The sky is beautiful here.
Here it is grey.
Here, behind the hill,
As the sun sets,
bright splashes of white
is breaking through
And a single star
sets fire to the sky.
Here it is just grey,
now dark grey.
What is life without
a few shades of grey?
Yesterday, I was asked to fill in as a judge for a storytelling competition the next day, at one of the city colleges. They needed two judges and one of them was unable to make it. My first reaction was, ‘wow, me a judge in a city college, I must have made it as a storyteller.’ Then the smile came back to my heart and there was the stillness of by true nature.
I called the professor who had invited me and told her, it was short notice and I wouldn’t be able to make it, but thanked her for the invitation. However, even after the phone call, I was not feeling whole, as I knew that I had lied to her about the real reason as to why I didn’t want to judge the event. I asked myself why I didn’t tell her the truth. I realized, that it was because simpler to make an excuse than truly explain to her why I felt storytelling is not a competitive art. I found that it would be harder perhaps to let her know my views about judging people for the things they like to do, or make her see how people often do things because they want to step up in their lives and for that they are willing to allow themselves to be judged. And most importantly I was not willing to reveal my true nature to her fearing she might not invite me again.
But, I am at a stage in my life, where I refuse to be inauthentic. I find, I sleep better each night, when I have been authentic and honest with myself and others. So I wrote her a mail.
I wrote to her, ‘I would make a terrible judge as my whole life’s work is about inclusion. I would be unable to judge the students as I wouldn’t know on what basis to judge them for the stories they tell, even though I know you would give me a sheet with certain attributes that you would like me to grade. And I would still fail at it as I would do a dishonest job by pretending to know who is better than the other, based on your parameters. That is why I turned down your invitation. Instead, I would I like to invite you and your students to come and tell stories at the story circle I host for the community every month, where we could all joyfully tell and listen to stories. I would also pretty much love to host a circle that is non-competitive, in your college, if there is keenness.’
I felt better and slept well. It no longer mattered what she thought, or felt or how she would respond or not respond. I had successfully owned my authentic self. That is what mattered now!
What is a story? What is storytelling? Who is a storyteller? What are the images that are evoked in us when we say, “tell me a story”!?
When I ask myself these questions, these are the images that come up for me:
An elder of the family, a woman or man. An older cousin or the cheerful uncle or aunt. A guest who has come from another city, country. A stranger in the train I shall never meet again. A stranger, who is becoming a friend at a party or gathering. A child who has come from playing with her friends. A man I am falling in love with. A woman who I am willing to share my secrets with. A young man who becomes my buddy for life. A mother putting her children to sleep with a kiss on their heads. A mother feeding her child as she tells her a story. The garrulous life of any party. A father winds down after a hard day’s work with the stories of the day!
Once upon a time when I was in college in Delhi, my stories were the events that transpired on my journeys while commuting by public buses. One evening on a day that had seen some rain, after a humid sultry month of July, in my third year of college, I was returning home after a math class, and my umbrella saved a woman.
It was 7 pm in the evening, but it was dark already, even though it was July in Delhi, as it had rained and the sky was still overcast. The bus I took back home, stopped at the bus stop near my home. As I was getting off the bus, a woman as young or a few years older than me was ahead of me and disembarking at the same stop as me. A man whose face I did not see also got off with us. The woman started walking at a very fast pace without looking back, right or left. She was in a terrible hurry. My spine was tingling, the hair on my back stood up. It was fear I smelled. It was panic and great unease that was being felt by my skin and heart. The man was ahead of me, and the woman was ahead of the man. She was trying to look back but not fully turning her head, as if fearing finding out what was behind her.
I was following them intuitively sensing, she needed help. The man was close enough to her to be able to smell her scent, but not close enough to touch her. I sped up my pace to keep up with them. To me, it became clear, he was stalking her. A common happening in Delhi in those days! The lane was dark and was covered with large old trees. That made the evening darker than it already was. I saw that I had passed by the lane to my home. I was on a mission.
