Saturday, April 16, 2016

Navigating the holy river of life

Enter flow - don't waste time on denial, resistance and anger because life isn't what you thought it to be.
~ Dr. Shefali

An ice-cold emerald green river in the sweltering heat of an Indian summer day. Pristine white sands laced with sparkling silver (minerals?) at the water's edge. Ancient river stones worn smooth through the ages in pastel colours of mauve, pink, marble in addition to the black and grey. Majestic hills rising on either side of the winding river.

Into this picturesque scene we took our bright little raft, and got our safety training. We are a relatively small group of 3 adults (including the instructor) and 2 older children. My 8 year old was allowed to accompany us for the first 4 km including a level one rapid. The training includes matter of fact tips on what to do if the raft capsizes. We are given to understand that maintaining a certain speed in rowing through certain parts of a rapid will allow the raft to "skate" over the tumultuous water and not capsize. We pile in holding our paddles with a death grip and perch on our respective edges of the raft. We are embarking on a 20 km stretch of white water rafting with 14 rapids en route, from the gentle grade I to the churning chaos of grade IV - including Marine Drive (Grade II), Sweet Sixteen (Grade I), Cross Fire (Grade III), Roller Coaster (Grade IV), Three Blind Mice (Grade III), Golf Course (Grade IV) etc. The instructor invites us to jump in the river before we approach the rapids and most of us do so - me mainly because I preferred to get in on my own than be tossed in happenstance; besides, who in their right minds would miss out on a dip in the Ganga?

The gentler rapids are fun, and we are given commands to row forward and stop as we practice pulling with our upper body and not just the arms. Then the higher grade rapids happen, and we row for dear life, simply doing what we need to do in complete present moment awareness as we spin and tilt amidst the whirling waters. I notice how there is a burst of thought while heading towards a big rapid ("this is a play of form, just a play of form"...then lapsing into repeating the names of God over and over!) and immediately after finishing the rapid, laughter and exhilaration, "That was amazing!" And we ply the guide with questions on the name and grade of the next rapid. The irrepressible young British boy in the raft seems to find pleasure in declaring with relish, "The next one is where we all die!"

The guide invites everyone to jump into the river for a rippling part of the stretch known as "Body Surfing", where you hold onto to the lifeline of the raft and get pulled along through the river for half a mile. It's bliss when you allow yourself to relax, lean back into the water and watch the sky as you glide through the smooth coolness of the sacred green river.

During the grade IV rapids, the spray stings and blinds my eyes as I row amidst the plunging mountain-valley-whirlpool of roaring white water all around, and I learn to not let fear widen my eyes on the next rapid. I notice how navigating a rapid almost feels like riding a bicycle - all I need to do is balance my body lightly on my little perch at the edge of the raft as it dips and spins crazily through the thundering river.

It feels well to enter flow, face the unknown and accept uncertainty. It feels right to be rowing for dear life or simply balancing through a rapid so at one with the moment that being and doing coalesce in a period of no-mind. It feels like this heightened experience offers a taste of being what we were born to be. Fearless, unattached, non-grasping, open, flowing, free. One with life.

Friday, January 22, 2016


there's a Durga in me
who startles by
unleashing herself unexpectedly
a shining sword
a tongue of flame
slayer of foes
feisty bold intransigent
suffering no fools
sufficient unto herself
walking by her wild lone
and waving her wild tail
where so it pleases her
running with the wolves
strong whole and holy
but undeniably badass
and I love her for it

then there's the turtledove
soft sweet and kind
putting herself out for all
caring nurturing sacrificing
effortlessly as only a mother can
this fragrant beautiful lotus
friend of every moment
that's the Lakshmi in me
auspicious delicious butter arising
from the churned cream of virtue

draped in the white
of serene solitude
the Saraswati in me
she's like a star
and dwells apart
in marble halls of mystery
unveiling subtle esoteric truths
in ivory towers of learning
moving amidst the celestial
music of the spheres
with the swan like grace
of her own deep knowing

this triune goddess
is me
is you
is every sister
on the face of the earth
is every woman
phenomenal woman
watch her rise

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The love that unites everything

All seems beautiful to me;
I can repeat over to men and women,
You have done such good to me, I would do the same to you, 

I will recruit for myself and you as I go; 
I will scatter myself among men and women as I go; 
I will toss the new gladness and roughness among them; 
Whoever denies me, it shall not trouble me;
Whoever accepts me, he or she shall be blessed, and shall bless me.

