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Poetry

Imperfection As Teacher

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Imperfection As Teacher

For Light

Light cannot see inside things.
That is what the dark is for:
Minding the interior,
Nurturing the draw of growth
Through places where death
In its own way turns into life.

In the glare of neon times,
Let our eyes not be worn
By surfaces that shine
With hunger made attractive.

That our thoughts may be true light,
Finding their way into words
Which have the weight of shadow
To hold the layers of truth.

That we never place our trust
In minds claimed by empty light,
Where one-sided certainties
Are driven by false desire.

When we look into the heart,
May our eyes have the kindness
And reverence of candlelight.

That the searching of our minds
Be equal to the oblique

Crevices and corners where
The mystery continues to dwell,
Glimmering in fugitive light.

When we are confined inside
The dark house of suffering
That moonlight might find a window.

When we become false and lost
That the severe noon-light
Would cast our shadow clear.

When we love, that dawn-light
Would lighten our feet
Upon the waters.

As we grow old, that twilight
Would illuminate treasure
In the fields of memory.

And when we come to search for God,
Let us first be robed in night,
Put on the mind of morning
To feel the rush of light
Spread slowly inside
The color and stillness
Of a found world.

~ John O'Donohue
(To Bless the Space Between Us)

 

My (unintentional) experiment with light and shadow

The lines above summarize a teaching I was given a few days ago, which was so profound that I thought it deserves a blog post of its own. 

It was 2 AM, and I was wide awake. I had just heard a difficult news about someone I care deeply about. To sort through my own feelings, I decided to do something that often helps me. I decided to create an image that captured strands of what I was feeling. The image I had in my mind as I started was: joined palms holding a candle, as if shielding it from a breeze. It appeared to me as a symbol of hope in the midst of darkness. So, I downloaded an image of the palms, and that of a candle, making sure that neither was copyrighted. I opened them both on Photoshop. The candle image was on a black background. I thought I would be done in just a few minutes. All I had to do was resize the hands and copy them onto the image with the candle. So, I started using the magic wand function in Photoshop to copy the hands - an act that I have done thousands of times before. 

That's when I realized that there were just too many shades of pink through brown in the hands, and that some of these colors were very, very close to the background color! If I chose one area, I was losing another one, or picking up too much background! By this time, it was past 3:30 AM, and I was getting really frustrated. I was about to give up.

And then, I had a thought - a kind of throwing up of my hands in resignation! Or, may be it was a revelation! I said, ok, I'll just take all the pieces I can get with the magic wand, copy them, and then try to fill in the gaps. 

So, I did.

And lo and behold! I had parts of the hand that I had copied, and the black background showed through the places where there was no copied content. As I moved the pieces of the palms around the candle - I realized that I had created something much more complex, much more textured, than I had originally set out to create! In fact, it was much more than what I had conceptualized, and much closer to what I was actually feeling!

I had created these cupped hands holding both light and shadow! Literally - holding the paradox - the pairs of opposites! It was something I had not planned to do. I realized then that if I had continued to insist on perfection, I would have never received this gift! What I had to do was to stop struggling for perfection, and trust that the Universe knows what is best - better than me. I had to stop "managing" my life.

I am now sitting with this realization. How many genuinely worthwhile thoughts and ideas and projects do I sacrifice every day at the altar of perfection? And how would it be, if I really start to see every project as alive, as having its own intention? What if I truly accept my job as a custodian of creativity, as a conduit, rather than a task master? What if I am fully present, moment to moment, to what is arising? What if I stop defining when something is "perfect?"

First, I feel a warm wave of freedom ripple through my body! What? You mean that the responsibility of this entire Universe is not on my shoulders? That I am actually allowed to play? To have fun? Even to mess up? And that things of unexpected beauty can arise from my failings, my imperfections? And then... Does this also mean that I can let others be imperfect? That they don't have to live up to my definition of what is acceptable? And I can still love them? And love their work?

This is my radical realization. Not only is imperfection okay, but it is one of the best teachers.

So, I end with the words of Jalaluddin Rumi:

“Dance, when you're broken open.
Dance, if you've torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance when you're perfectly free.”

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An Ode to Mother Earth

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An Ode to Mother Earth

Rabindranath Tagore, Indian poet and Nobel Laureate, implores us to hear Mother's Earth's cries

It is not news to most of us that our beloved Mother Earth - this beautiful blue-green globe shrouded in mist - has become increasingly imperiled by our greed. We see environmental devastation wherever we turn. It is currently being brought into focus by the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in the United States. The concerns have now skyrocketed, as a result of our current political situation. As I have been sitting with the aftermath of our Presidential elections, and how it might impact the environment in the coming months and years, my mind was drawn to a poem written almost a century ago by the Bengali Nobel Laureate poet, Rabindranath Tagore. Back in 1935, Tagore wrote this piece as a protest to Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia. This is the beauty of good poetry. It has a timeless quality. To me, this poem feels as applicable today, in our current predicament, as it did in 1935.

Here I offer you this poem, both in its original Bangla (Bengali) form, and my English translation of it. This is my offering to the world culture from the culture of my birth. May we learn from the poet the humility of standing with our heads bowed at the door of all that is devalued and desecrated. May we have the courage to say, with deep integrity, "forgive me," as rampant violence and abuse of the gentler, softer, more feminine forms of being swirl around us.

 

Africa, by Rabindranath Tagore, translation by Sushmita Mukherjee

In that confused time in prehistory,
When the Creator, dissatisfied with himself,
Was repeatedly demolishing his nascent creation…
During that time of his repeated impatient head-shakes,
The arms of the violent ocean
Snatched you away from the bosom of the Eastern lands
Dear Africa.
And imprisoned you within the inner sanctum
of her massive trees, in the realm of the miserly light.
There, in your secluded leisure, you
were collecting the mysteries of the unfathomable.
Deciphering the oblique messages from the water, earth and sky;
The unseen magic of Nature
Was birthing new songs within your deep unconscious.
You were mocking the Terrible
In the guise of disregard,
You were trying to defeat Fear,
By giving yourself a despicable and frightening appearance,
Dancing to the beat of the drum of chaos.

Alas, O Lady clad in shadows!
Your human form remained inaccessible
To the confined vision of Ignorance.
They came, with their iron manacles,
Those whose nails were sharper than those of your wolves.
They came, the catchers of humans,
Whose pride made them blinder than your sun-forsaken forests.
The barbaric greed of the Civilized
Laid naked its own shameless inhumanity.
The forest paths, permeated with the steam from your wordless tears,
Were turned into a swamp – mingling the earth with your blood and your tears.
Under the spiked boots of those monster feet
That abhorrent clump of muddy earth
Left an immutable stamp on your history of disgrace.

Across the ocean, at that very moment,
In all their neighborhoods, their temple bells were tolling,
Morning and evening, proclaiming the glory of the God of Mercy.
Children were playing in their mothers’ laps;
The music of the Poet was rising up to the heavens,
In adoration of The Beautiful.

Today, at this impeding dusk on the Western sky,
When the air is stagnant in anticipation of a thunderstorm,
When the animals have come out from their hidden caves,
And are announcing the end of days with their inauspicious howls,
Come, O Poet of the End of Time,
In this fading light of dusk,
Stand at the door of this Shamed One,
And say, “Forgive me” –
Among all this raving violent speech,
Let this be the last sacred words of your great civilization.

Tagore's poem  Africa  in Bengali

Tagore's poem Africa in Bengali

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