Thursday, September 11, 2014

Satori

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 when 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? Then could it be that all we have to do, like that little girl, is to simply rest in the isness, simply...be...without 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.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Anatomy of choice: Living by heart

“The philosopher is Nature’s pilot. And there you have our difference: to be in hell is to drift: to be in heaven is to steer.”
~ George Bernard Shaw

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I" - I have often stood there and agonized for ages, wanting so desperately to make the right choice but not knowing how to discern the heart's way amidst all the voices in my head. Sounds familiar? I have a Libra ascendant which is probably why some decisions can be excruciating, as for so many others who understand exactly what Dumbledore meant when he said, "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."

The real issue in life is choice, the magic wand with which we transform appearances and test our discernment in choosing what's right over what's easy. And life gleefully seizes every opportunity to send pop quizzes our way designed to show us exactly where we stand and what our brickwalls are. Sometimes I choose my highest sense of right beyond the world's naysaying, and that choice becomes a gift that keeps on giving. Sometimes I hit the brickwall of the mind's rationalizations and fears, let the voices of others drown out the "King's call", and I crash and burn. Sometimes I gather dogma with eager fascinated fingers only to find it traps me when I least need it. Whether I'm Here, There or In Between in this game of life I realize that in the ultimate analysis there really is no right and wrong choice.

Because every problem has a gift for us in its hands. Mind is synonymous with resistance, as Tolle says with brilliant insight. Living with the mind in the driver's seat is a resistance ridden experience with hurry squealing, anger roaring and fear hissing in the background. All of it necessary experience to realize how unnecessary it is. To recognize the impediment it is.

No matter what subterranean caverns we journey through in our Becoming, no matter what hells we make our bed in, what fires we burn in...under, over and around it all is redemption. We are never forsaken. The simple loving Presence eternally Is, imparting its wisdom and strength, flowing out from us the moment we open to it, the moment we divest ourselves of our notions and inhibitions and sit down humbly at Its feet.

I want to let the primal impulse flow out in a joyful stream, unhindered by dogma, judgement or control...crystal clear as its Source, singing and whispering and laughing and murmuring and peacefully wending its way through life. No struggle. No angst. To do away with false dichotomy, with duality, with splitting heaven and earth apart. Just being One With Life.

And now, here we are in the arena where the game of life has to be played and that pop quiz in one of its various avatars is lurking right around the corner. Getting right down to the nitty-gritty - how do we discern the voice of the heart, that still small voice, from the hydra headed cacophony of the mind conditioned as it is by the world and the voices of others? How do we separate our unique authentic inner guidance from the chaff of the mind's white noise, the heartificial from the artificial?

I've learned a thing or two about how to do this and I would love, gentle reader, to know the ways by which you arrive at the path with heart. Please share even if you think it's not significant enough! It always is.

The voice of the heart is usually the first impulse that bubbles up even as the choice is taking shape. When you feel guided in a certain direction, you can generally see patterns gathering themselves around it - the right persons turning up, co-incidences that nudge you closer to its realization - almost as if the universe were conspiring to make it happen. It is also what you really want in your heart of hearts were the gates to be flung open and you were free to do what you will. A happy state of affairs, but then of course since the game has to get interesting, the challenger turns up. The monkey mind steps in. It swings into action, churning out thoughts at a smart pace, generating a 2nd/3rd option in no time and then proceeding to compare and fret and obfuscate. It casts doubts, doles out fear in generous lashings, assumes a false humility, questions your worthiness, and wants to stick to conventional wisdom and others' approval at all costs.

Over the course of a few dilemmas this past year I observed the decision process with the detachment of a spiritual scientist, and found that the refrain of the mind is much the same in most decisions big and small:

"Who am I to aspire to THAT? Better settle for the average and the sane and reasonable. Better do what everyone else is doing. Who am I to question the way of the world? And if I do, and this thing goes wrong, I am the one everyone will blame and criticise for not knowing better. Play it safe. Better a known devil than an unknown angel. Let's not take chances. Let those who dare take the risk pay the price. It's not for ME."

