Of desired things…

flowers

Desiderata  by Max Ehrmann

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious
to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter, for always
there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment;
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore, be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.

And whatever your labors and aspirations
in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

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On gratitude and joy

“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” ― Meister Eckhart

A while ago, maybe a little over a year now, it was after an evening meditation sit, I was overwhelmed with a deep sense of gratitude and joy. This feeling of thankfulness was so immense that, I ended up sending a thank you note to some of my friends. The accompanying joy stayed for hours and maybe days. Even today, as I remember this incident, it fills me with gratefulness. The mere fact, that I am alive on a tiny speck of dust floating in this vast universe, leaves with awe and wonder. To be alive and have wonderful friends and family is a gift, a wonderful gift. The accompanying one thousand joys and one thousand sorrows make life worth experiencing and be thankful for.

As one more year comes to an end, I have so many things to be thankful for. So many people who have helped me, encouraged me, inspired me along the way. Thank you everyone.

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I am a survivor; she is a supporter.

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There was a stream of walkers coming in to register, donate and claim their goodies at the registration table. The instructions to us, at the table were, if a person or team donated or fundraised $100 or more, you get a wristband, a t-shirt, a lighted balloon and food. Everyone else, signs a waiver and is ready to participate in the walk to raise awareness about blood cancer. After each person registered or donated, we gave them a wristband (if eligible) and directed them to the tents where they can claim their stuff. “T-shirts to the left, balloons and food right in the front”. It was an easy task and there was a constant help from the organizers if we had any questions regarding the rules or to make exceptions if any. I was comfortable with my job and and was repeating the line,  “T-shirts to the left, balloons and food right in the front”, every few minutes after handing out the participants their wristbands. 
 
Everything seemed to be going as expected, until, an elderly man, maybe in his mid 60’s walked towards the table with some difficulty. I knew it was hot outside and I could see that he was sweating. “We are here to register for the walk”, he said. I said, “Do you have a team or want to donate any money today evening”.  “No! I am a survivor”  and then pointed towards a lady standing along with him, “She is a supporter”. I said, “We have a tent outside for the survivors, where you can get a free t-shirt and a lighted balloon”. “Do you have a t-shirt for supporters?”, he asked. One of the organizers standing right behind us, stepped in and explained, that t-shirts are for people who have donated 100 dollars or more and none for supporters. They both walked away, the man clearly looking not happy. I pointed them towards the tent for the survivors where he can get a free t-shirt. It was an interesting place to watch and interact with complete strangers and how each person brings a part of their personality. There was this old man, who walked in with a stick for support, but looked very cheerful. After I explained everything, I said, “You are good”, he immediately replied, “Of course! I know I am good.” and then bursted into a boisterous laughter. 
 
As the evening grew darker, more people started coming in and we got busy collecting the donations and handing out the waistbands. It must be around 30 minutes before the walk started, that the same man and the lady, walked towards the table. This time, he had the survivor t-shirt on and pointed towards a pile of volunteer t-shirts and asked, “She is a supporter, can she get a t-shirt ?”. My friend and I looked at each other, acknowledging what was the right thing to do. In the meanwhile, one of the organizers stepped in and explained, that the t-shirts are only for the donors, survivors and volunteers, not for supporters. This time, the man looked clearly unhappy and walked away feeling a little let down. Let down by the fact that, he could not express his gratitude to the supporter, who came to walk with him. And maybe who knows, she might have helped him survive the battle of cancer.  The lady appeared to be in her late 50’s, and never spoke a word for the entire time. She just followed him, although she seemed to keep some distance. I did not see them holding hands or expressing any physical intimacy.
 
The number of walkers coming to register dwindled, as the time to start the walk approached. Although, I was trying to act as if nothing happened, my friend could not keep her thoughts and emotions unexpressed. She was really concerned and wanted to do something about it. We started hatching plans of how to sneak in a waistband which will give them access to a t-shirt and other stuff. We whined about how we get stuck with rules and laws and never look beyond them. After all, it was just a t-shirt. At the same time, maybe a t-shirt means a lot. Having run numerous running races, I know what a t-shirt means. I still use some of them even though the colors have long faded, as a symbol. A symbol to mark my first 10K or a first marathon, a symbol that I could have quit, but didn’t.
 
