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Thursday, September 26, 2019

Climate Sankalpa #3: Let's travel more mindfully and meaningfully. Let's unplug from globalisation.

Flights and private vehicles together contribute to over 10% of global emissions. Ships, trucks, trains, buses and bikes do too, but their per person emission is way lower.
Though 10% might seem insignificant, if we continued with business-as-usual, they are expected to increase exponentially over the next decade.

I choose to not use any more numbers. I now choose to move into the yin-space of how I'm sensing into this whole transportation scene and its contribution to climate change.* And what we can do.

Firstly, when we talk about transportation, by focusing only on the emissions is a very narrow view 'we are missing the wood for the trees’, as they say! Here is more of the larger picture to be seen and acknowledged.


Airports and expressways are created by clearing vast forests or filling up wetlands and lakes amidst a lot of protest from ecologists and local communities.

Aeroplane and car factories too! 
Fuel for driving and aviation, and for running all the infrastructure (airports, manufacturing, etc.) is got from oil-drilling and laying oil pipelines further adding to deforestation and displacement. 


Mining for metals to make these vehicles, further cut down forests and scar the earth!




So, we need to look at the entire life-cycle of the transportation industry and estimate the carbon emissions and the destruction of carbon-sinks from every one of these links. There are so many more links than I have written about here. Like the global transportation of vehicles themselves. But, you get the drift!



***

In today's world, we travel long distances for both life-affirming and life-negating reasons. We fly to meet loved ones, heal cross-cultural wounds, create new economies, and create global networks of social-change movements. We fly as seekers and adventurers wanting new experience to expand our horizons. But my intuition is that this kind of flying is only a small part. Of course, I’d like to tell myself and my peers to be more mindful of our transportation choices even as we do this and choose driving and flying only as our last options.

What I'd like to focus on here is not private choices, but the larger systemic issue. I'd like to stay focused on how capitalism / globalisation is designed to only increase unsustainable travel. 

Globally, political interest is hugely subsidising the aviation & car industries to habituate people into driving private vehicles and frequent flying, taking away from investment in public transportation systems; and in fact, making it less and less accessible. This is capitalism by design. More vehicles on the road and in the air means a faster growing economy.


CLIMATE SANKALPA #3.1 Let’s join and support all movements to promote public transportation and create cycling paths. Let's resist all road-expansions, expressways and new airports. We already have more than enough! Let’s vote for those who have clearly stated this in their manifesto to come into power. 

Let cycling be the first option for local travel. Bus and train for long distances. Let personal car driving and air travel be the last option. When we do need to drive or fly, let’s learn to acknowledge, connect to and stay with the ‘moral disturbance’ we feel about the destruction our action is causing.



Globalisation fuels long-distance movement of people and things! Let’s take the suit, one among hundreds of consumer products made by multinational corporations and sold in retail chains. This is how its manufacture criss-crosses the world twice before it can be worn! 


This story applies to grains, fruits, vegetables, meat, clothes, electronics; pretty much everything in today's global economy striving for standards-lowering competition. Apart from the movement of insane amounts of materials across the world, global trade also means people moving to their company overseas branches, meeting overseas clients to click a deal, to make sure all is well and for other reasons. Business trips and conferences are some of the most common reasons people fly with ease.

CLIMATE SANKALPA #3.2 Let's increasingly plug out of global corporations and plug into small and local businesses, with more local clients and suppliers. Strengthening the local economy is the only way to significantly cut down unnecessary travel.

The global economy habituates people into mindless consumerism of everything, including tourism. Cheap flying has increased rampant tourism not only releasing more carbon emissions, but also trashing the planet. Including the Mount Everest you see below. All of those are discarded tents! Watch this hard-hitting video.

CLIMATE SANKALPA #3.3
The best way to travel around to see and experience world cultures is by land, unless you can't get a visa for a particular country or you need to cross the ocean. Make a leisurely and long tour-plan and travel by bus and train. Join groups like the ‘Green Silk Road’ which are undertaking yearly long-distance travels, connecting across cultures and having an authentic experiences. 

Capitalists spend a lot of effort selling us carbon-offsetting, bio-diesel planes and electric cars, even if they naively believe that they are 'saving the world' by these actions. Aviation companies are now offering to accept payment from you to plant trees or support solar panels in a village to offset your carbon emissions. But the inconvenient truth here is that absolutely nothing can replace an ancient forest that has been cleared, killing all the life with it! And while these technological solutions do contribute to marginal changes, they keep us distracted from the real issue at hand here, which is the fundamental design of our economy. 


CLIMATE SANKALPA #3.4Let us plant trees and support renewable energy projects by all means. But let us not mistake these ‘good-traveler’ pacifiers for the solution and get distracted by them. Let us stay focused on the larger picture and see how we can shift the capitalist game!

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Climate Sankalpa #2 - Let's buy 'Palm-Oil-free' and source locally


Palm fruits may seem like these harmless cute things growing on pretty palm trees! Well, not if we are growing them on an industrial scale for export. 
Image result for palm oil exports by countryImage result for palm oil exports by country

Malaysia and Indonesia put together produce 90% of all palm oil used in the world. Over the past 70 years, look at what we have done to the Indonesian and Malaysian forests, home to some of the world's best diversity of life, as we clear them for palm oil plantations. 

Image result for palm oil deforestation Image result for palm oil deforestation

And these forests are cleared by burning them down with entire populations of orangutans, rhinos and elephants trapped and burnt in them without any way to escape!  

But none of us use palm oil at home! Where does it all go? And more importantly, what does it mean to boycott 'palm oil'? 

Almost all the packaged food and personal care products we buy from the supermarket use palm oil!

Image result for palm oil in personal care products

If the product has any of the following names in its label, then it most probably has palm oil in it.

