Wednesday, 3 April 2019

My Journey into Shamanism:

In the last week of March, 2018, under the influence of a brilliant full moon, my world as I knew it shifted.

In the couple of weeks preceding the full moon, and a couple of weeks post that, I experienced things that I never knew existed. Ofcourse I had read about similar experiences, but largely discarded them as something not meant for ordinary people like me. In the magical, inter-connected ways of life, I was led to experience Himalayan Shamanism because in my tumultuous journey as a truth-seeker, I had long rejected religions and ritualistic practices as mere eye-wash.

Shamanism is a term given by modern anthropologists and ethnographers to describe a way of living and belief systems followed by ancient tribes across the world. Evidence of such practices has been recorded which is atleast 20,000-year-old, and anthropologists believe that such practices could be much older. In ancient communities, a Shaman was a very important person who not only cured people of illnesses, but also led the community to food, shelter, and away from harm’s way. He/She had the ability to communicate with spirits of nature, and find cure for illnesses, taking not even a leaf more than was required. Even today, the Shamans of the Amazon region are known to accurately identify more than 10 sub-species of a single plant, something which even seasoned botanists find difficult to do.  
But the Shamanic way of life and belief systems are much deeper than just this, and it’s the same across the world whether it’s the native American tradition, the amazon tribes, the aborigines of Australia, the tribes of Siberia and Mongolia, or the Himalayas. It’s so deep that it’s often called the ‘path of direct revelation’. Some of its core beliefs (or values) are that everything in the world is manifestation of the same energy/Spirit, and hence is alive. Therefore everything on Earth, especially our Earth has to be treated with as much respect, love, and compassion.

Ink Doodling by me for a friend - Element Earth

We, humans, are the physical manifestation of the energetic experiences or memories of our ancestors, past lives, and also our current lives. And we are all connected, in magical extra-ordinary ways, to each other as well as to the past and the future. I am as connected to blade of grass in Siberia, as I am connected to my mother. How I conduct myself now can impact not only the blade of grass in Siberia, but also generations in the future as well (much like the movie Butterfly Effect). Hence, we all should live consciously and with gratitude. And if we can let go of our baggage and heavy energies that we have been carrying for centuries, and connect with our hearts and allow life to flow, each of us can experience this amazing inter-connectedness, immense compassion, communicate with plants, trees, rivers, and mountains, and even reach out to higher beings who are there to guide us.

Earlier, each community had their own Shamans, and traditional practices exclusive to their community. But the current state of the world has forced many Shamans to open their ancient wisdom to people outside their community. I was similarly initiated into a Shamanic way of living by a Himalayan Shaman who is using modern technology to help people heal and find their own truths.

The insights that I got during my medicine journey were numerous, some of which I have already mentioned in my blog post here. However, some of my key learnings from the journey are: 1) Healing is a long process – emotionally, physically, mentally, and energetically. It starts with acknowledging that we are all flawed and hurting, seeking out our truths consciously, getting rid of all our baggage and memory blocks, and finding our true Spirit or “Buddha nature”. For me, I have barely just begun; 2) Ancient wisdom is not simple superstitions, its remarkable how well they understood nature, the order of the cosmos and our place in it; 3) We can crib and cry that the world is going from bad to worse in every possible way, but the only true contribution that you can make right now to help make it a better place is to change yourself and find your true Spirit.

My journey into Shamanism has helped me find my Spirit and many other things; and living authentically and having authentic relationships with all sentient and non-sentient beings will continue to be a journey till the day I cease to exist is this form.

Note: People interested to know more can write to me directly. For all others, I highly recommend the Nalanda Diploma course in Buddhist Philosophy from Tibet House.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

The Moon Magic:

The Moon! That was the first thing I noticed in Ethiopia.

Umm, actually not! The first thing that I noticed after landing at the airport early morning was that Addis reminded me of India of the 80s. Old models of cars (think Fiat and Ambassador) spewing vehicular smoke in an otherwise clean and clear air, road-side shops selling clothes, shoes, vegetables, and other stuff before liberalization made it all about brands and malls, bricks and cement stacked up against walls of houses for construction work, small buna coffee or tea places dotting market areas, old style wood chairs and tables in cafes (similar to those which still exist in few places in Kolkata and parts of Mumbai), load-shedding, gasoline shortage, rationing of sugar and butter, spurious items, community-bonding, living with the larger (joint) family, and an unmissable languid pace of life. Add to this India’s ‘soft’ exports – yesteryears’ Bollywood movies (like Haathi Mera Saathi and Disco Dancer!) and blue and white tuktuks (a slender and cuter version of our lovable autos) – and the picture was complete.

