Last month, our host Kumud Ajmani and #SpiritChat, celebrated 9 years of weekly spiritual and inspirational conversations. Congratulations! I may have joined six months or so after its launch, though I’m not sure when exactly. Since then, invariably every conversation includes at least one Tweet on #SpiritChat that makes a reference to Self-Love.
I’m copying a paragraph from a recent article I wrote on my blog Inequalities, Racism, Self-Love and Action that I think is relevant. I imagine that a world filled with self-loving individuals would be a more peaceful, respectful, joyful and loving world, would you agree?
“Self-love is not gloating or self-aggrandizing. One could argue that if someone is gloating, they are seeking approval from someone other than themselves, in order to give self the permission needed to feel loved. To practice self-love is to go beyond societal and cultural expectations of one’s successes and/or failures. Self-love is the deep knowing within oneself that one matters, has value to offer, is a light, for simply existing and being one’s heart centered, authentic Self.”
For me, the essence of self-love is a clear unimpeded connection to one’s heart space, soul wisdom, and love within. It includes giving self: acceptance, love, kindness, and permission to fail. It may also require taking things lightly, being free of judgment (work in progress), treating self as one’s best friend, and creating opportunities to express oneself authentically and creatively. In addition, I find it helpful through the self-love practice, to develop an awareness of the inner critic, and to apply tools to minimize its influence. How are you practicing self-love and what does it mean to you?
Join us this Sunday at 9am ET for a conversation about “The Essence of Self-Love” and share your experience with it.
It is with great pleasure and gratitude that I welcome Elisa (@womenandbiz) to host #SpiritChat on Sunday, Aug 9 at 9amET on Twitter. Please join in and share with Wlisa and the #SpiritChat community. Namaste. – Kumud
It was about this time last summer that I decided to undertake a project to “rock-scape” all the plant beds on the sides and the back of the house. I figured that this would be a sort of a permanent solution to the annual mulching of the beds in spring. The landscape fabric was first laid down around the existing plantings, and then a lot of “river rock” was put down. The fabric and rock was in effect removing the foundation for weeds to grow. It looked great and the remaining part of last summer was essentially free of pulling weeds from the beds. And yet, my celebration was not to last through this summer.
I hadn’t figured on the ingenuity of nature. There are two bird-feeders stationed in two of the beds, from which seeds are constantly spilled onto the rock-scape below by the birds throughout the day. Earlier this summer, I saw some of these seeds starting to grow through small gaps in the rocks. I figured they wouldn’t last long, because their roots couldn’t possibly go past the landscape fabric. I was only partly correct. When I went to pull these new ‘weeds’, they did come out relatively easily because their roots had grown laterally along the fabric.
That’s the story of the weeds that grew without a deep foundation anywhere and everywhere there was seed, water, sunlight, air gaps and a little bit of soil. They couldn’t grow deep, but they figured out a way to create a new foundation. Something similar happens to us humans too. Seeds of thoughts and emotions are always traveling to the soil of our hearts and minds. These seeds, seeking new foundations, travel to us from friends and family, co-workers, media and social media, Zoom chats, WhatsApp conversations, and much more.
So, how do we ordinarily deal with these seeds? I have a bit of a “let me rock-scape my mind” approach. The idea is to prevent the thought and emotion seeds to find new foundations in my mind. I have found that if I can keep my mind relatively “weed free”, then my heart has a good chance to operate at its optimal level too. Despite my rock-scaping, I still have to do a daily weeding of the seeds that find their way through and grow roots, shallow as they may be. And yet, there is another aspect to the notion of “new foundations”.
For establishing or renewing a garden or landscape with flowers and plantings, garden centers often sell young plants and flowers in planters. When re-planting these plants and flowers at home, it is vital to provide good quality soil, some fertilizer and lots of water so that they can establish deep, healthy roots and thrive in their new foundation. The storms and droughts of life, the re-plantings and re-growths are best handled by those whose foundations run deep in faith and love,
New foundations are best established by those whose spiritual practices help them to keep out the weeds, as well as grow healthy new gardens no matter where life takes them on their journeys. I invite you take inventory of your weeds and flowers among your mind. How is the health of your heart’s garden? What seeds have established new foundations in your heart and mind lately?
P.S. Join us in our weekly twitter chat, Sunday August 2 at 9amET / 630pm India. We will plant some new seeds with the #SpiritChat community as we begin a new year and build some new foundations for new friendships. Namaste – @AjmaniK
A planter with marigold flowers is ready to be planted into its new foundation…
I have always been a fan of the number nine. I was delighted when I first found out that if you added the number nine to any number, and you sum up the resulting digits, you got back the sum of the digits that you started with. Nine is preservative in addition. So, let’s say we begin with 25. Two plus five is seven. Now, add nine, and we get 34. Three plus four is seven. Let’s add ninety-nine. 34 plus 99 is 133. One plus three plus three is seven. Try adding 999. 1132. Still seven.
Now try multiplication with nine. Nine becomes transformative. The resulting sum of the digits will always be nine. 25 times 9 is 225. Two plus two plus five is nine. 25 times 99 is 2,475. Two plus four plus seven plus five is 18. One plus eight is 9. Yes, we can play with nines like this all day long. Magical when we slow down to contemplate, isn’t it?