Image result for other names for palm oil
Read here about how the palm-oil market grew explosively from the 1990s. 

CLIMATE SANKALPA #2

Let us buy from local stores which know their suppliers and what ingredients they use. Like reStore and OFMI currently buy all my cleaners from Probiotics House which uses zero-palm oil. You may contact them to supply to your stores / neighbourhoods too. You can also look for palm-oil free label on the products.


Finally, if it is not "practical" for you to avoid products with palm oil, a great place to start is to pause for a moment, connect to the sadness, grieve the immense loss our actions are contributing to, and continue to keep up our efforts.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Climate Sankalpa #1 - Let's eat local and wild

More and more of our food is now being produced, packaged and sold by large corporations through centralised industrial processes. And agribusiness is one of the biggest contributors to the climate crisis in the following three ways.

Deforestation

Image result for corporate farm india
Worldwide, large tracts of ancient forests are cleared in order to create farmlands. Any crop grown on a large scale, harvested by huge combiners and distributed solely for profits will slash down every other vegetation in its presence.
Food miles

When food is grown on a large scale, it needs to transported long distances for processing, packaging and selling. The fossil fuels they burn in the whole process is insanely enormous! 


Packaging waste
And what goes around comes around. 
This is a lettuce farm in Kolkata poisoned by leachates from the city's landfill right next to it. 
And landfills are a huge source of methane gas.
A centralised food industry means preservatives and packaging to increase shelf-life and ease transportation. Unlike the west, where "everything it taken away out of sight to give us a clean city" India thankfully has uncleared garbage piles everywhere reminding us of the mess we have made for ourselves.

CLIMATE SANKALPA #1

Let us learn to identify local, edible weeds that are tasty, nutritious and grow in abundance all around us with no care or maintenance. (I will be sharing more on this soon. Stay tuned!) 

Related image
Let us buy food without packaging from the local markets and community organic store that directly source from small and local farmers and producers. Here is a directory of responsible organic stores from across the country.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

True Elders

Most of our society is made up of Stone-keepers* who ask us to conform to the rules. Of course stone-keeping is important. It ensures safety and stability without which there will be utter chaos. But our times are such that their actions are threatening our very survival!
But more and more souls are waking up to hear a different voice within which disagrees with the stone-keepers. In the midst of millions of stone-keeper voices, this disagreeing voice can sound bewildering, throwing us into self-doubt and depression.

The nature of this feeble voice is that the more we create space and silence within us to listen to it, the more it grows in volume and clarity. This is the voice that has the ability to allow our unique light to shine with its full brilliance.

In undertaking this heroic journey, the role of elders can't be emphasised enough. Elders are all the time seeking to meet those who have set their feet on this journey, so that they can be of service and guidance. They don't do it out of the need for psychological power, for they are connected to and anchored in their own. They do it out of love, care and responsibility.

True Elders have neither any value judgment about our life choices or our chosen journeys (however unconventional they might be) nor have any personal agenda for us. Their only dream for us is to help us discover the dreamer within; listen to the voice that knows precisely what part God has carved out for us to play in the Grand Plan. True Elders act as our mirrors to help us in our own unique journeys, whatever they might be.
True Elders understand our souls's dark nights, for they have been through their share. They understand our despair over long dark tunnels, for they have traveled through them and come out of the other side. They have the ability for a certain lightness and laughter that radiates joy and healing. They can dance blissfully! They don't care about what others think of or say of them, for they are deeply anchored in their own sense of who they are and their dream.

True Elders can be infinitely patient, and know the 'art of allowing' things to happen and situations to ripen by themselves at the right time and do their part joyously by gently nudging, sometimes tricking us into some fun and adventure, and sometimes churning us with their tough love.


True Elders enjoy simple things in life with a sense of gratitude and profoundness. They carry themselves with a lot of dignity and integrity. They have the remarkable ability to enjoy their cup of tea, while being acutely aware of everything going on around them. They know the value of rest and self-care. It is a joy to watch them go about their everyday lives with mindfulness, care and simplicity.

Without being loud or making a fuss, they are profoundly shaping the larger narrative. They don't lecture, but say simple things at the right time that makes you contemplate or churn!

They have the ability to relax deeply and show up in their full power when the need arises.


True Elders don't take offense and have mastered the art of forgiveness. They are in touch with their humanity and are able to grieve allowing deep sadness (sometimes touching regret) to flow through them like gentle streams without any resistance.

True Elders have a great sense of humour, that is respectful of oneself and others. They are able to have a good laugh at themselves and their lives, remind us all that we are all cosmic jokes! 
Elders can be hiding anywhere. Listen to see if their voice and message ring deeply within you, and whether you feel cared for in the most authentic way. For sometimes they can even come in the form of the cat in the hat.
Image result for truer than true
The more we learn to identify and spend time learning with and from True Elders around us, the more we will heal, feel free and be able to have compassion for the stone-keepers we feel oppressed by! 

* Stone-keepers are from the film 'Small foot'

Related post: MY VSION OF YOGA

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Healing from undiagnosable muscle weakness

Since I am starting to write on my birthday, I want to start this series with a post about an amazing healing experience that is connected to my being born. And in celebration of my mother, a powerful healer herself.

It happened for the first time in 1998 (forget the month) as I was walking to my workplace. I was supposed to be presenting the annual report at the AGM of the Exnora Naturalist’s Club. About 100 metres away from the office, I had what my friends later named ‘the buckling effect’. :) My body turned limp and I collapsed on the roadside. With the help of passers-by, I picked myself up and somehow made it to the office and collapsed again. I was perfectly conscious, but my body became totally limp. I lay on the floor like a piece of vegetable. After the AGM, my friends dropped me at home, where I just stayed for a whole three weeks that the condition lasted. Since I used to be a stubborn vegan against my family’s wishes, I was scared to tell them about this. I pretended as though everything was fine and that I was just working from home. I was secretively aided by friends to the doctors to get tests done. Everything turned out fine. “You are burning out. You need to rest.” I was told. It was true that I used to be a workaholic. So I rested and waited for this to end. Three weeks later, one day, as though it had all been a dream, or the spell that I was under broke, I sprang up from bed and resumed life as normal. It was so strange.