~From the ‘Song of the Open Road’ by Walt Whitman

This time was different. It wasn't just the pale pink bell-shaped starry flowers that adorned the highways in profusion, the grassy mist-kissed mountain-tops, or the thick verdant woods on either side of the looping hilly roads. It was the simple open-heartedness that we encountered everywhere - at the charming steep roadside coffee-shops, in random villagers who gave us directions to our destination, the petty tea stall owners, the priests serving us the last bits of free meals at a temple leaving nothing for themselves, and the friendly hospitality of our homestay hosts.

In the serving of an exquisite home-cooked meal and in the offering of a perfectly brewed cup of roadside tea was an immensity of so much more - a generous sharing of life energies, conversation, heart. A giving of their very selves. So much more than can be matched with the doling out of those little paper pieces we call money. The momentary energetic coming together can only be honoured with connection and grateful partaking and an awareness of the love that binds us all - before we go our separate ways.

Sequestered in impersonal mechanical city lives, it is a clear and periodic necessity, as John Muir said, to "keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean." To revel not just in the keen mountain air and crisp open spaces of the wood and the river, but also in the personal touch, the sharing of stories, and in discovering anew our common humanity.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Seascapes: open wide being free

The sea is fascinating in all its moods - brooding and remote, clear and playful, inviting aquamarine or forbidding indigo. With its golden white sands stretching endlessly, the eternity of sky above and the bottomless depths below clothed in the vastness of blue, it evokes infinitude in every aspect of its being. The ebb and flow of the tide and the ceaseless wash of waves on the shore echo the rhythm of the universe. The sunset that envelopes the eastern shore in pearl pink turns the western shore into pure gold. The waves can sweep you off your feet and crash you onto the shore or lap over you like a lullaby. The jewels and wealth of creatures it possesses in its mysterious depths. How it works its magic of healing and rejuvenation on everyone who enters its embrace. How it imparts its ageless wisdom to the attentive heart.

In the incomprehensibility and mystery of the sea lies its allure. It's almost as if the ocean is a great big metaphor. A metaphor for life itself with its essential uncertainty and unknowing. In its play of short-lived forms on the bosom of the formless depths. In its wildness that is akin to the untameability of the soul. In its invitation to frolic and play as much as to solitude and stillness. The soothing quietitude it induces in the beholder as the essence of each intersect in oneness.

Here's a collection of seascapes taken over the years dedicated to everyone who loves the freedom and miracle of the ocean.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Training with two little masters

Home all day the kids
Getting up to what kids get up to
Wanting what the other has
Whines fights tantrums
Continuous chaos

Within me
Overwhelm triggering the
Whirring of habitual mind patterns
The jaggedness of frustration
The hard edge of impatience
The surging of anger
The separation from source

The whirlpool starts to turn
Beneath my feet
And more often than not
Unkind words out of my mouth
Unskilful urgency out of my hands
To deflect the discomfort
To banish the situation
As if it was out there
Instead of in me

And then the downer
Oops I blew it again

But sometimes on clear soft days
The gathering storm is sighted
Three conscious breaths
An allowing of all that is
An acceptance of each one's need
No matter how badly displayed
A softening instead of a tensing
A flowing of effortless response
A descending of peace

And so this goes on
Up and down and side to side
This roller coaster journey
This game this war this initiation
This most precious training