“Now you know why I am so nostalgic about the 70s and the 80s!” – I told my young friend G with glee and finality. G, whose childhood was spent in the 90s and out of India, is now working in Ethiopia and totally in love with the country.    

Ethiopia is a very poor country, but unlike India, and like Nepal, people do not wear their poverty on their sleeves. There is a quiet dignity to their state of living. Decades of political upheaval and instability meant that work on basic infrastructure, creation of jobs and other ways of livelihood, connectivity between towns and regions, tourism etc. are still at a nascent stage. Like India in the 80s, domestic tourism is only related to pilgrimages (Ethiopians dislike travelling!), and hence geared largely towards western travellers making budget travelling for people like me a big problem.

One of the Rift Valley lakes in the distance. Photo: Bipasha M

Apart from travelling back in time, there were few other things which made Ethiopia special for me. With varieties of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian local cuisine, yummiest avocado juice, the light honey wine Tej and an even lighter tea, the country was an absolute food heaven for me. However, chewing chhaat leaves, having buna coffee, and eating raw meat were not for this 'faint-stomached' Indian, though G has clearly acquired a taste for the first two if not the third.

On the way to Afar region. Photo: Bipasha M

Ethiopia is also the region from where humanity evolved and spread around the world. This is the place of our ancestors. Travelling across its now arid and craggy hills, salt pans, sulfur geysers, and endless plains, it was easy to imagine how nature might have been when sapiens had lived here.

But the most special reason was the magic of the moon! The brilliantly sparkling city moon was the second thing I noticed in Addis. It drew me in, into some ancient world, into another dimension. Our journey to the crater of a live volcanic lake in Afar region through a series of mind-blowing and alien landscape followed a waning full moon. We slept outside on charpoys in the vast open land, directly under the influence of her glorious moonlight. I trekked over lava beds and rocks in the dark (night trek) without headlamps to reach the crater, intuitively knowing where to place my feet. And when the huge orange moon rose from the top of a smoking volcano, it was spellbinding. In that golden glow, across ancient lava beds, I felt the Spirit of the Earth herself calling out to me, welcoming me home.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Unfamiliar Lines:

image credit: bipasha m

The end of this particular year deserves a post. This has been a special year, for me, and for many people like me elsewhere. In the sense of regular living, nothing has changed on the surface. But I am not the same person I was at the beginning of this year. The year, at one level, seems to have gone by in a flash. But I can recall every day of every month with crystal clarity because I lived all the days at nature’s pace – without any hurry.

Some of the lessons that I have learnt this year are simple yet so critical – to become human in the real sense; the importance of which I cannot stop emphasizing. The list of lessons that I have learnt can go on to fill pages, but here are some of the most important ones that I want to share.

·       Remember the movie Tamasha by Imtiaz Ali? Everyone is born with one gift in the least which is unique like every individual. Find your gift and let that gift lead you in life. Your gift is not about being a leader or an orator or a team player or money manager. Think subtler, something which you have buried deep inside and forgotten. Are you intuitive, a healer, an herbalist, a singer, a dreamer, a storyteller, a person who connects dots, a performer? Go back to your childhood – who were you then, what did you do naturally, what were you drawn to naturally? That IS your gift – hone it, live it. Just like the movie!

·       Humanity’s potential is vast, like cosmos vast. With the kind of life we are living now, we barely have scratched its surface. No, it’s not about being a CEO of a company or a world champion or a beauty pageant or earning like the Ambanis. Human potential is about the power of the subconscious, and the power of your heart. We have immense capacity for love (not the jealous possessive kinds), compassion, empathy, intuition, 'psychic' abilities, creating magic, self-healing, connections to each other and other sentient beings!

·       Reconnect with your heart and listen to what it says! Stop thinking with your mind or brain. Your heart knows what is best for you and will guide you accordingly. Use your mind to implement what your heart says and watch how everything changes around you. We have collectively used our brains for way too long and we are nowhere near being happy. Just look at the state of our world!

·       Move your body. Dance. Yes, dance! Switch on the music, switch off the lights, close your eyes, place your hand on your heart and let your body respond to the music. We need to know and love our bodies, just as it is. We are as disconnected from our bodies and we are from our hearts. If you have the strength, stand in front of a mirror naked and look at yourself. Acknowledge yourself for who you are.

·       Fall in love with the night. Don’t rush to switch on the lights when dusk approaches. Watch the day merge into the night. Watch the stars, reconnect with the moon. It’s powerful!

·       Heal yourself. We carry tons and tons of emotional baggage – from our childhood, current life, from our parents, ancestors, and even past lives. Do whatever it takes to heal, drastic or slow, skydive from an airplane or go for vipassana. Just do it! You owe it to yourself to become who you truly are.