I suddenly got a whiff of the woman’s restlessness and panic. I guessed she was nearing her home or hostel. There was a working women’s hostel just round the corner. She did not want the man to find out where she lived. It was strange. I could almost read her mind, her fear, her heart beat, her guts. I held my umbrella firmly in my hand, and came closer to the man in front. He was strangely unaware of me walking all this while behind him. I tapped him firmly on the shoulder with my umbrella. He swerved, like a car the driver of which had just missed a turn, and crossed the lane and started walking back to the main road where the bus stop was. He did not look back or slow his pace.
I stopped, the woman stopped. She finally looked back. Her face was dark, fearful, but she saw me and my umbrella and I smiled at her, ‘he has gone.’ Relief flooded her face, her breathing was normalizing. She said, ‘thank you!’ I told her, ‘keep an umbrella always’ and I turned back towards my lane and walked home. I looked back to see her, she was walking home faster.
My stories came to me from being alive, from being aware of every breath, every fear, every caution, every joy, every drop of rain, every wail of a child, every gasp of fresh air and relief from pain, from the moan of a lover, from the kiss of the beloved, from the lecherous eyes and touch of the pervert, the betrayal of a friend, the sadness of my ancestors, the brutality of a brute, the affection of a soul mate, the defeat of the enemy, the victory of my kind. My stories come to me from the stirring of my guts when I experience the world and its creatures. My stories come from the stories of other human beings that have lived, are living, will live!
So please tell me Oh Judge! Whose story is better or worse, yours or mine or his or theirs! Come to me and tell a story in the circle of life, let me listen to you and you listen to me!
I recently read that there are counselors who support people through divorce. I feel this is much-needed. I also read someone write that ‘I had a happy divorce’. For a moment when I read that I felt inadequate. As I did not have a happy divorce. I wanted to respond with anger to that Facebook comment. But I held myself and allowed myself to feel my anger and inadequacy and see what came up that would be a more compassionate way of responding.
I realized the only compassionate way would be to expose my inadequacies and anger by owning them and admitting them. I got divorced after being with a man for 15 years. He was my boyfriend and then my husband. He was a friend, a buddy in many ways. Our marriage was sometimes happy and sometimes really tough. I don’t want to go into the details of describing my marriage. But what I want to say is that despite the violence, despite the anger, despite the need to leave, my divorce was not a happy divorce.
I did not want a divorce, I wanted to make my marriage last, I tried to make it work. I wanted to stay together for me, for my husband , for my children, for our respective families, for our huge circle of warm and loving friends, for our grandchildren and their children and their friends and families.
So with so many dreams and hopes riding on our marriage, it was certainly not a happy divorce. It was sad. The saddest event of my life. An event that left me shaken and broken and devastated beyond measure. The grieving of that sadness has been a long drawn arduous process. Add to that the responsibility of being a single mother to two growing children and support them in processing their emotions to accept their new realities is the hardest of all. Add to that the re-marriage of ex-husband before I had moved on internally.
The icing on the bitter cake is that one cannot grieve openly as people tell you, ‘Who asked you get a divorce?’ So one has to be brave, smile, fit in, and carry all the shame and guilt and disappointment alone inside one’s own broken heart. And also take on the responsibility of one’s own actions and consequences and perceived failure to make it work in a world that judges divorce very harshly. Add to that one’s own self-judgment.
To try to find self-love and self-worth when life as we knew it or believed it to be falls apart is the hardest for any one. Death and divorce are two most life altering events in any one’s life. Divorce is not happy even if the marriage was an unhappy one. Divorce is sad for multiple reasons, and gets even more intense when there are children involved. Does that mean I made a mistake by divorcing? No, I am not saying that. I am saying no one wants to divorce. It is always the last resort when all else fails.