And we live to fight another day

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Reclaiming Birth Shakthi

Nora Kropp of BBN (Bangalore Birth network) contacted me to write an article on woman empowerment highlighting the story of Roopa Jude, one of the very few women in Bangalore to have had a homebirth. So I did, and here it is.
Google "cesarean rate in Bangalore" and you'll find a slew of articles bemoaning the disproportionate rise of c-section births in urban India. There are a host of reasons given such as doctors being too busy and unwilling to dedicate the time and availability for a normal birth, lack of staff and infrastructure (even in the poshest hospitals) to attend to simultaneous normal births given their uncertain lengths, the financial angle, and the ubiquitous fear factor that lead both the doctor and expecting mother to settle for a controlled surgical birth. There are even some blame-the-victim reasons given by defensive doctors that women these days are too unfit, too unhealthy, too fat, too superstitious, too old, too posh to push.
It's a minefield out there for a woman looking to give birth naturally in a setting that is designed for the convenience of the staff and the hospital. Even in a "normal delivery", women are subject to clinical medical procedure, stripped of all joyful and transformative aspects of birth for both mother and baby. In contrast with how interior the entire process of conception and gestation is, modern industrial birth takes place amid glaring florescent lights, impersonal stranger hands and gleaming sharp instruments - reducing to a pitiless emotionless ordeal what should have been the highest manifestation of strength and glory in a woman's life. Instead of feeling empowered and ecstatic with a new realization of her own capability, a woman comes out of birth feeling diminished and dehumanized, with a vague sense of having lost an irreplaceable rite of passage that was her biological birthright. Like the petals of a rosebud peeled back by gloved hands in a laboratory instead of blossoming naturally where it has grown in the light of the sun, the miracle of life is routinely reduced to a standard business-like hospital procedure.

In her brilliant deconstruction of societal attitudes regarding birth and parenting, Naomi Aldort, author of 'Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves', cuts right to the heart of the matter:
"Girls are shaped to grow up with no self-trust. They learn to believe that a doctor should “deliver” their babies. They are taught not to trust themselves and look for guidance from authority. They lost the ability to see themselves as the authority on their own bodies and birth giving.

Our modern mother is well trained to look for cues outside of herself. She does not trust her own body, does not know to feel it and in a way is disconnected from herself. She assumes that the doctor knows and that she does not know how to give birth. She therefore believes she must be in a hospital and follow instructions (as she was trained to do at home and in school). She believes blindly the story that birth is scary, unsafe and not possible without a doctor in a hospital.
In the hospital the mother who has been trained out of her self-awareness, is further stripped of any sense of being in charge and having power of herself. She follows instructions as she has been taught all along and is unable to recognize her own body wisdom. She signs her right off upon entering the hospital and she lays on her back (no power), often connected to machines, intimidated and with no privacy.

Stripped of body connection and inner power the mother becomes helpless depending on external instructions and hopelessly believing the “experts” and “professionals.” She misses the real expert: herself."
The season of pregnancy and birth is often the most liminal period for a woman, fraught with the one deep burning question of her existence: will she choose to internalize all the fears and cautions and rules that the world in the form of her family, friends and doctor imposes on her and thus be circumscribed by limits she has passively accepted; or will she choose to have faith in her own authentic inner guidance against all odds even in the face of the world's naysaying? Will she gravitate towards the choice that will not get her blamed in case of a bad outcome, or will she accept the primary responsibility for her child's and her own well-being with the spiritual maturity capable of living with uncertainty and unknowing without giving up? This will determine whether she will birth in a self-directed manner, listening within, fully engaged in the process physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually; or default to being "delivered" by someone else according to their agenda.

The choices and experiences a woman goes through during this period of her life often changes her whole ground of existence, because she is indeed giving birth to herself as a new being, a mother. The nature of this new identity she forges will have far-reaching effects on how she perceives herself, how she nurtures and parents, how she lives and moves in the world.
This places the responsibility of the manner in which the child is born into this world squarely at the woman's door. In a deeper sense, our experience is going to be our own state of consciousness objectified. Truly, we birth as we live.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of 'Eat Pray Love', was asked in an interview, "What do you think the world needs from women right now?"
She replied, "I think the world needs women who stop asking for permission from the principal. Permission to live their lives as they deeply know they often should. I think we still look to authority figures for validation, recognition, permission.

I see women who have this struggle between what they know is right, what they know is necessary, what they know is healthy, what they know is good for them, what they know is good for the work that they need to do, what they know is good for their bodies, what they know is good for their families - all too often ending that statement with the upturned question mark: “If it’s okay with everyone?” Still asking, still requesting, still filing petitions for somebody to say that it’s all right. I think that, myself included, that has to be dropped before we can take our place in the way that we need to and the world needs us to."
Swami Vivekanada stated more than a 100 years ago, "The idea of perfect womanhood is perfect independence", and went on to say, "The highest manifestation of strength is to keep ourselves calm and on our own feet." Nowhere is this more relevant than in the domain of pregnancy and birth - womankind's exclusive privilege. And indeed, this warrior's journey from the "collective they" to the "authentic I" and onward towards the "compassionate we" is the consummation that all life tends towards.