In human life, when nine is engaged in multiplication, it becomes an agent for transformation. For example, it takes nine months for a human baby to be born. Is there any greater act of transformation than two cells becoming a baby? Can you think of an example in our daily lives where addition by nine represents preservation? I will give you a personal example.
Nine years ago to the day, give or take a few days, a few folks gathered on twitter on a Sunday morning at 11am ET and had a conversation about spirituality. The topic was, “On Slowing Down”. There was no agenda or expectation that there would even be a second conversation the following Sunday. It was simply an experiment inspired by a question posed by me to one of my good friends – why isn’t there any chat on twitter about spirituality? Wayne’s response was — so what if there isn’t one? Why don’t you start one?
Answer a question with a question. That’s the classic way in which a teacher and mentor can nudge us to do something that takes us out of our comfort zone. I remember thinking back then — what will I even talk about? So, I asked Wayne again. What should the topic be? His response was — what do you love doing most? Talk about that. Hmm. What do I love doing most? I love slowing down, sitting and doing “nothing”. I learnt that from my Dad.
He could sit and read the newspaper for hours. He could sit in absolute stillness and silence with a cup of tea at peace for what seemed the longest time. He could stand in the kitchen patiently and tend to the assembly of his seven-layered, seven-colored rice dish for what seemed like forever. You simply couldn’t rush him for anything.
So, in the last week of July, which happens to be his birthday week (he would have been eight six this year), on a Sunday morning in 2011, a few friends of mine gathered and chatted about “slowing down”. There were only three questions. I did not ask the first question until twenty minutes into the hour. We had no idea what we were doing except that we were all simply happy to be there, enjoying each other’s company as we held our cups of tea or coffee and wondered about the merits of “slowing down”.
That was then. Nine years ago. It seems like a life-time or more in online years. And yet, not much has changed in some ways since 2011, has it? If anything, the need for us to experience the magic of slowing down is all the more greater, isn’t it? How else is one to engage in remembrance and gratitude, if not through the active process of slowing down? How else, if not by slowing down, am I to thank all of those who have sent hundreds of thousands of words of hope and inspiration to the #SpiritChat community over the years?
How about slowing down offline? It is in slowing down that I can watch and deeply feel the sun rise slowly at the eastern end of the street at dawn or feel the silvery glow of the sliver of the moon’s rising at dusk. Slowing down allows me to contemplate the beauty of the flower that was separated overnight and fell to the ground in homage to the earth. It allows me to touch the dew fallen in the grass with light feet, and inhale the air of the cool morning breeze before the heat rises and melts it away. And yes – how is one to engage in meditation, if not by first slowing down physically and remembering to bring myself to a state of rest?
So yes, slowing down allows us to return to remembrance. Regularly slowing down within allows us to be in constant remembrance. What kind of remembrance? The external world will be relentless in its demands on us, and yet That stillness will remain in our hearts forever. It shall be patiently waiting for us to accept its invitation to visit with it, to let the outer world be, and to choose to be immersed in the world within. Will we make that choice? How much can we slow ourselves down? Will we observe the observer and remember that there is That permanent, indestructible, all-loving, all-joyous, all-truthful One within All off us?
That remains the great question, the great challenge.
Nature has some pointers for us. As fast as a hummingbird flies or a bee buzzes or a butterfly flaps her wings, they all have to slow down, to come to a moment of stillness, so that they can experience the magical taste of the nectar of life. What can we learn from their behavior? Even the new puppy, who can go a hundred miles an hour, has to pause for a drink of water, a nibble at her food bowl, before she can take off again like an express train towards her next station of play.
Like the piano virtuoso Wayne Mcevilly, who inspired me to start the weekly chat nine years ago said — the greatest classical music compositions are so because the composers put as much care into putting the pauses into the right place, as they did into assigning the notes that each instrument is to play.
Let us condense nine years into nine minutes. That is my invitation to you. Take nine minutes and be still. Watch your breath or the light in your heart or the sunrise or the sunset or a single flower dancing in the stillness. Absolute stillness. There is magic in all of That. Thou art That. That is all there Is.
We all can experience all of That, if we were to embrace the act of slowing down. No magic necessary.
P.S. Join me and the #SpiritChat community on Sunday, July 26 at 9amET as we slow down to create some magic. I look forward to hearing from you about your experiments with pure stillness. I will bring tea and maybe even some cake – you bring your open hearts and we will chat. Namaste – @AjmaniK
A bee slows down to visit a butterfly bush in the front yard
I wouldn’t be surprised if the notion of “play” isn’t exactly on the forefront of most people’s minds these days. With all the challenges facing us in so many areas of our lives, it almost seems “tone deaf” to even talk about “play”. And how are we to effect spiritual healing through “play”? Let me tell you a small story.
Last week, I talked about the new puppy that has done a “takeover” of our home. As one would imagine, her energy level is simply off the charts. It took her a mere two or three days to cajole the older dog to engage in full out play with her. He simply couldn’t resist his instinct all her invitations to play, and eventually they both were having long sessions of all out, football like scrimmages on the living room floor. The quiet, brooding, meditative seven year old came back to life. I didn’t know that he still had it in him to engage in “play” with such joy and abandon.
