Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Is your future behind you?

Heraclitus said that you can’t step in the same river twice. Its constant flow makes it impossible. One of his students added that in reality you can’t step into the same river even once…it changes as you immerse a part of your foot.

In Quantum Mechanics, Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty is premised on how we change that which we observe, in this case particles, and that we cannot with certainty predict the position of a particle because its momentum changes its position even as we measure it.

Osho spoke about how time can only be seen as the past or the future because even as we acknowledge the present, it becomes the past and the future is an unknown.

See a common thread here?

Across history, science, philosophy and religion, the clarion calls have been to be present in the present. This is the very secret of living, not existing, and being happy.

Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said that the greatest source of our unhappiness is rooted in the absence from our lives – living either in the past or the future – remembering or hoping.

Grief is one such mechanism that traps you in the past, in memory, in remembering…I am its victim. Because our time together was so beautiful and defining, I often find myself living in a warped reality where Shekhar’s very absence is a persona…one I use to anchor the present…in tribute, in commemoration. I live as if my future is behind me.

But today, I got a wake-up call…neither memory nor hope mattered. The only thing that counted was the present, being here now…and I realized that now is beautiful, now is as good as it gets…the past made me and the future may unmake me…Today, I am here…I answered God’s roll call…I am present. This is it.

***
However, one cannot strictly call an individual unhappy who is present in hope or in memory. For what one must note here is that he is still present to himself in one of these. From which we also see that a single blow, be it ever so heavy, cannot make a person the unhappiest. For one blow can either deprive him of hope, still leaving him present in memory, or of memory, leaving him present in hope.
Soren Kierkegaard in “Either/Or”
*
So I suppose the best piece of advice I could give anyone is pretty simple: get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Do you think you’d care so very much about those things if you developed an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast while in the shower? …Think of life as a terminal illness, because, if you do, you will live it with joy and passion, as it ought to be lived.
Anna Quindlen in “A Short Guide to a Happy Life”


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Detach and Release

April is a difficult month. Three dates mark milestones of time but not of the journey it took to get there... Our wedding anniversary, three days later the anniversary of his death and a week after, the funeral…today, six years ago.

While cleaning out a shelf a few weeks ago, I encountered all the mementoes of Shekhar’s funeral…the albums, the e-mails, feelings trapped in words on pages, a DVD, photographs of flower arrangements with heartfelt messages…I felt like someone had put a hand in my chest and wrenched my heart. In a daze upon my move I had tucked this motley elegy to a man into a corner. I don’t remember putting them there or even recall ever having been through them before.

In that moment, I found myself back on the floor of the crematorium, refusing to leave because I could smell him burning…the smell…the smell…layered on fragrant blossoms of a manicured garden in full bloom on a sunny day as Nazi smoke rose from the chimney. What I still cannot understand is how I could be in two places at once…there and here at the same time. There is innate tyranny in resilience…I fell, I broke, it pulled and beckoned…and I rose yet again. The only silver line, it took less time than before.

When people visited during the week before the funeral, I was surprised to find several copies of the Bhagvad Gita left behind. Being a Sikh, I didn’t understand the significance of the gesture but I was drawn to anything that would help me understand what had happened. So I tried to read one of the many copies…it was too dense for me to absorb in my addled state and I gave up until I found a version that better aligned to my sensibility…Eknath Easwaran’s simple translation with its elegant and eloquent synopsis was a revelation but I took umbrage to Krishna’s advice to let go of attachment…how does one do that in a physical world? How can you not be attached to loved ones, to the means of living, the tangible and intangible ways in which you exist? I have reread the book several times since and dip into it every now and then when I feel the need for spiritual succour…it’s only now that I have understood what he meant. I have said the words, told others but the dots only connected when I realized in a moment of insight, the detachment is not from life or the business of living…it is from the outcome…of thought, word and deed. It is very simple when you come to think of it…my grieving for Shekhar cannot possibly have an outcome…time will continue to pass and he will forever remain embedded in me like a shell in a rock, the edges wearing off until he is fossilized into my essence. If I let go of my attachment to my grief, I liberate not only my conscious self but also my soul…I live not just exist. I become present.

Assimilating the polarity of spirituality and science is the only way I can consolidate any insight. Going back to the disputed K├╝bler-Ross Model of the five emotional stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance with my newfound wisdom I found it missing a final step…release. When you accept, you still cling to a residual grief…yes, it has happened, and no, there is nothing I can do about it…now what? Release…let go…

It is not easy. It is six years and I still struggle with being in two places at one time. But carrying grief is exhausting. It is a heavy burden. It weighs you down. It sucks joy and oxygen and leaves no room for living…for being here, now.