The walk started, and the job at the registration desk was done. The act of volunteering on a Friday evening for a good cause came to an end. Then, the thought of looking for the survivor and his supporter and giving away the volunteer t-shirts we received, passed by our minds. Still unsure of what to do next, we came out and found that most of the walkers had already left. It was twilight and fast getting dark, and the lighted red and yellow balloons looked really pretty. We started walking briskly, cutting a few corners, a few streets , to reach a big group of walkers at the end. Scanning the crowd to find the man and the lady, whom we hoped might be walking slowly and might be at the end. I saw the happy old man with a stick, chatting and cracking jokes along with his supporters. As we walked by more and more walkers, our hopes started sinking down. Maybe they decided not to walk, maybe we missed them. We crossed more than half the walkers, and as the walk turned onto the main street, it looked bigger and more difficult to spot people. It was dark by then and we didn’t think the man would have walked so fast anyways. 
 
As we had walked so far, we thought, maybe just finish the walk anyways. As we were approaching towards the first big group of walkers, my friend said, “I see them. Yes! I think, it is them”. We looked at each other, and started walking faster, almost running towards them. They were walking really fast and we had underestimated their pace. At the same time, our thoughts were racing. How do we approach them? What do we say? How will they react? Even before we could find answers to these questions, we were right besides the man and the lady. The man immediately recognized both of us. I handed out the t-shirt, mumbling it’s a medium size, hope it fits. Suddenly the man was overwhelmed with joy. The lady hugged us both. And then the man gave a huge hug to me, while my friend handed her t-shirt to the lady. He kept repeating, “She is a supporter” and “thank you, this means a lot! this means a lot!”. Everything happened too fast, that there were no thoughts, just expressions of joy and happiness. My friend was very happy too and we hugged feeling really content. We could not have asked for a better experience of pure joy. The act of giving away those t-shirts brought in more happiness than the act of sitting at the registration desk for 3 hours.
 
As we walked back, we wondered, if the lady was his wife, a girl friend or just a friend. I vividly remember, the man always kept saying, “She is a supporter”. Maybe, she was just supporter. After all, we all are survivors, and we are lucky to  have a huge network of supporters most of whom go unnoticed and unthanked for. 
  
P.S. Thank You. For all the big and small things and supporting along the way.
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beyond thoughts, beyond words

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beyond thoughts, beyond words

there is a vast space right here,
beyond thoughts, beyond words.
a place where all can meet,
it’s beyond thoughts, beyond words.

there is a sea of tranquility right here,
beyond fears, beyond cares.
a place where you can wade into peace,
it’s beyond fears, beyond cares.

there is a deep silence right here,
beyond noise, beyond music.
a place where all can reflect,
it’s beyond noise, beyond music.

there is a new world right here,
beyond ideas, beyond opinions.
a place where there are no rights, no wrongs,
it’s beyond ideas, beyond opinions.

there is an ocean of love right here,
beyond you, beyond me.
a place where there is no other,
it’s beyond you, beyond me.

right here, just right here,
within you, within me!

– vj (edited by a friend)

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The Empty Boat

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The Empty Boat  
Chuang Tzu
 
He who rules men lives in confusion; 
He who is ruled by men lives in sorrow. 
Yao therefore desired 
Neither to influence others 
Nor to be influenced by them. 
The way to get clear of confusion 
And free of sorrow 
Is to live with Tao 
In the land of the great Void.
 
If a man is crossing a river 
And an empty boat collides with his own skiff, 
Even though he be a bad-tempered man 
He will not become very angry. 
But if he sees a man in the boat, 
He will shout at him to steer clear. 
If the shout is not heard, he will shout again, 
And yet again, and begin cursing. 
And all because there is somebody in the boat. 
Yet if the boat were empty. 
He would not be shouting, and not angry.
 
If you can empty your own boat 
Crossing the river of the world, 
No one will oppose you, 
No one will seek to harm you.
 
The straight tree is the first to be cut down, 
The spring of clear water is the first to be drained dry. 
If you wish to improve your wisdom 
And shame the ignorant, 
To cultivate your character 
And outshine others; 
A light will shine around you 
As if you had swallowed the sun and the moon: 
You will not avoid calamity.
 