By this time the thinking mind has so taken over the feeling mind that you're frozen in that familiar deer-in-the-headlights attitude in the yellow wood where the two roads diverge. Impaled on the horns of The Dilemma.

But here's the secret: there is no dilemma. The Dilemma is just a mind-constructed clash set up well after the heart has spoken. The heart speaks very subtly - as a sense of rightness, a click, a resonance, a feeling of peace - and these are often passed over by the mind which is looking for tangible solid signs and doctrines that satisfy the head. The heart speaks in waves of quiet confidence when you are solitary and still, but when you're in the midst of a crowd and the mind is at the forefront, the guidance that you received may seem completely far-fetched, crazy or even irresponsible. If it creates butterflies in your stomach, seems impossible, miraculous and slightly scary, know that it is of the Heart. That's because you're being called upon to shift your reliance from your own limited mental concept of yourself to the power of Life itself.

Even as situations and choices arise in life, the guidance from the heart is instantaneous, already there as an answer to the need of the moment, as part of the rhythm of life. There is no strain in following this rhythm. It all unfolds as if a power had gone before you to smooth out your path. There's an inherent self-satisfaction in following the path with heart, even if it involves uncertainty which the mind abhors, even if it means entering the Unknowing with the power of faith over fear. This integrity of thought-word-deed and this unity of head-heart-hand is impeccability, and you are finally, blessedly Standing Within Your Truth.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The promise of the sea

“You find what you love and you learn everything about it. You bet your life on what you know and run from safety, off your mountain into the air, trusting the Principle of Flight to bring you soaring up on lift you cannot see with your eyes.”  
~Richard Bach


During a seaside vacation last month, I ventured beyond the fierce push pull of the breaking waves to swim in the balmy embrace of the sea beyond, where the movement of the waves feels like the gentle rocking of a cradle. After a while I cautiously floated on my back and with increasing confidence consciously refrained from paddling and treading water, letting my limbs go weightless. Letting only the salty buoyancy of the water support me. A sea shavasana.  An infinity of blue sky above me and an infinity of blue sea around me. The temptation was strong in the periphery of the mind to lift my head to make sure I wasn't drifting too far out, or some monster wave wasn't heading my way, but I let myself surrender deeper into the keeping of the sea. It felt like being cradled in the primordial womb of the earth whose water is as warm and salty as our own blood and tears, and the rhythm of the ceaseless wash of the waves akin to the throbbing of our own heart. I was at one with the universe, freefalling into the quiet centre within to touch the harmony underlying all of life.

So it is in life that we're often at a crossroads where the heart urges you to venture into the unknown trusting things unseen, but the mind would have you believe that this is folly, to put your faith instead in the comfortable material certainties of this world. Most of us follow our minds, which is why one of the top five biggest regrets of the dying is, "I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself".

In Baba's ashram, one would wake at the crack of dawn to get ready and wait for hours in serpentine queues and sitting cross legged on the hard stone floor for darshan, which might or might not not be forthcoming depending on whether Baba came out that day or not. His answer? "Love My uncertainty!" A profound spiritual training.

The courage to live a life true to oneself involves an unreserved trust in that deep harmony underlying all life, comfort with not knowing, an acceptance of risk, and a willingness to live with (if not love!) uncertainty. It requires a radical openness to the whole of life, the seeming good and bad, knowing that no matter what the appearance, one is never forsaken.

Buddhist nun Pema Chodron writes, "The opposite of samsara is when all the walls fall down, when the cocoon completely disappears and we are totally open to whatever happens, with no withdrawing, no centralizing ourselves. This is what we aspire to, the warrior's journey. This is what stirs us: leaping, being thrown out of the nest, going through the initiation rites, growing up, stepping into something that's uncertain and unknown. Tuning in to that groundless feeling is a way of remembering that basically, you do prefer life and warriorship to death."

The sea taught me that when I give up frantically treading water and depending on my own puny efforts to keep myself afloat, the entire might of the sea holds me up. So too in the sea of life, I'm grateful for the experiences that teach me to unclench the mind's white-knuckled need for control and drop into the space of the heart. As I release my grip on the planned, the calculated, and the known, the sea assures me that "underneath are the everlasting arms".

