Thursday, 19 September 2019

Living the Sacred, Daily:

Words, that form languages, are inherently violent and often corrupts. Language is rigid and structured and doesn’t allow the exploration of the vastness and depth of thoughts and emotions that we feel or can express. We say things we don’t mean. We don’t know how to say things we really mean. We interpret what others say by perceiving it from our understanding of those words.

I have been guilty of all these a million times in the past.  

Words, therefore, restrict me from expressing fully what sacredness means to me. I have struggled in my head to describe its essence but have failed repeatedly. I know what it’s not:

Sacredness is not about finding ‘divinity’
It’s not about rituals and prayers
It’s not about energies and vibes
It’s also not about being blessed

And I know how finding the sacred is changing how I live my life:

Sacredness is in having conscious conversations
It’s in deep listening – to yourself and to everything around you
It’s in trusting life and the map of your soul
It’s in understanding the inherent-ness in everything
It’s in seemingly serendipitous events and connections
It’s in being ‘conscious’
It’s also in unshackling yourself and letting go

Perhaps, the closest explanation of this can be what the Shaman master once told me – “the more individual you become, the more universal you become.” When you find your intrinsic self, you find your universal self. And when you find your universal self, everything around you become sacred.

Living the sacred daily is not just limited to the few things I mentioned above. There’s more, much more. But I am unable to find any more words to express.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

By the Ganga:

We had found our perfect spot.

A silent and hidden man-made outcrop covered by a young Peepal tree under which somebody had placed a stone ‘Shiva-linga’ and a Nandi close by. The grey Ganga flowed quietly in front spreading herself out on the other bank, which was empty of humans and human activities. The monsoon clouds flitted in and out across the distant hills.

The stones of the outcrop were cool and inviting. I lay down and was soon lost in the movement of the leaves as they danced about to their own mad tune. The sound of the wind amongst the leaves was lulling, captivating, broken only by the mild screeches of the grey hornbills. My friend was lost in her own world. I was lost in mine. And Ganga was lost in her own wanderings. Along with us was silence. The silence of nature and the silence of our minds.

By the Ganga - image: Bipasha M

I had never thought Haridwar could be so comforting. During my earlier travels, I had almost always bypassed the city, as I could not stand the chaos and confusion that I had always associated with the place. This is a place where religion is business, and it’s everywhere. On-the-face everywhere – something which I abhorred earlier.

This time also, I was more keen to go to Rishikesh and spend a day sitting on the white sand banks of the Ganga, surrounded by green hills. I have fond memories of Rishikesh – my first rafting trip way back in the late 90s when Ganga was free, wild, and ferocious; my first jumps from a cliff into her cold cold water - despite my fear of water; my first ‘weed’ high – a beautiful high, you can only get while sitting by the Ganga at dusk.     

This time, traffic jams on the highway to Rishikesh due to the upcoming ‘Kawariyas’ mela led us to this perfect spot instead of Rishikesh. We explored the city later in the evening – lanes and bylanes of the market filled with stuff related to religion and catering to the needs of the pilgrims. We visited temples, something which I would never have done earlier.

The day ended with a brilliant full moon shining over the distant hills and washing everything clean. The city had gone silent at night. From the top of the terrace of my friend’s ashram, I thought I could hear a faint murmuring – of Ganga still lost in her wanderings.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

The ‘New’ Delhi Days:

The feeling was strange.

The sudden shift in the weather wasn’t.

It was a perfect summer afternoon thunderstorm – sudden darkening of clouds, flashes of lightning, following thunder, and then the downpour. When the showers stopped, outside the library, had collected small puddles strewn with fuchsia bougainvillea and yellow laburnum flowers that had fallen from the trees. Water dripped from the magnificent old trees in the lawn, peacocks screeched loudly sitting atop the museum building, and birds chirped everywhere. Interspersed between these sounds of nature, was silence, and a perfect wet stillness.

When I left the Nehru (Teen Murti) library, one of my favourite haunts here, it was already evening. The sidewalks of the road were littered with leaves, a heady smell of wet neem and jamun trees permeated the area, and when I looked up, I saw a brilliantly sparkling full moon rising out of the tree line. What I felt then was pure happiness coupled with tinges of nostalgia; for I had forgotten just how beautiful Delhi is.

I was happy because I was walking down empty sidewalks to the metro station, two kilometers away, in approaching darkness without fear. I was not looking over my shoulders to see if I was being followed or at the oncoming traffic wary of cars that might slow down near you; I was looking at the bright moon because I just couldn’t take my eyes off the sky.