A wise man has said: 
“He who is content with himself 
Has done a worthless work. 
Achievement is the beginning of failure. 
Fame is beginning of disgrace.”
 
Who can free himself from achievement 
And from fame, descend and be lost 
Amid the masses of men? 
He will flow like Tao, unseen, 
He will go about like Life itself 
With no name and no home. 
Simple is he, without distinction. 
To all appearances he is a fool. 
His steps leave no trace. He has no power. 
He achieves nothing, has no reputation. 
Since he judges no one 
No one judges him. 
Such is the perfect man: 
His boat is empty.
 
– Page 131, From The Way of Chuang Tzu, translated by Thomas Merton, 
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Notes from my India trip!

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It’s close to a week into my India trip and the story I have been telling myself and people around me is not a happy one. For the first few days, I said to myself it’s just a coincidence and tried to be Zen about the situations I was getting into. But it was not until a few minutes back, that I didn’t realize how easily our minds trick us into believing stories with the “I” or “self” at the center of the whole drama unfolding.

It all started on Sunday afternoon, after all the passengers on the plane I boarded were asked to deplane due to some technical problems. And that’s how my journey to India started. Another plane another terminal and a delay of 4 hours meant I will miss my connecting flight in Amsterdam. Most of us were directed to the airlines ticketing counter to rebook and reroute.

It was an interesting scene at the counter as infuriated and anxious passengers were complaining all the problems they have to face. An angry passenger was arguing with the lady on the other side of the counter about the losses he has to incur as he will miss an important business meeting he had to attend. The lady was hearing him patiently and silently and apologizing every few minutes. After he finished his rants, he left and it was my turn. After I gave my travel and destination details, she offered a route via Dubai which meant a 14 hour flight followed by a 2 hour flight to Bombay with layover or 2 hours. I readily accepted the offer as that will save me a day of waiting either at Atlanta/Amsterdam.

As she was booking, we talked about a lot of things and one of the topic was vegetarianism and animal rights and how she gave up eating meat although she still eats some fish. She kept saying sorry every few minutes and I asked her not to do so, after which the conversation got lot cordial and she managed to get window seats and vegetarian food for me. Thanked her and walked towards my new terminal only to find out that this flight was delayed too and again it was getting close to my connection.

To make a long story short, I finally, made it to Dubai and from there to Mumbai only to find out that my luggage went missing somewhere along the route or never started from Atlanta. The first thing that struck me as the passengers whose luggage went missing, was the amount of paper work you end up filling and the number of signatures you need to put in. After all this, I rushed towards the domestic terminal to catch my final flight to home, only to see that the gates were closed and I missed it. Yes! I missed the flight to home. And this was just the beginning of the a series of events which made sit down and think.

Narcissism is an interesting human trait and each one of us needs a little of it at some point in our life to find meaning and direction when all of the reality around us points to the opposite. The minds ability to confabulate stories and then place our “self” at the center of it is in itself spell binding. And each one of us is caught in this rabid story telling. Sometimes, we are the heroes who crush our opponents and difficulties to achieve or conquer the goals. Sometimes, we are the victims, crushed by the impersonal and cruel universe which is using its might to make us suffer. Most of the times, we try to reason how changing or tweaking a few things could have changed the present, but in the process fail to appreciate how complex and interconnected this whole world and universe is. And we are at the mercy of the effects of all the causes that lead us into that situation.

Maybe the only freedom we have is how we choose to respond to in these situations. How kind and understanding one can be with the knowledge that the world around us is not so. That nature is neither cruel nor kind and people are not always reasonable. Maybe that’s what Viktor Frankl meant when he said, “Everything can be taken from a man, but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose ones attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”.

P.S. I had a very good trip. It was great meeting family and friends after a long time. My first week was the only time, I felt like a victim, but once I started letting things go, things were far more better.

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I just walk

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When I walk,
I just walk.
Oh! What a joy,
when I just walk.

Moment after moment,
I just walk.
Feeling all the sensations,
I just walk.

Not a thought,
nor a worry.
I just walk,
when I walk.
– few thoughts from a silent retreat.
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