Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.
This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose…
…Describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty – describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember. If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place. And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attentions to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance. – And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.
― Rainer Maria Rilke
If you love everything.
If you hate everything.
If you do not know where to turn.
And you will turn,
Imagine there were no cracks in the universe.
Imagine that fit snugly together and had a that it was meant to be.
Imagine now that the opposite of that in actuality the opposite of that is happening.
A swirling mass of messy particles bumping into each other existing in all the places at once and simultaneously nowhere. Imagine.
By the End
By the end of this poem I will know what I am doing.
By the end of this poem you will know what I am doing.
- What does it mean to resist? When our head interferes with our heart, in our art, when our flow is interrupted, when there is disruption in our receptivity, we are resisting.
- Writing itself is resistance.
- I went to Barefoot College in Tilonia, one of the poorest villages in rural India. I saw puppets educating elders on matters of social justice and musicians educating children on social change.
- A kathak dancer, Mallika Sarabhai goes to villages all over India. She educates women on menstrual hygiene through theatre.
- I vomited on stage, an Aftertaste of my arrival in America. It was a play about the international experience.
- When I was seven, I wrote an angry letter to my grandfather when he wouldn’t listen. We cannot talk back, we need to respect our elders my culture preaches. I scrunched my letter into a ball and threw it at him. He threw it out of the window.
- I spoke about reclaiming my voice, my accent at Naropa.
- My parents challenge customer care representatives everytime they answer the phone. My parents’ accent “confuses them”. Dear America, must you only understand the norm?
- “What is the relevance of writing? Will it get you a job?” my father said.
- I speak perfect English. Are you waiting for me to talk in Hindi, will that make me more exotic? Will that make my activism special? Chutiye saale
- Two Indian Americans speak about the terror attacks in a school in Peshawar in broken Hindi at a silent vigil. My friend from Pakistan walks out. Must we always voice that which we don’t understand?
- Must we always have a cause to resist?
- Can’t we just lie down on the grass and enjoy this sunny day?
- Please don’t call my approach radical.
Today my aunt asked me to change my home address from India to New Jersey on my resume for a job at Chipotle.
My cousin said, “My appetite after coming to USA has increased. I can finish an entire rice bowl at Chipotle.”
Assimilation has varied forms.
The fault with radical activism of any sort is that it is radical. It is fierce; it is aggressive and highly critical. Its proponents are a bulldozer, squashing you with their countless terminologies and dismissing you at the slightest hint of ignorance. It is the language of war and subdued violence, erupting like a volcano at the slightest provocation. While the use of activism to bring about social change and justice is validated, the use of aggression to make marginalized voices heard is not. Agreed, that people of queer identities or color face discrimination on a micro level—as an Indian studying in one of the finest liberal arts schools in the United States, I can safely say that the college itself is not so liberal. Despite its open dialogs and safe spaces of discussion about race, color, sexual identities, it displays ignorance at the most fundamental level. Racism, a vehemently opposed concept here, doesn’t cease to exist as my fellow classmates hesitate; trying to place my accent and nationality before answering my simple questions. I have been the third wheel way too often during group conversations with my American friends—people forgetting to ask for my opinion on current topics or seemingly forgetting that I exist in the group eating dinner together. My conversations with the Indian diaspora in America consist of the latest Bollywood movie and reminiscences of the ways in which Indian food is more flavorful than that of America, as if the beginning and end of my knowledge spans only India. While writing and speaking about these issues deeply upsets me, I also realize that this is not a reason to lash out in anger at anyone who says, “Oh, are you from India? I know all about it, I have seen Slumdog Millionare!” or “How do you speak such good English?”
The reason why contemporary activism fails to make an impact on most occasions is because it polarizes, it strengthens the other as the activist struggling to be heard uses passion fueled hate. As an informed and educated citizen of this world, it becomes my duty as much as my audience’s to recognize the ignorance that exists in both parties. If their knowledge of India does not go beyond Slumdog Millionare, my knowledge of America does not go beyond popular TV shows such as Friends and How I Met Your Mother (this was only until I became a student in the United States). If my impatience stems from their blatant ignorance, their discrimination might stem from misinformation via film and other popular media. In order to truly connect and harmonize both worlds, I need an activism that uses the language of love and connection. One that does not divide, but one that joins. One that does not polarize but one that recognizes the other as an extension of oneself. One that does not vehemently dismiss but one that includes and gently educates. The idea of the other being separate from ourselves arises mainly from the Western individualistic society where the “I” is placed above everything and everyone else; it chooses to defend at the first signs of attack. This is where the socialistic model of society from the East can be useful.
