Hope springs

‘And all the spaces of our past moments of solitude, the spaces in which we have suffered from solitude, enjoyed, desired and compromised solitude, remain indelible within us, and precisely because the human being wants them to remain so. He knows that the space identified with his solitude is creative; that even when it is forever expunged from the present, when henceforth, it is alien to all the promises of the future, even when we no longer have a garret, when the attic room is lost and gone, there remains the fact that we once loved a garret, once lived in an attic. We return to them in our night dreams.’ (Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard, 1958)

I’ve been very sad recently.  My childhood home in India which was locked up, had been burgled. Not satisfied with not finding much there (yes, we were very poor), the thieves then ransacked the place, even ripping apart the mattresses.  Even if a home has been a very humble place, with not many things there, it still has its memories. It was also my first home and a place I always went back to.  I learnt to walk there and play with the children who lived nearby.  Our school was nearby.  So many people came there.  The address is forever etched my heart.  My beloved uncle and my father both passed away there. That place was the centre of my universe for decades until I left but I always came back to it whenever I visited India from the UK. My British born children loved it too.

Then this burglary happened- totally out of the blue. I felt violated myself because my home was so intimately connected to me- it was who I was, it was my body. The mattresses that had been ripped apart lay on the same bed that my father had died.  I was angry and helpless. But there was nothing to be done. When I was praying, the thought came into my head, ‘You need to concentrate on yourself. There is nothing to be done by getting angry or upset’.  And then I read about the people in Australia who had lost everything in the recent bushfires- and precious things like their pets, photographs of their childhood, livelihood, etc.  Tragically some had even died trying to save their homes. I began to feel grateful that such physical evidences of my life were still there- photographs, mementos, and my memories too.  No one had been injured during the burglary.  I heard a woman say about her home being destroyed during the floods in the UK, ‘After all, it is just bricks and mortar.’  And I thought about all those people around the world who had lost homes, left their homes fleeing wars or other disasters, or were even homeless.  Suddenly I began to see a brighter side to everything- and really how lucky I was.

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Black mountain on fire, February 2020 (image: Wikimedia commons, Saritha Balram)

Then today, I saw this- a little tiny shoot of a cactus plant.  Cactus plants are quite difficult to grow at home from seeds but somehow this little thing had managed to sprout. I felt like it was saying to me, ‘Don’t give up hope.’  It is still a long way from becoming a proper cactus plant but I thought this little thing has struggled and found a way to come out of the dark sandy soil, so could I come out my own dark place.

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My tiny cactus plant!

The empty space in the walled garden- chance, failure and hope

Image(the walled garden, Ravenscourt Park, London– photo by author)

Today was a ‘nothing day’- a day of doing nothing much but achieving a lot.  I went to a talk about gardens at my local garden centre.  The speaker described herself as a ‘lazy gardener‘.  But she is not lazy at all- she is of course a self taught gardener, the author of two best selling gardening books, a mother with a houseful of dogs and a small daughter and, judging from the wonderful cupcakes she brought, an amazing cook!  And she said one of the most wonderfully simple things I have heard for a long time- “When you are happy, things just happen!”  Heavily pregnant and glowing, she was an embodiment of that infectious joy as she described how her gardening happened through chance, failure and hope.

On the way back, I sat in the walled garden near the garden centre, taking in the beauty of wildflowers growing through chance, failure and hope.  In the centre of this garden is an empty pedestal- might have had a sun dial in the past but now it was empty.  I thought about how there might be nothing visible in the long winter and then suddenly these beautiful verdant shoots push through the earth or the dry boughs of the tree in the spring, taking a chance at life, unfazed by failure and unfailing in their hope in life.   Nichiren said about nature and life- “Winter always turns to spring.”  Hope is a part of nature- it must be ours too.

I reflected on how, like that empty space in the walled garden, we must have an empty space in our lives too, a day of doing nothing in order to appreciate this bounty that nature gives us every year.  As William Henry Davies told us,

“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.”

Thinking big

This post was actually written yesterday but did not have time to type it up.

Having written a book called, Architecture For Rapid Change and Scarce Resources and grown up in an impoverished family in India, the word scarcity is always on my mind.  So my challenge in following my heart is also about thinking big.  While we cannot deny the scarcity in many material things, things of the spirit are always impossibly big- love, compassion and kindness.  Scarcity of the spirit is about being mean, petty and grasping. Thinking big is about embracing, going beyond and giving.

Recently a colleague who I like and respect very much, reacted rather strangely to my intention of working in her former country- like as if I was taking away projects from her behind her back.    Interestingly, none of the organisations I had communicated with had mentioned her name and I was completely unaware of her involvement.  However from her reaction, I became aware of scarcity of a different type- where no one can even work without the permission of another, however ridiculous the whole concept may seem- where people are afraid to share, where competition instead of cooperation is seen as a way of life and where compassion is limited by the necessity to earn money and fame.  However, by letting go of any resentment and thereby refusing to be in her power, I felt lighter and stronger.  I know there is plenty of work around, so there is no need to be grasping of any thing.  I have read a lot about abundance (there is a lot on the Internet) and came up with these three things that seemed to very important in order to feel abundance and let go of scarcity-

1. Give, share and live freely

The Buddhist concept of ‘Jigyo Keta’ means to remove suffering and bring happiness.  This happiness includes your own happiness as well.  So don’t be afraid to share your happiness and good fortune with others.  Give and receive credit freely.

2. Hope

Hope brings about great benefit, it heals and restores.  In my Bengali culture, there is a saying, “If it happens, it is good; if it does not happen, then it is even better.”  There is always something bigger and better for you.  Let go of the small stuff!

3. Think big

There is another saying that spells it so well-“if you aim for the top of the tree, then you may get to the bottom of the trunk; but if you aim for the moon, then you will reach the top of the tree!”  Big and expansive ideas should be part of our personal ambitions-there is nothing wrong in going for the best, the most amazing and the most powerful- in terms of our spiritual development.

Give yourself the permission to think big!