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Week 16 Kindness

To truly understand kindness and how it surrounds our lives, it is important to embark on a voyage. Sometimes even unknowingly, we find ourselves at a threshold of life where we need to choose one path from many. It is when we traverse across the thresholds that constitutes new beginnings and endings that the kindness and the generous heart of the cosmos that surrounds us becomes apparent. In our lives, thresholds mostly define the jump, the stepping into the unknown from the known and while that takes courage and probably a certain amount of naïve belief, it is because of kindness that we come across on the other side stronger, confident, alert, aware. To take on the journey of a new beginning already means that we have summoned that center within us to embolden us, we have spoken to the very depths to bless us with grace as we take the leap of faith into the unknown. For no matter how much we prepare, our path will always be a mysterious and unchartered territory. Where we go, no one has ever gone before. But the most loving matter is, is that no matter where we go, once we take the step, and maybe even before we knew of it, existence conspired and promised to hold us in kind arms, so we may take this journey as we were meant to.

Not all paths are joyous and happy. Many are full of pain and disillusionment. There may not be the endings we wished for, there may even be dejection and sorrow. Yet, there is that force that propels us, that warmth that surrounds us, that is always our companion. Kindness rests in the smile of a stranger, the smell of a rose as the hand glides over the petals, maybe the sight of old and wrinkled skin of the aged, the first swallows that return in spring, the hands of children when they clap them together, the voice of a loved one across the phone. In moments of hesitation or decisions that need time to expand, this is the kindness that the cosmos extends to us to carry us safely across. There cannot be any bigger sign of the love that surrounds us and our hearts than the eternal kindness that is a part of us too. In moments of acute vulnerability, when we are ready to begin but don’t quite know how, stop for a while and lean back against the anxiety beating within the heart. Stop to notice that deep center of uncertainty of the unknown, the unwillingness to give up the familiar, the fear of leaving behind, of letting go. The time is then ripe to watch the kindness unfold all around. See that man leaning over his garden fence, smiling and waving a good day as you walk by. Notice how the little blue tit that has built its nest now feeds the blind fledglings. The small girl next door learns to ride a cycle, a bit wobbly but with so much of determination. The big tree that was struck down by lightening now sprouting fresh greens from its side. The perfect folds of the petals of flowers.  Everywhere grace unfolds in splendid ways and kindness embraces us to whisper songs of encouragement. We can walk this terrain, we can go new ways, we can begin to dream of other beginnings. We are held in the cosmic heart.

It is a journey home, and fearful as we may be to take that decision or that first step, the way back home is always supported from a deep place within us. We are all, in a way, journeying back home. Only the paths we take differ. We all are on our own pilgrimages to discover something about ourselves, about our true nature. Some paths are more difficult than others. But there will always be kindness to carry us with its soft generosity that eases that uncertainty of new beginnings.

Back home in the house that we have never left – Meister Eckhart   

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Week 15 At the river

See the water, clear as glass
flow over green threads of silky algae
holding to the rocks at the very edge.
Our dog splashes about,
sniffing, enquiring, exploring.
Further up, from underneath the huge boulder
a tree has taken roots.
Sending its long thin stems upwards,
shiny leaves dancing under the sky.
See the canopy of green above,
shimmering and vibrant.
The water gurgles and ripples
as it rushes over the stones
on its way down to the valley.
And high above the trees
small sparrows flit here and there,
causing restful commotion.
See how I sit to watch and listen,
arching my back so I find that
place of comfort and ease.
I trace and circle the pain
in my mind over and over again.
Breathing with it, finding wordless solace
to offer and hold.
This place that is so deep within
and so wounded and scarred.
Feel the wind blow slightly
caressing the forehead,
touching the arms with so much tenderness
it breaks my heart.
Let the wind and water breath along
to embrace and reassure
that place until there is quietness.
The water still gurgles and ripples.
The dog has now walked upstream
and I call her back.
High above hear the call of the blue tit,
a pleasing song sung in duet
with the woodlark.
The algae sway
under the surface of the water,
oblivious and free.
 
 
 
 
 
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Week 14 listening in

The night is still and calm, a pleasant and welcome change from the winds that has blown down from the mountains, sweeping across the plains in furious gusts. I open the window fully to the sweet nightingale song that fills the air, travelling over the rooftops from the distant bit of dense forest. I am not sure if it is just one bird or more, I think there might be two or three. The liquid honey-like sweetness pours into the night, effortlessly, easily. The night is bright, although the moon is yet to rise in the eastern sky. Against the soft grey sky, the silhouette of the mountains rises majestically, framing the horizon from end to end. In spite of the harshness of the outline the mountains make against the sky, the quality of night manages to soften it, making the mountains blend with ease into the surrounding darkness.

Nights are special, not just for the rest that it brings, but for the softness that is its inherent quality. When the senses are not heightened by our surroundings, there is a possibility to relax, a chance to be at ease. And the night helps us by wrapping us in its gentle greyness. As I stand at the window, everything that seemed so important and so crucial by daylight, now seem far away. I welcome this gladly, because it lets me listen. When our world is filled with tasks and to-do lists and chores, there may not be an opportunity to be the observer rather than the observed. The night, with its cooling and healing attributes encourages us to practice just that, be the listener and observe. The nightingale who relentlessly sings to its mate, the owl that hoots in the forests of the mountains. The feline cry of a patrolling cat, the gurgling of water as it gushes through the canals down into the village. I breath the sweet air of abelia that blooms right next to the stone wall, allowing the heat of the stones that was stored during the day to now release the faint sweet perfume into the air. A cool breeze smoothens and caresses the forehead. And everything becomes easier. It becomes easier to breath, easier to observe. Easier to listen. For the mind that was so full of activity leans back into the restful arms of the night.

Listening to the senses outside is an easy way to start listening inside. And when all is said that needs to be said, and all is heard that needs to be heard, there is a glorious opportunity to simply be. It takes time, the mind wanders off, thoughts crowd the mind, the activity begins. But knowing these, acknowledging them and understanding that this is the way the mind works, that that is its nature, we allow ourselves to be filled with a deep compassion for what might have seemed initially disturbing. It is when we see the nature of our wandering mind and let that be, without trying to fight it or change it, but just accepting it for what it is, that change does happen. Unknowingly at first, then consciously.  The change is not in the way the mind works, but in how we respond to it. We accept our minds and when the thoughts are no longer important, for they will lose their significance, we rest back into this ease. This sukha, as it is called in yoga. Night is particularly significant in practicing this resting in awareness, when the gentle quality permeates the air we breathe and the sky that shelters us. The ease will happen, the sukha will happen, the mind will rest, the true self will observe, the breath will guide. We begin by listening and then responding to what the universe whispers back. 

   

Night is when I breathe

my own quietness

that beats in my heart.

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Week 13 paths

When I move to a new place my first need is to discover the various paths and ways that lead through the mountains and forests. I have been lucky enough to have lived in various countries and various towns and have in the course of my wanderings found deer tracks that led me across the crunchy forest floor, narrow winding paths through low grass, wild boar trails, sandy and rocky coastal paths that swept up and down from cliff tops to waves lapping at my feet. There have been straight cemented roads cut on the side of the mountain and pebbly riverbeds urging me to skip and jump over boulders. Wet sandy beaches that left footprints behind and paths that ended in streams that wound along the countryside. I never tire of finding new paths and treading old ones. Elements of surprise and beauty lie in every corner and the smile that is written across the heart bursts the physical boundaries to spill over.

And every time I follow the same path, not only do I see new things, I also create new memories. Every time I walk, I walk through the veil of time, connecting the past to the present. The deer that sat with her young one at the foot of the hill hidden amongst the tall grass, will she be there today? The snake I saw disappear in the stone wall, will it be lying under the sun today? Memory becomes an old friend, the one you open the door to and welcome in. Memory becomes a living breathing person, with stories to tell. And the more I walk, the more stories I gather. The mushroom gathering place that an old friend showed me, the baby laurel that I was contemplating digging up and planting in my own garden but didn’t, now growing healthy and strong. The place where the wild mauve antirrhinum poked its flowering heads up in spring, now swamped up by tall grass which leaves me searching in vain for the seeds to collect. Every walk becomes a track through time, each one developing, becoming richer than the one before. Each walk carries with it an anticipation, a desire, an openness, a surrendering to whatever might come my way.

In yoga too, there is always the possibility to see new things, even in the postures one knows so well. The intention is always to see the movements as something new, such that one can discover something new. What was yesterday, maybe, has to be, different today. Nothing is static, nothing is stagnant. There is always ebb and flow, we have to float with it. Acceptance. Remembering the past, fondly, or maybe not so fondly. But there is always the prospect of turning new corners, seeing new things, discovering something that I did not see before. There is also always the opportunity to let go of the old stories and make space for new ones. Or maybe, hold on to some of the old ones as well, like one would an old blanket that comforts and warms. Spreading the inner smile that transcends barriers. We go on our paths with wonder in our eyes and gratitude in our hearts. And ready for all stories to happen to us.

Messenger by Mary Oliver
 
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird - 
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

Which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

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Week 12 amidst insecurities

These are times when I feel equally sad and frightened. The current happenings in US cities are, if anything, a truthful presentation of the condition of our society.  It fills me with deep sadness to see the desperation that in search for justice goes berserk. I find it hard not to judge and yet, and yet, there has been wrong deeds for too long. There has been corruption, indignity, exploitation for too long. In different forms, in different countries but always the same crime.  And when today people rise, they do so because to raise voices is a human right. It is only when the indignation is misplaced that we lose our dignified focus. That is when destruction happens. Not just to material things but to us as well, our ideas, our beliefs. It takes courage to protest, but it takes more courage to not go on a rampage.

But I would rather feel hopeful, even amongst all the ugliness. I want to be able to see the light in this darkness. The tools of yoga has taught me to see the possibility of change. Even now. Even when there is so much pain and helplessness around. Now is the time to take the practice of integrity and compassion that come so easily on the mat into our lives.  When the forest burns it leaves behind the ashes that aid in the growth of new trees, shrubs. The fires clear the debris of old and decaying wood, release nutrients to the soil and thus promote a healthier ecosystem. What seems contradictory is usually not as such. The harm really comes when the fire is triggered by external factors and thus burn uncontrollably. Humans have over thousands of years used controlled fires to clear the land and start new growth. Fire is a natural element and if we use it to further soil fertility it will repay. Nature is always bountiful and generous.

Even in the midst of rage and anger and frustration, I sense hope and forgiveness. I sense the wind that can drive this fire to clear the mindscape so new light and new growth may happen. We can define how we want this growth to be. Should it be a lush green of joy and happiness? Should the new expansion be one of a sea of compassion? We can choose. We always can. Be true. Hold your breath close to your body until the body reverberates with that what you want. And then release the unspoken and yet, vital wish to fill the room, the house, the earth. The possibilities are endless because we have the capability to make changes in ways that we cannot begin to comprehend. The immense awareness that is our true nature will transform our own lives and all lives that are connected to us to blossom into beings of compassion and understanding. Amidst insecurity, there is hope. Amidst tension, there is ease. Amidst rage, there is forgiveness. Amidst grief, there is love. And amidst chaos, there is silence.

Sit.
Let the wave of compassion
wash over you.
Cleaning and healing.
Hold the ones dear
close to your heart.
And those you can’t,
hold even closer.
 
Muted. Listening. Learning. Praying.
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Week 11 being true

Today as I sit at my desk and write, the sun smiles down from a summer blue, slightly hazy sky. Summer has arrived in all its wonderful glory, from blue skies to blue seas. And the remnants of winter and spring as a slight chill in the early mornings and late evenings that comes down from the mountains is a welcome respite from the burning mid-day heat. The snow on the distant mountain tops recedes each day, as their bare brown peaks are now exposed to the sky. The once fresh green of the trees is now mature and dark, existing as if no transformation ever happened. But even beneath the seemingly stillness of the majestic trees there is constant change. Change that is now imperceptible will become visible as seasons flow in and out of each other.