Divorce is sad, deeply sad, it is heart crunching, guts gnawing grief and sadness, add to it the loneliness of losing support of family and security of many things material and non-material. Add to that the feeling of isolation in a society where everything revolves around coupling and marriage. I can vouch for people who get divorced that they do not ever recover from sadness, they simply are forced to go within and make peace with sadness that will never leave. Divorce compels some people to seek deeper peace and unshakable self-love that is not dependent on something as frivolous as happiness. I, for one have seen deeply that there is no such thing as lasting happiness. Divorce has compelled me to seek acceptance of life when it falls apart. It has compelled me to be prepared for rejection, for abandonment, for love not working out always fruitfully, for not ever finding another partner.
Divorce is death and death is not happy, it is real and hides in it the true meaning of life which is essentially fully empty. Divorce has compelled me to stop running after happiness and find grace in whatever life brings me.
Divorce is the greatest spiritual teacher you will ever meet and I hope you do not meet that teacher and if you do please bow with humble surrender with the true reverence it deserves!
Divorce is not happy!
We are all made of the same star stuff.
Like clouds with charged particles,
We attract each other,
We drift away,
We bump into each other.
Sometimes creating thunder, lightening and rain.
Sometimes not charged,
We just become an azure blue.
We are all made of the same star stuff.
I was part of a dance therapy circle last evening with some nice people. Many I knew intimately and were close friends. The facilitator took us through some movement work with eyes closed and no music. After the exercise she asked the circle to express what everyone felt or experienced. I stayed silent. I have been dancing since I as a child. Dance and rhythm come spontaneously and naturally to me. I can dance with or without music. I feel the music inside me, the beat in my heart, the movement in my limbs and hips. It comes on its own. I stayed silent as, I have been observing lately, when we are naturally flowing in some areas, it is better to be quiet for the sake of others who are feeling inhibited in those areas. I so wanted to share what I was feeling, but I chose to stay quiet, as sharing one’s authentic joy often makes many sad, that has been my experience.
We feel we are inspiring, but we do not realize that we are perhaps overshadowing those who need to come out in the center or out of their closets. No one overshadows intentionally, it just seems like that to those who are struggling in their painful shadows. It also makes many avoid you. Is that living small? Have any of you felt this way? To be aware of one’s own prowess and not yield it or yield wisely and compassionately or tenderly or in measures, is that being dishonest?
To take one self out of the limelight so that only light remains and falls on those who need it the most. Does that makes sense to anyone? One lady with physical disabilities was asked to move with eyes closed, she shared how frightened she felt given her challenges and so she gave up and then she sat down and remembered a line from the Bible, which went somewhat like this: Be still and trust that the Lord is moving you. She had tears in her eyes which she held back from falling. I wanted to be still for her, I didn’t want to dance for her, but still I danced as the lord made me move. What could I do?
Wailing one comes
To this world
That knows no
One seeks noise
To find that silence
So familiar yet
Drowned, driven to
One gives up!
Wailing once again
Silently one enters
The soundless sound
Recently, a very young woman, a relative, killed her herself, leaving a three-year old child and a four-year old marriage behind. Her parents, husband, brother, cousins are devastated, as the police found only a note which said, “I hold no one responsible for this action of mine. I don’t want to live anymore”.
She left home saying she is going to work and when she did not return from work, her husband called office. The office people said she never turned up. He went down to check the car. And there she was lying dead next to the car. She had jumped from the roof of her apartment in East Delhi, a part of Delhi which has many apartments that house the growing working middle-class of India. Strange how no one noticed or heard anything for so long. The face of India with no eyes on the streets!