Then, another thing happened. One morning, I gave her her newly discovered, favorite, dog-bone shaped, mini-biscuit. I walked away, thinking that she would be busy for a while. When I returned a few minutes later, she was sitting in the exact same spot that I had left her, in the position that is her invitation for us adults to come play with her. The treat had been set aside in the corner of her play pen, untouched. Silly me. I then realized that her favorite treat wasn’t the dog biscuit — the opportunity to play was her favorite treat!
And so, I wondered. Where do we “adults” lose our propensity to engage in “play”? Is it that words and phrases like “leadership” or “responsibility” or “accountability” or “parenting” or “setting a good example” and so on make us forget our playful nature? All of us, in our formative years after birth discovered the world around us through play, didn’t we? We would play, sleep, eat, drink, and do it all over again the next day, wouldn’t we? So, what happened somewhere along the line that we largely forgot our sense of play? Why is it that we forgot the connection of play to our well-being and health?
Or did we really forget? Maybe we simply replaced physical play with other kinds of play. What is “play” anyway? One way to define play is its outcome – how do we feel after the experience of play? If we feel lighter, more joyous, more at peace in any or all of the three – the heart, body or mind – after engaging in any activity, then we have engaged in play. Any creative activity that engage us in a manner which heals our heart, body or mind, can indeed be a form of play. Don’t you think so?
The painter with her colors and brushes and crayons and pencils and stencils and canvases is at play. The photographer with his cameras and landscapes and portraits and lenses and perspectives is at play. The amateur cook dabbling in the kitchen with recipes and spices or baking new creations is at play. The dancer, the musician, the writer, the poet – all are at play because their heart is lighter, their mind is healed with their activity. Any action can become play, if we approach it with a light, joyful and playful attitude. And yes, even ‘spiritually focused’ activities like meditation, yoga, prayer and more, can become play. Why not?
In the Bhagavad Gita (“the song divine”), it is said that this entire world is a creation of the divine energy at play. It is further said that the deepest and highest form of love is manifested as a result of this play. If one were to believe this to be true, then we can realize that play has tremendous (healing) energy. Imagine what our life would look like, if we were to open our heart and accept the invitation to play. In loving play, we could all experience deep bliss, deeper awareness and the deepest truth in all of our being, all over again.
P.S. Join us on Sunday, July 19 at 9amET on twitter for our weekly community gathering in #SpiritChat. We will toss around some questions and answers, and experience the healing energy of play. I hope you can join us. Namaste – @AjmaniK
Hydrabgea in bloom – a wonderful example of nature at play!
A few months ago, I started hearing the word in fragments of mother-daughter conversations in my home. She had been physically out of school since spring break this year, and we had been mostly self-quarantined for several months until school officially ended towards the end of May. No summer camp. No meeting up with friends. No getting together with cousins. I guess, somewhere along the line, she decided that the home – or rather she, wanted another dog to give her and our seven year old puppy some company.
And so her search started with online portals, spreading the word among her friends, calling local shelters and so on. Her requirements were fairly stringent and that shortened the list of possibilities considerably. Almost every other day, Mom would help her put in adoption applications when there was a “match” online. A few days later the email would come, saying that the “match” had already been adopted. Week after week, I could see her getting more and more disheartened.
“Give it some time, honey. Be patient, and it will happen. The puppy you are supposed to get will show up.” Supposedly comforting words from a Dad who had tried to discourage her from the idea from the very beginning. I wasn’t sure that she was “ready” for another dog in the house. More like I was the one who wasn’t ready. So, after eight weeks of this roller coaster of applying and being denied, it seemed like she let the idea go for a few weeks. Mom kept making phone calls, leaving messages for folks.
Then, one lady from Indiana called back on July 1st afternoon and said – yes, there is availability. Possibility. Hope.
So, we decided that we were going to make an eight hour roundtrip to see if things would work out. A few hours later, another phone call. A lady whom my wife had called six weeks ago was on the phone. She said that one of her puppies was ready to be re-homed. In the course of the conversation, we came to know that our current seven year old had the same bloodline as the one that she was trying to get re-homed. Not only that, she lived two hours away and she could bring the puppy to our home the next day as she was going to be passing through Cleveland on a road-trip to north-west Ohio.
Too good to be true, yes? If I hadn’t been witness to all of it myself, I would have said “no way” too. The combination of yielding time and space to a heart set on a love-driven desire can allow for the universe to work in our favor. On July 3rd 2020, virtually seven years to the day that we adopted “Tucker” ( who was renamed “Bubbles”), we received his sister “Flower” (who was renamed “Bindi”). Unfettered joy, some tears, a lot of broken sleep patterns, and a huge rearranging of our lives has happened in the past week.