After that first episode, I started 'buckling' from time to time, ranging from a few days to a few weeks. Then my family came to know about it. Tests were still not revealing anything. The weakness used to range in severity from slowing me down to making me almost bedridden, sometimes too weak to even walk to the bathroom or open my eyelids. It would end suddenly every single time. I’d spring back to life.

My brother took me to a tantric lady in Bangalore that he really trusted. I went to her a few times over a couple of years. She once did chakra cleansing, and even said that she was drawing out ‘disembodied beings’ that had entered my body. I neither believed nor disbelieved her. I was simply willing to try out anything for a cure that was non-intrusive. “Your aura is too porous. You need to protect yourself.” she'd say. Every single time that I went to see her, it worked really like magic although temporarily. “For a permanent cure, you need to heal from a childhood trauma that you are carrying.” she said. But as far as I could remember, I had a pretty normal childhood. I didn’t remember any trauma that I was holding on to. When another psychic healer Mona Lisa read my energy, she said the same thing.

These episodes continued to recur for many years. The most severe of them all was immediately after my marriage when I was in bed for three months and Rajeev had to work from home to take care of me. Both my arms had been poked over and over again to draw blood for every possible test. Visits to neurologists and all. Everything was normal. I tried many possible things from Ayurveda to trying a candida-free diet.

I could never plan anything or commit to anything in life because the ‘buckling effect’ could take over anytime. More than frightening, it was becoming an inconvenience. "Oh no! Not now!!" kind of feeling when I had to cancel work or travel I would had scheduled.

It was painful to hear people say “It’s all in your head. You are just imagining something. Just tell yourself three times ‘I’m alright. There is nothing wrong with me.’ get up and walk. You'll be alright.” Actually thinking back, if I had done it calling forth all the divine forces, I’m sure it would have worked. But I wasn’t anchored in so much faith back then.

Three years ago, I met Maya, an elderly Swiss Homeopath who spent half of every year in Thiruvannamalai taking off from her practice. After a casual meeting and conversation with her, I asked her “Could I consult with you about my eczema?” She agreed and we set up a time in a private room for me to share my medical history. Though it was about my skin condition, the conversation drifted into my sharing about my strange weakness episodes. She looked into my eyes intently and asked “Tell me about the time your mother was pregnant with you.” Well, I clearly wasn't expecting a question like that. Here is the conversation that followed.

“I don’t know much at all about it.”

“No, think. I’m sure you know something!”

“Well, I know that my conception was an 'accident' and everyone around my mother pressured her to abort me. My mother was convinced about carrying and birthing me.”

“And..?”

“I also know that she had a pretty challenging time with not much physical or emotional support through all those months. Having been through pregnancy myself, I can imagine how hard that must have been!”

As I uttered those words, I started choking. And before I realised it, I was weeping like a child.

“Don’t hold back. Let it all out. As an aware being while in the womb, you felt helpless and frozen that you couldn’t be there for your mom. It’s all long over. You can let it all out and surrender it at the feet of Arunachala.”

After about half an hour of intense weeping and release that she lovingly held the space for, I thanked her and got back home all exhausted and slept through the next two days. A month after this intense experience, I wrote to Maya and heard back from her.

Dear Maya,
I keep thinking of you so much with gratitude so often. After that catharsis during our meeting, I must say that my life has truly transformed. The past one month, my eczema has healed so much almost magically, and I have so much energy bursting out of me. In spite of the heat, I almost never feel tired. I have not felt this alive, energetic, focused and effective consistently, in years. Much much gratitude to you!
Much warmth and love,
Sangeetha

Dear Sangeetha,
This is wonderful news! I am happy with you for this magic change and amazed and grateful myself to see the working of Grace and Healing. It sounds like coming home to your own long missed energy!
Time to enjoy!
Love,
Maya

***

It’s almost four years since then, and the longest period I’ve not been under the buckling spell. And no signs of it coming.

Today, on my 43rd birthday, I told my mom, “Amma, thank you for keeping me and giving birth to me. I made the best choice for a mother." I don't remember having told her these words in all these years.

Anandi, a beautiful soul in Auroville from Argentina, wishes and gifts me on every birthday of Isha’s. “It’s your day of being born as a mother too”. I had never thought of it that way. And it's so true!

Today, I claim complete healing from the scars, whatever remnants may be left of them, and celebrate my mother and my being born.

***

A special picture taken from the terrace when all three of us decided to see one of the supermoons this year; a day of the Shakti in her full brilliance and power.
  

Saturday, August 31, 2019

The birthing of healers


I’ve lived a life having to deal with a few chronic or recurring ailments ranging from common to uncommon and strange. Some of the chronic ones have had no clinical diagnosis. As I found healing through one after another in such amazing ways, I told myself “One day, when I am completely healed of everything, I want to write about my healing journey, its insights and methods. It might be helpful for others.” But then, since I also live my life with a certain sense of urgency, I decided to start writing my story thus far, and continue to write as it unfolds.

I am convinced that we are living in one of the most interesting of times. I can’t articulate exactly what. But I have a strong sense of a New energy being ushered into Life as I know and experience it. A new wave of a certain knowing that we are all part of the same Being.