Using this socialistic model, which stresses on the importance of connections and strength of interpersonal relations, we realize that at the end of the day we are all humans, all frail creatures looking for the same thing- love. Whether it is the queer Black activist in Boston or the white American heterosexual in New York, both are searching for the same thing- ears that listen and hearts that understand. The term “open dialog” will only live up to its meaning when both come together from a space of curiosity, of wanting to learn and educate themselves and the other on the peculiarities of their own human existence. The “safe spaces” will only begin to take shape when there is patience, kindness and empathy in the hearts of those who watch Slumdog Millionare and Friends. When we begin to recognize that connections and the frailties that bind us, our polarities cease to exist, the You versus I and the Them versus Us crumble, giving way to We. Thus, the next time someone misreads your identity, take a step back and a deep breath; realize: I am just another You.
Meditation is hard. It is not about sitting down as a way of de stressing. It does things, it changes your life. It makes you take actions that mark the death of the regular habitual part of you. For instance, you begin to notice the noise that you surround yourself with- your phone, your laptop, your social media, specially Facebook; you notice the effort attention seeking demands- constantly being under pressure of having to look good, having to impress, having to better yourself and being under the radar at all times. Attention seeking doesn’t signify a bloated ego nor does it denote a crime committed solely by movie stars and the media. It is human and it is what each of us do, on a daily basis- going through multiple romantic partners as we seek validation from one to the next, taking up multiple projects to decorate our resumes, constantly pleasing others to fit into their model of perfection, and always needing to be perfect, right, attractive and successful. While all of this sounds familiar and not necessarily bad, the effects that attention seeking has on our psyche are downright violent and toxic.
Attention seeking becomes like a pleasure inducing drug we all chase, going after the next big dose when the small dose ceases to please us. We are all drunk on the idea that attention and only attention can heal us. Only that final seal of approval from the girl/boy will make us complete, only having that PhD will make us good human beings. I talk about meditation often these days because of the ways it is gradually but noticeably starting to impact my life. It makes me realize the need to support the growing quiet in myself. I recently had to let go of an amazing service project I was appointed leader of to spend more time with myself. I had to cut down on the number of classes I wanted to take to focus only the ones I really wanted to study. I had to say no to myself over and over again when the desire to talk to an ex arose only to save myself from the additional pain and toxicity the interaction would bring. I had to stand up for myself during a heated interaction with my roommate. I had to acknowledge how mentally violent I was being with myself while I kept running from one thing on my to do list to another. I had to stop talking to a friend only when I needed attention. While all of this sounds impressive, it was no mean task. It took a lot of reflection, tears and letting go. It took a lot of painful nights. Starting to let go of the need for attention and validation has certainly not made others happy in my life, but has given me more peace. It has allowed me to make mistakes; it has given me the liberty to be imperfect. It has made me feel more comfortable in my shoes and above all, it has given me space to breathe.
It’s self-full to put yourself first, to be as good as possible, to take care of you, to keep you whole and healthy. You want your cup to be full. ‘My cup runneth over.’ What comes out of the cup is for y’all. What’s in the cup is mine.- Iyanla Vanzant
I want to emphasize on the violence involved in the warrior approach that most survivor tales take on, after the death of a loved one, loss, or a break up. There is often implied aggression in the survivor tales we see being portrayed time and again in the movies, songs and other popular media. In a sort of Bildungsroman, the protagonist must go through the break up/loss to come out with a cleaner character, he/she needs to take on an approach of that of a warrior where he/she is taking charge and control of his/her life. It is because our society discourages failure. The helplessness we so often seek to combat catches up with us in the end. The aggression or the hatred stemming from the break up is often channelized into a hardened personality, one that of a “tough” individual who goes about life in an almost superhero way. The portrayal of these characters, specially females, overly aggressive “radical” feminists shows the assertion of anger at a very core level; an escapist attitude from the ultimate helplessness that we all want to avoid. We don’t like being helpless, we want to be bigger than our problems, we want to tackle life, and we want to be in charge. All this war terminology creates an armor that not only hardens, but also defeats the individual. At a core level, our soul is being crushed.