As a gardener I see the changes happen in the garden each day, sometimes even more than once within a day. The rose bud that was shut tight last evening now shows signs of unfurling in the early morning and coaxed by the warmth of the sun fully blossoms by the end of the day. The beauty that it holds within and then gives to the world is heartbreaking. The tiny heads of sweet peas that were still held within their green casks now shed them off to reveal a perfume that travels with the sun throughout the garden. Amongst all flowers, the poppy is perhaps the one that changes most dramatically, often blossoming and letting their petals droop within one single day. But that day is a glorious one, from the unfolding of their papery petals, sometimes still holding on to their green hood like a cap, to the various bees that feed happily in their laps and finally as the day closes the petals that drop to the ground, leaving behind upright tight green seed heads. Even the leaves of the almond and peach trees that were once new green have now become mature, older, deeper greener, hiding the fruits that will ripen as the season progresses.

Everywhere I look I notice how the garden changes, transforms, while remaining true, true to its nature, true to itself. Can I also remain true while going through change? Can I perceive the transformation as a natural progression that only requires me to remain who I am? How can two seemingly opposing thoughts be practiced as one? Just like in yoga, where the postures require two completely different attributes, the one of grounding, the other of lifting. The beauty lies in the fact that it is possible to be aware of everything which involves all the senses and become completely still within. While the changes and transformation are all the active aspects that happen, the true self that is profound stillness continues to remain still and true at the same time.

There is so much grace in and around us, it is not possible to comprehend all of it in our lifetime. There is so much beauty that we should let it spill from our lives to touch another. Each morning that awakens carries within itself a possibility, a possibility to experience life as a sea of impulses, some good, some bad, and the possibility to remain still, to remain true. Every evening invites us to weave our stories amongst the stars and watch how they move, how they change, how each step in our lives has their own voice, their own nuances. And each day, each moment we have the possibility to rest in our stillness, to remain true. And there is beauty in that.

While I remain still
the world moves on.
Sometimes,
I move with the world too,
for this existence and me
are one.
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Week 10 forgiveness



The vastness of the sea with its ebb and flow,
the waves that forever crash on the shores,
fill me with a longing.
For I know not what.
This deep wordless isolation and unity
all at the same time.
I did not have to travel
to discover this love.
Love found me and still holds me
until there can be forgiveness.
 
I sit with the longing, rocking it
in my arms like a sleeping child.
Sending it skimming over the
surface of the water
like racing dolphins,
sometimes below and
other times above the water.
Chasing each other, playful and so full of life.
Water has no walls
to separate me from the other.
 
The heart space is wasted
with fear, hurt, grief.
Mourning, when I should celebrate.
Celebrate this longing as the sea
holds my heart in her hands.
Forgiving in the wake of homecoming.
When I find my way back
to that place of warmth and nurture.
There are numerous ways to listen
to the awakening that is destined to happen.
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Week 9 and graceful patience

My yoga mat waits while I try to find the equilibrium that has been missing the last few days. It could be the weather switching from hot to cool to rain in rapid succession, it could be the sheer exhaustion of going through these weeks of lockdown, the absence of social contact or rather the reduction of it. Although, in a way, we find ourselves skyping, zooming with friends and family more than before. In spite of that, there is a hollowness inside that comes from not seeing family for what seems like years. It is not the uncertainty, just the longing to see children, parents, friends. Distance now seems to take on a completely new dimension as we inch our way towards the ones we love, towards the ones who matter in our lives. From today, we can travel 100 kms, but is that enough? For us, it isn’t. But someday, it will be. The time I have spent in the garden and on the mat has taught me the greatest virtue needed at this time, the one of graceful patience.

I remember reading Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha as a young person where when asked of the young Siddhartha what his qualities are, he replies, “I can think. I can wait. I can fast.” The merchant laughs dismissively at this reply, unable to see the power and strength of these qualities. I love the idea of patience and its power to transform situations and lead us to the path that we consciously choose. When I sow seeds early spring, I feel both am immense joy and immense pain. Joy, because something beautiful will emerge and make the garden sing to the sky. Pain, because one day this too shall fade and return to the soil. The cycle continues and renews itself, year after year. So, along with the plant seeds my journey begins too, from sowing to quickening and blossoming and then to the inevitable dying. And I only have to bring in the quality of patience. Wait for each turn, for they will turn, wait for one to slide into the next, for they will slide. The cycles that I take, the journey that I embark on, is not just a yearly one. This happens all the time, in all aspects of life. Today, I connect with graceful patience and the immense peace that comes with it. I walk through the forest watching as the leaves turn from tiny flushes of green to dark bold shapes. I notice the traces of wild boar where she has tumbled down the hillside to the river in the ravine. I listen to the owl as he hoots to his mate across the hills on a moonlit night. As I resort back to nature, my longing does not disappear, it just becomes a little easier.     


Peace of Wild Things
 
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
 
Wendell Berry
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Week 8 Grace in all things

Spring always brings with it an immediacy that arises from an idea of situation and place that can hardly be surpassed by any other season. This is more evident in the colder northern climes where a change is more perceptible. In the south, where winters are milder the seasons slide in and out of each other more subtly. The approximation comes from an almost imperceptible change of mood, of colour, of time and place. Which is quite contradictory, especially in this area where the weather is rough and thus distinctly noticeable. For though the Mediterranean basin is famous for its blue skies and warm seas, let that not fool you. At the foot of the mountains, another, very different micro-climate exists, with almost a fickle nature mostly akin to women. Harsh winds from the south and west can blow in any time, bringing with it the most fascinating silk like clouds that streak across the sky, indicating furious air flow. Thus, it always surprises me to see the quiet way that one season flows into another, almost effortlessly. And this is most evident not just in the change of air or sun but in nature and in the garden.

What was a bare patch or almost bare is now a sea of tiny seedlings, promises that were planted in the ground now sprouting the most encouraging bed of greens. Corms planted in winter now produce masses of spectacularly coloured ranunculus and anemones. The roses that were planted bare-root last year have put on an amazing growth. The fat buds have now burst open to reveal the most exquisitely perfumed blowsy blooms. Of the ones planted last year, Princess of Monaco has to be my favourite. An old variety that carries the distinct features of being showy but in a renaissance Dutch still-life painting way, it is one of the most beautifully scented roses of all times. I bring them in to adorn my desk and can’t get any work done, because I am busy burying my nose in its soft petals. And no matter how much I inhale the perfume lingers on and on. Roses should always have a perfume, that is my belief. Meanwhile, in the ranunculus patch, the spectacular flowers of brilliant reds, oranges, pinks, lemons, whites all put on their show daily, while fat buds like minarets on tall stems sway above them all ready and poised for their time.

Whilst they are incredibly long-lasting in the vase, I am always amazed by the changes these blooms go through while ageing. All flowers age, but none so gracefully as the ranunculus. Their petals begin by first fading at the edges, crumpling ever so slightly and gaining a paper-like quality, translucent and ethereal. They remind me of ballerinas, spreading their tutus as they dance, hovering in the air, stillness in movement. As we traverse through time, just as the flowers do, we can add a certain graceful quality to our lives, if we can emulate what nature does. I remember seeing a photograph of an older Louise Bourgeios, taken by Annie Leibovitz. Her hands that she held up as if she were to cover her face any moment were the most beautiful hands I have ever seen. They spoke of a lifetime of work, but not just that, they had an element of prayer in them. In another time, Master Shakespeare would describe them as “hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch, and palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.” They were wrinkled and veiny, not just from old age but from pilgrimage. For that is what artists are. They are pilgrims, who journey through their art to articulate what is inside, from a place of primeval fire of creation. I think of Louise’s hands now, as I look at the ranunculus fading. Soon, they will drop their petals and vanish. Then, new growth, new birth. There is so much hope in spring, in the re-birth and in fresh beginnings but I find the biggest promise is held in the fading, the dying down. Or, so I believe. If there was a quality I would like to embrace today it would be quality of grace. To have grace, to hold grace and to become grace on my journey home.   



On my way home, I see others who have travelled too.
Some come with me, some besides me.
Some walk far, but I know they are there.

There is unity in distance.
Alliance in solitude.
Just as there is fading in birth.

Grace everywhere, that embraces me,
holding me close so I can hear its beating heart.
And for that moment, I am whole.
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Week 7 and cultivating observance

Once upon a time, not so long ago, a younger me went walking through the forests of the village where I lived before. It was a beautiful spring afternoon, the air full of birdsong and heady perfume of hawthorn bursting in the hedgerows. My dog went scampering in front, her tail high up as she chased butterflies in front of her. It is a glorious time, spring, when nature seems to uncoil from a long sleep. Specially in the north, when winter is always longer than one remembers. This day that I had carved out free from work, free from cooking even was mine, and mine alone. The children would go to friends after school and I would pick them up in the evening. All that remained for me to do is to take my dog and walk to the forest. 

This bit of the forest was special, and I knew the paths that wound through it. And whenever the paths stopped, I knew when to cut through to join another path I knew was there beyond the trees, I stooped below the bare branches of young oaks and beech to walk over fallen leaves. My dog followed me, happy to jump over the brown leaves that crunched so deliciously under my feet and her paws, like breaking cornflakes in the palms. Here and there, we came across vast clearings where the tall trees, all swaying with fresh green, stood proud in circles. And in the middle, the sunrays fell on white wood anemone floating above mounds of dark green leaves. And right below the trees, bold and beefy leaves of foxgloves spread themselves, all poised to send spires of purple flowers shooting to the sky. When we met a path, we headed towards the valley, where the little stream ran at its bottom. And here, sunken in heavy mud, made even wetter and heavier from the molten snow lay a sea of lesser celandine, their dainty heads rocking above the delicate pale green stems. These yellow stars of the woodland floor caught the sunlight and reflected it all along the banks of the stream. We walked to the stream cutting through the wet low grass and my dog jumped into the water, skipping over slippery rocks and slurping up the cold water as she went along. I picked up a stick and threw it for her to catch but the scents in the nooks were far more appealing. As we climbed the bank on the other side, we came to the spot of the wild garlic. One smelled them first before one saw them. The long dark green leaves were just poking their heads above the brown undergrowth. But this time, I did not have a bag to gather so we walked on across the hillside, sowing seeds of wood flowers with my boots.

At the top of the small hill, a windy path led to the tiny building that managed the water supplies that the mountains provided. On this glorious afternoon, when the sun sang with the birds, and the blue sky topped the new green canopy of trees, everything was perfect. Today, I think back, not only to that day but to so many others, when the forest was always perfect. Nothing was out of place or out of tune. Perfection was merely the state of complete harmony, and I was privileged to have been a part of it. Even as the seasons change from spring to summer to autumn to winter, and back to spring, there is harmony at all times. Today, I know that as the seeds germinate and grow into beautiful blossoms and die back, in each moment that passes, they pass through aeons of endless perfection, in union with themselves and existence.

It takes so little from us to also experience this sense of unity, vibrant and calm at the same time. And also, so little to let ourselves get distracted by details that do not serve us. As we enter week 7 of our confinement, let us remind ourselves of the power of observance. To truly notice nature in its glory, to see the harmony in existence. I think of that afternoon in my beloved forest not only to reminisce about a wonderful time but to remind myself of the quality of union that exists around me. Not only was it there in the past, but it is here, with us, always, waiting for us to notice. 

Sit and watch.
Or get up and dance.
It does not matter.
 
There is always joy.
 
In life,
there is always joy. 
   
