Baby Steps….

The daily newspapers bring nothing but depression to the reader these days and it is difficult to shake off the sense of unhappiness which is the aftermath. So like any good escapist, I do my best to avoid reading the Times of India, flung to the doorstep each morning by the newspaperman.

I pretend that there is nothing wrong with the little urban cocoon that I inhabit.

But on some days, it becomes difficult to continue being an escapist.

The other day,  the newspaper carries a story about a fourteen-year old girl, who was sold into prostitution by her parents, because apparently, they had no other means to subsist. It is reported that she was raped by eight men in a single night, four of whom were students of an unnamed Engineering College. This happened in no godforsaken hinterland of India, but  in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, the Indian city I live in.

It is all the more shocking because Ahmedabad had always been a conservative city; ancient and graceful.

The same edition also carries more “cheerful” news of an old woman being clobbered to death at her home by thieves who then stole her gold ornaments, a refinery fire- carefully edited, I am sure, regarding the number of casualties, a staged suicide of a young woman, the results of a survey which says that  a whopping 41% of Indian women face violence of some sort before they turn eighteen and details of arrests at a con call center, here in Ahmedabad, from where calls were placed to unsuspecting  Americans who had defaulted on their loan paybacks.

All this is too close for comfort. And the International news is yet to be read!

I wonder what has happened to that voice, that small, still inner voice, clearly distinguishing right from wrong, truth from falsehood, which most of us know as our conscience. How has it been silenced on such a grand scale? Has it been so consistently ignored that it has lost heart and has fallen silent?

Most people shrug and go on with their ordinary everyday lives. So did I once; but now, it is becoming more and more impossible to ignore the unhappiness, sorrow and callousness happening all around .

There is not much that one person of no particular significance can do; but there is indeed something- mindfulness and meditation.

I hold all these wounded, wronged people and our Great Mother Earth, the most wounded of all- in my thoughts. And sit on the  olive green mat and breathe. And watch the monkey mind- see it get bored, run from one disjointed thought to the next, replay scenarios, prepare sarcastic come-backs, worry about someone’s silence or someone else’s words…. And then gently bring it back to the breath. And try to stay in Metta- Loving Kindness- radiating it to all in need.

No hermit in the Himalayas this; just an ordinary  householder, mired in Samsara, with all the associated householder worries. Yet, trying with baby steps to practise mindfulness in action, it feels like coming home; it feels like living and not just existing.

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(Image courtesy: Pixabay)

Rolling out rotis on the floured wooden board, a daily and mundane task, I see the board as if for the first time. It is carved from a single block of teak wood, the trunk maybe, and notice the patterns of the wood and watch the slim rolling pin go back and forth, back and forth, in my hands. Washing and chopping vegetables, I observe their form, texture and scent and feel the steel knife cutting them into fine, coarse, large or small pieces, depending on what is being cooked for the day.

I make it into a ritual, holding in my heart, with gratitude, the individuals whose efforts have gone into the preparation of this meal.

Sorting the bitter Fenugreek leaves, picking the leaves from their stalks, I am amazed by their symmetry, nothing short of divine; the pattern in which the leaves grow is identical in each stem. And the same holds good for the fresh Coriander and Mint leaves too, which release their scent  first in the small kitchen and then to the entire house…

It is not easy, the mind has a thousand more interesting things to which it wants to attach itself.

While washing up the vessels piled in the sink. I try to see them individually; the old cast iron, round bottomed wok, one of the  legacies of the trade relations that the Chinese had with my part of the world more than six hundred years ago, [this cast iron wok is an indispensable component of the kitchen of any Kerala woman; manufactured locally, but still known by its ancient name- Cheena- Chatti, (Chinese Vessel). It has two more cousins in our language;  Cheena Bharani (Chinese jar) and Cheena Vala (Chinese fishing net)], the dented, temperamental stainless steel pressure cooker, the Corelle bowls, with bluebells winding endlessly around them…

This exercise, it anchors the mind in the present moment- briefly!

