Being ourselves

Each life is precious and this uniqueness gives an person’s his or her ‘mysteriousness’- their allure. I was reading recently about Audrey Hepburn who died in 1993 at the age of 63. Her son says that when he was young, he didn’t realise his mother was a ‘movie star’ until later. She lived an ordinary life, according to him, walking her dog and eating simple pasta. For an outer life led in the spotlight, her inner life was simple- it had to be balanced. Her unique allure was her simplicity and the full life she led.

Her son, Luca Dotti, says about his mother, ‘She didn’t have to impress anyone, really. It was what she loved and how she lived.’ Audrey Hepburn was a ‘humanitarian’ at heart- doing less of acting work as she grew older and instead quietly devoting herself to to UNICEF. Since 1954, she worked in some of the most profoundly disadvantaged communities of Africa, South America and Asia between 1988 and 1992. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in December 1992 (she was to die the following year). Until the end of her life, she tirelessly ‘renewed herself’ from being a ballet dancer, a chorus girl to Hollywood star and then to humanitarian activities. She also was a style icon with her unique hair style and way of dressing which no one has been able to duplicate since. Whether walking her dog or being with poor children, she was just herself. I wondered how we are always trying to be someone else, copying styles and forgetting ourselves? How easy can be it to be just ourselves? Surely being ourselves can’t be that difficult and yet, it is the most difficult thing in the world.

Daisaku Ikeda says, ‘Never for an instant forget the effort to renew your life, to build yourself anew. Creativity means to push open the heavy, groaning doorway of life itself. This is not an easy task. Indeed, it may be the most severely challenging struggle there is. For opening the door to your own life is in the end more difficult than opening the door to all the mysteries of the universe.’

taking on fear

Flame of the forest Spirit 2014

This week, my first ever art show opened and it will be on for three months.  It may have been something vaguely I wanted to do and I really hadn’t thought much about it.  Then I heard an inspiring talk given by a blind artist and realised how I ‘understood’ her art and her techniques for painting.  I got talking to the person who organised this show and suddenly she turned to me and said, ‘Why don’t you exhibit your work? We have a three month vacant slot here.’  I was deeply reluctant at first.  My reaction was- ‘what if people don’t like it? what if people laugh at the work?  what if people don’t get it?’ etc etc.

I was full of fear.  But having thought about how much I was going to regret not taking this opportunity, I said yes eventually.  Then I also decided to paint new work and re-worked some of the originals. I realised I had changed- I had taken on fear and won.  Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

You can always learn from mistakes, but what if you’ve actually never made a mistake (as if that is possible!)? Life is all about making mistakes, learning from them.

Having now done, I am in a daze- people have written many kind words about my work. One said, “I have just been to have a look and the art looks amazing. You are very talented!”

Many people helped out, working on Saturday at 8-00 am working solidly for four hours to hang the pictures- none of them got paid to do this.  Someone who helped out with the hanging commented,”Just to let you all know that the pictures are all hung safely and, personally, think the corridor looks great…..several people have already admired them…..”

What can I say, I am speechless with gratitude!  If my art moves and inspires people, even though technically it might not be amazing- it is perfect for me and them. It is my gift to the world.  By taking on fear and leaving aside regrets, we can only become more creative and live true to our hearts. It doesn’t matter if I get any more compliments or not, or even if I get some nasty comments- I have won!  As Marianne Williamson says in her book, A Return to Love, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Amazing Grace

Since the few days, I have been thinking about ‘grace’, being ‘gracious’ and being ‘graceful’.  It is quality which is not talked about much, except in reference to movement or dancing.  I am talking about grace as a way of life.  Grace is about being polite, about being accepting of others and of being kind.  I have been thinking about how to bring grace into my life and these are the things I thought of-

1. Time and space– one needs to have time and space, gaps in schedule, peace and reflection to have grace.  People who are always rushing, bustling off or are abrupt are not graceful.  Therefore always keep a little space in your life in order to be graceful.

2. Be expansive– Think big, even magnanimously of others, even if they have done you wrong.  Do not go into their level, forgive and let go.  Imagine yourself as a big hearted person, not grasping, not wanting approval from anyone but yourself.

3. Be generous– Take time to listen to someone without telling them all about yourself at the same time.  Give generously, even if that person may have been mean to you.  Imagine the universe as a benevolent entity, always kind, always giving.  Even if you  give and do not receive back from that person, you will get a gift from someone else.  If you can’t give or buy presents, give your precious gift of time or your creativity, draw or write something for someone.

4. Do not boast– Your qualities and achievements will come to light without your needing to shout about it.  It is much more effective and powerful when another person comes to know of them through other means than you- it is very powerful! No one likes boasters.

5. Finally, always be polite, even if you are provoked- I find this quite difficult sometimes.  Just the other day, someone wrote a very rude email to me and my first reaction was to answer them back rudely. I am glad I didn’t and I continued to be expansive and generous in my thoughts about them. I have just received very good news about a piece of writing I did some years ago.  This news was totally unexpected.  I have risen above this person’s demeaning email through the good recommendation I have had about my work.