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Week 6 Thoughts in lockdown

Am I faulted? Oh, yes. Am I drinking too much wine these days? Yes, I am. Am I also feeling like a cad, doing so? Yeah, kind of. Am I wasting where I should be saving? Yes. Am I in full awareness of this. Hell yes. I choose to have more wine than I should, because that is the way my life is, and hey, if I don’t support the local wineries, they will be bought up by global investors and that might be the end of it. So, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, buy local wine and drink it. That is the huge and immediately feel good incentive to publicly support an industry in this area that has survived since the Romans. It would be pity, no, down-right disgrace to let a virus wipe out a way of living.

I recently found some nice shoes at a store, not too expensive, made by women in Spain. I asked a friend if she wants a pair. She was consciously not hoarding because this time taught her to not buy objects she did not need. That made me look around my house. What did I possess I needed? Very little, in fact nothing at all. Now I imagined everyone, well maybe not everyone, but a huge chunk of us, would not buy things because we did not exactly need it. I can’t even begin to imagine what would happen in millions of households all across the world. Today, the pandemic has actually taught us not how much we need things but how much our lives, and here I really mean lives in the global sense, depend on us buying things. It is a give and take situation, the balance has to be kept. So, in spite of all the morality and the actual necessity of things and objects, I choose to buy. Somewhere, some women will be making a living out of it. There are objects in my house, absolutely useless to the normal person, figurines made of straw and cloth from Peru, wooden statues from Africa, figures of Gods from India. I really don’t need them, but when I bought or was presented, I valued their worth, not in terms of money but because they provided me with joy and someone else with a livelihood.  Sure we don’t need much, in fact to take it even further, other than fresh air to breathe and food and water, we actually don’t need anything. But maybe if we extend our horizons a bit, then other people need the same. By supporting local industry and community I just make sure that I am honouring and respecting someone else’s need, also of fresh air and food. Giving what I can whilst I can. And when I can’t, I won’t. Simplicity can be so deceptively complex at times.

The ascetics who live in wilderness and strangely sometimes unawares even amongst us, do not need things, they seem to manage in our world with nothing or next to nothing. I suppose, very few of us have the urge to do that for it is a difficult path to be on. Their contribution to us, however, is subtle and at the same time, magnificent. They provide us spiritual guidance, they create energetic spaces for us to bathe in radiance. What are we providing? My motto has been and will always be, leave the world a bit better than what you found it in. So how am I making our world better? Today, more than ever, I am buying the shoe that will provide food for someone, I am drinking wine to keep a tradition from dying and the winemakers and harvesters from a harsh future, I am ordering food to keep the local restaurants alive. But all, with a consciousness that is alive with my breathe. Whatever road you choose to take, make it count. It matters and it will have an effect. 

Stillness.
In stillness, I listen
to the voices.
In stillness, I embrace
your story and mine.
Diverse and beautiful.
Like flowers that bloom
without you and me,
without a care in this world.
There is such freedom 
in acknowledging -  
How tiny we are;
How fragile we are;
How like a drop of water
In the ocean we are.
Life may mean something to you.
It may mean nothing.
It does not matter.
What matters is how
we hold up,
how our lives are entwined
in the heartbreaking
vulnerability,
that is truly ours.
In stillness, I accept
all of me and all of you.
 
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Week 5 Life in lockdown

Week 5, checking in. How are you my friends? Take up that space right between the chest and stomach when you inhale. It seems odd, these times, so out of place, and yet the more time passes the more we find this is normal. The daily routine, the waking up, the coffee, the news, the remote work, the lunch, the evening dog walk, the dinner, TV perhaps, or reading. Are we including some time to take care of ourselves, to take care of us as individuals? We have to tend to ourselves, because in times like these, we need that extra care, that extra hug, that extra smile. Conscious breathing, taking time out for a at-home spa day, tending to our gardens, yoga, meditating, reading, many paths to reach the same destination.

There is so much fear around, and honestly, the daily dose of news does nothing to calm it down. If anything, it just aggravates. Can we switch off the news for a while. Let the news belong to another world, just for a bit. Maybe that is all we need to give us the space to breath. Because, even in the face of everything the world is going through, there is still so much more out there and inside us that will actually nurture us. And we, just like all plants and animals, need nurturing to grow. Take time, with family, but also alone. It is so rewarding to reflect on what nurtures us, what we need, as individuals, as humans.

Solitude should not be mistaken with loneliness. They both bear gifts for us, but for now, embracing a little solitude is welcome. This is an opportunity, a chance for us to check back in. What is going on inside? How do I feel, really feel? What do I need? And the acceptance of whatever comes up when questions are asked. Allowing oneself to be, just be, is so easily said and so hard to do. There can be ease, yes, there can be acceptance, yes. I allow myself to feel the way I feel. I allow myself to be the way I am. 

 In my garden some of the tulips are over, their petals have dropped revealing the seed heads with the yellow studded anthers. Some of the varieties I had planted did not make it through the very heavy rains that clogged the flower beds for days. This is always a wistful moment for me, when the spring flowers fade, because I know that one season is over. Although the promise of a beautiful late spring and summer lies heavy in the air, I still cannot help but feel saddened to let go of the daffodils and tulips, all those first beauties that starred in the spring garden. But then nature continues her cycle. And there is comfort in that, and hope. Lots of it. Soon bright cosmos, zinnias and dahlias will sing to a blue sky. Already the seedlings are growing at an amazing speed, sending up their green shoots. The stage has been set, the orchestra in the pit, the bows all poised on the strings, the audience is waiting for the curtain to rise and for a glorious and spectacular show to begin. And what a show it will be. For now, I allow all the feelings I have, I acknowledge all the mixed feelings I have. And I let go. 

Within my mind
a thousand words rotate,
as a thousand feelings jostle;
all chaos and noise.
I surrender instead of the usual struggle.
I sit with them,
let them be.
Soon their voices get smaller
and smaller
and I can let go.
A fresh start.
A clean slate.
All ready.
For a new day
to begin.
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Day 25 Easter time in Lockdown

If I choose to be free today, what would I do?

Am I living in a bondage, a prison?

Bondage can come in various forms. I need not be imprisoned physically in a cell or room. My imprisonment, or lack of freedom, which I guess to be true of most people, is a mental state. Most of us have shackled ourselves to certain beliefs, certain ideas, habits that become so much a part of us that we are unable to shake it off. Mostly, we are even unaware of the state in which find ourselves. Let me give you an example. I love coffee and I drink it every morning. Previously, I would be irritated if I did not have my cup, and as a result the whole day would feel wasted. I had become so attached to coffee that I let that dictate my day. That is not freedom, that is a result of an “unfree” life. Freedom would be to love coffee, yes, to drink coffee, yes, but if it is not there, then to drink something else, and still be content. Easier said than done, I know. 

 I believe that binding ourselves to certain patterns and habits and refusing to accept anything else results in our constriction of mind and thus blinding us to the magic of life. I was stuck on coffee and my eyes were blind to existence unfolding around me. The same was true with my daily yoga asana practice. I practiced every day without fail until my body said it is okay to take a break now and then. So, today, although I practice almost every day, there are times when just stretching is fine. I choose what works best for me and what doesn’t. Rituals, and habits are all great and necessary in life for stability, but can we ease just a bit? Can we let a certain flexibility happen even within the routines we have established in our lives? 

Life is happening around us in most wonderful ways. If we constrain our minds and hearts, then how will we see the most beautiful dawns and dusks. If we are stuck on loving only our families, how can we see the beauty in a stranger’s eyes. If we insist on watching the 8 o’clock news, how can we see the sunset happening right outside our window. And maybe sometimes, it is wonderful to break the pattern, to be truly free. Give ourselves room in our minds and hearts to breath. 

Especially, this time of Easter and beginning of spring when families should get together to celebrate, many of us are apart. All the rituals surrounding our families won’t happen. Perhaps, this is our chance to experience a freedom from the habits that have formed. What if we saw this as an opportunity, not hindrance? As a chance not a handicap? As a new way of thinking instead of regretting what is not? 

Wishing you all a time full of new hope, freedom, joy and awareness. 

Breath.

We are alive. 

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Day 24, still lockdown, still writing

Hello dear friends, we are in day 24 of our lockdown in France. How are you feeling? Are you anxious? Fearful? Or maybe hopeful that spring has arrived. That the birds are singing, chattering away nineteen to a dozen from every bush, every tree. Are you relieved that the sun has begun to warm up the earth again. Did you see the morning break across the eastern sky, lighting up the mountains. Existence never holds itself back, it gives us the full show, every single day. It is we who sometimes fail to see it. 

I am constantly amazed and touched by all the art, writing, poems, music and even short movies shared with others these days. Especially these days. Artists all around the world are sharing their artworks. David Hockney has posted his digital art from the confinements of his home. Musicians, like the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra was the one of the first to play Beethoven’s Ode to Joy from their homes and edited to one piece. Yesterday, the students of Ravi Shankar, all maestros in their own rights, played one of his compositions. Yoga teachers are turning to live-streaming, many for free so we can practice at home. The poem of Brother Richard Hendrick Lockdown has now been made into a short film directed by 250 film makers called #choosehopestory. A spiritual leader of India, Sadhguru, is giving live inspirational sessions every day to answer questions. All around the globe people are rising, uniting, sharing in the most profound and beautiful way. In the midst of all the fear we have, there is tremendous hope and solidarity. We are showing our true selves and what we are capable of achieving. From banging pots to singing from balconies, from helping our neighbours with grocery shopping to sharing a funny video. Everywhere we look there is support and love, so no one has to be left behind. 

Existence never holds itself back, it gives everything. When the sun rises, it shines fully. The flowers that blossom, open up fully. The canopies of old trees that stand tall, gives full shade. Nothing in nature is done half-heartedly. All these wonderful people who are supporting us today with their wisdom, music, art, dance, poems, all the people who are working in hospitals and paramedics, all the factory workers, labourers, garbage collectors, truck drivers, farmers are all doing everything they can. We can do this too. 

Create. Share. All your joy and love.  

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Day 23 still lockdown, still writing

Before the dawn came
 
 
Long before the light crawled
under the cracks of the door,
the world outside
paused.
For a breath,
Or two.
 
Or maybe for
many eternities.
I do not know.
I was asleep.
I only felt the breath
of darkness on my skin.
 
And in that moment
I stood in the dark,
between the worlds
of sleep and awakening,
holding preciousness
in my palm.
 
 
8.4.2020
 
 
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Day 22 still lockdown, still writing

There was a time when I took things for granted. The dance of the sparrow, the tiny buds on a tree unfurling on a fine spring day, the rain that sang on the tin roof, the delicious fragrance of a favourite dish. Youth has that quality of unwonted carelessness, and yet carrying with it such a fragile sweetness. When in it, life was a dance, carefree and exuberant. Time simply flew then and with careless abandon I breezed through life as if it would last forever. But nothing does. The more I practice yoga and mindfulness, the more I am reminded of the delicate nature of our existence. The more I notice, the more time seems to slow down its roll and what was a gallop before turns into a slow stroll. All that happened was that somewhere along the way ignorance turned to awareness. And the more I am aware the more I am grateful for this life and everything in it.

 Practicing gratitude is such a liberating process. I started writing down gratitudes when fairly recently, I came across bullet journaling, a method founded by writer Ryder Carroll. It is a very simple way of keeping not just appointments but also our thoughts, habits and intentions. And the best part is that it is hand-written, such a blessing in this digital age. The moment we write something down on a piece of paper, we allow our mind to slow down and it is then that our awareness truly is awakened. My list of gratitudes is my favourite bit in the journal. There are small items like being able to go to the supermarket during this lockdown. Or having a cup of coffee in the morning. But it also has the bigger things I am grateful for: having friends and family in my life, whether the connection is by whatsapp or zoom. Writing them down means I can revisit and re-read. Today, my entry has to be the far-away mountains, that loom so large above the clouds. The snow-capped peaks rise majestically from a sea of misty valleys, all blue and grey and white. Like a Nicolas Roerich painting, rich in its profound spirituality. And I am grateful for every morning when I open the window and find them poised above the ground ready to kiss the western sky. 