I increasingly experience individuals and human collectives as powerful portals receiving this new energy to manifest it in the world of form. And in that process, I also see a lot of pain and darkness that need to be cleared out being unleashed as ailments in individuals (emotional, mental and physical) and as conflicts in collectives and communities. Like the mythical samudra manthan, the churning of the ocean of milk for amrut (the immortality nectar) first releases the poison that needs to be attended to. The good news is that the perspective of ailments and conflicts as stumbling stones is fading away. More and more of us are recognising them as stepping stones and signposts.

Signposts along our path trying to tell us many important things. That we aren’t aligned fully to our life’s deepest calling, our swadharma and that we need to keep fine-tuning the alignment. That, even in the wake of everyone around us not understanding and accepting our unique ways and calling, we need to stop feeling small or dull, connect to the Source, allow ourselves to fully embrace and experience our brilliance and vastness, and stay anchored there. That we need to wake up to the knowing that the divine forces are yearningly waiting to collaborate with us because they need us to do their work here in the world of form.

And stepping stones to pave the way to birthing us as healers and midwives of the New World that is being born right now.

As I come across the many many healing stories birthing the healers and midwives of the new world, I feel inspired to share mine and others I know closely enough to write about.

Banyan fruit with hundreds of seeds full of potential!
As I write this, I am going through a condition whose description is quite close to a serious form of ADHD, where the mind finds it challenging to process auditory and visual inputs sometimes touching unbearable chaos. Smells and touch are extremely grounding! I am currently undergoing a therapy based on sound (called Tomatis) which will apparently train my ear muscles and rewire my brain to help it function and respond better. I am writing these posts in the faith that, this expression and its accompanying feeling of gratitude will themselves serve as powerful aides in my healing.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Raudram Pazhagu / Practise Rage

Five years ago, in one of the workshops offered by our teachers at Ritambhara, I underwent a theatre exercise where I had to enact a narration of an imagined story that spans all the navarasas, embodying each of them as best as I could. In that story, bibhatsam (disgust) leads to raudram (rage), which, with sufficient insight into the other's psychological condition, leads to karunyam (compassion).

I was able to evoke the different rasas with varying degrees of ease. Among the easier ones for me was karunyam and the most difficult, raudram. When we had to make a drawing locating the different rasas in our bodies, I couldn’t place raudram anywhere. I shared with Raghu “As soon as I experience rage, I am able to see the suffering of the person I am angry with and end up feeling only compassion!” He casually responded “Check with your mind if it is not making up a convenient story about this in order to distract you. It can be very smart.” and left. Something about what he said shook me. That evening, when I was with my partner, I exploded with rage in one of the most intense ways I'd ever had and was shocked! On the next day at the workshop, I shared that raudram was the only rasa I could feel all over my body.

Until that event, with all the things that my intelligent and smart mind had worked out about 'human suffering' and 'healing', I thought I had 'cracked' compassion fairly well. When I saw an oppressor, I could instantaneously feel compassionate towards him or her “He must have had a difficult childhood! He needs healing!” were words that came most naturally to me. I thought I was a natural at this! I thought I had done a lot of inner work through Buddhist practices and mindfulness and had pretty much transcended anger. But apparently not! I realised that I had a very underdeveloped ability to experience and hold a healthy raudram, and had a lot of work to do there.

***

Now, let’s take a look at my / our larger cultural context and its relationship with raudram. It is somewhat permitted, or at least understandable, when a man expresses it. But a woman anywhere in the world is rewarded only for being “polite, nice, kind, soft-spoken, smiling, helpful, patient, forgiving” and so on, and is invariably judged for expressing rage.

One half of my issue was that I was born a pacifist, averse to emotional drama of any kind, avoiding conflicts at all cost and wanting ‘only peace’. And this half holds a very genuine aspiration for love and peace too. It is a very real longing, with nothing superficial or fake at all about it. I hate to see anyone hurt, and hate it even more to be the cause of that hurt for anyone, especially those dear to me. So, I had always withheld my expression of anger for fear of hurting someone, or losing their friendship.

The other half of my issue was that I internalised the voice of the world about me. “Sangee is a lovely person. She never gets angry.” I internalised as my own. But being a free-spirited and an extremely sensitive being, life had a continuous supply of violations of all kinds: physical, emotional and whatever else. There was enough substance to ensure a continuous flow of rage, which I learnt to swallow wholesale as a way of coping and being that ‘nice person’ in my and others eyes. But my body kept meticulous score of every iota of that swallowed rage.

***

The workshop was not only the very first time a context had given me the license to touch and experience raudram without any judgment, but also told me “It’s problematic when you do not learn to experience and express it”.

I have often heard from close family that, as a baby, I used to cry unconsolably for no apparent reason. Nothing could stop my crying, other than my own exhaustion. The crying when I was that young, probably helped me express and release rage periodically. But since crying becomes more and more uncool as one grows up, I managed to do some of it secretively in the bathroom, but also learnt other ways to cope by imploding.

Paying attention to where all my rage could be hiding, led me to discover my deeply-hidden shadow self: the passive-aggressive, emotionally cold, binge-eating, the obsessive-compulsive and controlling part of the visibly polite, nice, kind and compassionate Sangee. This was the part of myself that I had shamefully hidden from the world, and from myself. And this was the part that used to regularly surface (by erupting in the most unexpected and unprepared of times!) in my intimate spaces. My way of compensating for not being able to express raudram would be to withhold love and turn cold, slam the coffee mug on the table as I offered it with a plastic smile on the face. And then feeling shameful. And then doing something to distract myself from my feeling of shame. And on and on went the cycle. A powerful name for this behaviour is ‘the tyranny of the weak’. Ruth King has explored in great detail all the ways swallowed rage can erupt in our lives. 'Healing Rage' has helped me along my journey as well!