·       Live with awareness. Live in the present. As an Alaskan indigenous community leader mentioned – past makes you live in guilt and hurt, and future makes you live in fear. We need to be present to the present (as my late English teacher always used to say) to know what love and compassion is.

·       Let go and stop controlling things. Nature flows and does not control. Don’t go against the rhythm of nature. Respect it. Observe and learn from it. Nature’s wisdom is immense and deep.  

2019 is a year for new beginnings, but only for those who are willing to let go of everything past and step up to a new life. So wishing everybody the best for another shining year. 

Monday, 29 October 2018

In Search of Authenticity:

There is a rhythm and there is a structure. The moon waxes and wanes, exerting an ancient influence on everything. Old trees in forests fall, so that younger ones can grow. Rivers continue to flow for centuries. The insects, birds, reptiles, small and large animals on earth and those in the vast oceans feed on each other, depend on each other keeping the machinery of life going. Rising and falling, like the sun, like the oceans. Like the storms, floods, volcanoes which destroy and then bring forth new life. Everything on earth moves to nature’s own rhythm, all inter-connected, all alive. And it’s this same cosmic rhythm that governs the universe, governs us (humans) as well.   

Except now. For we have chosen to forget and to disconnect.

Now humanity is racing, against this very rhythm. Racing to earn lots of money, to become the next president in a company, so get the latest phone, to buy that car, to have that first kiss, to get married and then get divorced, to touch Eiffel tower and then off to touch Petronas towers, to climb all the tallest mountains, to tick things off the bucket list before others. Racing to do and connect with things that hold no truth. Racing against our very nature, ignoring the fact that living a life that is not ‘nature’ will ultimately self-destroy.        

In this human-created physical reality which is moving so fast away from nature’s reality, I have chosen to stop and ask myself – how authentic is my living? How authentic are my relationships, at what level do I connect with people, how truly do I love? How authentic is my work, do I do the work that I do for money or fame or to resonate with my Spirit, do I even know and use my gifts well? How authentically do I communicate, do I listen well, do I articulate well? How authentic is my connection to myself, do I know who I am when I strip myself off my skin, muscles and bones? How authentic is my connection to my environment, the nature around me, the rising sun and the moon, other sentient beings? How authentically do I live in my body?

I have chosen to stop, slow down, find my truths, return to the rhythm of nature, and reconnect with my home – the Earth.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

In Gratitude:

Thich Nhat Hanh - Inter-Being or Inter-Are*:

What do you see when you see a paper?

Do you see a blank sheet - where you can shape your own creations? Or do you see bits of clouds that held the rain? Do you see the rain that fell from these clouds and which watered the soil, or the warmth of the sun that helped the trees grow?  Do you see the insects, organisms in the soil that distributed nutrient to the trees? Do you see the trees themselves, from which the sheet of paper was made, with its healthy mossy bark and green playful leaves? How about the golden wheat raised by a farmer in some remote village from which the bread was made – the same bread which gave strength and energy to the tree-cutter? Do you see the tree-cutter who felled the trees and the people who toiled hard to get that sheet to you?

Itadakimasu (Japanese):

I humbly receive.

You fold your hand and say Itadakimasu before you have your meal. In its simplest form, it is about showing respect to all the living beings and the processes that went to bring that dish of food to your table – the plants and animals that gave their lives, to the farmers, fisherfolks, vendors, cooks, your mother/father, hostess etc. who worked hard for that dish of food. At a deeper level, the essence of the word can be extended to almost anything that you receive – as an acknowledgment of the efforts of so many living beings, of gratitude and reflection, of the awareness that things should not be simply wasted.   

Shamanism (worldwide):

You are Nature.

(As different from - you are part of Nature). Everything is Spirit. You are as connected to that single blade of grass that grows after the winter thaw in Siberia as you are to yourself. What you do now can have an impact four generations later perhaps in Australia. At this very moment, you are present as much in the past as you are in the future. Your ordinary world or reality is as much of an illusion as you think the non-ordinary reality is an illusion.     


Element: Fire (Ink doodling by me)

This post is an expression of the deep gratitude that I feel for the city of Mumbai, where I have spent eleven uncommon years (boring by ordinary reality standards!) so far. Looking back over the years – from the time I landed at the Mumbai airport on a rain-soaked day, till today, when I am hunched over my laptop waiting for the rains to soak the city again – it’s been an amazing tapestry of inter-woven incidents and inter-connectedness of people and places. I have learnt two important lessons here: one, to stop controlling and going with the flow of life, wherever life decides to take me; two, to learn to say yes to everything that life brings to your doorstep (atleast to all that your intuition/body does not outrightly negate) – from rejections (gracefully accept them) to opportunities which appear totally unconnected at first.