A Haiku
 
Gratitude!
tears melting into
mountain snow
 
-Soen Nakagawa Roshi, 1931
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Day 21, still lockdown and still writing

            Years ago, I was at the Louvre and stood in line to see the Monalisa. The first thought I had in mind was how small it was. I stood on my toes to see above the heads of Japanese tourists as I struggled to see the painting now behind security glass. It was the first and only time I was at the Louvre. I had carefully planned the trip, and all the paintings I was going to see. I wanted all the Renaissance, Impressionists, Expressionists with a good measure of Fauvism thrown in. The Monalisa was a must. I cannot say I was enchanted by it, nor was I impressed. I was more surprised about the size of the painting. When seen in art books it seemed deceivingly big. I put down my experience as my lack of appreciation for a painting considered by most to be one of the most famous painting of all. Later, I bought a postcard at the gift shop and holding it in my hands could really see it. I put it in my bag and forgot about it. Later it wound up as a bookmark in one of the novels, and many years later as I pulled that book off the shelf, the postcard slipped and fell. As I stooped to pick it up, I remembered my trip and the white caps of the Japanese tourists that hid most of the bottom part of the frame of the Monalisa. I wish I was able to see the real painting up close.

            In all my art classes, we had lovely huge books with art masterpieces and their explanations, their descriptions. Inspired by our genuinely enthusiastic professor, we took trips to see art. We went to big museums, small galleries, met artists in residence, attended workshops with sculptors, painters, potters. And closer to our own creativity, we dipped our brushes in paint and coloured white canvases, we took red clay in our hands and molded into figurines. I particularly loved kneaded white fireclay before throwing it on the wheel and raising it to form bowls or cups. A kiln at the shed of the art building would then be lit to fire the bowls. We all wanted to create beauty, express a thought, flirt with an emotion. I cannot speak for others, but I find that to be true in my case, whether through gardening, writing, painting, even yoga. In a way, we are all artists in our own rights, we each try to express, impress, share that which is most important at that particular moment. Creativity is a mystery and a fabulous one at that. What would our world be like if no one painted, or made music, or wrote poetry or sang songs, cooked food. Or even let our imagination, which is the guiding force for creation, be tamed and docketed? I am a great believer in retaining as much of the unexpected as possible, in every aspect of life. Let the weed that has found its way through the path remain, admire its resilience. When winter comes, it will fade away. When the paint brush slides to make a mark where you did not intend, smile at your ineptness and paint over. If you sing off-key in the shower, then go on singing. We are not perfect, we can strive to be, of course. But along the way, we can embrace our imperfections. 

            Maybe the Monalisa did not need to be bigger. Maybe Leonardo could already capture and express everything he wanted within the small canvas. There was no need for any change. Or was there? But like all great artists and visionaries, he knew that there is no perfection. I like to think of him perched on his stool, his plank in front putting the final touches to his idealized portrait of the lady, wondering if the smile was enigmatic enough, maybe the landscape was too soft and blurry? Ah well, he thinks, wiping his brush on the cloth, for now, this is good.  

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Day 20 Lockdown in France

Are you who you are today, right now? Are you being yourself, maybe a little I-don’t-care mood. Or even, what-is-this-all-worth. Perhaps, I-don’t-give-a-damn. Because even if you feel reckless, helpless, overwhelmed, don’t judge yourself.  There is no right or wrong way to be on this path. It is okay to be who you are, embrace it. Spend some time with it. Keep it if it serves you. Let it go if it doesn’t. 

There is wind today and the gusts keep pounding on the windowpanes, sending them squeaking and groaning. The metal hinges have plastic inlets, and the wind makes them rock back and forth within that little space that holds them and a stopper in the front. I shove bits of cardboard to stabilize and stop the rocking and the noise. Mostly the noise. I look at the distant trees and how they sway, all beautifully green and lush right now. I remember of the time when I would stand outside on our terrace to welcome the tropical hurricane that came every summer. Elsewhere, in the house, my mother would run to close the windows, shut the doors, hang down the wash. Leaving all the rush behind, I would stand at the terrace and watch a perfectly blue sky turn threateningly black. Huge black clouds rushed in from the south, covering vast tracks in a very short time, bringing with it a dusty wind that blew everything off and away. The plastic roof of the tea-stall at the bottom of our house would fly down the road and people would run behind to retrieve it. Debris, dust particles would whirl about, some particles entering the eyes making them water, and in the nose, the mouth. When the hurricane came, nothing was safe. But, for me, those moments were both terrifying and enchanting. Today, listening to the wind howl outside, I am reminded of the other wind, where I stood outside, clutching the bannister, loving the inky black sky.

Am I who I am today, right now? Not really. I feel a little disconnected. A little like the leaf blown around in the wind. I am in a I-am-not-sure mood. Maybe it is time to invite a guest. Perhaps, the only one who will remind me of who I am. Then, I can take a cup of coffee and sit with her, for the guest is a she, of course. And she is not so much a guest, as a permanent presence. I just don’t see her very often, but there she is, always right behind me.

I am what I am.
The fire-eater and fire-spitter.
I walk through the woods to see her
peep behind the trees.
She follows me- silent and ghost-like.
I am curious and afraid
of this Madonna, this fiery-eyed Baba Yaga.
She is my shadow.
 
She stops by the creek 
to quench her thirst by the cool rippling waters.
She looks at me with her innocent wide eyes,
her dress is torn and dirty.
I, the fire-eater and fire-spitter
open the door wide
and hope
that she will invite herself in. 
 
- 2005
 
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Day 19 Lockdown in France

Do you have a central thought that you start your morning with and that you keep repeating to yourself throughout the day, especially in times when you are anxious or worried or angry or hurt? Today, I started with the thought: I want to be the best version of myself. And believe you me, that was the last thing I was. Sometimes, I wonder how a good and inspiring moment can turn sour or wrong with just a single argument or hurtful saying. Have you ever wondered how life takes on a very beautiful and smooth turn when you are happy and content? And how the moment can turn dark when thoughts become bitter? It is in such moments that the power of the mind becomes so evident. We can choose to be happy or burdened. If only there were ways to create sentinels to stand at the gateway of our minds, they would know what is good for us and what we can turn away. Happy thoughts? Yes, you can come in. Hurt, stay out. Joy, please enter. Arguments, no way can you have access. But it does not work that way. There are no sentinels, there are no guardians, no angels even. Just us. Just me. This is when the tools we have in our yoga belt come to the rescue. The contents of the tool belt, which I proudly wear, vary for each of us, but there are some essentials that help get us through most situations. 

As a gardener, I love using the garden as a metaphor for yoga, and vice versa. I carry my sharp snips, in my gardener’s belt, essential to cut flowers and dead head. This light-weight utensil is very sharp and probably the most useful tool to have. In the broader yogic sense, I would say this is the awareness. We all have some sort of mental snips we carry around, but to put it to use we need to know which thoughts to cut, which to dead head and when. An ever-developing consciousness will tell us when something is ripe, worth pursuing or just dead. I also have rubber-bands or pieces of cord to tie up and fix flowers that have drooped because of wind or rain. These have to be the fun part of life for sure, or have you never ever fired spitballs at your friends using rubber bands in school? These are the rescue remedy drops of life. Think of jokes, think of funny videos, think of absurd moments when you laughed and laughed and felt alive. I, particularly today, think of Baubo, the Greek mythological goddess of obscenity, and how she through her ribald jokes and lewd dances made Demeter, who was mad with grief from the loss of her daughter, Persephone, laugh again, and finally led Demeter discover where Persephone was hidden. There is a certain freedom in ribald jokes, a laughter that is both embarrassing and liberating. So, use these as well, like the rubber bands and many situations will become lighter, but please use your belly-laugh when you do. Then there is my phone. I use the camera on the phone a lot to take pictures of the flowers, the plants, the sunlight on the dew drops, the bees hovering over the open-lipped salvia, the petals of the fringed cosmos double-click. I use the camera to share and mostly to document. What was the progress? How did it grow? Like a journal, one might say. Yoga asanas do the same, each time we practice we get in touch with ourselves and we are taking notes, comparing them. How do I feel? Is my practice making my feel more and more at ease with my body. Am I documenting and keeping a chart, noting down what works and what doesn’t? The last item is of course the belt itself. That which holds all the tools together and what is it in our life but the breath itself. We only need to breathe and everything will fall in place.  

So, I use the tools when life is not quite what I thought it would be, and it is a good thing too. Challenges are stepping stones for us to grow into our potentials. I, particularly, would like to use the rubber-bands today, a joke or two, a dance, a belly shake is just what I am up to.

Share your tool. Subscribe if you haven’t already. It means a lot to me. Thanks for being my companion on this journey. 

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Day 18 Lockdown in France

            Down in the valley, where I lived before moving here, at the turn of the road where the main road swerves right into the village, there is a cottage on the left-hand side. In fact, if you drove too fast, you would not even notice it. The cottage lies far back hidden behind tall pine trees and a bit of scruffy and overgrown weedy garden in front. The only way to notice this cottage would be to walk into the village. So few people seem to do that these days. The next village is about 7 kms down the road, past vast fields of wheat and barley, mainly grown as fodder up and over the gentle slopes of the hills. Wherever the field breaks into little forest areas, one can spot the high wooden raised stand for hunters. The only reason why one could walk into the village would be if one got lost in the forest and then found the way back by walking alongside the road. So, like I said, no one would notice the cottage. Neither did I, for a long time.

            It was while I was visiting a friend of mine who had a beautiful garden at the bottom of the village, that she asked me if I knew who lived in the cottage. I did not, of course. In fact I did not even know there was a cottage. Oh yes, there is, she said. It seems like the house is on sale and she just wondered. The next time I drove in the village I slowed down to take a look and sure enough, behind the tall trees was a house, completely darkened by the shade of the pines in front. It looked dark and uninviting and honestly, uninhabited. After some months, the same friend came excitedly to my house and said, we are invited! Where to? To the cottage. I forget the real reason why and how she secured an invitation, but there it was. So, on the appointed day, I opened a small gate and walked over slippery and broken flagstones to knock on a door, where the paint was fading and peeling off. I nervously held a small bouquet of flowers I had picked that morning in my garden. The door creaked open and there stood the oldest woman I have ever seen, or so I thought. Her entire body was bent over her walking stick, but she did not seem weak. Oh no, there was a fire, a strength, in spite of her extreme old age, that I found almost frightening at that point. Now, I have to stop and tell you that Hela, as she was called, is long gone and I feel comfortable telling you about her. Where were we? Ah yes, she opened the door and bid me in with my name, properly pronounced, which does not happen very often. I walked through a dark passage into a really bright and cozy living room. It was such a change from the front of the house. This room faced the back garden with a bit of lawn and shrubs, sunlight flooding in through huge windows that were flung open. The garden sloped down to the small creek and went up on the other side which was the back garden of the church. Perched at the edge of the sofa with a teacup in her hand was my friend. She smiled brightly, too brightly I thought, or maybe it was a triumphant yet pathetic smile. I don’t remember and anyway, that is not important. 

            To this day, I remember a lot of details of that first meeting. Hela had a kind face and very watery eyes, the wrinkles on her face and hands so numerous it was difficult to imagine how she must have been when she was younger. And yet, there were photographs on a sideboard. Hela, smiling, Hela, holding a small baby, her niece, Hela, in her wedding dress, her head turned to one side, arm in arm with a man in a suit and hat, all proud and happy and beaming. Yes, she was married, a long time ago, her husband died 10 years ago, or was it 12? She did not remember anymore. No, there were no children, but she had a family. Her sister, her brother who died in the war, her numerous nephews and nieces. All grown up now, with their own families. Oh yes, they visit, they call. She even has a mobile phone, but she does not use it much. She never uses the front door, there is another door through the back garden that led right up to the road through the side lane. Ah, that’s why she is not worried about the broken flagstones. And so I came to know Hela and her life and her stories. There was tea and cake that day. I remember the cups with their floral prints and golden rim. They were old too, just like her, and fragile. Time passed and I visited Hela a couple of times, but my friend always insisted on joining me. I don’t remember why she did, because she hardly said anything, merely sat on the sofa and smiled.