For a big part of my life, I have suffered a few undiagnosable ailments both mental and physical. The mental one has been periodic episodes of dysfunctionality and darkness. The physical one used to be periodic episodes of muscle weakness with no clinical diagnosis, often so extreme that I’d be bedridden for days, weeks and sometimes months together. Exhausting allopathic, ayurvedic and a few other therapies, I turned to clairvoyants and psychic healers. Some of them, including Dr. Mona Lisa told me “Your body is carrying a lot of trauma.” Over the years, acknowledging and giving safe space for expressing some repressed parts of myself, I believe, have hugely helped me heal through these ailments. (These stories of healing are interesting in themselves, and are for another time!)

Another expression of this psychological shadow-phenomenon was to get triggered by and strongly judge anyone who expressed raudram as “so uncool, immature, uncivilised, unsophisticated and unevolved!”

***

As I was coming more and more face-to-face with my own shadow and understood the need to own it and integrate it, other co-travelers helped me in the journey by inviting me to spar with them in safety. Just knowing that it was ok to express anger and fight with someone was a completely new experience for me; an immense relief. Over time, practising raudram has gotten a tad easier. But there is still a long long way to go!

According to Sri Krishnamacharya, whose lineage I learn Yoga from, the yogic definition of a psychologically mature person is one who can experience all the navarasa at ease and at will, deploy them at appropriate times and with mastery over them. Shantam is a state of alignment of all the navarasas, and not the absence of raudram, bhibatsam or any of the “undesirable” rasas. It is a state where they are neither dominating, nor suppressed but are in alignment and balance with all the other rasas, and leave no residues when experienced. It is a transcendental state. In order for a state to be transcendental, it must not reject anything. It must include, integrate and rise above.

In J. Krishnamurthy's words:
“This loving-kindness, compassion and love (metta) is not an intellectual exercise.... this quality cannot be cultivated, cannot be practised, cannot be brought about; but it must happen as naturally as breathing, as fully with great joy and delight as the sunset.... You become kinder by observing yourself when you are unkind. Not by trying to be kind.” 

Our yoga teachers have a better word for shadows: the disowned parts of ourselves, which then become dysfunctional parts of ourselves. Learning to recognise and accept our disowned and dysfunctional parts is really the only ‘work’ to be done. When we do this as honestly and sincerely as possible, the process of integration happens on its own. This is what I understand Sri Aurobindo calls ‘Integral Yoga’.

Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga talks of the need to fully inhabit, include the gifts of and transcend every level of our being. It is also expressed and experienced in a beautifully poetic way in the Nayika’s Quest in ancient Tamil literature, another powerful offering at Ritambhara. It is the evolutionary journey the Consciousness undertakes through the various chakras within our bodies.

In a cultural context, Sri Aurobindo has talked a lot about the underdeveloped kshatriya dharma of the Indian race which has conditioned itself to by-pass the swadhistana chakra, the seat of the vital being. He says the Indian race's weak swadhisthana is also the reason for all the invasions that this land has largely passively received (though there have been pockets of active resistance), endured, suffered and been damaged from. He talks about the need to fully enliven the kshatriya dharma of the race (the warrior's ability to experience raudram), which I see as an extension of my own psychological unlocking. We call it the awakening of the Bhima archetype in our work through the Mahabharatha.

***

Avatar: the Last Air Bender” has given me with one of the most powerful imagery to work with over the past two years of my sadhana of integral yoga. I so connect with Aang, his angst for the world, his idealising of ‘forgiveness and compassion’ over everything else, his lack of awareness of or control over intense energies that flow through him often leaving him hurt, his high vata-prakriti and ability to generate new ideas by the minute but without focus or patience, his optimism, his fears, his constant restlessness to act, his ease with water-bending (healing abilities). All these, while he struggles so hard with earth-bending (grounding) and fire-bending (rage).

Aang’s fire is extremely weak. He also has a deeply ingrained memory of once hurting his dearest Katara with his fire which went out of control. Since then, he also a deep fear of fire-bending. "I can't do it. I might end up hurting someone!" is the voice that keeps ringing within and holding him back.

Image result for zuko colourful fire
Zuko who used to be a fairly good fire-bender loses his ability as he switches from the asuric to the daivic side of the war. He needs to discover and learn fire-bending himself from a very different source. Aang and Zuko travel all the way to the dragons, who are the original source of fire-bending and learn the art from them through a beautifully synchronous dance. The fire that they can now make and bend is of a very different nature. It is colourful and brilliant like they have never seen before! That’s the only fire that is able to meet and confront even what seemed like the invincible Azula’s lightening. This  daivic fire (as I call it) is born from the need to restore dharma, and not out of hatred towards anyone or the need to control.  

***

Even since childhood, the Tamil mystic activist-poet Subramania Bharathi’s call ‘Raudram Pazhagu’ always attracted me, perhaps because it was a secretively-held aspiration. And among all the different masters I have quoted through this article, Bharathi’s call to “practise rage” is the most alive one for me right now. It is interesting to note that Bharathi and Aurobindo were fiery people who were also great friends and co-travellers during their time in Pondicherry. And it is the same Bharathi who also composed and sang “Pagaivanukkarulvaai” (Bless your enemy).

Among all the elements, fire is the hardest and the trickiest to master. For that’s the one element that needs to be used most carefully. If it is used carelessly or without sufficient mastery, it can hurt people. Practise with fire becomes more important with this element than with any other.

With my own practise, I have seen many shades and nuances of raudram unfold over time. Raudram that I must express loudly and clearly because my context needs to hear it. Raudram I can fully touch and experience but postpone its expression, for either the context is too fragile for it, or I don't feel ready to take responsibility for and meaningfully respond to the consequences that it can unleash. Raudram that needs to put on hold to be got in touch with and explored later, for the time needs something else to be urgently attended to. Raudram that can be made into a more playful exploration, or a dance. Raudram that needs to be simply delved deep into through a meditative practice and prayer for transformation. Raudram as a rich field for a harvest of important insights. Raudram as a source of conviction for acting in the world to bring about change. And my practise continues to reveal more shades of it. A critical aspect of the practise is to learn to be easy on myself when my raudram goes out of control leading to unintended consequences, and to pick up the courage to own them up with self-acceptance and self-love, apologise, walk on and continue the practise.