In the small, last minute Zoom meeting on Friday, I asked Lucille – so, what’s new with you? I hadn’t told them any of this story yet. She said, “I just got finished reading the book – ‘When the Heart Waits’ – by Sue Monk Kidd. She talks about giving yourself the ‘chrysalis time’ in your life – time to let the caterpillar develop into the butterfly (of creativity).” How appropriate, I thought. Giving yourself time, allowing the universe to work in harmony with you when you sometimes feel as if the whole world is conspiring against you, your heart and your goals and dreams…
Chrysalis time for the heart and its space, the heartspace that is our constant companion. I dug up an Osho essay where he spoke about time, reason (the mind), and the heart:
Time exists only for the mind, for reason. For the heart there is no time; the heart exists in timelessness. So, the mind insists on haste, hurry, urgency – and the mind becomes tense. Things should happen instantly – such is the insistence of reason. But the heart knows no time, there are no clocks for it. That is why the heart exists timelessly and it can wait — infinitely. — Osho in Vedanta – The Art of Dying
So, here we are. Life teaches us so many lessons. It invites us to listen with the heart, to allow for our heartspace to simply be timeless. Timelessness invites us to disengage from the daily conflict of opposites. In timelessness, the heart of the caterpillar learns to rest in, allow for chrysalis time.
P.S. After a few days, Bubbles and Bindi are starting to play together. His heart has accepted that Bindi is here to stay, that she is part of the family. All of us look forward to their football-like scrimmages at all hours of the day. He may outweigh here by a factor of five (that won’t last long!), but that doesn’t deter her from taking him on with the youthful heart and dynamic energy of one who knows not much about reason, time or space.
P.P.S I invite you to join our weekly twitter conversation on Sunday, July 12 at 9amET in #SpiritChat. I may share a puppy photo or two with you, and give you the daily update of puppy mayhem. Yes, there will be questions and tea and cookies. It will be good to see some of you after a week’s hiatus… – @AjmaniK
Bubbles – the result, so far, of seven years of all-heart
The breeze blows swift this morning under overcast skies and the grasses rimming the lake seem a tad taller from having been replenished by the light rain that fell all night long. It’s the kind of morning on the deck where a light T-shirt isn’t warm enough and a sweat-shirt wouldn’t be cool enough… and so I put on a yellow soccer jersey with Brazil colors on top of the blue.
In the small Zoom chat on Friday, a lot of us were wearing blue again. I commented that blue was becoming a theme for the chats and Lucille (@sageandsavvy) reminded us that blue activates the “throat chakra” and empowers us to speak the truth. From hosting my niece’s wedding events on Zoom for three straight days this week, I know that yellow is the color of purity. Bride and groom wear yellow while the family applies orange turmeric paste on them, before they take a ritual bath the day before the wedding is a ritual of the ages in our community.
Blue, yellow, orange – add red and green trimmed with gold – the traditional colors worn by Indian brides, a lot of music, dance, and laughter, and you get a soul-filling vibrance that energized me and all those present. The energy of love and joy of the young bride and groom was unmistakable – even from seven thousand miles away. It was a wedding like me and many others had never experienced – an immersion and engagement of a different , unique kind where you could be fully present to the flow of youth-led celebration, without all the distractions and stresses of attending a real-life wedding.
As I write this, the wind has calmed a bit, and out of the corner of my eye, I see that the Mama rabbit who has set up family camp in the thick shrub beyond the fence, has arrived at the base of the deck’s steps. At a six foot distance, we have been doing this stillness dance for a few days. We are aware of each other, but we only look at each other through sideways glances, and we both sit in stillness — a bit like how the bride and groom sat during the fire ceremony part of the wedding. Once she has decided that she is safe, she moves to the base of the bird-feeder where the spillover created by the blackbirds is her repast. My phone flashes a notification — “Flight from GOI to BOM at 9am” — this was to be my return flight from the wedding in Goa. Rescheduled for next June.
Now, where was I? Yes. The contagious, vibrant, energetic refueling of the spirit provided by immersion in the colors and sounds of youthful energy. Last week was confirmation of a direction that I had been called to the week before – to focus my energy towards greater engagement with folks who are young in heart and spirit.
This new direction is not merely about engaging those who are young in age, although they are the inspiration for it. It is about offering the energetic experience, the wisdom, the talents of those who have been on life’s roads less traveled, to those emerging youth who will lead our world into its new future.
Some of this reminds me of my good friend Jon Mertz of @ThinDifference, whom I met on Twitter, and is the first Twitter friend I met IRL on a visit to Dallas. He has supported #SpiritChat for many years, particularly in its youthful years, and has been a long term proponent of “engaging generations and empowering future leaders.” It also reminds me of Simon Harvey (@Simon_GB), a day one #spiritchat participant, whose passion for leadership flowed through #LeadfromWithin for many a year.
I believe it is time for me to follow their lead, the lead of my calling, and the lead of many others like @GrandmaOnDeck, @GaryRGruber, @VegyPower and more. I believe it is time to focus on engaging the energy of youth across the world, and dive headlong into this new experiment and calling to a return to the heart.
I hope you will join me in this new walk. I was going to wait to start walking towards this in a few weeks, but Elisa (@WomenandBiz) in yesterday’s Zoom chat taught me through a Maya Angelou quote — why wait to do the next good thing? Sharon (@AwakeningYourTrueSelf) encouraged me to follow the new direction with the same passion that I have had for the weekly #SpiritChat and Quaratulain (@iquarattariq), the youth representative in the Zoom chat, lent her warm, heartful endorsement.
So, here I am. I am hoping that some of you who have been with the #SpiritChat community for a while will provide inputs, ideas and guidance to this not-so-new heart direction for many of us. I will need all of your help and more, to take the current energy of “we’re all in this together” and transform it into action, so as to effect a transfer of power that will create a new core of leadership at the heart of this world.