We are stars

The universe started with a bang.  Out of that explosion, came gases, cosmic dust and energy that formed our galaxy and our solar system.  In that solar system, is our planet earth, also the product of those gases and dust.  And out of that dust on one of the planets circling the sun, came life and after many millions of years, came the amazing thing that is the human being.

A mass of cells, fluids and bones and millions of tiny electrical sparks that keep our heads and hearts functioning from the day we were conceived to the day we pass on.  Truly, when we die, we return to our origins.  As the book of common prayer says, “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”.  This is so profound.  Even just thinking of all this puts a shiver up my back when I think that the book of common prayer was written in 1662- long before the theory of big bang was known.  Other religions also talk about going back to dust when we die.

Like us, the stars also go through life and death and turning to dust and light.  They expand and contract, have their systems and life spans.  The whole universe seems like a gigantic system of life.  When I meditate, I picture the light and energy from the universe permeating my life and re-uniting with the bits of the cosmic dust that must be part of my body and were part of the lives of the stars before we separated and became different things.  I imagine the light echoes or the light reflected from the gases around an exploding star coming to me through the vastness of space.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how close the photos of galaxies taken by the Hubble telescope are to the images of inside our body taken by a micro cameras.  We are the universe in miniature.  I tell myself I am part of this giant cosmic drama, I am this dust, I am this light, I am the energy and I am the star!

 

 

 

Living lightly- part III

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Now I come to the second book I bought from the library sale (please read the last two posts if you are new to this).  This was the ‘Healing power of the mind’ by Tulku Thondup (a Tibetan Buddhist monk).  I would like to share from this book, the most powerful visualisation and relaxation exercise I have done.

This is about nothingness and imagining that you are slowly dissolving into air and your surroundings- expanding to become part of it.  Most mindfulness exercises ask you to become mindful of your body, thoughts and actions.- you are asked to ‘look’ at your body, feelings or actions and consider them lightly, letting them go.  With this ‘nothingness’ exercise you let go of everything.  It is very difficult to achieve at first but becomes easier and easier, achieving this state easily.  Perhaps this is what drugs to you I thought but without the harmful effects.  The first time I did it, it was not easy.  However, with time, melting into my surroundings has become easier for me.  I felt relaxed with the heaviness of life gone- I felt like air and light.

Thondup also talks about not ‘grasping’ state of mind.  A lot of worry and stress come from grasping- people, power, position, fame etc.  By doing this exercise of dissolving, it is the opposite of grasping.  I have this photo of snow drops and other spring flowers which disappear after the spring, only to arrive beautiful and rejuvenated with life next spring.  We also do a similar thing during sleep, perhaps even during death.  So doing this while alive can also have a rejuvenating effect.

Try it and let me know if it works for you!

Living Lightly- Part II

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From my last post, you will read that I bought two books after a lot of thought because I have been trying to decrease the numbers of books I have, not increase them.  These two books have turned out to be quite amazing, just right for me.  They go to show that when you buy something with thoughtfulness, then it truly is the right thing for your life.

I am writing about the first book- ‘Works of Henry David Thoreau’.  I love his writing- ‘Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.  I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.  I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars.”  Pure poetry in that prose!

However, it was not just Thoreau’s writing that captured my attention.  That book had been a gift to someone visiting India (I am from India!) from his parents. On the frontispiece which I have photographed above were these inscriptions and I reproduce them as they might be too small to read.  The mother had written, ‘I hope you will enjoy the readings of Thoreau and through his writing, gain a better understanding of his words, “simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.” ‘  The father had written, ‘Open the book anytime and read anywhere in it.  Just read a line or two; it is not necessary to do more than that.  Thoreau’s words are as timely today as when he wrote them.  If you do that you too will soon possess the more perfect Indian wisdom.’

Perhaps the son was going to India in search of spirituality and wisdom.  Perhaps his life was complex and difficult.  Perhaps he was nervous. Perhaps he did not like to read too much or he would not have enough time.  His parents were worried about the journey and gave him this book as reminder of their love and encouragement.  How beautiful!  Even more beautiful that this book came my way as a reminder, ‘Open the book anytime and read anywhere in it.  Just read a line or two; it is not necessary to do more than that!’  I am doing just that- thank you to the parents and the son who made this possible for me.

 

Finding our purpose

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(photo credit: Sumita Sinha)

I have been listening to many inspirational speakers as the grey skies of winter, tiredness and a series of strange incidents try to put a depressing shade to my life.  I have been calm, reflective and quietly bemused.  Listening to the these speakers helped to put things in perspective, find a balance and be inspired.  One of the things I heard from Marianne Williamson (she, whose quote about not hiding yourself is of often attributed to Nelson Mandela) was about life purpose.