But the monkey mind is quite the expert in giving the slip. Yet, I am glad that some progress has been made.

This is quite open to criticism; that the world is not going to suddenly turn into a better place, just because a few people may pray, practise mindfulness or sit meditating randomly.

But just consider the possibility- all these practices refine the self and transform us into more aware individuals. They make it easier for us to stay in kindness, to understand and stay in integrity, to recognise the Divine in every being and to be honest- both to our own selves as well as others.

Reading the mystic, Eknath Easwaran, I remember being introduced to three questions  which need to be asked to the Self before we speak- Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?

Imagine how different a place the world would be if there were to be if a critical mass of people were to practise Metta and mindfulnes? And were kinder to each other? And if that small, still, silent voice was audible again in each human heart?

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16 thoughts on “Baby Steps….

  1. Sylvia, it is horrifying news and it’s no wonder that reading such things leads to despair, but I love the way you have chosen to deal with the horrors, by concentrating on mindfulness and kindness. Your descriptions of mindfulness while doing the chores is like poetry.

    • Thank you, dear Andrea!
      It really makes me despair- the news that gets reported in our world. Surely there must be stories of generosity, kindness, love? Wonder why they do not find space?
      it passes my understanding how anyone would really want to read all this negativity!

  2. malvika7 says:

    Not everyone might have that little voice within them, and even if they did, not everyone might recognize it. Maybe those people were born and raised that way, or maybe something happened to them during the course of time that embittered them. We can only guess, as we meditate and hope. But this is a beautiful piece 🙂

  3. Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Such a good thing to ask ourselves before we speak. And another benefit of mindfulness – getting pleasure out of mundane things. Thanks for this post, Sylvia!

    • Thank you, Mick. Any spoken word should ideally pass these three tests, in that order.

      I do not remember if Mr. Easwaran (An English prof in a US University; not the conventional picture of an Indian “holy” man; but a wonderful spiritual teacher, without the external trappings) was quoting some sage or if it was his own thought. Whichever way, a valuable insight!

  4. Being the eternal (and may be foolish) optimist, I beleive baby steps count. In fact though at times I feel totally down and out reading such news or witnessing extreme ugliness of human nature, my faith in humanity gets restored soon by some evidences of goodness, however small those may be.

  5. Sylvia, you write beautifully and the beauty of your personality shines through in each word. Keep it up!

    I must say that I have never practised any form of meditation: but I also believe that baby steps count, like the squirrel who contributed to building the causeway across the ocean in Ramayana.

    As for keeping your peace of mind, I always keep in mind the quote by Joseph Campbell.

    “The world is a mess. It always was, and always will be. It’s perfect. There’s nothing we can do about it. The only thing that we can do is put our lives in order.”

    This is the good doctor’s tongue-in-cheek way of saying that if everybody practised it, the world would indeed be a better place.

    Keep on being the fantastic person that you are.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words. Sometimes the world seems such a hopeless place- then I remind myself that there is a divine plan which may be beyond an ordinary human comprehension.
      Meditation has many benefits; please try to have a look. (I am no expert- just a beginner). A simple focus on the breath is good for starters.
      Thank you for the Joseph campbell quote too- it is a comforting thought.

  6. Half way around the planet , another woman sits in meditation and also hopes that her metta practice will bring some goodness and sense to the world. I liked reading all the things you described in this posting, Sylvia. Our world, both near and far, has become a far more dangerous and incomprehensible place in which to live, but there is always hope, isn’t there? May you be safe inside and out, and may you walk in loving kindness.

    • Thank you, Mary!
      Please forgive the lateness of my reply; it was a busy time and today I am catching up.
      It is strange, is it not, how we resonate with like minded people who live miles, even continents, apart? And to think that the majority of people in our world would still identify themselves with people of their own country/religion/class/colour!

      May you be safe and happy too, Mary. Much love..blessings!

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