The parents where sharing their grief around her ‘unfair’ death. They are feeling left out from her life, and her mind and heart. They are feeling like strangers to their own daughter, who never told them what was going on in her life. For the parents, it is feeling unfair to be left out of their daughter’s difficulties, sadness, depression or whatever the heck it was that drove her to commit suicide. They want to know why she killed herself. They want to enter her heart and understand her and truly see her, NOW, that she died without a word
Robin Williams, the funniest man onscreen kills himself out of depression. The media says things like, “Bipolar behavior, fighting drug abuse, sadness behind a joker…etc” And then one common line is “What a tragedy to do die so for a man who made us all laugh?” I wonder if he was NOT so sad and depressed as he was, would he be immortalized as one of the greatest performing artiste of our times? Was his depression the creative field from which the arose his laughter and jokes?” Robin Williams’ is dead, punished for being sad and depressed. Another reason attributed to Death.
I watched this wonderful film Griefwalker..http://blog.sevenponds.com/lending-insight/film-review-griefwalker-2012-by-tim-wilson. The Griefwalker, Stephen Jenkinson, enables people to accept death quietly and peacefully. His gestures, his voice, his eyes, his walk, his leaking canoe, his native rituals, everything shows a man at ease with life and death, not seeking any reason for either.
I feel as human beings we all seek REASON for life and death. What is the reason for life and what is the reason for death?
This is the eternal question that is at the root of all our quests and seeking.
If you are a writer, the worst thing that can happen to you are the days when it looks like your writing is drying up. I have been going through this phase. I feel my heart racing, my breath choking on me, my lower abdomen feels tight, I feel sleepy and lethargic and worthless. Intense loneliness grips me with life leaving me in the hands of the Grim Reaper himself.
I have been countering these dry days with more of walking, cycling, yoga, meditation, cooking, watching films, crying, reading The Gita, getting irritated and utterly bored with my companion. A well-known website has approached me to write for them regularly and I am standing lost in my inner landscape, which looks like a blank misty sky with nothing in it. I am asking myself, “What am I going to write about?” Nothing is coming up. Nothing at all. Zilch. Fog. Still humid night with no rain in sight. Darkness. Fear. Doubt. Hot and sweaty.
I thought I will distract myself from this panic attack which says to me, “you have lost your writing art, you have nothing more to write, it is all over for you, your creative life is over, your life has no meat to offer for the pages, you won’t amount too much henceforth.” So I switched on the television set to watch some shows in my mother tongue, Bengali. I miss speaking that and even hearing that so much now. I thought the language of my family and ancestors might comfort me in this lonely phase.
I started watching this popular game show that is hosted my one of Bengali cinemas better known award-winning actresses and I look at her and my panic gets even stronger. What if I have to give up writing because I cannot write anymore like she gave up acting?
And then something happened. My daughter came down to me on the floor where I was sitting and sat between my stretched out legs. And I instinctively put my arms around her. And she rested her head on my breasts. I felt a sudden relief at body contact. I brought my mindfulness practice to watching the show. I told myself, “Ok let me meditate”. I started paying more attention to the show and heard her converse with the participants. The show is a game where women, mostly homemakers, play to win prizes. They also share a lot about their personal lives to make the show more chatty. As I heard the women on the show share their domestic trivia openly, joyously and confidently, I looked at the host’s face and realized how much of her acting skills she was actually being asked to bring forth in this show. To look interested in and enthusiastic about the domestic trivial of simple Bengali mothers and wives must be quite challenging for an accomplished dancer and actress such as her.
The participants talked mostly about how they got married or how they are planning to get married, they talked of how happy they were in their domestic married lives with children and husbands and in-laws. They talked of how much they were appreciated for their cooking or not and what food their husbands loved eating. They talked of how they met their spouses and of their elopement etc. The host honed all her acting skills to look happy in the happiness of the participants. She herself is divorced from another accomplished actor. She is a single middle-aged working woman.
In the middle of the show, my daughter was hungry and I left the show to make her a snack. As I was chopping the potatoes for frying some chips for her, I told myself, “I will try to act like a writer when I don’t feel like a writer anymore. I will write about my dry days as a writer and what it feels not be able to write anymore. I will write about my fears of losing my writing. I will write about my sadness that I feel when my writing is dull and boring even to me. I will write about not writing anymore”.
So here is my writing on not able to write.