But my most important learning of all is to not revel and indulge in raudram, but to fully experience it so I can learn to transcend it into a space of shantam. From that, and only that integrated space, can the war of our times be fought and won. And dharma restored.  

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Rich Soil beneath the Concrete

Part 1 - In Quest of Abundance

 The first post seems to have piqued a lot of curiosity among the readers about the upcoming posts. What do you plan to write about next?

 Yes, quite an unexpected level of interest actually. Now that you ask me, I’m wondering if we should have a dialogue instead of my writing an essay.

 Nothing can serve a nuanced exploration like a dialogue can. How about we pick up the thread from where you ended the previous one; your intuition about the breakthrough? What are some of your indicators of that?

 First, let me admit that I am known in my circles to be an incurable optimist! So, maybe that’s just playing up. Having said that, I can also give you other reasons. Given that it is a story that is already unfolding in many pockets of the world, what I mean by a breakthrough is that I see the number of people interested in creating and inhabiting new forms of economy, starting to grow exponentially. Like a sudden steep rise in the curve.

 Is this the only reason for you to feel so?

 There is another reason I feel strongly about this, especially for India. I hold very sacred my own connection with the soil I come from. My quest, and that of others from this land, is not a new one devoid of any lineage. My ancestors have lived this quest, created and documented knowledge around it millennia ago. Even as we feel that much of it has been lost, even as I find most of today’s so-called “Brahmin Priests” actually being Vasihyas interested in trading their knowledge of the Vedas for their personal fulfillment and hoarding money seeking social status, even as I see everywhere many more ways that we are holding on to distorted and decaying fragments from our past, calling them ‘Indian’, ‘Hindu’ ‘Brahmin’ and so on, the spirit is still in the air, soil and water of the land in some form. Here’s a story to explain what I mean.

One hot summer day, I went up to a frail old lady selling tender coconuts in Chennai and asked her for one. I quickly looked through my bag and discovered that I hadn’t brought my wallet, and told her so. She gave me one anyways and said “It’s my dharma to give you water on a parched day like this. If you pass by this road another time and remember to pay me for this, great. Otherwise, it’s ok.” I was deeply humbled and moved, and had to, for the nth time, revise my ideas of poverty, scarcity and abundance. What she practised was, to me, business in service. Not what today’s fancy ‘conscious capitalism’ claims to do. And it is this cultural memory of what is dharmic that I still find alive in the unschooled pockets of our country that I am referring to, when I say lineage.

 Our cultural memory! I actually never thought it was worth very much in realms such as Economics.

 Understandable. We have been schooled to believe so. We need to embark on a journey of unlearning all that isn’t part of the larger story of our civilization. To begin with recognize some of the falsehoods that schooling, all of the modern apparatus actually, has forcefully fed us with. A huge one and one that is relevant for our conversation here is that “Ancient India might have had well-developed philosophy, art and literature, but Science, Economics, Politics, etc. were only recent developments from the West.”

 Well, I thought it was true too! I mean, people might have intuitively gone about figuring out how to run their economy and polity. That doesn’t mean there existed well-developed cohesive theories and treatises on these, right?

 That’s what almost all of our people think, including myself until my research into the history of agriculture led me to the facts. The first half of our story of what we could call the ‘Great Cultural Forgetting’ (GCF)’ is our own doing, where we allowed many of our forms (systems, rituals, etc.) to freeze and decay over time. The GCF project was then taken to completion by the recent English education flagged off a couple of centuries ago by McCaulay who said:

“It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgement used at preparatory schools in England.”


We not only gleefully bought into this utter falsehood, but continue to live by it and further propagate it through the billions of school textbooks we print and distribute for our (mis)education year after year. We take it further and make such (mis)education compulsory through acts like RTE (Right to Education). There cannot be a better case of cultural suicide! And the worst part of it all is that all these efforts come to be recognised as the highest forms of service. Building schools, doing charity to support “higher studies”, etc. It is like paying to learn self-hate and masochism and then calling it all “progress”.

 Sounds ridiculous. And the phrase ‘Cultural Suicide’ is especially hard-hitting for me! Can we explore this further?

 Exploring suicide can be depressing, my friend. But yes, a meaningful place to begin our exploration is to simply acknowledge what has died and mourn it. Mourn it deeply. Mourning is an important part of the process of finding the energy and strength to revive and move on. You have only just embarked on the journey of discovering what has been lost. My guess is we have lost so much more than we can ever know in its entirety. My guess is that there is enough to keep discovering over lifetimes. But, let us learn to mourn in installments without getting stuck there. There’s much work to do.

 And what’s the nature of the work to be done?

 To first understand what it is that we had, where we come from, who our ancestors were, what they created. Let me give you an imagery to work with.

Our cultural memory / history is a like a bed of rich fertile soil. Not just a bed that is a few feet deep. But like a crust of the earth extending a few kilometres, building itself up over thousands of years through nature’s workings. Over the past few centuries, it has been systematically covered with a significant layer of concrete through a combination of brute force and propaganda. The brute force was used to subjugate our people, destroy and plunder our temples and our riches, destroy our village governance systems, severe capital punishment rendered for disobedience and so on. So, we first allowed people from outside to make and pour the concrete over our soil. Then came in propaganda, where our own people were so brainwashed into believing that the soil was dirty, that the concrete was superior to the soil, that they themselves started willingly and enthusiastically making and pouring more and more of it thickening the layer over time.