I know that we can do this by engaging a new generation that leads and acts with the heart — for that is the key to sustainability.
My three week retreat is over. I’m back. Refueled. Ready for a new launch. Join me. Let all of us young in heart and spirit, you and Me, turn this world upside down, and become We.
Let us arise, awake, and stop not!
P.S. Join us in our weekly chat, Sunday June 28 at 9amET / 630pm India as we gather to celebrate the energy of youth. Maybe I will switch from tea to juice, and from cookies to fresh fruit. Namaste – @AjmaniK
The longer I wait to write this post on Saturday morning, the shorter the shadows get in the back of the house which faces west. The Sun, slowly ascending towards its peaking of the day, on this day when daylight reach its ascendancy over darkness in the northern hemisphere, I contemplate union and unity.
A tiny baby dragonfly in resplendent blue with translucent wings lands in the center of the rainbow colored hula hoop encrusted with silvery highlights lying on the floor of the deck. An orange winged blackbird lands on the wrought iron post holding the bird feeder, squawks loudly as it departs without partaking, as if to say that I need to fill it again. The two boys on their swings across the lake have been going back and forth for the past half hour, unassisted, as they have surely mastered their art of Joy. The lake glistens and ripples as it often does in the harmony of the slight breeze and the low angle of the Sun’s light from the East. My cup of tea is empty but I am too enamored by it all to move off of the deck, lest I miss something vital.
Where was I? Ah, yes. Union and Unity. In the 5th century BC, the Indian sage Patanjali, compiled a treatise called The Yoga Sutras. It is said to be the collation of the knowledge and practices of the lives of the practitioners of Yoga of the time. Patanjali wrote about Yoga as a thread of aphorisms explaining the relationship between the natural world, the inner spirit of humans, and the unity between them.
The practice of Yoga can be simply described as any practice which leads to union between the external and the internal. Yoga is the manifestation of the unity that we often intrinsically seek in the paradox of living in the transient external world while seeking the permanent within.
Swami Vivekananda describes this striving for union in the form of four paths of Yoga, all emerging from One as we move outward on them, and then converging into One as we return home. These four paths are the path of work and action, the path of knowledge, the path of devotion and the royal path of meditation. Why do we need four paths? Why not just one?
Perhaps because all humans, like the colors of the rainbow, have different propensities and inclinations that they bring into their physical existence. So, the offering of four distinct and yet non-exclusive and equal paths of Yoga, invites the practitioners of love to practice love in the way that they may be most attracted towards in their current state of life. Very often, a human may practice all four paths simultaneously, with different levels of intensity at different times of the day and night.
The Yoga of action may dominate during the day, knowledge path may prevail during reading or observing nature, devotion may take over during prayer, meditation may subsume one at dawn or dusk or other times. Yes, we are all practitioners of multiple paths, whether we are aware or conscious of the particular path, or even the goal, for that matter.
And the goal? One goal is to manifest the unity of the four paths into the realization that our true state is where the states of permanence, knowledge, and bliss, unite us in our union with the One.
A sense of unity often precedes Union. However, we know that unity cannot be decreed by a constitution or any number of bills of rights or legislatures or courts or executives and their orders. It is just like a rainbow cannot be decreed to appear or be perceived — the sun and the rain drops and a number of other conditions have to come together to create it with harmony. The rainbow appears when human nature recognizes that the union of colors, while maintaining their independence and their right to individually exist as equals, can only enhance the beauty of the world for all who set their eyes upon such a union.
How does union and unity manifest? We can observe union in father-children relationships, in a bride and groom’s joyfulness on their wedding day, in a decision to be aware of and celebrate all the physical light steaming upon us during summer solstice. Perhaps the greatest manifestation of unity and union is in an individual’s decision to work towards their union with the divine through the path of Yoga of their choice.
To be friendly towards those friendly towards us, to be joyous for them in their joy, to be empathetic towards those suffering, and to be indifferent without attitude towards those with evil intent – these four practices of maitri, mudita, karuna and upeksha – are considered to central to Patanjali’s definition of Yoga.
As I finish writing this, a baby sparrow has arrived on the deck and is loudly tweeting in a sliver of shade by the bird feeder. It is as if she’s asking me to get off the couch stat and do my Dad Yoga of re-filling the feeder. Such is the life of a householder- to stay unified in the heart while performing the actions related to the feeding of the world around me.
Now where did I put away that 50 pound bag of bird seed anyway?
P.S. Join me and the #SpiritChat community in our weekly twitter gathering on Sunday, June 21 at 9amET/ 630pm India. We will integrate Fathers Day (US), International Day of Yoga, Summer Solstice and the kickoff of four days of online and offline events for my niece’s wedding in India… Namaste – @AjmaniK
The tears came suddenly and as large droplets from my firmly shut and already moist eyes at the end of the morning meditation session; about midway through I had ceded any semblance of trying to get my mind’s thought pattern to calm down as the thoughts had somehow drifted to thinking about privilege by birth, and how much of it I enjoyed growing up in a middle class family in India.
