Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Stations of Transformation

A couple of months back I was attending Short Summer course on Indian Psychology (SSIP-2012) and we were supposed to make a self-observation presentations. I am publishing my presentation here:

Stations of Transformation: loving one, many, beyond

Someday after mastering winds, waves, tides and gravity, we shall harness the energies of love, and then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will discover fire. - Teilhard de Chardin

I would like to start with the difficulties in making this presentation on first-person subjective research, also known as self-observation research. Here 'my-self' is the instrument of research, thus I have to let go of 'confidentiality', the hallmark of mainstream research, and also be completely open to get the richness of qualitative research. (I did try using third person language, but felt too disconnected). I think I might not be able to make this kind of presentation elsewhere in a more academic setting.
I must admit, here failures of the instrument are mine, bias are mine, they reflect something about me and I'm embarrassed about them. Even reporting what went well makes me cringe as if my ego is doing an 'impression-management' exercise. Presence of a little frown on the right person's brow, absence of a validating smile, can also be tough for my approval-seeking self.
However, presentations by my course-mates (especially A.., N.. and Y..) not only touched most of us deeply, but also gave me the courage to use a narrative format. I wonder, if it isn't a little true that under pretensions of an academic course our modern community of teachers, therapists, coaches and researchers have gathered here for an ancient sacrificial ceremony offering portions of our psychological selves and partaking the shared delight in it. So here is my offering with as much awareness as I could gather.

I will be covering a specific piece of my journey from the last course in Indian Psychology (IP) in 2010, till the current SSIP. The lessons were few, the process very long. As self-observational data I have taken generous help of my old blogposts and poems since I do not have my old journal with me. In terms of literature review, I have quoted few other poets who have described similar life experiences better than any academic literature I have come across. It is titled 'Stations of Transformation: loving one, many, beyond' and is dedicated to dear Divine.

It tired of its unchanging happiness,
It turned away from immortality,
It was drawn to hazard's call and danger's charm
It yearned to the pathos of grief, the drama of pain
Perdition's peril, the wounded bare escape,
The music of ruin and its glamour and crash,
The savour of pity and the gamble of love
And passion and the ambiguous face of fate.
(Savitri, canto II, Sri Aurobindo)

The wish 'may you live in interesting times' is considered to be one of the 3 Chinese curses of increasing severity, the highest being 'may your wishes get fulfilled'. And I was having them all together. In January 2010, I wrote 'Sky fascinates me... the expanse, the mysteries... a feeling that there is much more than meets my eyes ... much more beyond my grasp - of my fingers, of my mind! It gives me a sense of meaning, a sense of hope - an inexpressible joy, belief in existence ... maybe my fantasy, may be a truth which I can feel, but can't explain'. However after few months I was feeling a certain kind of drying up within, a calm dullness, as if I had reached a dead-end. My aspiration cried out 'Lord I have reached a plateau in my growth, please help me get to the next level'. And then something stirred. The wheels of His chariot started moving for one little soul’s call, as if a snow flake had started turning into an avalanche.
From the depths of being,
From that space
Of existence,
Where most do not dare
To wander,
Lest they get lost!
This one little drop of
Cries out in pain,
Of separation,
To the whole!
Wandered at every corner
Knocked at wrong doors
To find you, and
Now come to me.
Cross the light years of expanse
Of this universe,
For once
Shrink into a form
O silent, formless,
And have a day out
In conversation with me!

With mysterious serendipity, connecting a chain of 6 events in a few hours, I one day met someone who had materialized out of my one fleeting wish that morning. With a twinkle in its eyes, the universe was truly conspiring. If I had the faintest idea that this would be my IP project for next one year or more, I certainly would have protested with a 'But, no...'. However the script was confusing.
Farz Karo yeh jog bijog ka hamne dhoong rachaya ho,
Farz karo bas yehi haquiqat, Baki sab kuch maya ho
Just imagine I created this false play of meeting and separation,
Or just imagine only this is real and rest all is illusion.
(-a Sufi couplet)

There was a time when I had come to believe in human need for independence and self expression. As in Fritz perl's gestalt prayer: I do my things and you do your things/ I am not in this world to/ live up to your expectations,/ and you are not in this world to/ live up to mine./ You are you/ and I am I/ and if by chance we find each other,/ it's beautiful./ If not/ It can't be helped.

But now I was moving towards Beyond Perl (-Walter Tubbs):
If I just do my things and you do yours,
We stand in danger of losing each other/ and ourselves.
The I detached from a Thou
I do not find you by chance
I find you by an active life
of reaching out.
I must begin with myself, true;
But I must not end with myself;
The truth begins with two.

Though, at that moment in my life, I was not consciously looking to get into a relationship, I also didn't want to live in Gibran's 'seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears'. I had to learn how to worship 'That' which one cannot see, by loving what one can see. I let go of the safety of my neat little psychological island and went with the flow.
The first to go was discomfort with surface level differences- race, nationality, language, religion and even the possibility of a geographical relocation. The out-group had become an intimate in-group. But what about him practicing agnosticism? My philosophy of Divine within everyone, was put to test by Divine questioning its own existence. My inner resistance dissolved and I got utterly devoted.