I heard this sentence, “If you have life, you have a purpose.”  True and so profound. How often do we think about our failings and compare ourselves to others?  Yet our own unique life is waiting within- all full of purpose.  We don’t have to be young, beautiful or thin or rich to be of purpose.  The Universe does not create without purpose.  Even if we are old, disabled, ill, or whatever- as long we are alive, we have a purpose.  What is that purpose?  That is something we have to find ourselves.  And if we are willing to look, we can surely find it.  To waste our valuable life hours, comparing ourselves to others or envying others, is a slander of our own beautiful and unique selves.  But remember purpose is NOT one’s career.  Purpose is about our calling, our passion and our special talents whatever those may be- baking a cake, putting up a beautiful Christmas tree, writing a research thesis, singing, dancing, making others smile- and being ourselves.  No one can give us our purpose.  We have to find it ourselves.  Thanks to the person who wrote, “we are here to create a purpose for life” on that window of a boarded up building which I can see from where I work.

Lesson of mindfulness from my watch

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This is my watch- about 12 years old- an unusual design and so, many people ask me where I got it.  It has a sentimental value for me because it was bought so that I could hold my children when they were small as it has no spiky bits.  But since last week, this watch has become even more valuable to me.  All because it taught me mindfulness.

I was at a celebration last week because an affable colleague of mine received knighthood.  The venue was the beautiful Goldsmith’s hall in the City of London, shining in the resplendent glory of golden chandeliers, skilfully crafted tableware and oil paintings. Wine, conversation and food flowed; and time passed until, it was time for speeches.  I looked at my watch.  It was not there!

I recalled where I had been all day.  Perhaps I had lost in the crowded tube, perhaps in the ladies toilet, perhaps when I was at the drinks reception (I have a habit of fiddling with it), perhaps a pickpocket had skilfully taken it off- my mind raced around London, looking for clues about the missing watch.  The sound of clapping disturbed my thoughts.

It was time for my colleague to speak.  And it was time for me to give him my full attention.  I spent two minutes rationalising about the situation while he ascended the podium.  It was time to let go of this watch.  After all, I had another watch to replace it.  Okay, the other watch was not an unusual design but still, a good make.  Perhaps I would find it in the hall somewhere (I sent a message to the Senior Houseman).  But at the moment, I realised that I was sitting right in front of my colleague and I needed to listen to what he was saying.  I needed to respect his evening.  I also needed to enjoy the moment and be in the present, not in the past or future.  So after this small battle, I stayed focussed and really enjoyed his speech, being genuinely happy for him and his family.

Surprisingly for me, I even managed not to talk about my watch when the speeches were finished- there were things that were of greater importance than the loss of a 12 year old watch.  I tried to broaden my world and enjoy the last of the evening.

And when I returned to the cloakroom to get my coat on the way out, there was my watch waiting for me!  The cloakroom manager had found it- I had no idea when I had dropped it.  I was of course, very happy to get it back.  But I was happier to have learnt the big lessons of mindfulness and that of respecting people, rather than worrying about material things.  Of broadening my heart and learning to live with a loss (even though this turned out to be not true).  One day, this watch will breakdown and I will have to part with it.  But having already lost it once, I know it won’t be a big deal then.

Everything is as it should be

Everyone is where they want to be- knowing this brings about great peace and acceptance.

If they are uncomfortable being where they are, then it is time to get out! No one and nothing can stop them, except themselves.  This is my poem about where we find ourselves is where we want or need to be at that moment-

Life is meaningless,

Until you make a meaning of it.

All is as it should be.

People are where they want to be.

All is well,

In the grand scheme of the Universe.

The benevolent Universe and Shariputra’s eye

Two projects that I had been working on for several months fell through.  These were projects in the charity sector- ones that committed me to give money, labour and time.  However, it appears that the people who were to be the recipient of these humble gifts did not want them now, having initially told me to go ahead.  I felt like Shariputra, a disciple of the Buddha, who practiced the Bodhisattva way.  One day, a Brahmin begged for Shariputra’s eye, and Shariputra gave it to him. But the Brahmin being revolted by the smell of the eye and threw to the ground and stamped it into the dirt. Following this rejection, Shariputra gave up the Bodhisattva way of life and fell into endless suffering.

Often we are willing to give anything to others and yet they reject our offer of love and kindness.  Should that make you stop? You can think of the endless sacrifices you have made to get that far and appeal to their heart; or argue your case with logic and try to appeal to their head.  But they won’t listen.  What do you do?

Simply, you don’t stop.  You don’t go Shariputra’s way and fall into endless suffering, berating yourself and others.  You don’t stop being yourself- kind, good and benevolent.  Why?

Because that is the way of the Universe.  Josei Toda, a 19thC Buddhist philosopher, who viewed the Universe, the earth and mothers as bearers of life, said,“The activity of the entire Universe is essentially a function of compassion.”  The compassionate and benevolent Universe has a way of bringing gifts to you that are not loaded or selfish.  So even if you offered your gifts to someone and they were rejected, someone else will value them.  The Universe does not disappoint because it is an endless storehouse of treasures for everyone.

So I replied to these people- “something else always comes along and the funding can be used elsewhere.  Best wishes, Sumita.”

That way I left my heart’s door open without any criticism, any resentment or suffering for theother gifts of the benevolent Universe to come through.  And as I write this, I had a telephone call which gave me a great benefit and I am sure others will follow.  Please keep your heart’s door open for the rainbow of gifts that the Universe sends us.

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