The tears came as I thought of the one who probably saved my life when I was ten, as I lay bleeding and unconscious on a concrete floor, having fallen from about 20 feet high onto my left side from the first floor window. I had broken the raised bone in my left arm where it meets the wrist and bridge of my plastic glasses had embedded into my nose on impact, which was miraculously not broken, but was bleeding like the river Yamuna. She was the only adult in the house with all of us kids — the very dark-skinned South-Indian lady named Chalma who would wash dishes twice a day for three families of at least eight to ten people each who lives in a three-story home in a wealthy New Delhi neighborhood.
Her tools were used lemon rinds, and wood ashes that she brought from the remnants of the cooking fires from her home, and the husks of used coconuts that she used as a cleaning ‘sponge’. The family sized pots and pans of cast iron and copper were heavy; plates, spoons, glasses, knives were all stainless steel. One eight foot section of the granite kitchen counter top would be filled with the washed dishes after she was done. She wasn’t allowed to stand and wash in the marble sink next to the counter because the ashes would cause damage to the fine surface.
So, on the floor she sat cross legged on a small flat stool, with her frail frame bent over her kingdom of dirty dishes, coconut fiber in one hand, dipping it ever so often in the ashes sitting in an earthen bowl by her. In the morning, she did the dishes from last nights dinner. In the afternoon, she did the dishes from breakfast and lunch. Once or twice every day, she was chided by the lady of the home, not to let the tap of fresh water run so freely. Her job was particularly difficult in the summer when running water only came for an hour, twice a day — during the early hours of the morning and the late afternoon. If she missed that running water window because she was ‘late to work’, she would have to use water that we would have filled in heavy aluminum buckets the night before, and lined her workspace with in a quarter circle — water that she would treat like molten gold as she used it sparingly, and wash out thoroughly for the next day, after she had washed all the dishes…
And then there was the lady who would come and sweep all the finely crafted and smoothed concrete floors of our family’s 1500 sq ft home on the middle floor of the three story home. The ‘dry sweeping’ with the traditional broom was the relatively easy part. What was much tougher was the mopping that followed. It was done with a heavy cotton-roped cloth about two feet square, sitting on her haunches as she dipped the cloth with her bare hands in the water doused with phenylaline as a disinfectant, moving slowly, a few square feet at a time.
Her task was to remove the dust that is endemic in the oppressive summer heat of Delhi when the hot breeze called loo from neighboring Rajasthan brings hot sand with it and coats everything in its path — whether it be a shining, three story home in a wealthy neighborhood or the ramshackle tenement of the dish-washing lady who tries to feed her family every night with just enough money earned by washing dishes all day so that she can buy just enough wheat or rice filled with stones and dirt from the ration shop every week or so.
I have to admit that while all this was happening around me in middle-school, high-school and under-grad, I didn’t think about it much because it was considered “normal” for most middle-class families to employ multiple, task-specific maids. The maids and their families needed to work to live, and we were supposedly providing work, wages, an occasional cup of tea when they were done working — even a saree or some clothes for the kids on major holidays. It was a sort of unwritten societal labor contract — it was also a social network of ladies of the homes and the maids who worked through multiple homes every day.
For some reason, lately, I’ve been made aware of the privilege enjoyed by me in that contract, in painstaking detail. For me, the way out of that contract happened to be in coming to the USA for graduate studies. For them, the only way out of that contract, was perhaps death. For death does finally destroy all privilege accorded by birth, or does it?
I do remember talking to a teenage son of one particular lady who used to do the daily trash pickup and clean the bathrooms — the dish washing lady, the floor cleaning lady, laundry washing and clothes ironing lady, and bathroom washing lady were all separate — if he had ever considered going to school. I don’t know that he ever answered me directly except by saying with his brilliant smile and impish grin with slightly downcast eyes — bhaiya (brother), this is my life, and I am happy doing the work given me.
So, that is why all the tears came. His statement, which I never forgot, was such a simple reminder that “it isn’t the task that makes the person high or low — it is the manner in which it is done, that makes the person so.” The tears also served as a reminder of what I have read so often in two of my favorite essays delivered in London in 1896 — “Vedanta and Privilege”, and “Privilege” — both by Swami Vivekananda.
A quick recap may be useful. The Advaita (Oneness) philosophy of Vedanta says that for Oneness to be our truth, one needs to believe in Universal equality, in the fact that we are all manifestation of the One divine. Without that central belief and practice, our inner world is fragmented and we dwell in anger, hate, jealousy and all that which divides us. If we hold that central belief that we all have the same One light of higher embodiment, our inner world is united through an ever-flowing current of higher love.
So, what is it that destroys Oneness, ethics and equality?
“Everyone is the embodiment of Knowledge, of eternal Bliss, and eternal Existence.
The ethical effect is just the same, with regard to equality.
And yet, there is privilege – the bane of human existence. The privilege of the strong over the weak, of the wealthy over the poor, the subtle privilege of those who claim higher intellect, and the worst of all, because it is the most tyrannical, is the privilege of (birth and) spirituality – those who think of themselves as more (due to birth), or those who think they know more of spirituality (than others).” – Vivekananda
And so arise the questions in my heart-mind complex. What privilege(s) do I assert? Which privilege(s) have I inherited? What privilege(s) am I passing on in my legacy? How does privilege manifest in my actions and practices, my goals, my dreams and my aspirations? And perhaps most importantly, how do I break down the bondage of all these privileges that entangle me in the web woven by all my desires?