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Trailing clouds of glory

our little sun of existence
whooshing out from the cosmic void
dropped into our lap like a star
here! now! together!
formlessness into form
nowhere to now here
buttery hair twisting into little dreadlocks at the back
like the matted locks of the little sage you are
eyelashes like your dad
sweet vanilla cream baby
the calm in our storm
baby gopala on the banyan leaf
floating on the swelling waters
studying his dimpled hands
in perfect peace

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Reflections on the current birth culture

The outward freedom that we shall attain will only be in exact proportion to the inward freedom to which we may have grown at a given moment. And if this is a correct view of freedom, our chief energy must be concentrated on achieving reform from within.
~ Mahatma Gandhi


Things I learned after the birth of my second child. I hope they help some of you mothers out there hoping for a natural birth in Bangalore.

1) There's nothing more diametrically opposite to natural birth than going to a hospital, to an obstetrician, to have your baby. OBs are trained to find and fix pathology, they are trained to handle high-risk cases and perform life-saving procedures - hence they treat every woman like an emergency waiting to happen. You know the saying that if you have a hammer in your hand, everything looks like a nail. The medical model trains doctors to approach any case with a full knowledge of what the hundreds of things are that can go wrong and how to treat each such problem. This is valuable when treating disease. But pregnancy is not a disease. It is a naturally occurring life event. When a natural sacred occurrence is approached from a pathological framework, it becomes a medical event when it is not meant to be one. OBs do not trust birth and they especially mistrust women's bodies - they are convinced that babies cannot be born without the assistance of their drugs and instruments. Fear enters in a big way - fear of the unknown and the desire to control the entire process and make it "safe" and predictable - in the process stripping it bare of all its spiritual, transformative and joyful aspects.

2) Natural birth proponent Michael Odent and legendary midwife Ina May Gaskin constantly stress on the need for a safe, private, dim "cave" for the birthing woman to labour in so that the oxytocin can flow freely and labour proceed smoothly. This is a given for any mammal - even cats seek out cupboards to give birth in. Hospitals are the polar opposite - bright lights, invasive cervical checks by different people on shift, being strapped to the bedside monitor inhibiting movement, being denied food, nurses popping in to check every now and then whether your body is "performing" up to speed or not, the pressure of being "on the clock" with the scalpel hanging over your head. This kind of ambience invariably slows labour and causes the very problems that they then seek to fix with their cascade of interventions.

3) Your OB will only show up after you're fully dilated and pushing, or if you're approaching the 12-hour limit that most hospitals have before the woman is timed out. In the latter scenario, the OB will show up with the intention of ending your labour one way or another - either with Pitocin (manufactured from the pituitary extract of various animals) and/or instrumental delivery (vacuum, forceps), or most commonly a c-section. Most private hospitals have a huge clientele and want their LDR rooms vacated in 12 hours, patients in and out like clockwork, business as usual. This ties in really well with the OBs' agenda and training which is to manage, control, intervene, fix and save lives regardless of whether the lives need saving or not. Hospitals have a time limit and OBs ensure they produce a baby within that time limit. A made for each other relationship.

4) The other side of the equation is the consumer - the "patient". As a society we teach our women to be passive, compliant and to revere the medical model. We teach them not to trust their bodies on every level. We teach them that birth is dangerous though the truth is that birth is as safe as life gets. When many women willingly and ignorantly pass over the responsibility for their births to the system they make it more challenging for those who choose to take responsibility for their births, as the systems are dependent on consumer demand and set up for averages. It's important to be aware of the roles we may play in supporting and perpetuating such systems which have their roots deep in patriarchy, power and profit. Both sides of the coin - the patriarchal hospital system that caters only to its own bottom line, as well as the ignorance and passivity of the consumer - both go to make up the overwhelming juggernaut of a machine that is obstetric care. One woman stands very little chance against that juggernaut.