Most of our approach towards creating the new economy talks about building, at best new forms, but using the same concrete material. Some radical economists and activists are mildly tapping into our cultural memory and are saying ‘Concrete isn’t the way. We need to recreate the lost soil.’ And so saying, attempting to work out the most effective way of creating a new layer of rich soil, so that we can sow seeds, grow seedlings, which can then grow into plants and then eventually maybe, if we survive through the climate change catastrophes, into trees. Given that our parasitic ways of being are actually driving us all towards a massive civilizational crash faster than we can imagine, I believe that we stand a very bleak chance of surviving to see these seeds grow beyond the plant stage. What I’m proposing is a different approach where we actually tap into the rich soil underneath the concrete, for that might give us a better chance of survival. Though this concrete layer appears to be strong and impenetrable, it is actually quite brittle and has already begun to crack. What isn’t True can never be resilient. If we can identify cracks wide enough, and through them prayerfully sow some pipal and banyan seeds into our rich cultural soil beneath, invoking guidance and collaboration from our ancestors, they stand the highest chance we have access to of further widening these cracks, growing trees of life that can take over the whole thing. The concrete will not disappear. But it will be incorporated into the tree, may be providing strength to the new ecosystem in ways we may not be able to imagine now. Like the Cambodian temples! I believe that we now have access to this cultural bed through the cracks. And if we will it, we can create the best chance we have for the breakthrough. Blessings of our ancestors are more powerful than we can ever imagine. They are yearningly waiting for us to invoke their energies.



 That definitely sounds like a potent proposal, if we are ok to set aside its practicality!

 My friend, if you have explored the doomsday stuff enough, you will know that even the best of 'practicality' is nowhere close to being able to save us from our impending crash. I can show you all the proof for that! So, I'm saying let us at least try some “impractical” ways.

 Sure, it does not hurt to explore it at least for the sake of this dialogue. To begin all of this, we first need to be able to realise and acknowledge that there exists such a rich world beneath the concrete in the first place. Most of us do not even know that it does!

 Precisely. Actually a lot has been written about these over the past century. So, to honor all the amazing souls that have given their entire lifetimes working for a saner world and to avoid duplication, I am going to only share a larger narrative that weaves them all together and direct you to explore some of their works for further detailed reading. I must also say that a large part of what has been written is either incomplete or confused.

 What, according to you, is missing in the writing that is incomplete?

 The concrete pavement is modernity and its apparatus and the soil beneath, our rich cultural heritage. When we bundle up all of modern as falsehood and all of ancient knowledge as Truth, it amounts to ignorance of another kind. They are both mixed bags and need to be examined carefully to discard what we do not need, take what we do and build forward.

 And what is the confused part?

The confused narrative of Indian Renaissance does not question the fundamental precepts of Modern Economics. It tries to superimpose what it understands to be Indic onto the modern framework, which goes against the grain of what our civilization stands for in the most fundamental way; against dharma. This confused narrative tries to juxtapose two narratives that go against each other, believing it to be synthesis.

 I'm tempted to ask what this confused juxtaposition is. But I guess, before that we need to understand the nature of our cultural soil?

 The confused juxtaposition (believed to be synthesis) is what I hope to be continuously exploring throughout this dialogue. First, let us begin by “Decolonising History”. In his book titled thus, Claude Alvares talks in detail about how rich our cultural soil was. When I say 'rich' here, I literally mean prosperous in economic terms. We were growing phenomenal quantities of food to feed everyone, and producing breathtaking varieties and qualities of crafts, textiles, buildings, sculptures, machinery, crops, etc. We were the world’s most thriving economy, and were exporting our exquisite products to the rest of the world.

 We were rich because we produced abundantly?

 Yes. But we need to understand the word ‘abundance’ in a nuanced manner. If not, there is a serious danger of falling into the trap of modern definitions which are at the very root of our present-day crisis. Abundance, the way I understand and experience it is highly textured, and has many dimensions to it.

The first dimension encompasses three design principles articulated by Vaastu Sastra: bhogadhyam (utility), sukha darsham (aesthetics), ramyam (evoking well-being and delight) that were embodied by the food and other articles we produced. There is a lot of evidence to prove that ancient India produced adequate quantities to meet our demands and to provide for our difficult times (famines and epidemics), and some excess to share across countries and continents. Our products were also known for their excellent quality, finish, aesthetics and their rich diversity. We had 2,00,000 varieties of paddy alone, each with its own unique properties and use which were understood and documented. There has been a similar diversity in every possible field of arts and crafts, in languages, cuisines and so on. Diversity is an unmistakable indicator of creativity and also contributed to resilience. What we produced also nourished us and gave us a sense of well-being. With respect to food, a small amount packed with nourishment feels more abundant than a large amount with empty calories. Or food made and served with love is more filling than with a lack of it.

The second dimension of abundance has to do with our connectedness with fellow-beings and nature. When I live as a member of a caring community, and a life closely connected to a well-endowed natural environment (say a forest and a thriving permaculture farm), I feel a certain sense of security and being taken care of. I feel like I have a perennial access to things (tangible and intangible) that I need for my living. Both these forms of connectedness create a larger field of abundance that I begin to live within. Abundance moves from what I have to what I experience.

And the third dimension transcends all of these external criteria. It is the spiritual connection that was held at the core of all pursuits that is unique to our land. In Sri Aurobindo’s words “Spirituality is the master key of the Indian mind.” A growing connection with divinity leaves us wanting less and less things externally. The way real Yogis feel abundant without any possessions. Someone that comes to my mind, who didn’t retreat from the world and was most active, mobile and productive but lived without any possessions, feeling immensely abundant is Peace Pilgrim. For decades, all she is supposed to have possessed are a pair of clothes, a pair of shoes, toothbrush and a comb.