            That autumn when the storms began, we had a warning one day of a particularly severe hurricane coming our way. The children were sent home early that day, and I drove to the train station to pick them up. Already, on our drive back home, we saw the treetops sway madly and gusts of wind blowing twigs, leaves, branches on the road. We drove home and in the face of the storm that had already darkened the sky to an inky black I started to secure the door to the shed, locking it shut before putting in all the pots and tools lying around. Then I put heavy bricks on top of the dust bin lids to keep them from flying off. There was news on the radio that we might even lose electricity, so while the children searched the house for candles, I quickly warmed up soup and we ate, all the while listening to the wind pick up speed outside. It was at this point I remembered Hela. Hela, in her house, surrounded by giant pine trees that might just fall on the house and crush her and no one would know. What would happen should everything grow dark? I quickly collected some candles and poured some of the soup in a container. Are you really planning on going there? But I have too, she is all alone. It is not safe. I know. Call her. I don’t know her number. And I have my mobile.

            The short car ride was terrible, the branches whipping the air violently, dust circling around carrying all kinds of debris. I drove and parked the car away from the trees. Fighting my way through the wind, holding on to the bag of soup and candles, I banged on the front door. The pines were swaying dangerously, and I heard the branches rattle on the roof, the cones falling like rain. There was no answer, so I held on to my jacket, pulling the hood over my head and protecting the face as much as I could, ran to the side lane and saw light at the back window. Then I saw Hela. She was sitting on her armchair, her eyes closed, seemingly oblivious to everything around. She had a fire lit in the fireplace, the lamp by her chair adding light to the already bright room.  I did not knock. I watched for a moment at her calm and serene face, as if she was in a different place and time. And the world outside howled and bellowed and twisted and swayed. Was she asleep, was she dreaming, did she know of the storm, did she know of the danger of falling trees, was she afraid. I don’t know, I did not have a chance to ask. As I huddled back to my car and drove back home, I did not ask myself these questions. I was only relieved that she was okay. Only many years later, while thinking of this incident did I wonder what she felt. 

            A month after this, her house was sold, and she moved. She left her new address with my friend and expressed her wish that I should see her. But I never did. Life took its various twists and turns, and I did not get to see Hela again. Today, I can hear her voice asking me why I did not knock. I could have come in, sat by the fire and had some tea. She would have told me about her family, her nephews and nieces and how they are all grown up now. Do you hear the wind outside? It is quite loud today, isn’t it? 

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Day 17 Lockdown in France

The forest after a rain always has a magical quality to it. Steams that rise from the ground envelop my dog as she runs forward to meet a friend. As I stop to chat with the other dog’s owner, the dogs play, jump, skip in the air, completely oblivious to everything around, happy to roll in the mud, happy to play chase, happy to meet. After a brief playtime, my dog runs back to me, panting, her tongue hanging out, her eyes shining and runs on ahead. I know where she is headed, to jump into the cold stream that gushes down the side of the hill. I hear the splash and see her jump around a bit and then run up the hill, wet and with a wagging tail expectedly looking at me, wasn’t that fun. I walk on, along the hillside, with the stream in the gorge on my left and the rising hillside on my right. Do you see the tiny sparkles of periwinkle and how they shine through the dark leaves running all along the sides, first on the right cascading down and then on the left almost flowing down to the water? Star-like beauties, they lighten up the mossy cracks of the wall that runs on the right, built years ago when this path was used for crossing probably avoiding the vineyards and forest which has now given way to the village. The branches on both the sides are lichen-rich, the greenish white crusts camouflaging the dark woody stems below. And everywhere the bright fresh green bursting forth, be it the oak, the elm or the very ancient strawberry tree. What delight there is to see so much of brightness after a quiet and subdued winter. Winters here are not harsh, there is frost but not much and many of the trees, like the majestic cypress or the pines, of course, do not shed. But here in the valley where it is a bit damper and cooler than the more exposed top of the hills, deciduous trees and shrubs reign. And right now, after the rain there are tiny droplets hanging from the lips of the leaves, all ready to fall to the ground. While they remain there gracefully poised between heaven and earth, the light shines through and they twinkle like jewels. The stones below my feet are similarly wet and slippery, lichens growing around little pools that have formed between crevices. 

At the point where the path bends away from the stream a new bed of boulders appears. My dog sniffs around before jumping up the rocks to the other side and I navigate my way across the slippery stones to cross to the other side. The hill side as seen from here seems immense and the trees that grow send down long windy roots, which have been conveniently used by dark green ivy to climb up, such that the entire scenery here looks primordial. There is something very ancient about this place. It is hushed, the stream is now a faraway gurgling entity, the birds seem quieter and even my dog knows that these are secret terrains and runs ahead softly, her paws hardly touching the ground. The canopy grows far above me, covering the sky at this point with dark green lushness. I climb up, jumping, skipping over the boulders until I reach a path on the top. Here, a small canal leads the water down from the mountains to the village. Originally built years ago to water the vineyards, the water is now used for the numerous vegetable gardens dotted along the canal. In the hot and dry summer, these water ways are a refreshing welcome. We walk along the canal towards the top the hill and climb again, this time leaving the damp valley below and going on a path that winds upwards towards light. The trees are wider spread here, different from the dense growth below. Tiny delicate violets dot the path to the left where the canal turns to vanish in another direction. I keep climbing and reach a small plateau of green grass with small white daisies. They have wisely shut themselves to the rain and will eventually open when the sun’s tickling rays touch them. I turn right and continue the climb, the trees now giving way to shrubs.

Rows of broom with yellow flowers and white flowering erica run along the sides of the red and yellow path as it winds its way up. See those pretty topped lavender bushes, their smaller petals sitting like crowns on top? Even after the rain and in the cooler morning air, they give off their typical spicy smell, but that could also be from the twisted branches of rosemary or even the cistus bushes that have just begun to sprout fat buds. The path here becomes narrow and as I brush against the bushes my jacket collecting the rain drops from the spiky leaves, the perfume now is only a hint of what is to come when the air becomes hotter and lighter. With the next bend around the hill, the plains of Roussillon open up in front and I can see the distant Corbières mountains as they rise pale blue and ghost-like against a grey sky. And towards the right where the horizon flattens off to a large sheet of whitish grey expanse, is the sea. I halt for a while to gaze towards the place where water and sky meet. Soon, as the weather warms up, the sand will turn yellow once more and the sea will sparkle below a blue cloudless sky.

My dog runs ahead towards the pine forest. These gentle giants of the hillside also have their own perfume, which I love on hot summer days. Now, they stand still, for today there is no wind that rustles their tops. While the tops are green, many of the older branches towards the ground have died. I collect one from the ground and send it flying through the air with my dog running behind it until she picks it up and runs back to me, only to playfully run away. This part of the pine forest winds its way down all along the hillside towards the street and we begin our descent. The paths to do go down are numerous, no doubt caused by other dogs, or wild boar or even rainwater in winter. They are stony and full of roots protruding up at various places catching the incautious walker and sending them stumbling down. So, watch where you step! We scoot, slide until we reach the bottom of the hill, leaving the pine forest behind us and walk back home along the footpath at the side of the road.

And just now, while taking off my jacket I remove a small head of purple lavender that got stuck at the side. As always, I carried a part of the forest back home with me.

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Day 16 Lockdown in France

These days when one day bleeds into another, it becomes all the more important to find a meaning that will serve us throughout that day and perhaps into the next. How can I still find inspiration if my mind is full of anxiety? Not only is anxiety a primary emotion of the world, I believe that inner restlessness is a very common state as well. We are all worried about the future, whether it be for our jobs that are uncertain or our heath or that of our loved ones. Let us list them, shall we? That way we can take a good look at all, well, most of our worries and then we can process these. Once that is done, some places of our mind will be cleared up leaving behind spaces of tremendous possibilities. So here comes my list, my worries that I have these days: I am not sure how my family, both near and extended, and friends will cope with the health threat. There is always the danger that someone will be affected. Then, I worry about our jobs, knowing that many of us, even within my circle of friends, will either lose them or have already lost them. I worry about the communities and the small businesses that have relied on daily transactions and now have nothing. I worry about the exodus of thousands of daily workers who are now walking home to their villages from the bigger cities in India, with no food, no shelter and the police constantly on their backs. I worry about the homeless people around the world, the sick, the lonely, the depressed, the mentally ill. I worry about the animals, now abandoned. I prefer to now stop my worry list, because to be really honest, at this point I have to think to find what I am worried about, and I am sure the list can continue but I believe this is enough. 

Now that I have put these on paper, I look at these and see that most people will share similar worries. We are today, like never before, united in our anxiety. Because, this anxiety is real, it is a part of us and our daily lives. Can we, however, accept this as a part of us, to say, yes, this is me, the whole me, as it is a part of my partner, my children, my parents, my neighbour, the guy in the next village, the mother in Paris, for my alumni group at university, for people I don’t even know? Acceptance always has a sidekick and that is humility. When I accept, I bow my head down to something greater than me and my physical existence. If this sounds too bizarre, think of the movement you automatically do when you accept something, could it be a slight nod of head, an inaudible breathing out? Isn’t this the fabulous moment when we acknowledge the fact that something greater is at work here outside of our realm of understanding. Does that mean to say, we should simply accept our worries and sit tight? No, of course not. After we see the whole picture, we begin to ask ourselves, what can we do? What can do? The key is to do what you can, accept what you can’t. Going through my list of worries, I now ask myself: I am not a researcher nor a scientist, so I can’t stop the disease, but I can certainly practice all the precautionary measures and encourage my family to do the same. I can’t give the jobs back to people, but I can support local shops by shopping there once we are allowed to and encouraging them to continue. I can’t stop thousands of people, hungry and without jobs, walking to their villages in India, but I can donate to the Relief Fund set up by the government. I can’t adopt every animal abandoned, but I can support organizations that do. The more I think about it the more I realize just as we are in this together, we can also find ways to help together. But the key really is, do what you can, accept what you can’t. 

While, what I write might seem like a to-do list, you tick off the first list on our item, then move on to the next, it actually isn’t. The worries and the possibilities are two sides of the same coin. I am flipping the coin, you might say. Once I do that, the space and opportunities simply explode. We have been given this gift of life, which by no means is to be taken for granted. There will be someone or the other, who we know in our circle of friends, who has lost a child at childbirth. But, we lived, we survived, we are the lucky ones. We can breathe this air, watch the trees and the sky, count stars at night, listen to the evening bird song, feel the cold water as we dip our fingers in the mountain stream. So, here is my possibility list: I can eat ice-cream under the hot summer sun, I can watch the waves wash out footprints as I walk along the shore. I feel lucky that I can dance under the warm rain. I can drink coffee, poke my fingers in dirt, pet my dog, run my fingers over the cool ivory keys of the piano, hum in the shower, walk through the forest, sit in a café and watch life pass by (well, not right now, but soon). How are these possibilities, you might ask. Because life has given me the possibility to do these and so much more. If acceptance’s sidekick is humility, then possibility’s is exuberance. Can we promise ourselves to make our lives full of possibilities? Can we check-in with ourselves to see where we are today? Do we need some adjustments? Some places to pull, some places to push? Can we be exuberant each day? Can we commit to that? 

Tomorrow, let us go on a trip, shall we? Through the forest? Let me share the beauty and wilderness of the forest with you tomorrow. For today, bask in the exuberance life has to offer.

