.
  4. Ask yourself, what is the label/defining description most commonly assigned to you in this context?  For example, it could be ‘a success’ or ‘a failure’ in the context of work, or ‘father’ or ‘son’ in the context of family, or  ‘entrepreneur’ or ’healer’ in the context of profession.  Select  the  term that comes foremost to your mind.
  5. Now reflect upon each of these questions, one at a time.  You may capture your answers on paper.
    • What does this term mean to me?
    • What does it really mean to the people immediately affected by my understanding of it?
    • Am I really comfortable with their version of it or do I need to clarify my own version of it?
    • If I gave myself the freedom to live ‘this’ in a way that is authentic to me, who would I be?  What would I be doing, what would I be saying, what would I look like?
    • What interpretation of this would bring me greater enthusiasm, energy and peace?
    • What prevents me from clarifying and adopting this new interpretation?  
    • What would it take to release those blocks?
  6. After you feel complete with these questions, close your eyes and visualize a violet flame. Now imagine you have all of your questions and answers written on a piece of paper that you release into this violet flame, holding the intention of ‘Purify’ in your heart.  The intent is to become neutral to all of this now.
  7. If there remains any residual emotional charge you can use the Access Clearing Statement or EFT to help clear whatever is left of it.

You may be surprised at the depth of insights and shifts that show up for you after this process.  Please write in with your experience and if you find it useful, please do share the process with others.

Really Short Stories: A Clean Sweep

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She swept her garden clean, wiping the sweat off her brow. It was hard work, maintaining this place.  Rising before daylight, diligently raking fallen leaves from the ground. When she was done, the courtyard was a pristine clean. Visitors would pause, untold, at the doorway.  Hesitant to drag in mud with their shoes.  One quick look and it was obvious. The space was not just clean but sacred. She poured her heart into the grounds with every stroke.  They would speak more softly, more gently here. Time would slow down. They would savour the modest tea she offered.  Join her as they watched fresh flowers and leaves float slowly to the ground. They would shake their heads and say, “More work for you”. But she would smile and respond, ‘That is life. We are never done.’

One particularly hot day, the winds blew in a stranger. Towering, commanding on his steed. He was tired and hungry, wanting shelter and shade. He bustled into her space, too flustered to notice the dust he carried in. He brazenly led the horse right to her stored water and let it drop its head in. She emerged from the kitchen to protest but stifled her scolds. Her eyes took in his exhaustion and self occupation. She thought to herself, ‘This soul needs some rest, however rich his robes.’ So she silently offered them both sustenance for the body and spirit. They were too needy to realize the inconvenience they caused. How they stretched her meagre possessions, the messiness they brought. She didn’t mind it either. The horse was as grateful as the Master.  After three days had past, he gruffly thanked her and left.

Only to return again. This time he was less exhausted but more demanding than before. She pointedly told him he could rest a day, no more.  Annoyed, he attempted to buy her hospitality. Proffering silks and spices in lieu of rest. She laughingly gave them back and suggested, “Try more respect instead. I have no need for your riches. But if you tell me a tale of two, that may be more interesting. Perhaps more useful too.”  So he told her about his adventures and grew prouder with each tale. She listened attentively,  but wasn’t as enchanted as he expected.  His tales got more exaggerated, his demeanour more arrogant and proud.  But the further he got from truth, the more impatient she became. Finally she told him, “Its best you leave in the morning”.   Seething he snapped, “What would you know of the world? Living in this isolated, dead town. You know nothing about life. And turn away a chance to learn!”  “It is late, you are weary. I will let you be. But tomorrow be gone Sir. It is best you leave politely.”

She slept early that night.  The next morning she said not a word as he left.  Putting in some extra effort with her broom, she recreated her tranquil place.

A few days later, he returned again. This time he was not ignorant. He knew what his soul was thirsty for. But she was also wiser. She commanded him to stop right at the door.  He bristled in anger, surprised. He had been expecting the same quiet hospitality as before. She firmly refused and repeated, “No more.”  He rankled and accused her of being selfish and unkind. Turing away weary travellers was a crime.