5) Some sources will have you believe that if you go into the hospital system with a strong birth plan and a midwife/doula in tow, you can achieve the natural birth you want. This is like trying to order idli sambhar at McDonald's. They may humour you for a while but when the time comes to deliver they will serve up what they have always served up - burger and fries. It's like trying to have a homebirth at the hospital. You can perhaps do it if you are lucky enough to have an express train labour and birth under 12 hours in textbook fashion. There are so many variables in labour and birth and every women is different - a 3 hour labour and a 3 day labour are both just variations of normal. However, hospitals do not cater to individuals, they cater only to their own policies. They have ways of using fear, coercion and manipulation so insidiously that by the time your OB walks into the room and plays the ace up their sleeve - the dead baby/dead mom card - you're broken down and ready to capitulate, no matter how strong or well-informed you are. You're extremely vulnerable at the end and they know what buttons to push.

6) I learned that the crux of the whole issue is taking responsibility. We've been deeply conditioned to trust the voices of others over our own inner voice, to look for guidance from outside.

Naomi Aldort writes, "Through schooling and other numbing of the true being, children grow up to become overly dependent on external guidance in all areas including their health, money, clothes, food and relationships. They lose authority over their own lives and turn responsibility of their own experiences over to “experts,” the state and the mythical “others” all of whom swallowed the same pill. Without a separate system of experts people would gain autonomy over their own lives, such as birth, death, care, etc. and would not play the game dictated by the money monopoly."

We ignore our inner guidance at our own peril. A woman may not know the things that a doctor knows, but she is the expert of her own body and the particular babe that is growing within her body. She is the creative process itself and therefore knows on a deep level what is best for herself and baby, how and where to birth. But this truth is undermined by the people around her and the doctors who think they are the experts, that a woman should submit herself to them, and is being foolhardy if she doesn't.

Many of us birth at hospital so that we don't ultimately have to take responsibility. If you give the hospital system the responsibility then you can expect them to take it. Don't be surprised, shocked or upset when you have to comply. A care provider can only provide the illusion of safety - that they will be responsible. They can't. Ultimately only you are responsible because it's only you and your baby that will face the consequences of their actions.

7) Know your birthing options.

These are natural birth centres in India which follow the midwifery model of care - a model of care that is holistic, supportive and nurturing of the birth process:

The Sanctum, Natural Birth Center in Hyderabad led by US-Certified midwives with backup OB/Gyn emergency care in the same building.

The Birthing Sanctuary, in Goa.

BirthVillage, in Cochin, Kerala.

If you'd like to locate a homebirth midwife, or a doula, post a query in the BBN yahoogroup  or the Birthindia yahoogroup.

May a truly joyous birth be yours!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Be happy

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.

- Walt Whitman


You know those if-I-had-my-life-to-live-over kinds of emails with a lot of homespun widom which make the rounds on the internet that you nod ruefully over and delete and promptly forget? I had my own purple hat moment the other day as I was organizing stacks of old photographs ranging all the way back a decade into albums. As I went through the photos I was struck by how much blessings and abundance life had graced us with - opportunities, travel, experiences, friends, family, places, homes - so much beauty. And I was haunted by the thought - had I been happy enough? Of course I was happy overall, but did I ever dare let myself be truly deeply thoroughly happy? Did I ever give myself over to the experience of happiness the way a three year old in a puddle does? I think not. I was cautious, I held back - I had my load of fears, judgements, worries the same as anyone else. Yet now I see how extraneous they all were. Like Mark Twain said, "I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened."

I'm starting to realize the profundity of Baba's injunction, "Be Always Happy". He's always exhorting us to "be happy, be happy, be happy". What does it really mean? Being happy is to choose love over fear, to stop and pause and consciously choose it over and over again until it becomes second nature. To make the present moment into your best friend. To want what you have, and dwell by the perennial springs of gladness and contentment. To love well and give fully.

The awareness of being alive is exquisite joy enough. All the rest is cherry on top.

Henceforth may we have the grace to Be Always Happy.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Childhood's nest of gladness

The little warrior has done it again. Caused a little storm in our little teacup of existence, and when things settled down I found myself with changed perceptions and an altered world-view, soaring fearless and free from the shackles of convention.