Have I grieved enough? I honestly don’t know. Will this ghost revisit me? Most likely. A sudden gesture by one of the boys, a trace of an aftershave, a turn of a phrase, a scribbled note…anything could trigger an onslaught. Am I prepared? No. But I am tired. So for now, the only thing I can do is put my burden of grief down and rest a bit…detach and release…until next April…and who knows what might happen…

***

No truth can cure the sorrow we feel from losing a loved one. No truth, no sincerity, no strength, no kindness can cure that sorrow. All we can do is see it through to the end and learn something from it, but what we learn will be no help in facing the next sorrow that comes to us without warning.
 Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood
*

Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.
Rumi

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Wanted child of the universe

Loss is brutal. It breaks you…into little pieces. I have been broken thrice…first by Shekhar’s sudden departure, two years later by Mom’s and two weeks after her, my father-in-law. The toll has been exponential…it is now coming up to six years since Shekhar, during which time I have felt victimized, emotionally mugged and physically bruised…with a reduced field of vision and a remarkably constricted scale of life. I have focused only on the next moment, the next step, the next action, the next…the next…until at the five year mark, I looked up. I am glad I did.

In January of 2013, I entered the Passions Contest of Mills & Boon India with a very brief first chapter of a romance novel, not for a moment thinking that my truncated writing would stand a chance in the competition. I made the top three and as a part of the reward, won a mentoring opportunity with the UK editors of Harlequin… A six month struggle to write romance while toggling my core writing on development later, my editor sent me a mail that made looking up worth it... They liked the manuscript. They would publish it in a two-book deal! For the first time in years, I felt like a wanted child of the universe.

Now, as the book hits the shelves* this week…I am setting it free to travel on its karmic journey…it is symbolic of my own traverse up the mountain of grief and down the other side. That’s the insight, there is the other side…but more important is the realization that I am a wanted child of the universe and…someone up there definitely loves me…

Here’s raising a toast to romancing the night…Shekhar, Mom, Dad…I hope you’ll join me.

Salud! Cheers! Chin, Chin!


*The book is available online at Harlequin India , Infibeam and Flipkart and will hit bookshelves across India in the coming week.

***

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Invictus by William Ernest Henley


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Wrestling with demons

©Jyoti Singh Visvanath
As one year ends and another begins, there is a sense of change, of letting go, of looking forward, of making the past year a part of the repository of your life.


I find that as the years accumulate after Shekhar, calendar time does not really have the same meaning for me. In some ways, I am still in the same place I was nearly six years ago and in others, I have travelled so far that even memory does not serve me well. This treading of two worlds is exhausting. I am told to move on, let go…but what does it really mean?

How do you really move on from your essence, your definition? How do you let go of the best part of yourself? What if you don’t like the person you are becoming? The questions are demons…they come at you in the quiet of the night, slipping into your dreams and rearing their ugly heads each time you think you have them under control. I wrestle and find myself wanting. So far, it has not been a fair fight because I am vulnerable, fragile and weak…something’s got to give but what and how?
To hark back to the infamous dialogue from the film Jerry McGuire…Shekhar completed me, as I did him. That was because we were young and finding ourselves together…but that has changed. I no longer seek or need completion. It’s balance that I yearn for. I miss the other voice, the perspective of another vantage, the point of view and support of the better parent…this is a lonely place and the challenges are many. I wrestle and find myself wanting.
As I wake in the morning and face another day, life calls in different ways. Time folds telescopically, appearing on my face and body, in the growing bodies of the boys, in marked folders in the storehouse of memory and life, in spaces and voids…in a cumulative past. My default state is to hide and never leave the comfort of my safe place but it is time to wrestle with the demons…it may not be a fair fight…I may forever be vulnerable, fragile and weak but as long as I am here I owe it to myself to embrace this shadow of my previous self, to take that first step into the unknown world of moving on and letting go…making the effort to die empty. Who knows where this new journey will take me? I can only commit to one little step right now…the rest lies in anticipation that the demons will find someone else to wrestle with…

***

When you get what you want, but not what you need
When you feel so tired, but you can't sleep
Stuck in reverse

And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can't replace
When you love someone, but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?

…When you're too in love to let it go
But if you never try you'll never know
Just what you're worth…

From the lyrics of “Fix you” by Coldplay

*
Look into my eyes
It's where my demons hide
Don't get too close
It's dark inside
It's where my demons hide

They say it's what you make
I say it's up to fate
It's woven in my soul
I need to let you go

From the lyrics of “Demons” by Imagine Dragons











Sunday, November 24, 2013

Playback...


The boys hated my last post. They thought it was lazy and did not fulfil the contract with the reader. In my defence, there were two reasons I chose to post a video of a song… apart from the title ‘I grieve’ and the haunting music of Peter Gabriel, the lyrics suddenly had a new resonance. Especially, the line from the chorus – life goes on and on and on… Then there is the change in tempo towards the second half of the song. I have realized that much against my will and resistance…life does go on and on and on…relentless, overwhelming and at times, in what seems like an unending spiral…but with grace, always with a touch of grace. The change in tempo reminds me that despite all the pain, there is hope for alleviation.