She wasn’t surprised at this lack of grace. “When you did not notice how I nurture this space, how can I expect you to realize it’s sacredness? The first time you were weary, your eyes were blind with not knowing what you want. You were given freely. You received fully. That was done.  You came once more, without wanting to pay the price of simple respect.  You were told to leave because of that. But you still did not get it.  Do not think you can come back here and take any of this by demand. It was not my weakness that hosted you the first time, but my understanding. The second one was a chance to learn.  A third time would be an error on my part. Turn and leave now. The first time was self occupation. The second ignorant arrogance.  This time it is pure selfishness. Of that, I will entertain none.”

The truth stung his pride and he raised his voice. Within minutes there was silence. She had turned away and gone inside. But there were others who came up to the house. The daily visitors, who knew what she was about. And they said not a word to the stranger, but simply pointed him on his way…

Only one old lady walked up to him and declared, “Son, to receive gracefully is an art. If you had understood just that, you would never have been turned away. This woman doesn’t give in from fear. She is unafraid of listening to her heart. That kind of courage cannot be threatened.”

Perhaps We Never Really Understand One Another…

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I may be an intuitive, but I cannot claim to know exactly how you perceive the world. I may be an empath feeling the waves of emotions that you do, often with the same intensity and overwhelm as you, but I cannot know what those emotions lead to in your world.  At best, this degree of sensitivity, heart coherence, firing of mirror neurons, deep listening and similar factors can provide me with a meaningful start to empathising with you.  But I often remind myself to be careful about the extent of understanding and empathy I can claim with another.

Even when an experience seems to have been shared, it will always be different for each one. That is the beauty of individuation.  I remember when my mother suddenly passed away, someone came over and  broke down. It had triggered memories of the loss of her own father and she said, ‘I know exactly what you are going through.’  I was tempted to tell her to stop, but in my numbed state, I didn’t speak up. I remember thinking, how can she know what it is like?  How can the one crying over her father know what it meant to lose my mother? How can anyone know what my mother meant to me? Our mothers were different, our relationships were different and even the aspects others saw of my mother were different. Even my own siblings would see my mother differently from me.  For anyone to come and say to me, ‘I know exactly what you are going through.’ seemed puzzling.  Consequently, I consciously avoid using the word ‘exactly’ as much as possible. Since I don’t expect anyone else to exactly understand me, my challenges or how it feels when you emerge from those stories, it is hardly appropriate for me to do the same.

Nevertheless, empathy can be a bridge builder.  It does give enough of a taste of universality and connect to remind us of the oneness underlying it all.  How far and how consistently we rise above the individual perceptions to the unified experience of it will be something that is decided by the ripeness of the moment.

When I began to describe myself as an Inner Landscape Artist, this clarity was there, but not explained so clearly. The only work I refer to is on myself. What I do is share what worked for me with you. If you feel interested or called in some way, you are welcome to use some of that in mapping your own inner worlds.

And whenever grace permits this – we will meet seamlessly.  Bridged by the remembrance of our true nature.

Until then, let us simply be present to one another.

Poem first shared on FB on November 11th, 2013

Perhaps we never really understand one another,
Get the other’s point of view…

Why do we even expect to?
Our experiences are different,
The perceptions, the circumstance,
Each designed to create 
Our own unique song and dance 
 
Instead of attempting to empathise completely
Pretend we know, see or feel
What the other has gone through, or does
Let us be honest and real:
The truth is that I can care enough
To attempt to relate,
To listen, respect and at best, imagine,
What another attempts to narrate.
 
But I can not truly live it, know it -
As you do,
We live our lives in our own skin,
And the miracle lies in our sincere willingness
To know, be present, accept
Another’s journey, their point of view.
Even if we can be fully present and open,
To respecting their desire to share -
That in itself is a miracle:
To be available, receptive and aware.

9 Buffet Tips That Can Be Applied To Life

Sangeeta:

The end of the year can be a time of over indulgence in more ways than one. I felt revisiting these tips would be relevant and useful at this point.

Originally posted on Serene Expression:

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Even if the menu says ‘All you can eat‘, what you get out of the meal is largely up to you.  Much as is the case with life. Like the generous spread on offer at a lavish buffet, we are offered a wide variety of experiences.  And just as we can navigate the meal in different ways with varying consequences, so it is with life.  It has taken me a while to learn the ‘art of eating at buffets’ and I felt many things understood there are equally relevant to the way we move through life.  So here are 9 parallels one could draw between enjoying such meals and life:

  1.  Run a quick survey first:  Instead of loading up the plate from the start, an observant glance around the table will give a good idea of what is on offer.  While it may be tempting to think one can…

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