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Day 15 Lockdown in France

One of the lessons I learn from my garden which I think has the most impact on other aspects of life is the moment when I have to pull out the plants once their life cycle is over. This is especially true of annuals but also other plants that have died, or are in the wrong places, weeds that have sprung up where they shouldn’t, thinning out seedlings too closely sprouted. Numerous occasions when I have to orchestrate this cacophony of plants to create harmonious music. And I am quite sure that without my intervention, the plants would do just fine and maybe jostle with each other and the boisterous ones will survive, and the tender ones perish. In time, no doubt, the garden will become unsightly to our eyes trained to look for a certain kind of beauty. For a garden is nothing more than an unnatural space created by the gardener to make it look as natural as possible. But that’s okay, That’s what gardening is all about. We, as the caretakers of our gardens, dig, pull, adjust, maintain, plant, remove, all to create spaces of harmony, interest and great beauty. 

But, back to where I got side-tracked. The letting go part. When the time comes to pull out the plants at the end of their life cycle that I raised from seeds and pile on the compost heap I find myself acutely aware of this task. Of course, it is a natural life-death-life cycle, but remembering the tiny seeds that I once held in my hands and carefully put in seed trays, watching every day for signs of green and then the joy I felt when the little sprouts poked their tender shoots up through the dark soil, and afterwards transplanting them to the flower-beds, watching them grow and become big robust and vigorous plants and finally burst into colourful flowers that dance in the wind, does not make the task of pulling them out easier. But, once their job is done, the plants themselves send out signals, asking the gardener to pull them up and return them to the compost where in due time they will turn into soil that will nourish and feed the next generation of plants. And so, letting go in the garden actually takes on a very tangible meaning. How easy it should then be to let go in real life, right?

Wrong. The garden, or nature, in general merely tells us how it should be done, points out the natural flow of life, of existence. But we as humans, come with an entire package of emotions, feelings, sentiments that complicate life and the rhythm that it actually has. There is beauty in that, too.  Today, sitting at my desk my mind, my being is flooded with emotions, both great ones and ugly ones. I carry all the hurt, the dejection, the melancholy like a trophy on my back. Something to be proud of? Definitely not. Something to pull out when a little self-pity is needed. Yes, but a small yes. Why do I keep lugging something so heavy that no longer serves me in any way? I don’t know that answer to that. But I do know that the moments when my loved ones said hurtful things to me, the moments when I felt the whole world turned its back on me, the moments when extreme loneliness led to excesses in food and drink, mostly drink, are not moments I want to remember. But memory is a fabulous trickster. It allows us to re-live moments of our lives, over and over again. Press the re-play button and off we go on our carousel of emotions.

What if I only wanted to remember the good things? Ah, now that won’t happen, my friend. Because then you would be in denial. Denying entry to the “bad” ones, accepting only the “great” moments. For memory is everything that is past, including the good and the bad. Just as the gardener knows that the life-death-life cycle consists of all parts, death as well, so must we accept the negative in lives. It is the wholeness of us, the greatness and the lowness that makes us fragile and vulnerable beings. Are we ready to embrace that? Am I ready to embrace the full me, with my ups and downs, my shortcomings, my anger, my hurt, my temper, but also my joy, my compassion, my love? Can I accept myself just as I am, today, right now? The transition from unconscious behaviour to conscious thoughts and actions, from ignorance to acceptance, from complex to simple is all that is asked of me. The letting go will be the natural consequence of the awareness. Where do I begin? With the breath, of course. It always begins with the breath.

We cannot see Beauty till we let go our hold of it- Tagore

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Day 14 Lockdown in France

I looked up the word “meditation” on google and within less than a second 384,000,000 results were produced. The number is so huge and so insanely absurd that I could not even begin to imagine it. 384 million results, but it had close to everything: Wikipedia entries, meditation centers close to where we live, meaning of meditation, centers offering techniques, youtube videos, all the how-tos and whys and whens, researches, activities. It also shows the enormous popularity of meditation. On closer look, people were mostly concerned about how to meditate for beginners, and the answer to this was manifold. Numerous videos gave examples and methods, it seemed as if the entire web was filled with buddhist gongs and waterfall sounds and shaman deep trance humming. Everywhere I clicked on, someone was talking softly, explaining, playing music, giving instruction, guiding a session, writing (just like me!). I also looked up synonyms of meditation and the Thesaurus said thus: introspection, reflection, rumination, self-examination, concentration, deep thought, pondering, quiet time. Other words I found associated with meditation were consciousness, awareness, focusing, tool, technique. 

            To add to this vast pool of information already available seems almost sacrilege and yet, since I started talking about yoga, meditation is the most natural next step. But, I don’t want to talk about techniques, for that the videos on the web are a great place to start. So here comes my two pennies’ worth. What if, I were really bold and ventured to tell you that we all meditate. Some of us do it consciously, most of us unconsciously. The next thought process might be to take away the action part, stop seeing it as something we do, but just like yoga, something we are. We are meditative. Think about every time you stop to smell a beautiful flower, a rose maybe, with its musky or citrusy perfume. About the time when you watch the wind sweep over the lake, making ripples on the surface. When you hold the hand of a loved one. When you laugh at a whatsapp joke sent by a friend. The time when you read a good book and you sigh as you close the cover over the last page. The time when you run and hear the blood pump through your body and in your ears. There are so many moments when we actually touch that realm of meditative mind. For us gardeners, this task is fairly simple. We have infused our lives with moments when we are naturally lead to a meditative state. Think about tending to the plants, sowing seeds, planting out seedling, weeding, cutting grass, dead-heading, cutting back, harvesting, putting the garden to sleep at the end of season. Singers and dancers have their meditative moments too: when they compose melodies, mixing tunes to create harmony, when they raise their voices to sing, modulating sound to produce music. Dancers that raise their arms above their heads and use the language of movement to create fleeting beauty for those who behold. Painters are equally blessed, they use their paint brush or pencil or the computer to put layers and layers of evolving images and forms and textures. Did I also mention writers, engineers, cooks, home-makers, factory workers, teachers, students, dog-walkers, care-takers, the elderly, the young, the middle-aged, man, woman, gender-neutrals? 

            We all are in a meditative state. The only question to ask is if we are conscious of this. Being conscious just means being in that present moment. And we all experience this regularly, through various ways. But are we really really present then? Are our thoughts wandering off? Are we thinking of the to-do list on our desk while we cut the vegetables for dinner? Are we really listening to our partner tell us about their day but actually thinking of what to get granny for Christmas? Are we taking time now to look at the sky and not fret about how and when this will all end? I know, it is all easier said than done and believe you me, I can only be really conscious only parts of the time, but with regular practice of heightened consciousness, call it meditation, call it yoga, it doesn’t really matter, there is a quality of ease that is diffused through every action taken.

The how-to videos are a good place to start. I only encourage you not to stop there, try to incorporate that quality in your actions, all the time throughout your day and night. For, we are all exuberant, meditative beings, we only need the consciousness to make our lives blossom.

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Day 13 Lockdown in France

Picking up where we left yesterday, my yoga story continues. After I found my at-home yoga practice teacher in Austin, my entire perspective of yoga changed.  Saying things like, it changed my life, sounds cheesy and let’s be honest, something out of a novel you buy at rail-stations to read on a holiday and deliberately leave behind at the hotel room. But this yoga actually did just that. The way I looked at things, but mostly myself, whether on or off the mat changed. The first few sessions were simply “cool” and “fun.” But I soon realized that just as my body was changing, so was my mind. The changes were subtle and crept in quietly and steadily. Changing from a weekly practice to a daily practice was a huge step in transformation, mostly in terms of the commitment that one takes to dedicate both time and space to the practice. That, I found, was one of the biggest beauties of at-home practice. There was no travel involved, no time spent waiting at traffic-lights or train stations. No mats to carry around, and if you add the clean clothes to wear after, that can be quite a weight to carry around. Don’t get me wrong here, I believe that going to a physical space and to having a real teacher align you is equally important, especially because you cannot see yourself in a posture and are thus not able to make the adjustments. But, with regular practice you gain such a deep knowledge of your own unique body that at one point only you can know how you need to move and adjust. It only needs an experienced practitioner to give you guidance on the method. 

            Since the transformation is evolving and will continue to develop, I find myself in an ever-changing mind-structure. And I ask questions, lots of them. All to myself, of course. When I am digging up weeds or potting up tiny seedlings. Moments when I walk through the pine forest, particularly in summer, when the perfume of the pine is the strongest and the sunlight burns and burns the earth to red and yellow dust. I ask questions when I look at the snow-capped distant mountains, vapours rising from the warming coffee mug in my hand. Questions like, what does it mean to be in yoga? We all know, by now, that yoga is not something you do, it is something that you are. What does that mean? To dissolve boundaries, yes, but how? And why does this happen only when I am in a good mood or when I am at peace with myself. Can I apply this in stress or conflict situations? I would say, no to the last one, especially, when I am in the conflict situation. And let’s face it, we all have conflicts and stress and unbalanced parts, definitely more than we would like, but we do. It is a part of what being human means. Maybe better questions to ask would be, is it caused by me? If so, can I change it? If it isn’t, can I let it go? If I am honest with myself, and many times within conflicts, I am not, I hate to think of myself as the responsible party, I don’t want to change anything because of course, my viewpoint is correct. And yes, change is welcome, if the other party implements the change, because I am always right, right? Always? Well, most of the time. Really?

            How does doing yoga asanas assist when in conflict? Well, for one, when doing asanas there is simply so much going on within the body and a little bit outside of the physical frame that by the time the adjustments, chanelling of energy, breathing into the posture is all done and the time for quite comes, I am glad to simply be. No thoughts, no goals, and no expectations. Once you start practicing with a heightened awareness, there will be no opportunity to have other thoughts. After that, comes the part I love most. Once I have breathed, adjusted, pulled, pushed, aligned, breathed again, I hold. This is where, for me, the challenge actually begins. While holding and breathing, I ask myself, am I shaking, am I trembling, how am I holding, what is the primary thought, is it when can I leave this posture, if it is, can I hold a little longer, can I breathe into that thought, can I still maintain grace even in this difficult pose, are my muscles sore, where is my breath going, is it okay to try to relax even here and in fact, dare I say, enjoy this moment. This matters, the way the challenging postures are held matters, because that is what will manifest when we are off the mat. The more we can practice grace and equilibrium on the mat the more we can apply it to difficult situations off the mat. This has been one of the biggest, one might call, recognition, that I have received from my practices with my teacher.

            There are so many things one can say about the experiences and so many thoughts one can share, but it is also always an individual journey. What holds true for me might not hold true for you. I would however, encourage you to go on your path and see what you can discover. Every path and every life, for that matter, is unique, every story needs to be told and heard. And every journey is varied, just as we are. And that is wonderful.

Yoga.

I practice asanas.
I practice silence.
I practice lying under the stars.
I practice loneliness.
 
I see the sky.
I see the bees on the flowers.
I see the hurt in someone’s eye.
I see your name written across the horizon. 
 
I hear the rise and fall of the sea.
I hear the wind sing on treetops.
I hear the birds chirp.
I hear lively family chattering. 
 
I observe my limbs.
I observe my hands, my feet.
I observe my eyes.
I observe my breath.             
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Day 12 Lockdown in France

France has extended the lockdown period by another two weeks until Easter. Which means, another two weeks of creative ways to spend days interned at home. We also have a new restriction of being allowed only within 1 km of our residence for an hour for all outdoor activities. This seems to be the perfect time to deepen our at-home yoga practice. And if you have not started this, what a great time to begin. What? you might say…and you will be right. If you never had an encounter with yoga, I invite you to give it a go, try it out. Perhaps, you tried and had an injury and somewhere you just stopped. Or you lost interest. Or you never really understood the whys and hows. That’s okay, because today I will tell you about my yoga story and maybe that will encourage you to think about yoga in a different way, and hey, who knows, maybe also try it out!