That feeling I later realized was strange, given that I was back in a city which was crazily unsafe for girls even a decade ago. Something definitely has shifted within the collective conscience of the people of the city, and I can feel that the city is finally coming to her own after years of being trodden and used. Delhi is now at her most vibrant self, with numerous things happening at all corners – what Bombay used to be once upon a time. Public spaces are now being occupied more and more by women making it safer than before – city forests, public parks, renovated archeological monuments, city lakes, gardens, outdoor national and international cultural shows, which have been made more accessible to people. The kind of on-the-face aggression that used to exist way back in the 90s and early 2000s, is not there anymore. Moreover, and more importantly, I haven’t come across people talking to your boobs or looking you up and down before answering your question – something which was very common during those days.

To me, from an observational perspective, a couple of key events might have led to this much needed change. The metro system – which has opened up public travel especially for women like never before; the Nirbhaya incident – which has made the larger community more aware and sensitive to women and others (her death was not in vain); activities, access to activities and technology – there are so many things to do now and with smartphones etc., people are rather gainfully occupied; and then there is the younger generation – they are a breed apart: gutsy, intelligent, well-informed, risk-taking, and sensitive, and they are here in Delhi from all corners of India overshadowing the typical Delhi boys and girls. I also feel the current Delhi government has brought in much required fresh energy which might not reflect overtly but rather in these subtle shifts.

A lot still needs to change – especially in the professional front where babugiri rules and the way people are so stuck up. However, I am not going to complain. For I am beginning to really like this ‘New’ Delhi.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Fly Free:

Bipasha, imagine yourself standing at the edge of a cliff. When you heal yourself completely, you will feel so light and free that you will want to fly.

My body had felt dense in those days. For years I had been ruthless and focused on owning up to and facing my mental demons, that I did not realize my physical body needed attention as well. While accurately pinpointing the physical areas of my body that needed healing, the shaman master gave me a prognosis of being just 67% healthy. And this after a decade of either playing tennis, running, cycling, or walking as my weekly dose of exercise!

In due course, I realized that even though you think you are healthy – both mentally and physically - you are not healthy in the real sense. Even though you face up to your mental demons and do your daily meditations, you are still not Really over your mental demons. And just exercising your body, ofcourse, is never enough. You are free only when you have stripped and cleansed every cell in your body, and mentally and emotionally so true to yourself that the outer, external realities cease to matter. Only and only then you can feel light and be Free.

I have also realized that we put a lot of effort in eating right and exercising well, but we are nowhere connected to our bodies. I have also realized that we are way too attached to our past, we cling onto our hurts, grief, injustice or notions of injustice etc. like the veritable last straw – the pain or hurt by now such a familiar space that its difficult stepping out into the unknown.  

Imagine then, how experiences keep adding layers to your body and mind as you age, making your energy dense and heavy. Now imagine, over 90% of 7 billion people on Earth living in similar conditions. The millions of ‘like’ that one can see for hundreds of poignant stories on just one page of ‘Humans of New York’ are an attestation of that. What a dense base-level world we are living in!

Well, life can be unrelenting. And add to that the omnipresence of toxicity. We owe ourselves and our bodies a chance to do what they are supposed to do. Here are a few things I do now, and hence can suggest the same to others:

  • Connect with your body. Your body will tell you what you need to eat and what you need to avoid. For regular, small ailments like cold, cough, upset tummy etc. practice home remedies as a start. The body is an amazing healer; allow it to do its work. 

  • Let loose. We are very rigid when it comes to thoughts, opinions, ways of work, and even how we move our bodies. Dance, do yoga, or headstands – anything to get rid of that rigidity. 

  • Keep your body active. Walk that 500 meters rather than hailing a cab or auto. 

  • Eat only when you are hungry, and eat just as much as required. Ideally we should go back to what our ancestors followed – t wo meals a day, last meal around sundown. Give your stomach some rest. 

  • Be aware of what you are eating. Be mindful of the water you are drinking. Show your gratitude. 

  • Develop your daily morning or evening routine, a time just for yourself. You can exercise, meditate, do your art, say your mantras, or whatever brings you back to yourself! 

  • Go and heal yourself of all your chronic ailments. There are hundreds of alternative therapies – pick one and stay the full course. Most ailments are inter-connected, so just trying to resolve one and not the others might not work. 

  • Resolve your mental and emotional demons. It’s difficult but doable. Again there are various forms of therapy, keep at it until you break your patterns. Each experience – bad or good – has something to teach you. Learn from them, show your gratitude, and let them go.

  • De-clutter and clear your space regularly. There are many ways to clear spaces; I use mostly rock salt in ‘pocha’ water. It might sound mumbo-jumbo, but trust me, it works. But always over a period of time. 

I am still a case in progress, and I have a long way to go. But I have glimpsed that lightness of being when I released one of my chronic problems. Then I had felt I could run up twenty flights of stairs. Now I am waiting to fly - light and free.

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.