Steve Taylor, PhD, professor of psychology at Leeds University, puts it this way, "I would argue that one of the most important tasks of our lives is to develop more freedom and autonomy. One of the primary ways in which we can develop positively and begin to live more meaningfully is to transcend the influence of our environment, and become more oriented towards who we authentically are. There is always a part of us with innate potentials and characteristics which is independent of external factors - even if that part of us may be so obscured that we can barely see it. But our task should be to allow that part of us to express itself more fully, which often means overriding environmental and social influences." This is very relevant to the fact that reclaiming autonomy in birth is not selfish or irresponsible or foolhardy as it is sometimes made out to be - it is an evolutionary imperative. It is the natural outcome of a rise in consciousness.
Talking of overriding environmental and social influences, Roopa Jude, founder and manager of the Bangalore Chiropractic & Wellness Clinic, is one of the few women in Bangalore to choose a homebirth for her second child. Her first birth was a regular hospital one that involved standard obstetric practices like prostaglandin gel, pitocin to speed up labour, and finally a forceps delivery when she was too exhausted from lack of food and rest to push. "The overpowering non-mother-friendly atmosphere in the hospital shuts down the body's auto mechanisms as far as birthing and labour are concerned. You are no longer listening to your body and along with the hospital staff become victims of the system, doing all the things that prolong labour and make birthing more difficult. You are denied food when your body craves fuel to gear up for the marathon effort of its life, you are confined to bed without the relief of movement even as the pitocin-induced contractions are pounding your body without let up, and you are subjected to frequent painful cervical checks by different doctors on shift. I was worn down by hours of this, and when the doctor finally produced the forceps, I was taken aback at how big and complicated the contraption looked. I was so exhausted from the delivery that I fainted several times during recovery. My only blessing was that I was not subject to a c-section at the end of it all which apparently would have been the norm, I was told, if not for the team involved in my case."    

Roopa connected with the BBN (Bangalore Birth Network), and met several natural-minded folks like chiropractors, midwives and a community of supportive like-minded women. Within her, a conviction started to grow that homebirth was the only way to birth with autonomy and bodily integrity. At about the same time, she discovered she was pregnant, and the hunt for a homebirth midwife was on. She found a nurse-midwife from Australia who happened to be in India for a year and got her on-board as her care-provider. Through the BBN, she found a doula and also support for her midwife who had never done a birth in India, let alone a homebirth.
Her path to a homebirth, however, was far from smooth. Her midwife was out of the country for a period of 3 months, and slated to only return on the day after her due date. At 34 weeks, urged by family as well as her midwife, she visited the family doctor who had delivered her first child. The doctor checked her and found that the baby was breech. Roopa was firmly told to come in and get admitted for an immediate cesarean if her baby had not turned head down by 36 weeks gestation, just 2 weeks away. Such was Roopa's unrelenting resolve not give up her dream of a homebirth that she never went back to the doctor, in spite of pressure by family and friends. Instead she researched natural breech births and was intent on birthing at home, regardless of the position of the baby.

"My husband and I had absolute faith that God, the Creator that had grown this child from a single cell to a full-fledged baby, would also take care of the way and manner in which it came out of my body", she states with serene confidence.
Roanna Rosewood, author of 'Cut, Stapled and Mended', echoes this sentiment, "The people and institutions managing birth have nothing to do with impregnating us. Our babies are a gift from something bigger, stronger, and more important than they are. The way that we choose to give birth is between us and the powers that entrusted us with this child."

Roopa and her husband at this point were simply taking it one day at a time.
At 39 weeks, a scan revealed that the baby had turned head down. But her happy ending was still not at hand. By week 42 she had still not gone into labour! Finally at 42 weeks and 3 days, labour began. She thinks it significant that just prior to the beginning of labour, she had an urge to sit down and polish off a heaping plateful of delicious pulav her mother had cooked, as well as a big bowlful of peanut pakodas. "I'd never eaten that much in my life before, and I generally don't like peanuts. My body was fuelling up for the effort ahead. All I did was follow its cues", she smiles.