             There are a thousand books and journals that address the topic of yoga. And many are good, and many are not. There are discourses, seminars, teachers and studios in every city, village, town. In the 70’s when Bikram went to California to teach yoga to the rich and exhausted stars, he jacked up the heating to replicate the hot and humid Indian climate. Around the same time, the Iyengar style of yoga by maintaining strict precision and alignment started gaining popularity too. Ashtanga meanwhile had the postures that were to be followed in a pre-set order, calling these series. Then there was Jivamukti, that connected a vinyasa flow with humanitarian and spiritual practices. All of these, and many more, have their roots in the classical hatha yoga practices of ancient India. Hatha practices are merely the preparatory steps one needs to do when on the yogic path. These postures or asanascomprise of breathing and holding that posture to also allow the physical and energetic body to align with the cosmic energy. The ultimate goal, here, as in all yoga, and in fact, even in the word yoga, which means union, is to eradicate the boundaries of self. And just as all journeys should begin with the basic, so in Hatha Yoga we start with the physical body. So much for a little background. And now, to my story.

            We had yoga as a part of physical education class in school for a short while. We were simply practicing going into our postures and holding it, and as such I found that yoga only served those who were supple with their bodies. There were no explanations, no methods, it was very military-like, in fact, our teacher, a straight-backed severe lady, even had a whistle hanging around her neck on a cord. She used the whistle when we were to begin, when we were to stop, to signify anger, displeasure, almost everything. So, rightly or wrongly, I did not bother with these strange yoga asanas after school. At home, I knew my brother received some breathing techniques to fight his very painful asthma attacks from a yoga teacher. Then, I left to study. Whilst in College and even later at University, yoga was the last thing I worried about. I was a family person by then, we had small kids and our worlds were revolving around kids, education, job. Then, as all kids do, our daughter used to stand on her head using the wall, at that point we laughed and took photographs. A visitor who came to visit us, did a head-stand in our flat, when conversation got around exercise. My father decided on one of his visits, to demonstrate a yoga posture, which I am quite sure does not exist, and we were left trying to hide our laughter and of course, take photos of this very strange posture with legs and arms spread in the air which he termed yoga. And then the wave of yoga swept over from the West and hit the East Coast of America. I still was not a regular practitioner then and was still only occasionally doing the Surya Namaskar, as I knew it, simply jerking myself from one posture to the next, all the time wondering why.. 

            In Germany, I signed up for a yoga class in our village. It was nice, until I figured out it was more a place to get the latest gossip and then use a blanket to cover up the body after a little exercise, which was termed hatha yoga. One of our acquaintances, who turned from a corporate magnate to a self-styled yogi stopped by to talk about his transformation from a puny sized, head-ache and back-ache ridden, very rich, needless to say, managing director to a well-muscled, eye-glass-less yogi, travelling the world, but mostly to South-East Asia, yoga teacher. He coined the phrase cuddle-yoga, when I told him about my class in the village. I found that horribly offensive, but as a true host, I laughed with him. After that, I stopped going for my weekly yoga sessions in the village. Which was in a way sad, because in spite of all the ridicule I was hurling at it, I did feel some muscles turn on, which I had forgotten existed. But it was still only a physical exercise. 

            Then I met my teacher. He was the first yoga teacher who absolutely refused to relegate yoga only to the physical body and always talked about the energetic body. I would travel to the city early morning before work, just to sit in his class. That is when I began to make a connection between the body and the breath that I used to reach my energetic self. I only had to listen to what he said, of how to get into a posture and how to get out. He explained what one needed to concentrate on while holding a posture. When in Virabadrasana 2or the second warrior pose, he would guide us into the posture: 

Stand with your feet wide apart,  left leg bend at a right-angle, turning the right foot a little inward, left foot points to the front edge of the mat, draw energy up from the soles of your feet and the inner thighs, stack the tailbone up over the neck, the spine straight, see that energy rise from the soles to the crown of your head. Hands parallel to the ground, spread the fingers, energy spreading into those fingertips and beyond. Even in this posture feel your entire body active and sink even lower on your left leg, breath… 

            Years later, after I stopped going to his classes, I still practiced with his voice in my head. For by that time, I was beginning to understand the whys and hows. But there was still something missing. Then we moved to France. Now the problem was to find a studio and a teacher who would pick up where my previous teacher left. Now, this is a really remote area, it is beautiful no doubt, but this is not New York, or Frankfurt or Paris. The only yoga studio here is in the closest city and from what I have seen on their website, fast moving yoga is termed Vinayasa, yoga in a hot room is termed, well, Hot Yoga and anything slow, Hatha. I may be doing them wrong, for all I know. But that is not what I was looking for. I wanted to delve more into the energy part of yoga and felt that I was on the right path before circumstances changed. So what now?

            At-home yoga to the rescue. And I cannot even begin by thanking the gods of the internet enough, capricious as they may be, for bringing this possibility right into my home. And I discovered every possible varieties of yoga one can imagine, until I found my next teacher all the way in Austin, Texas. It is with her, that today I practice almost every day, it is with her that I can again make that connection between yoga asanas and the energetic body. It is with her that I have learned to use the breath as the thread, the glue, if you will that joins the body with the mind, spirit and soul.

            I see that I have rambled on for a goodish while now, so I will sign off. But I would really like to share my yoga experiences with you, so we will continue tomorrow, shall we? 

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Day 11 Lockdown in France

I read a very beautiful and touching poem by Brother Richard Hendrik, called Lockdown, which many of you will probably know, as it has made its round on the internet. It talks about hope in times of despair and how life always has a way of manifesting itself in the gentlest ways possible. It talks about the squares of Italy, ringing with songs that reverberate through open windows for everyone to hear. About the love that we feel for each other, even in the face of tragedy, death even. About ways we reach out and whisper, you are not alone. About the birds singing again and the air becoming purer and purer for us to breath. 

            Within the city, close to our home, was a lake. There still is one, but I am talking of another time that was before now. The lake was one spot that had numerous tall coconut trees, amongst other old specimens of banyan, bakulmaulsari, all green and abounding in leaves, fruits, flowers. It was also a haven for birds. In winter, there were herons that flew from Siberia and rested on the little island in the middle of the lake, and we could see them fly in circles above the treetops. In spring the songs of the kokil echoed from tree to tree as they called to each other with such sweetness in their voices. And the tall coconuts had the green parrots, the ones with the red collar. Every evening as they got ready to dive into the trees, they would circle above them, calling out to each other, making a perfect racket that signaled the end of day. Years later, all that almost disappeared. 

            Two days ago, my excited parents recorded bird song on their phone and send it to me. They spotted birds outside their window, singing, hopping, flitting. Glorious signs of life, the one that we had forgotten, the one that was almost pushed to the boundaries of our existence. The birds have come back, and along with them, hope, relief and extreme gratitude. 

Here is the poem, Lockdown, by Richard Hendrik, as featured in Holstee:    

Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
But,
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
Sing.
   
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Day 10 Lockdown in France

Today the European Space Agency (http://www.esa.int) will broadcast a live stream with astronauts who have practiced isolation for major parts of their career. The hash-tag generation has of course given this a very appropriate name #SpaceConnectsUs. Scientists and researchers who spend months in complete isolation, orbiting the planet, will talk about their own isolations so we can better cope with our present situation.

What fascinates me most, however, is the unique choice of words: space, connects, us. As I look at the sky, it becomes obvious that space is, after all, that which truly connects us. It is the single blanket, closer to earth we call this sky and atmosphere, that envelops the earth. We see space, we breath space, we embrace space, our lives happen in space. I guess, astronauts are at an advantage to see this connectivity because they actually seeit. Carl Sagan rendered this marvel and wonder when he said: 

“Look again at that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”  — Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

I love that image of our earth suspended in space, of imagining that what we have around, that who we are, is just a tiny speck of dust in a vast space that defies time. We cannot even begin to keep track of the zillions and zillions of years as we know and call them that takes to create, change, explode, destroy. And we are only a very very small part of these gigantic cosmic happenings. 

            When I was small, I wanted to be an astronaut. We had the Discovery series books at home, all navy blue leather-bound, glossy papered, full of pictures. My favourite was the one titled The Age of Space Exploration. This well-thumbed volume had fascinating pictures of the blue earth, various colourful constellations, the bejewelled milky way. It had photos of Yuri Gagarin, of Laika, of the historic giant leap moment of Armstrong. I never bothered too much with the text, looking at the pictures instead. I saw the reds and blues and yellows of supernovas, dreamed of floating in space capsules like the astronauts did in their white space suits, to watch our earth grow smaller and smaller as my shuttle headed off into space. Then as I grew, the goals changed too. From astronaut to marine biologist to artist to musician and I finally landed up with literature: the doorway to all past, present and future wishes, because all that was needed from me was my imagination. And that I had plenty of.

            Wouldn’t it be inspiring to really imagine ourselves in a closed shuttle, hurtling through space with a huge glass window through which we can see our earth recede? What would we see? What would we notice? First, I can spot the village where I live, maybe the house as well, then the mountains that rise and fall between France and Spain. Now, I see my beloved Mediterranean, all blue and calm with white sails of boats out in the sea. As I go further, I can see Europe, can guess where the borders might be, all I can see are settlements and mountains and the rivers, I see the Rhine and know where the children are, I can roughly guess, a bit north of the river where the Taunus mountains are. By now, the details are getting difficult to distinguish. Then Asia, the great spaces of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and then the Hindukush and Himalayas, and finally south of it, home. But even that recedes and soon there is only land and sea. And further away, clouds increase until white frothy swirls cover the whole planet. Now I see a blue globe, I begin to realize that home has now spread, it is everywhere, it has transformed into the blue ball and slowly but surely, all that remains is the tiny dot, suspended in vast cosmic darkness.        

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Day 9 Lockdown in France

It is late March and spring is definitely here in the Mediterranean belt. The trees are all poised to explode into different shades of green, the warblers are busy flitting about the sky and the small black lizards are out of their hiding, darting across the wooden stakes in the vegetable beds. The first rose, Edith Piaf, has bloomed way too early, and true to its name, its vibrancy and dark burgundy colour, along with a heady spicy perfume, makes it irresistible. So, I snip it off to arrange it alongside the tulips and camellia. The cool mornings are filled with a kind of heartache, knowing that transitions happen just too quickly, too fast. The mountain sides that are now awash in little green were almost barren some weeks ago. And within that time, the world shifted, the sun burned stronger, the air became warmer and everything changed. Some transitions are huge, some imperceptible, but they are there, nevertheless. All moving, changing, shifting, transforming. 

My neighbour who has been repairing his boundary wall is out since morning, mixing concrete and slapping it into the crevices and cracks. His two young sons play football in their small courtyard. The curly haired one is definitely better than the brother, but they continue, each accepting the other and constantly improvising. When the little one scores, he does a little jiggly dance from one end of the yard to the other. On the other side of their wall, another neighbour is out with her basket of laundry and is hanging up the wash on a clothesline stretched between their house and the wall. White sheets sway in the morning breeze. Isn’t is incredible how these small things can stir up memory? As I watch the sheets, I remember another place where all the senses were magnified, it was louder, hotter, most certainly, dustier.  In that place and time, my mother hung up her wash on the clothesline out in the sun on our balcony, as did everyone else those days. And we ran between them, chasing each other, laughing, our hands impatiently brushing against the still wet clothes while the not properly wrung clothes dripped water. But no one really cared, the sun was just so deliciously hot, it really didn’t matter. And we ran and chased and laughed. Like the neighbour’s son, who is doing his crazy dance, which makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time.

And so, the world shifted, the seasons changed, time passed. Until we find ourselves in a different time, different place and yet, not so different after all. The heartache persists, but only because it still beats to reveal all that is and all that isn’t.