After this, a few moments of crisis stood out with their growth-push. The first came a little too early. I had disbelieving shock and for once ‘Savitri’ by Sri Aurobindo opened itself to me. Especially the chapters on pain and suffering...
Pain is the hand of nature sculpturing men
To greatness; an inspired labour chisels
With heavenly cruelty an unwilling mould.
Although the shaping God's tremendous touch
Is torture unbearable to mortal nerves,
The fiery spirit grows in strength within
And feels a joy in every titan pang.

My inner boundaries were loosening up and I managed to find the spirit of Kabir - 'Bhala hua meri matki phuti re',('Good! my pot broke'). I was also having a longing forsomething deeper, wider, higher/ Something within chanting, neti-neti/ Not this, still not this!’ Till now, I was proud of my emotional resilience as well as for willingness to do the right things, if and when convinced. However this time the lessons were going to be different. Like N.. I too realized a Kafkasque bug-like persona around me, alienating me. I had to break through my calcified boundaries to reach out to close family and friends. Good, but the journey was not yet over.

With the second crisis my smug spiritual ego cracked and splintered. I went from being indignant with a cosmos which seemed to play practical jokes on unsuspecting mortals, to feeling alone and forsaken by a universe too big to even care. I found my identity dissolving. I looked at the cumulative grief of humanity- losses, death, destruction. How was I different from any other wretched, miserable soul on the planet? The dark night had descended and I experienced a sudden crumbling of the ground beneath and my falling into an abyss. There was a sense of utter helplessness, nothing to clutch mid-fall, probably time for surrender, an unwilling surrender with quite a bit of protest. I negotiated for a glimpse beyond, the meaning behind it all, for some answers from the universe. I wanted to know why now. Why again. Why with so much of fanfare and drama, why when I felt good enough. There were no prizes for practicing spirituality, 'dharma' that which should literally uphold, doesn't, in the way we want, and living with values is still a choice.
I was pushed into a ‘here and now' moment. Embarrassingly my thesis was lagging behind and I had refused a postdoc fellowship to stay near him. My friends and advisors were concerned and the one, who was also a psychiatrist, gently prescribed anti-depressants and nudged me to reconsider my fellowship. I didn't take medications, though re-accepted the fellowship. Within 10 days of my thesis submission I was off to US.
How much space do you want
Will it be enough, if I go away
Farther than the reach of
open arms,
Opposite ends of a city,
Cross over the oceans, the continents,
On a spread out map?

Very soon I settled with very warm lab-mates, a baby Krishna idol on my altar, in my beloved's country.
In every new place,
a little part of me
pitches a tent,
builds a comfort zone.

I had resolved at not being cynical, even if it meant going down trying to do whatever seemed right to me. Little by little I started to surrender.
O Life
I fight! Against your shadows./ Like the self-willed warrior,/ Who never goes down/ On her knees./ Every lost battle brings a promise,/ I will rise again./ But/ I end up uprooted,/ A tree in the storm.
I surrender!/ Exchanging wounded disillusionment/ for acceptance./ Trusting your forces,/ The wind,/ the wet earth,/ The beam of sunlight reaching/ Through the crack./ I turn into a wild flower,/ The grass off the side walk/ Walked over, but flourishing again.

During this time I got a chance to go over mainstream psychological literature on attachment, non-attachment, mindfulness, loving-kindness and compassion. I tried practicing these.
May you have deep sleep,
Followed by carefree play.
Mornings of relaxed letting go,
Much love and joyful days.
Unexpectedly it worked. I felt more relaxed and happy. Why should focusing on a sentence like ‘May I be happy, may you be happy, may every one be happy...', sooth attachments hurts or help one feel at ease with things happening around or to one self?
One interesting idea I found was Bharat's 'Natya Shastra', the famous Indian treatise on performing arts:
Where the hand goes, the gaze follows.
Where the eyes turn, there goes the mind.
Where the mind goes, there comes ‘bhava’,
And where the ‘bhava’ comes, there also will be ‘rasa’.
Similarly it seemed, where the words go, attention follows, often with associated intention and there goes the Consciousness and its powers. At first I wondered about all the beautiful, uplifting Sanskrit chants, each one a meditation in itself, a cultivation of a particular state within. And then I understood experientially why in the literature of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, there is so much of focus on cultivating specific psychological attitudes, instead of specific techniques of yoga-meditations. Things started fitting in. I was getting a little high. And in April-May 2011 when the time came to say the final good bye, I was much better prepared.
We grieve, for a long long time
In so many ways.
Sometimes, we silently get up, from that
Coffee table, where we had our last conversation
Walk out, walk away
For ever. Die to the past
Never to enter the same universe again.