A smooth 5 hour labour later, she pushed out her baby on all fours in her own bed. "When the head came out, everything stopped for 30 seconds to a minute. The baby actually coughed and blinked while he was still inside of me. After this mini-rest which seemed like a lifetime to me, in one last powerful contraction, his body slid out into the midwife's hands. He was so clean, hardly covered in vernix, and very alert, already looking around and taking it all in. The midwife said she was compelled to award him a 10/10 Apgar score because she had never seen a baby so perfect in skin tone, muscle tone and alertness immediately upon birth", recalls an elated Roopa. She did not even require stitches post-birth, and her recovery was stress-free and peaceful as the family bonded happily with the new arrival. She remarks, “Finally, the whole process gave me insight on how women in ages past could give birth to so many children. It is a very empowering experience that leaves no distaste for a repeat.”
This is the choice that lies before women at this critical juncture of time - will we continue to look outside for cues on how to lead our lives, or will we manifest shakthi, the innate power of womanhood, in every movement of our lives, including the profound responsibility of how we bring our children into this world? It is time women took that responsibility back. It is time women owned birth again. It is time women manifested "soul-force" as Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, something that emanates from a deep truth inside of us and empowers us to act. 

The most gracious and courageous gift we can offer the world is our authenticity, our uniqueness, the expression of our true selves. Go ahead. Unleash the goddess within!

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Our eyes are not viewers; they are also projectors that are running a second story over the picture that we see in front of us all the time. Fear is writing that script. Now fear is going to be a player in your life. You get to decide how much. You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about the pathway to the future, but all there will ever be is what’s happening here, and the decisions we make in this moment which are based in either love or fear.
~ Jim Carrey’s Secret of Life

Yesterday while we were at the park a few kids belonging to the construction workers of a nearby site turned up at the same time. There was an older boy and an older girl, both about 7 or 8 years old, apparently in charge of two little girls, barely past toddlerhood. Bright eyes, lithe brown bodies bursting with health through ragged clothes, radiantly alive, free. All of them made a beeline for the big slides and swarmed up the rungs. The big boy and girl, still children themselves after all, threw themselves wholeheartedly into play, calling out to each other, giggling and relishing the swoops down the slide.

One of the little toddler girls climbed the rungs carefully all the way to the top, some six feet off the ground, as I watched in amazement. She was no bigger than my own baby boy who has just learned to toddle around, and it was crazy to see that small a child making her way up, up, up, rung by rung, by herself. She reached the topmost rung and just stayed there, queen of all she surveyed, smiling at the older child working the slide, simply taking it all in from that precarious vantage position. Other kids coming up on the rungs eased past her as she held on to the top side bar with her fragile little dimpled hand. A hundred what-if scenarios were running through my mind - what if her hold slips, what if some kid brushes past and accidentally knocks her over, and so on and so forth. I almost felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, somewhat guilty just standing by and witnessing the whole thing without DOING anything - but - there was a flow to the situation that was quite indescribable. The entire scene - the blue sky filled with the early evening light, the colourful slide, the gleeful children in play completely at one with their environment, the smallness of the toddler's body perched on the top rung - all seemed to be unfolding in soft focus, permeated by grace, enveloped in a harmony more palpable and strong than any of the world's strongest security systems. Each kid seemed to brush past her in a dance orchestrated by the Isness of the moment which seemed to make any false moves or accidents an impossibility.

After a good long while the toddler started making her way down, carefully feeling with her tiny foot for each rung below her, the space between the rungs almost as big as her body. How does she know how to do that? Could all little people figure out how to take care of themselves if given the chance? Do we interfere with the actualization of their potential with our well-meant cautions and protection?

Could it be that the power inherent in the isness of the moment is not different from the essence of who we are? Could it be that all we have to do, like that little girl, is simply rest in the isness, the default habit of the mind of constantly interpreting and second-guessing everything?

That day I let my toddler wobble and wander where he would, roll in the dust and plunge his hand into the red earth and scatter it to the wind. Conspicuously missing was the ever-present commentary of "what if it gets into his eyes, what if he face-plants on the concrete walkway, what if he knocks out a tooth, what if, what if," ad nauseam. Witnessing the charmed existence of that little girl had rendered all that into a dim asterisk in the footnote of the mind.