Don’t change for the sake of changing.
If you ask me, I will ask you to change
because you must,
because it is the nature of things.
 
Change like the sky changes colour,
every single day, every single rainbow colour,
from dawn till dusk, 
And way into the night.
 
Change like the ocean breathes
Between tides, sometimes low,
and sometimes high,
crashing and pulling back.
 
Change like the boy who became the man
outgrowing his shorts,
replacing them with suits and ties,
footballs traded for wristwatches.
 
 
Change like the seeds become plants,
to blossom into flowers of all colours,
opening up to the sky and bees
before becoming the soil again.
 
 
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Day 8 Lockdown in France

There is a small white porcelain figurine of a fairy on my writing desk. She lies on her side, on top of a green leaf, with her chins resting on her hands, her tiny legs waving in the air, her wings spread behind her. She is a picture of abandon joy, an innocent carefree being, looking out into the world. I had given this to my daughter when she was little. She had it on her shelf for a while and when she moved out, I inherited this, along with a couple of her other childhood items. They all came wrapped in protective newspaper in a box in our moving van when we moved to France. I did not get a chance to open the box for a long time. Then last month, I finally pulled the box, which after moving from room to room had ended up below the piano (it seemed like a good place at that point and after some time I did not even notice it anymore). I cut through the tape, which by now had become porous, and opened the box. Wrapped in paper, there were so many tiny objects that had once stood on the shelves in my daughter’s room. It was opening a box of memories. There were photo frames with photo collages of my daughter and her school friends, all smiling and winking and making funny faces. Even to look at them now, I found myself chuckling, on my fours, below the piano in a now distant and new place. I could exactly see where these photo frames were placed, above her desk and on the shelves my husband had put up on the wall. There were photos, lots of them, her certificate of horse riding, little figurines of angels and fairies, incense sticks, images of Ganesha, and of course, her paintings. Images of abstract pyramids made of shoes, a room with tables and chairs all done in pencil Escher-style, a girl’s face painted in fierce vibrant colours with a pair of sunglasses pulled up on her hair. I was back, standing in her room, looking out over the balcony, over the lush and overgrown garden out towards the very distant blue Rheingau mountains. With each wrapped treasure, I was unwrapping a piece of memory that connected me to her beyond time and space. I stretched my hand across the years to touch something already in the past. 

Memory is moment-defying, it does not remain within the shackles of the analytical progression of time. In this complex mechanism that we call humans, it is memory that is truly ours, it is our personal space to connect and remember. Not all of what we remember, or choose to remember, are good. Many are hurtful, painful, sad, angry. But each of us also carry within us, sparks of moments when life was good, when life felt whole and when our life was touched by an explicable sense of connection. Spiritual leaders tell us to see memory as a stumbling block, something to overcome, for where we are headed there is no memory, no past, no future, only the present. No doubt, they are right. But for now, I rejoice in being human. I rejoice in remembering. I embrace the connection I have to my past and to others who have walked with me. But most of all, I rejoice being alive.

Today, I remember. 

Today, I connect. 

I remember crying at the kitchen table for months,

hurtful moments of rejection,

walking out of the house on a cold winter night with no place to turn to,

the love that I did not receive,

the support that failed me in need,

the fear that was ridiculed,

the anxiety in a new country, new place, new people,

the loneliness.  

But mostly,

I remember my grandmother praying, facing the sun,

my bike ride where I fell and scraped my knees,

the palm trees as they whizzed past when we drove across the roads on our way to winter picnics,

the tiger in the zoo, while we munched peanuts from a conical paper bag,

orange peels lying around my books as I studied for exams,

birthday cakes with layers of cream and chocolate,

my son and his nervous three-year old fingers pressing the ivory keys of the piano,

the sun shining through new leaves on an early summer morning in the Taunus forests,

Chagall painted blue windows in a church in Mainz.  

Today, I remember.

Today, I connect.  

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Day 7 Lockdown in France

Day 7, already? Day 7, when will this end? How are we perceiving our confinement? Are we living from one day to the next waiting, hoping for this to stop or are we breathing life into our days? 

I watch the rain fall, on the banister of the terrace, the roof top of the neighbouring houses. The trees, all so majestic and tall, silent and in perfect surrender soak up the rain that falls all around us today. Low clouds cover the sides of the mountains, blanketing them in a misty wrap, while the mountain tops loom large, for don’t they always when there are clouds, up into the grey sky. Tap, tap, tap, tap. The rain falls. Peaceful. Graceful. Mysterious. Beautiful. The magnolia in my neighbour’s garden has almost finished blooming, and the last pink petals fall along with the rain to cover the soil in flowery splendour. A tiny sparrow in search of food, sweeps up and down the garden, avoiding the rain drops. 

Splattering, splashing, swishing, tapping: rain can be so musical. Different tunes, different rhythms. And if you reach out and cup your hand to capture some drops, bring your hand up to your face and smell the perfume of water. So much of grace/ Grace around us, either with a small “g” or capital “G,” you choose the one you need the most today. 

The prayers these days are different, different because I have no need to stop for it, I have no need to allocate time for it, no need to address it as such. The mind, the spirit is alive with every single breath, every single leaf that unfolds, every single raindrop. Today, as I listen to the rain, I choose Grace, I invite Grace into my life. 

A story of how the first colours reached water  

Down in the far south, where dark water meets land, every hundred years the water recedes to expose a cave carved into the side of the dank and damp cliff. When that happens, thousands and thousands of rainbow coloured fish swim out of the cave into the sea, splashing and clapping the water with their rainbow coloured fins until what remains is only froth and white bubbles, all shiny and splendid. After what seems like a few seconds but in reality, really is a few days, the water gushes back in, first gently then with one huge roar and closes the cave for the next hundred years. What happens to the fish, you might ask. For that, you have to travel over the water for three nights and three days and dive right in where the sea is the deepest and most beautiful. Where light is only a faint memory and you will see tiny shimmering of rainbow colours dance in perfect circles.        

 

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Day 6 Lockdown in France

A video message sent by a cousin sends me rocking on the floor convulsed with laughter, holding my stomach till it aches. I am amazed at the joy we have and share to make everyone feel a little better, especially in times like this. What a weird last few days it has been. We are still adjusting, growing, transforming. Not unlike the seeds I planted, with all my hopes going with them into the deep dark soil, waiting. Waiting for the right time, the right light, the right feel in the air. That moment, when they will push their way through the soil to sprout tiny green leaves. Every day, impatient as I am, I check on them, more than once, to see if I can spot the slightest telltale green. And when that happens, it feels like being on top of the world! It feels like the universe has lent a hand across to you, over time and space. There is an assurance of continuity, a promise of transformation and an overwhelming love, that cannot be contained in the word, but spills out to fill everything in existence. Spring is especially a particular time to observe this shifting, if you will, from one stage into another, a journey most obvious in nature. I love this sense of movement, this progression from one state of being into the next. It is a helpful reminder that nothing is stagnant, nothing remains the way they are, and more importantly, nothing is as it seems. And what a way to live!! To be constantly changing, moving, shifting. I guess, most of us go through these changes unconsciously. What if we became aware of it and allowed our transformations to happen willfully? What if we observed and stepped right alongside our body and spirit? What if, instead of letting the days pass us by, we started noticing how we navigate through our days, our work, our lives? And what better time to start than the present? We have been given this opportunity now, right now. Even within the calamity there is a chance. Even in the deepest soil a seed is waiting to sprout. It just needs the right light, the right moment.   

I breathe.
And with me, the world breathes.
 
I walk through forests
of carpeted loveliness.
I climb snaky roads to mountain-tops
watching clouds sail above me.
I see the little bees
buzz over bushes of blue flowers.
 
My path is my own,
and if I meet you along the road
I will stop and hold your hand.
You are not alone.

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Day 5 Lockdown in France

It was the poet Edna St. Vincent who wrote: “O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!” I thought of that while walking the dog this morning. Our path winds along the river, which at this time of the year is a happy rippling mountain stream. The water gushes over boulders and rocks, the gurgling noise deeply satisfying and comforting. The trees and bushes have begun to sprout fresh green foliage, a welcome sight after seeing brown branches over winter. And everywhere, birdsong fills the air. O world, I cannot hold thee close enough: the sentiment resounds in the very air I breathe. Today morning, when everything seems extra sweet, be it the birds singing or the river flowing, or the branches swaying in the morning breeze. And everywhere, carpeted along the forest floor, deep blue and violet periwinkle shine like tiny stars from a deep green blanket of leaves. I see euphorbia with the acid-green buds strewn across an overgrown field of wild weeds. The bright red berries of sweet box shimmer up and against the stone walls that run along the path. And further up the road, where it bends and curves up the hillside, I cross the path that the snakes use to come down to the riverbed to hibernate in the winter. And soon, as the sun grows stronger and the air hotter, they will make their way to the top of the mountain to lie under the yellow sun on flat stones. All the promises of what is to come also brings with it an acute awareness of the fragile nature of our existence. What if tomorrow I have to release this world from my hands, what if later this week, I cannot see the clouds as they move through all the shapes of the imagination across the sky? What if, this world, that I cannot hold close enough, would cease to exist for me? 

More so than ever, perhaps the time to consolidate with ourselves has arrived. This particular time invites us to arrive at conclusions with our fragility and vulnerability. A time for peace, with ourselves and thus the environment in which we exist is called for. When I am with my plants, I taste that peace not unlike a drop of honey. It is the sweet connection, the covenant I have with nature. The more I garden, the more I see the rise and fall of life, in this case of my plants. I sow the seeds, they grow, blossom and die. Something so obvious, something that is right before my eyes, and yet so elusive that I took all these years to start noticing the evident. And strangely enough, this impermanence of things imparts comfort and a certain ease. Contradictory as it may seem, peace arises from the awareness of the capricious nature of our existence. This is no rocket science, it only requires us to notice. 

What do you see when you look around? What do you really see? And what happens when you do? 

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Day 4 France Lockdown

Day 4 into the lockdown in France. I woke this morning to a beautiful misty sky, sunlight struggling to peep in through the clouds, the distant mountains looming even larger up and behind the veil of mists. We are the few lucky ones, staying in one of the most beautiful places in Europe at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains. But I cannot help but think of so many of us stuck in small apartments in cities, I particularly am reminded of my brother and his family in Hong Kong, my cousin and his family in Seoul. And so many who have and will lose their jobs, the struggling small businesses and the very endangered existence of so many more around the globe. So many of us have lost a parent, grandparent, child, family and friends. So many of us wake up every morning apprehensive about how their loved ones will fare today. Will they make it? Some will but many won’t. I feel lucky, but not complacent. I feel that life has been good to me, but am acutely aware that for many, life has and will change in unthinkable ways. We face an existential crisis; it is a struggle for our very own survival, and we all carry the responsibility for us and for each other. 

I watch the morning unfold in all its glory, the mists slowly lifting off the mountains, while the birds sing away fleeting and sweeping across the big blue sky. What can I do? How can I help? The part of me that is the gardener comes to the rescue. I would like to share the beauty I have in my garden with you, with as many people as possible. And to share my thoughts with you, because we are not here alone. When I am gardening and am amongst my seedlings (they are happily growing in the ever-increasing sunlight heated greenhouse), I am happy. I listen to the birds and hear the hum of the bumblebees on the teucrium bush. The teucrium fruticans carries tiny gorgeous blue flowers the whole winter, a welcome food source for the first little bees to emerge. Happiness can come in so many forms, can’t it? The little things and the bigger things. The phone call from a loved one, the smile of a stranger on the street, a favourite tune on the radio, the first daffodils to smile back at you…countless ways to find ways back to our hearts, to find pieces of self everywhere one choosesto look and listen. It is our choice, it has always been. 

What makes you happy? Let me know and share it with everyone. For our world needs all the smiles it can get. Especially, now.    

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