The city has given me the much-needed space to learn these at my own pace, and much more.

And to the future that it intends to bring, I say Itadakimasu. 

* this example of inter-being has been given by Thich Nhat Hanh, though the words have been embellished by me

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Lost and Found:

Most ancient shamanic traditions, whether it’s the Peruvian, Maoris or Himalayan, believe that everything within this universe is made of energy; and we are all physical manifestations of that energy. According to one Himalayan shamanic tradition, we, each individual as well as the society, are the manifestations of our experiences, individual as well as collective - of past lives, ancestral experiences, and present memories and that current actions can energetically have impact over seven generations.

Yuval Noah Harari in his book Sapiens says that animals live in and experience objective reality. Only homo sapiens (us) have the ability to create fictional (imaginations) reality like politics, religion, money, human rights etc. and accept that reality over and above the objective reality due to our ability to be flexible and cooperate in large numbers.  And now, we have almost lost touch with our objective reality.

Somewhere between these two narratives, we (humans) have lost our way.

So, who are you when you say you are a human? No, you are not the white privileged person from the rich west, or an Australian, or a Dalit, a Muslim, a CEO of a company, a teacher, a mother of two, a bored housewife, a miner, a writer, a photographer, a kabbadi player, a murderer, a hermit, a loner, a beggar, a feminist, a right-winger, a banker, a reluctant leader, a scientist, a child, a dreamer, a homosexual, a transgender, a terrorist, an African, a Buddhist, a tribal, an unsuccessful actor, a game-addict, an orphan, a runner, a trekker, a farmer, a rich man with two houses and two cars, a schizophrenic, a sad widower.

Who are you when you remove yourself from this ‘fictional’ life and definitions? Who are you when you strip yourself of your hair, skin, muscle and your bones? Who are you when you stand in front of your naked soul, when you confront your spirit?

When you come face to face with your spirit-self, then and only then, your journey as a human being begins.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

In the Mango Tree:

Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps the singing bird will come - Chinese Proverb (so says the internet)

It’s the time when the city is at its quietest and darkness is still heavy outside. A singular mellifluous eight-note song of the fantail in the almond tree outside my bedroom window signals that night is about to end and dawn break is not far away. And within the hour, a cacophony of birsongs bursts forth every single day in the limited trees that we have within our society compound.

In my arm-chair bird watching style, I have counted just over 20 species of birds in the one mango and one almond tree that dot my windows: from crows, sparrows, drongo, pigeons (dumb and forever fornicating just like humans!) to copper-smith barbet, golden oreole, purple rumped sunbird, common tailorbird, and even a single male paradise flycatcher.  It pains me sometimes to see so many birds in just a few trees, each struggling to find its own space (crows and pigeons mostly win). But somewhere I count myself fortunate to yet wake up to birdsongs in a city before chaos takes over for the rest of the day.

This became all the more discernible when I was travelling in Germany and Slovenia during fall last year. Though I missed the ancient beech forests of Germany, the ones that I visited in both the countries were second or third generation forests, carefully regenerated and then ‘managed’ for ecological as well as economic sustainability. In Germany, citizens have the right to walk inside any forest, private or public, but within stipulated paths and trails. Different from India, I felt breathless and lost in the beauty of these young forests: in myriad hues of yellow, orange, red and green, in colours more heightened when the slanting autumn sun filtered in through the transforming leaves, in forest floors layered with fallen leaves, and in the pervasive silence everywhere. Coming from a country where noise is the prime sensory overload, the silence of these forests was like going deep in meditation. So absorbed was I in this other type of sensory overload, that I did not immediately sense the forests were more silent than normal. Even in a more rustic Slovenia, surrounded by craggy mountains and limpid lakes, the forests were cruelly still. So were the trees in the cities and city-parks. The singing birds did not come here despite the green trees.

morning mist in a forest in Slovenia

Our cities, villages, parks, forests, rivers, lakes, hills, mountains, salt-pans are alive, despite urbanisation: insects, dragonflies, butterflies, snakes, frogs, birds, small and large animals, fungus, algae…everywhere still. Our forests have an ephemeral silence as well as a constant chatter, filled with a raw energy. This energy can still be found scattered in pockets across the country, even though successive governments have been changing policy to forcefully create plantations in the name of forest ‘management’.  The country’s forest cover surprisingly remains the same: dense forests are cut down while plantations (considered ‘forests’) take over its space. But then a time will come when our ‘forests’ will also become deathly silent.

Till that time, I am grateful for all the singing birds in my green mango tree.