My conscious choice to practice Karuna-metta or loving-kindness meditation every time feelings of anger, jealousy, betrayal came up, made them seem really fleeting. Here was trauma, and this was much more than therapy. Suddenly there were fewer inner voices. And much less clutter. With every negative thought/ feeling, I was able to notice tightness in specific parts of my body (like jaws, neck, stomach) which seemed like knots in my consciousness. I was often able to not only relax the body, but also to let go of the feeling and send a good intention/ prayer.
On some days I could even observe the quality of the suffering, irrespective of the actual events. It felt like a specific type of experience. This kind of detachment, without my mind getting in its way revolting or with self-pity, helped me notice how suffering was associated with narrow, knotted consciousness, with ego’s preferences and investments. Whenever I could change that, I felt empowered, and had a loop of joy and goodwill.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

This was purifying. Increasingly I was feeling immense gratitude and love. In past I had wondered if I can stretch myself and love everyone as I loved him. Now I was naturally having better connections with humanity in general; lab mates, co-passengers, strangers in the park and children in whom I occasionally glimpsed his childhood as well as my little Divine. My heart had suddenly opened. I felt a higher energy supporting me, metaphorically like floating in the sea waves (thanks to J.. for an actual experience too in the sea). Growing up as a neurotic child with many real life difficulties, I had never learned this kind of self-mastery. Neither was my profession famous yet for cultivating this.

However not every day was so easy. Some days went like:
Wishes rise like a wave,/ I surf them,/
With a prayer in my heart,/ I let them pass.
Here in your country, my city,/ across the oceans, the dark clouds loom/
I watch them come, no storms/ A clear sky, blue and white/ left behind,
I see them go./ Must be like those thoughts!

Some days I had to remind myself:
Rise rise.../ O fire in the belly/ Burning all desires,/ Longings, hopes and dreams,/ Plans of future, memories of past./ Every time it anchors in a corner of your heart/ Un-hook it slowly, respectfully/ Return it back./ Don't say, 'its just human'.../To ask for a little comfort, a home/ To return, a place to keep your head/ Down./ Just being human is too little,/ Your destiny to expand/ Not just a selected few/ But the entire creation/ your natural way to exist./ Connect beyond the limits/ of a body, of an identity./ Rise O soul arise...

The most joyful part in all this was my new found special intimacy with the immanent Divine, the sweet, dusky, beautiful one. There was a joy, a presence, a playfulness and fun, at times teasing him by calling him an autistic lover:
Hopelessly, increasingly,
Falling in love with
Endearing manners of
Seemingly self-absorbed
Barely communicative,
Unavailable, but still
Present, God!

There were some sweet and amusing experiences, from dreams to actual events, and the universe felt nurturing. Some moments were full of intense yearning for the Divine, for 'That' which is beyond me. There was an openness, a kind of strength, yet at the same time a lot of vulnerability, as if an ongoing peak experience. Some days it was hard to control my tears while walking on the roads, especially when deeply moved by the beauty of autumn. On one such day I made a long call to my mentor Dr. M.., only to burst into tears after saying 'hello'. Thank God he was there, for I had no other human being to reach out to share this weird painful joy, and still feel understood. For some time at least, I had the attitude of total self-offering to the Divine.
I also felt I needed a larger framework to fit in my experiences and a more expansive knowledge system that can widen my capacities to find answers and show me a higher path. I was ripe and ready to work in Indian Psychology.
Autumn red,
Bleeding color of destruction,
Before nature gets busy
In a new creation.
This autumn
A little more will shed,
Skin of memories - a little
Battered, a little faded.
No rusting chains cherished
I will drop the deadweight
Of desires & heartache.
Spread my branches,
Leap in madness.
Bonds no longer binding
Out of earth, I will pull my roots
And walk away.
This autumn
There will be lot more
Happening. Celebrate-
For me, I turn
a new Leaf.

In the end I must mention, this phase didn’t last forever. Gradually I returned to mundane, average living. By the time I landed back, my ego was re-gaining strength, our ideas for an applied Indian Psychology center did not work out, I fell sick with lung infection and for months had to stay under care of my parents. Even my long dreamt pilgrimage to Himalayan regions was of limited value, for the real journey, the real work is inside, ongoing, all the time. I felt challenged by people and circumstances around me, they still do.
Even when I let go of my control needs, a part of me resists or feels dejected about its usefulness. Living in the flow doesn't come easy.
But I have seen a higher possibility and ''mind once stretched by a new idea (or experience) never regains its original dimensions'' (O.W. Holmes).

Though there were a few more distinct phases of serendipity, including one which happened during this course and forced me to make this presentation. However I never figured out the full meaning of the events, neither did I get back in touch with him. I guess there was a soul-contract and I'm immensely grateful to him for much of my recent growth. I have found a deeper and more unconditional love and I’m at peace. I am also grateful to my mentors, friends and family for supporting me during this process.

I will end with a poetry by Khalil Gibran, on Love,

When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you, yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you, believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams, as the north wind lays waste the garden.
For even as love crowns you, so shall he crucify you.
Even as he is for your growth, so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.
Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked. He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness. He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God's sacred feast.
All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life's heart.

But if in your fear you would seek only love's peace and love's pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.


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