 Wow! I must admit that I never looked at abundance in all these ways! I’m going to need to come back to this to take it all in. But I can already feel a quick rewiring of my brain that just happened.

 I can understand. Connecting to all these dimensions is an inner journey and might take time. It is part of our cultural remembering for, I feel, all these were quite alive until recently. It is still not all gone. In any case, this is just how I understand and experience abundance. But do verify it for yourself. I’d like to share another civilisational view of abundance too, best expressed by Sri Aurobindo’s words to describe ancient India's insatiable creativity and industry.

"There is no historical parallel for such an intellectual labour and activity before the invention of printing and the facilities of modern science; yet all that mass of research and production and curiosity of detail was accomplished without these facilities and with no better record than the memory and for an aid, the perishable palm-leaf. Nor was all this colossal literature confined to philosophy and theology, religion and Yoga, logic and rhetoric and grammar and linguistics, poetry and drama, medicine and astronomy and the sciences; it embraced all life, politics and society, all the arts from painting to dancing, all the sixty-four accomplishments, everything then known that could be useful to life or interesting to the mind, even, for instance, to such practical side minutiae as the breeding and training of horses and elephants, each of which had its Shastra and its art, its apparatus of technical terms, its copious literature. In each subject from the largest and most momentous to the smallest and most trivial there was expended the same all-embracing, opulent, minute and thorough intellectuality. On one side there is an insatiable curiosity, the desire of life to know itself in every detail, on the other a spirit of organisation and scrupulous order, the desire of the mind to tread through life with a harmonised knowledge and in the right rhythm and measure."

 Seeing the power and conviction in those words, I believe there must be some truth to it. What I understand from all this is that 'abundance' to the Indic mind was multidimensional. But to the modern schooled mind, abundance simply means large quantities. Right?

 Yes. This difference is critical because it has three important implications.

If we want to simply produce large quantities without any consideration for anything else, we can easily build a case for ‘efficiency’ to become the supreme lord, for furthering the industrial society and mass-production. We see that this narrative has almost completely colonised our minds globally. What this does is to destroy everything else like quality, diversity leading to weak systems with very little resilience, and also frays the fabric of community and plunders nature, like it is evident everywhere on the planet.

And when we choose modern industrial production means, we automatically reverse the logic of our economics from being demand-driven to being supply-driven. We no longer use machinery to produce how much we need. We let the machines take over and dictate quantities based on what it needs to produce in order to keep running. We give it a term “economic viability” and then start looking for / inventing ways to sell what has been manufactured. And then it even takes the next step to produce what it can. We call it “efficiency”. This reversal is what Karl Polanyi (also called a moral economist) explains in his seminal work The Great Transformation. From economy being embedded in and serving society, the society got embedded in and started serving the economy. The machines became our masters, and the human spirit got confused about the meaning of life, lost its way and bought into the whole story of it being slave to the machine. The transcendent human spirit bought into a limited story about itself, that it was homo economicus.

 I’m able to connect to another thing you mentioned in your first article. That today’s mass-manufactured products have been sucked dry of their souls! Isn’t that another major damage caused by this “great transformation”?

 Absolutely. And that is the third and the most serious implication of them all. This is what Gandhi talked about. Lewis Mumford has explored this elaborately in his brilliant two-volume series called The Myth of the Machine. He talks about how modern humans’ movement from a soul-centric economy guided by our innate intelligence to a machine-centric economy, we have collectively moved towards a sort of a mania, and eventually to suicide. He crusaded for technologies that served the human race (democratic technics) and against those that served the blind advancement of production (authoritarian technics). Connected to this is another design-flaw in handing over to the machine the decision about ‘how much to produce’. By its very design, it creates economies of war. The very impulse that paved way for the British to colonise India, came from the East India Company wanting to aggressively find foreign markets to sell mass-manufactured cotton textiles beyond what it could consume. And this whole phenomenon has been explained in very simple English by JC Kumarappa in his Economy of Permanance. A supply-driven economy is inherently violent. It needs slaves and colonies for its continuous supplies of raw material, and needs manipulatable markets to buy them all back. We are all stuck in a diseased, cancerous supply-driven economy. Are you beginning to see the fundamental nature of our crisis and the story we are stuck in?

 Yes. But you said India used to export its products even before all this. How was that different?

 India exported her excess production after meeting all her local needs. And she exported certain exquisite stuff like fine Bengal muslin, spices, etc. which were very unique to here. She neither exported staple foods of other countries destabilising their economies, nor imported her own essentials. Neither scarcity nor greed were the impulses for imports or exports. She enjoyed both prosperity and contentment simultaneously, and was willing and able to share of herself with the rest of the world to a healthy extent and in a healthy manner.

 Definitely all of this gives a good idea of the fertile soil beneath the concrete. What next?

 The reason to understand all of this is not to keep basking in past glory or to say that we were flawless or perfect. But to understand that we were way-way-way better than we have been conditioned into believing and celebrate that. And then understand how much we have actually lost and grieve that too. Grieving and celebrating will help us tap into our cultural memory and move forward. But even this is only one half of the story of what we need to do. The other half is about truthfully looking into some of our own flaws and imperfections, feel the shame and pains of them all, own them up, critique and discard what does not belong in our new story going forward so that we can aim for a more glorious future, however distant that might be. Without grieving & celebrating, critiquing & discarding, a part of us will be stuck in the past either by blindly attaching to it or by blindly rejecting it. In order to meaningfully move forward, we need to own up everything in totality: the glory and the pain, the brilliant light and the dark shadow.

Another important reason to understand how soulfully, aesthetically, functionally, respectfully, sustainably prosperous we have been in the past, is to then open completely to the enquiry “What were the systems and processes that enabled such a prosperity, such a way of being?” What was an essentially Indic approach to Economics that is relevant for us today? What were its design principles that we can draw from?”

(to be continued…)