I was hit by a bout of nostalgia recently after listening to some music that I was passionate about in the past. Like any of the senses, it brought back memories…and with them the freshness of a pain that I am trying to move away from. It’s not funny when you can put a time and place to something you heard for the first time or what became a signature of treasured and shared moments or a totem of love.

It means that I cannot listen to Enigma without thinking of Zambia or Deep Forest without envisioning the Western Ghats. This music is embedded at a cellular level, not just in my memory but the boys’ too. It brings recollections of long drives, mountains made green by rain and mist rising from the bowels of valleys…just the four of us…happy, together, whole…

Shekhar was a romantic, something he demonstrated most ably by choosing music that expressed what he could not say. I remember Foreigner’s ‘Waiting for a girl like you,’ Rick Astley’s, ‘Never gonna give you up,’ and ‘Drive’ by Cars were songs he recommended I listen to when we first started going out. When he shared his precious stash of cassette tapes with me, there was no question about my place in his life. Over the years, he continued to search and find other musical missives…my life had a background score.

I will admit when I heard some of the songs again, I was gutted. But listening to them on repeat has somehow sweetened the pain of remembrance…those were good times. At least I had those…

Now, as I find myself changing, the choice of music has changed too. New music defines my score – remastered and remixed. It includes the sound of our older son’s soul playing on his guitar, songs our younger one chooses for me and whatever resonates at some subconscious level and pounds to the beat of my heart. I feel blessed. These are good times too…even if life does go on and on and on…

***

Yes, they're sharing a drink they call loneliness
But it's better than drinkin' alone

Sing us a song you're the piano man
Sing us a song tonight
Well we're all in the mood for a melody
And you got us feeling alright


From “Piano Man” by Billy Joel

 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Need I say more...



"I Grieve"
 
by

Peter Gabriel
 
It was only one hour ago
It was all so different then
There's nothing yet has really sunk in
Looks like it always did
This flesh and bone
It's just the way that you would tied in
Now there's no-one home

 I grieve for you
You leave me
'so hard to move on
Still loving what's gone
They say life carries on
Carries on and on and on and on

The news that truly shocks is the empty empty page
While the final rattle rocks its empty empty cage
And I can't handle this

I grieve for you
You leave me
Let it out and move on
Missing what's gone
They say life carries on
They say life carries on and on and on

Life carries on
In the people I meet
In everyone that's out on the street
In all the dogs and cats
In the flies and rats
In the rot and the rust
In the ashes and the dust
Life carries on and on and on and on
Life carries on and on and on

It's just the car that we ride in
 A home we reside in
The face that we hide in
The way we are tied in
And life carries on and on and on and on
Life carries on and on and on

Did I dream this belief?
Or did I believe this dream?
Now I will find relief
 I grieve...



Thursday, October 3, 2013

Run first…choose your destination later


It has been a challenging year, thus far. For the most part, I have found myself at the receiving end of many lessons from the Universe, which was why a horoscope prediction this week made me smile – “You will make plans…and the Universe will laugh.”

Shekhar and I had that in common. We were both planners, with plans A, B and C always in place. But his going reduced my vision and ability to look forward. I relied on the next best thing. Lists. Each tick mark, a step towards an unknown destination. I did not think of outcomes and what's next. It was just enough to take one step and live one day, at a time. This telescoping was very useful. It made the trivial extraneous. It made fear redundant. Not planning liberated me from the tedium of thinking through and working out all options and scenarios. This has been a blessing in disguise. It has allowed God’s grace to work. He has carried me.

As creatures of habit and bias, we struggle to live in the moment, to breathe deeply and actually be present. I have learnt this the hard way. In the past five years, I have clung to memory, to the pain of remembrance, living in the dark abyss of anger and bitterness, victimized by a past I could not rewrite and a future that refused to unfold. I was a failed state and the Universe was laughing at me. I did what I could do…I got out of its way.

It is only then, I found His grace become visible. Unplanned things happened, what needed to happen, happened seamlessly, unknown people appeared as angels, familiars became God’s instruments …helping hands were everywhere. Hiding in the dark depths of despair, I was hard to help. Something shifted at the five year mark this year, I allowed a hand to reach out and pull me to where I could see some light. Letting it guide me, I took one step and another…and the light became brighter. It is where I stand now. I know one misstep can send me hurtling back to the bottom. It has happened before.

The key difference is - I am now looking up. Not letting the light out of my sight. It is difficult and the need to retract and return is like a siren song floating up from the abyss. I resist its call. Just like I resist the urge to plan. I have only now understood, nothing I could ever think or imagine would equal or surpass what the Universe has planned for me. I have surrendered to its will and found that…the Universe is laughing not at but with me.

***

Somewhere there's a star that's shining
So bright that I can see you smile…
From “Things my father said” by Black Stone Cherry

*

I’ve done it, I’ve done it!

Guess what I’ve done!

Invented a light that plugs into the sun.

The sun is bright enough,

The bulb is strong enough,

But, oh, there’s only one thing wrong…

The cord ain’t long enough.

Inventionby Shel Silverstein