I don’t know. Perhaps I can begin by washing my own dishes, keeping my personal (office) space clean, and maybe doing (or at least folding) my own laundry. Or all of the above…
P.S. Join our weekly chat, Sunday June 14 at 9amET/ 630pm India in #SpiritChat on Twitter. All are welcome. No privilege necessary to attend, to share some love with all. I will bring some questions, some tea and cookies to share, for that is the small loving privilege granted me by the community for that hour. Namaste – @AjmaniK
A beautiful cool breeze is flowing this morning before the heat rises. The blackbirds are practicing their landings on the fence — the young ones are learning how to land on top of cattails. I notice at least four or five new bushes lining the forest side with their white flowers now blooming.
The sun crests the roof from behind me and starts to warm the left side of my head behind the ear. Flap, flap, flap goes the edge of my sleep shorts as I sit cross legged clutching my cup of tea, The back of my right knee is cradled on top of the left, both of them supported by the toes of my left foot, heel suspended in mid air, lifted by the wooden rail of the deck running crossways. The bullfrog announces his presence by blaring out a morning song. As if in cue, a skirmish breaks out among some blackbirds — perhaps a heated conversation about ownership of a particularly fruited bush.
My thoughts shift. The world has destroyed itself and reconstructed itself, over and over again, for centuries. My hometown of the city of Delhi, the center of many an Indian empire, is said to have been razed to the ground seven times by invaders, and been built again. So, I sit here watching the birds go about their morning routine, which is rarely if ever interrupted unless there happens to be a roaring thunderstorm that forces them to take shelter in their nests and ride it out. Unlike humans, they don’t construct permanent walls or roofs or tenements or try to brave the storm by driving through standing waters.
Yes, the younger, more impetuous ones do fly a bit faster than their parents, and seemingly a bit more recklessly in between the bushes and trees, and occasionally miss their landings atop the cattails to end up closer to the water than their mothers would like to see. But what would you do if you woke up one fine morning of your young life and realized that you had been given wings, and one of your parents, knowing that you were ready, brought you to the edge and gave your quivering young body — that is shaking with fear at the prospect of falling to your death to the earth below — a final push with a prayer beneath her breath and said, fly!
She knows that if she has misjudged the strength of your wings, you may end up on the storm soaked ground below and the earth will either gently catch you so that you may try again, or embrace you forever, orange and yellow flecked wings and all — such is the nature of life, of discernment. We try, we fail, we learn, we adjust, and we try again. No progress, at any level, from the march of an ant to the launching of a new rocket to carry humans into space, has ever been made possible by simply sitting in our nests with the fear of flying or learning to fly.
When compared to birds and bullfrogs and geese and spiders and ants and willows and roses and pine trees and even rocks, we humans are mere fledgelings in the lifespan of the earth, let alone the universe. So, the creator has endowed us with Nature as a playground and observation space where we can learn some valuable lessons that can help humanity either rise and soar, or plummet and destroy itself. The laws of time, space and causation cannot be circumvented without first understanding the basics of cause and effect. Natural laws always takes precedence over human laws, for the wisdom of the One who created the former far exceeds the ones who created the latter.
However, we humans have been given one extraordinary faculty that distinguishes us from the rest of Nature.
And that is the faculty called ‘free will’ by some and ‘discernment’ or ‘viveka’ by others. As I arrive at writing this section, the wind has shifted. A cloud has temporarily come over the Sun behind me. The blackbirds are starting to retreat and the geese have left the pond momentarily to take shelter on land. Discernment on display, and yet it is a cause and effect response to nature’s stimulus. A bit like a child touching a hot stove and learning, forming a memory that it isn’t a good idea to challenge the laws of fire and heat.
So, yes, ‘viveka’ is a faculty and a facility granted to us to convert our learning into experience and then into wisdom. When Arjuna, the aggrieved Prince of the Bhagavad Gita, refused to fight to restore the justice due to him because he did not want to kill his own half-brothers who had connived to cheat him of his rightful inheritance to the kingdom of Indraprastha — the city razed and built seven times — his teacher Krishna said to him: you have been given the duty of a warrior, so you are bound by the laws of Dharma (natural justice and truthful living) to act in the cause of its restoration; rise up and discard this despondency; stand up and fight or else an entire race of good people shall be decimated at the hands of the promulgators of evil or adharma; do not let emotion cloud your discernment, for ‘viveka’ is your greatest faculty — the ability and courage to do what is right for the greatest good; action with love produces detachment to the outcome, and yet detachment does not mean that you be attached to inaction.
It is the restoration of the good, of goodness through the use of discernment that elevates us within.
Back to my morning by the lake. When the mighty hawks stray and soar too close to the blackbirds and their young, the much smaller but deft in flight blackbirds do not hesitate to guide them back to their nests. Order is swiftly restored. The blackbirds’ size isn’t a disadvantage – they are much more flexible in changing speed and direction as compared to the hawks, because of their size. Each of us, as individuals, may be smaller than the big machinery that wants to endanger our young, and yet, with the exercise of ‘viveka’, with consistent action that works towards the restoration of ‘dharma’, we can engage in reconstruction of truth, kindness, empathy, friendship, and bliss.