The true essence of the soul is not that of enmity, struggle or combat, but that of a relaxed surrender to the realization that we are all powerless in this grand orchestra of life. It is due to my continued practice of meditation that disallows any hardening; I have come to realize that struggle is not the way to achieve personal growth and change. That we do not own the powers to overcome every situation, that things happen in their own time, that love does not disappear easily despite a bad break up, and that we will make mistakes repeatedly. The marginalization of failure, of reality is one problem that must not be undermined. You are very likely to wake up with an aching heart or worse still, a sleepless night tomorrow. You will probably be quicker in doling out “I love yous” to your lovers than to your parents. You might skip a day in your exercise regime. Life is not always rosy and successful. We are creatures of comfort and ease and are highly unlikely to go through a character arc overnight. Sitting with failure is hard, when all you want to do is to rip out someone’s head or maybe even yours. It is harder to admit that you are powerless. But it is only through surrender to this failure that we learn to recognize the true strength in ourselves and emerge as the compassionate, loving, softhearted beings that we really are.
The perfect recipe for a Saturday night, I thought as I walked back to my dorm. A certain heaviness weighed me down, a certain something I couldn’t pinpoint. My back tingled, announcing the presence of a building ache.
I walked on, absorbed in my beauty and silence- crisp, beautiful and palpable.
I felt Nature cradling me; the space around my body felt supported.
I was supported.
My bed felt comfortable.
I was safe.
I was with silence, in silence.
There were signs; they were subtle, but visible. Walking home one night under the stars I realized I had fallen in love.
I feel your love surrounding me like a blanket, keeping me warm. Hold me close, lover; for when the wind blows your blanket away, I do not wish to face my wounds that you keep so lovingly hidden.
I am flawed, lover. Terribly and terrifyingly. In moments of despair I see my ugliness, my extraordinary ordinariness and my darkness and I run. I run for life. I do not wish to see these monsters. I want to be hidden safe and sound in the blanket of your warmth, your touch, your taste and your smell.
Yet, despite the love, I tremble. From beneath my toes to the tip of my fingers, I feel fear, gripping and raw, tunneling into my heart. I see demons, terrible, dark and menacing, threatening to kill.
And I give in.
There is only so much time before my fault lines show again and divide the ground on which you and I stand. There is only so much time before I shiver, holding your blanket close one last time. There is only so much time before I can take solace in three words that you so incessantly utter every day and every night. There is only so much time before the trembling begins again.
I need to let go of your blanket lover. I must go and spiral into the incoherence of my tunnel.
And so I have.
I have held my misery and let it rain stones till I sat helpless and vacant, with tears as my only companions. I have let pain claw into the crevices of my being, stretching me apart and miraculously back together again. I have been touched by the center of my sorrow in the naked solitude of the night and have found myself still alive, breathing and clutching at the pouch of my heart.
In the midst of it all, I can feel a noise: a gentle knitting, a weaving of threads that dissolve and mold into each other, a soft whispering, a reminder, that joy stands at the threshold of my door. I feel the threads taking a form, a form so utterly unique that I can call it mine.
I am building my blanket, lover. I am learning to walk. I am learning to see the beauty in your face, in your presence, in your voice and in your being. Above all that, I am learning to see the beauty in me.
Stand at your window. Nonchalantly notice the greenness of the tree leaves and observe your windowsill. Let your eyes wander till they settle on a speckled red flower. Observe its yellow markings and lose yourself in marvel. Feel the stillness surrounding the trees surround you and hold it in your hands. Look at it- its overwhelming presence, its nauseating fear, its piercing clarity- feel the gentle thud of your heartbeat pounding against your chest in synchronicity with the trees’ movements. Realize that the trees breathe too. Feel connected.
Hold a rabbit in your hand. Feel its heartbeat running a million miles a minute, notice the gaping terror in its eyes, feel its pulsating clock reverberating with the rush of your veins and realize you hold life.
Fight with your mother. Know that the fear in her eyes brings tears in yours and turn away. Become numb, stoic and insensitive. Clench your insides and draw yourself into a shell. Bend over and internally release the silent conflicts. Let them play havoc in your heart. Feel the anger shaking within making no effort to release without.
Hug a lover. Feel the invitation of his heart stretch itself wide enough to make room for you and feel welcomed. Feel the throbbing vulnerability of his being as he kisses you. Feel loved.
Lie awake at night. Watch your heart, twisted, clenched, and dirty, suspended in mid air and hear its blaring conflict. Ponder over your miseries and your need for fervid self annihilation and know that you are gloriously, infuriatingly and inevitably human.