I'd always had misgivings about turning him over to the tender mercies of the mainstream education system, but the Inner Compliant Student in me fondly hoped that things had changed now from when my generation went to school, and it mightn't be so bad after all. After changing three schools I was forced to conclude that nothing has changed - if anything, the accelerated pace of today's world might have made it worse. As John Taylor Gatto pungently remarks, "The old system where every child was locked away and set into nonstop, daily cut throat competition with every other child for silly prizes called grades is broken beyond repair. If it could be fixed it could have been fixed by now. Good riddance."

Things seemed to be going well at his latest school until they decided that he was ready to learn to write when he turned four. In the beginning, writing was a novelty - it was exciting to have homework just like the older kids. But it quickly turned into a regimental drilling of being made to practice pages and pages of cursive alphabets and numbers - complete with coercion, punishment and scolding if he didn't co-operate or do his homework. This certainly didn't go down well with the little warrior, spirited as he is, and he fought them every step of the way. He came home with clouded brow and sad eyes and threw tantrums out of the blue to release the stress. He who had considered the whole world and all the people in it his own started to look cowed and shied away when people he didn't know addressed him. He no longer had perfect confidence in his world.

Was I sending him to school to have his love for learning snuffed out and his whole creative being reduced to producing mechanistic output according to adult agendas? Could any true learning happen without a foundation of love and respect? The other parents seemed to think this par for the course and a necessary part of early schooling to prepare them for the "real world". Well, not this mama!

The need for movement, interaction with other children, free play, curiosity and experimentation are developmental nature-driven imperatives for which the child is routinely penalized in school. He is made to sit in one place, forbidden to talk or interact with other children, allowed only structured monitored "play" in the form of songs with actions and other adult-driven activities, subjected to a strict disciplinary atmosphere where scolding and shaming are common AND a manic cramming of reading and writing and math down his throat as fast and furious as possible. What a sacrilege on early childhood!

Joseph Chilton Pearce notes, "From all standpoints we find that this period, from ages four to seven, is designed for that one purpose to which the child is compulsively driven - play. Over the past fifty years, however, this is the age at which we have insisted on putting the child into a school desk, restricting his movement (and we know learning takes place only through movement at this age), and forcing that dreamer into into abstract pursuits suitable to pre-adolescence at best. Combined with the effects of hospital delivery, daycare, television, the collapse of family, and so on, the collapse of childhood itself has been accelarating."

He says further, "Children are driven by millions of years of genetic encoding to follow intuitively their only road to survival and intelligence - which is play." The discoveries of modern neuroscience are just starting to bear up this truth.

My vague memories of early childhood seem to recall that period as a state of homogenous grace. Innocent precious beingness. Dreamy wonder.

"Without, the frost, the binding snow,
The storm-wind's moody madness -
Within, the firelight's ruddy glow
And childhood's nest of gladness."
(Lewis Carroll)

"Childhood's nest of gladness" - a phrase so perfectly evocative of that time! Why rob that nest of its gladness by forcing abstract academic knowledge and adult notions too soon? Why this rabid urgency to hurry the child into learning faster and younger? Why this kolavari di?

I met the director of the school to tell her that I was moving my boy to an alternative play-based Waldorf school where academics would only be introduced in first standard.
"Of course children like that sort of thing - but what about your son's future?" she demanded. "What if he grows up and wants to be an artist or worse...a - a...photographer? (the horror!) How will he support himself? These alternative education options may seem romantic and appealing, but ultimately reality has to be faced!"
And there it is. It all comes down to fear. Fear that keeps us imprisoned in status quo in environments that don't serve our children in any way. Do we really want our kids to sell their lives to the highest bidder and enslave themselves to big corporations for the rest of their lives? "The spirit of Life that is always speaking to our souls" would have us do better.

The little warrior comes home from school now with the sparkle in his eyes undimmed. He is perfectly equal to addressing a stranger, a bee, a grown-up, a flower, a baby or an old person with his old confidence. The whole world is his own once again.