Our greatest faculty and facility is the divine’s love that we carry in our heart. Let us wield that love with courage in all that we do, even if it means that we run the risk of being thought of as weak and ignorant. The evil and unjust are the ones who are weak, lacking in ‘viveka’ —and it is their hubris and heart calcification that will be their destruction. We, the wielders of love, will be the agents, the dispensers of that justice.
Natural justice is dispensed by the natural laws of time, space and causation. It is the law of karma charioted by the holders of ‘viveka’, that has for eons and civilizations, ensured victory for those committed to action for the restoration of Dharma — truth and justice.
For when the storm of natural justice arrives, it restores equality among all, regardless of size, strength, power, status or color — the hawk, the blackbird, the finch, all respond to the storm by taking refuge in their nests. Their use of discernment is in full display. Maybe we humans can observe, learn and use natural wisdom to restore ‘viveka’ in our lives too. I believe we can. How about you?
Epilogue: Written mid-week during my week-long ‘virtual retreat’ to effect some inner restoration. A lot of wandering threads here, so feel free to take what appeals or relates to you. Namaste.
P.S. Join our weekly twitter #spiritchat on twitter – Sunday, June 7 at 9amET / 1pm GMT / 630pm India. We will talk about restoration, dharma, karma and more over tea, fruit and maybe even some cookies. Bring a story to share. Namaste – @AjmaniK
From the very beginning on Saturday morning, I sat with colorless tears in my eyes that sealed my eyelids shut at the edges — perhaps not wanting to see any more darkness, perhaps mourning the state of a country ravaged by disease, death, destruction, despair, discrimination and disintegration.
And yet, after relaxation and prayer, there was the ever-present invitation to focus on the light within the heart…
After a few minutes, lightness came as a reminder of what many of us may need to do to cross the street safely – blinded as we may be right now by anger and despair and helplessness or even rage. What we may need to do is to hold on to the person in front of us… just like I would see the kids do at the school for the blind which was virtually across the street from my high school in New Delhi, India. In a show of great trust, they would each put a hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them. In a show of great hope that the person leading the line could actually see where they were going, they would safely cross the road towards light.
Enlightened, emboldened, encouraged and empowered, I closed my eyes even tighter. Another thought came to lighter the heart. Perhaps all we need to do to walk the lighted path, to lighten the heart, is to be like toddlers holding on to the hem of the divine mother’s garment as we navigate these new worlds around us. By having child-like faith that the divine knows what’s best for us, and is lighting the heart path that is best for us, we can take another light step.
We take a step forward in a faith that has stood us well through previous trials and dark times. We take a step towards light and lightness, even though that path may occasionally lead us through some seemingly insurmountable obstacles. We take another step forward, even though the path may be filled with the thorns of divisiveness. And yet, we need not despair, for we know from previous direct experience, that within all of us is planted the reservoir of love and light.
And if the reservoir of love, light, lightness is within us, then it is within them too. They may be unaware of the reservoir, but it is there — for its absence in them would violate the natural law of existence, of fairness, of divine justice. There is the existence of love within, so that we may learn to lead with it. There is the light within, so that we can turn inward towards it in those dark nights when there are no stars or moons to guide us as the storm rages around us and within us…
Light and lightness within the heart grow trust and faith. They are good defenses against the heaviness of cruelty and injustice. When we add the personal practices of mercy, empathy and kindness, we become the blooming flowers that give light and soil and water to the next generation of leaders. With our example of an enlightened heart, we encourage a new generation of youth to lead with a sense of fairness, empathy and justice. We construct a brand new world with a brand new generation of heart-centered leadership.
As a gardener, I know that it is often with the dregs of past growth, often called ‘organic matter’, that a brand new lawn or garden can be created. We spread soil mixed with organic matter over a barren land. We use good, enlightened seeds infused with great heart potential, fertilize them with hope, water them with trust and let them be warmed by the sunshine of divine grace. Then we step back and watch a new, kinder and gentler individual, family, community, society, and nation emerge.
It all begins with one heart full of light. An EnLightened heart. One heart that upholds truth, fairness, and yes, even justice — particularly justice. A heart that understands, respects, even reveres natural laws. How can I be so sure that a new lawn of leaders can be seeded? It has been said that “The divine is no respecter of persons”. My interpretation of this is that if it has been done by person, one set of people in space and time before, then it can surely be done by another person and another set of people again.
With that sense of faith and hope, let us heed the call to EnLighten our own heart. Our lighted heart full of warmth is needed to create a new landscape where flowers of truth and justice can bloom again. The woods may be dark now, but we need to keep waking and walking. “We have promises to keep” to those of the next generation holding on to us, as we lead them cross the street to light, just like we held on to the generation of light-bearers before us.
Raise the banner of love. Arise, awake, and stop not until the goal is achieved! – Swami Vivekananda
Saturday, May 30 2020. 640am.
P.S. I invite you to join our weekly conversation in #SpiritChat on twitter, held together by the glue of love and light. This week, we will gather at our usual hour of 9am ET / 1pm UTC / 630pm India. Come and share some practices, some stories, that help you EnLighten your heart. Namaste – Kumud.
After the rainstorm – light and lightness of raindrops on flowers