Feeding the soul

I have come to realise that feeding the soul and feeding the body are very closely linked. Living in Asia, eating the wrong thing can have disastrous consequences. Sometimes such things are triggered by unforeseeable factors in the environment, and they can’t be predicted. But whenever I face problems related to food and eating, it always reminds me of the same thing: food is sacred. If you treat it that way.

I used to eat meat and fish, but became a vegetarian some years ago after feeling very disturbed about the kind of meat I was eating. Now I see that being vegetarian is not enough. It’s about the way we regard food. If it is prepared with love, care and with consideration/gratitude for Mother Nature, then it will sustain us. If it is made carelessly, hatefully, angrily, and eaten with haste or greed, then it could wreak havoc.

Sometimes it’s too late – you already consumed the wrong thing – and your system is acting against you. Sometimes you ate the right things but something went wrong, perhaps you got stressed or there was a sudden climate change which made you ill. Another thing I’ve learned is that the border between comfort and discomfort is a spiritual exercise. I would certainly not recommend self-punishment in any way, that’s not what I mean. Self-punishment is calculated and dishonours Mother Nature’s role in balancing things. Facing pain and pleasure as part of life shows acceptance of nature and resilience of the spirit to become strong, to survive. What I mean is that when life puts you in difficulty, you have to call upon all your resources to deal with it. And in dealing with it, you experience life as a vital force, here and now.

So, I am going to try and eat foods in a way that will feed my soul, and if something makes me react badly, then I will deal with it in the knowledge that ‘every cloud has a silver lining’, and this temporary pain will reveal the resilience of my spirit to carry on, for the spirit is imperishable.

What is Satan?

Satan only exists in relation to God. Everything in the Bible is allegorical: a figurative, metaphorical representation of humanity’s fundamental understandings of life. ‘In the beginning was the word and the word was God.’ There was nothing else; everything was merged into God, even the potential for Satan to exist was within God. The concept of mankind was within God. All potential division and opposition was unified in God. Everything was merged into Source, in perfect union.

When creation took place, everything divided into contrasting, relative realities. All the animals, different from each other, male and female. Mankind also had opposition (but man being created FIRST and woman coming from his rib, I think, is just an attempt at subjugation and total human error in the rest of the allegorical bible story). The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil represents the adventure into this elusive reality of opposition, of pain and pleasure, dark and light, love and hate. The opposite of unification, of truth, of love, is selfishness, ego, arrogance. If God is the personification of love, then Satan is the personification of hate. It is a force on earth which keeps us wrapped up in selfishness and prevents us from feeling unity and compassion with the rest of creation. It’s all part of the same system. Basically, Satan is ignorance of our higher self. And ignorance can be dispelled by knowledge.

Social ethics

Sometimes, the morality of certain people or societies perplexes or troubles me. This is because I honestly believe that social ethics are codes of behaviour which have been created by people to make life simpler for themselves. If we actually think about social ‘rules’, they don’t all make sense and they largely promote ideas of ownership (people in power protecting their possessions). Some of these codes translate into individualistic notions like, ‘keep out of my space’, ‘this is mine and you can’t touch it’ etc. We get married and think of our other half as another possession, which is why it’s so important for us to make sure s/he does not care for anyone but us. We see how damaging this ego-centric system is only when it’s too late: when people get old and they have no one to care for them because they kept everyone at a distance, or when a person dies and no one realises they’ve gone.

I have just had a debate with a friend about social ethics versus ‘natural morality’. I think that natural morality is doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, because basically, whatever you give out will return to you in some way. But my friend believes that the little codes of behaviour are really important, like the code of privacy which means you should never pry into another’s affairs (harmless curiosity can become harmful sometimes, I guess), or the code of etiquette which means you should always ask the person ‘in charge’ before you do something, even if you know what their answer would be. These are certainly cultural codes, but they have become so ingrained that in our society we are outraged if someone reads our personal e-mails; we have so many secrets and we think they could be used against us. All of this despite the fact that many of our e-mails are checked by certain organisations, without us knowing. They do it because they don’t trust us, and we despise such voyeurism because we don’t trust them. So, really, some social ethics are necessary because we live in a society without trust. That’s why morality is so complicated. How do you know if something you did is REALLY wrong, or if it’s just a little bit wrong? I think it comes down to the ‘Harm Factor’: could the action harm someone? If the answer is no, then it is likely to be, at the most, a bit wrong. If you INTENTIONALLY harm someone then it’s very wrong.

Sometimes, you are not the best person to judge the harm factor…

The view from my window

When I first moved into this apartment, I immediately noticed the view from the living room. Up on the third floor, the apartment overlooks a busy Indian road, bustling with people, cars and auto rickshaws. Looking past the road, one notices a truly lustrous row of trees: coconut trees, neem trees, banana trees. The delightful mixture of colour is a feast for the eyes.

Everyday, I sit facing this view, either having my dinner, talking to my partner, writing, reading, watching TV or listening to music. Sometimes I just sit here, staring into space and daydreaming.

Just today, I was staring out at the trees thinking about things I need to do for work, when it hit me: I have been taking this spectacular view totally for granted. Seeing the same lovely image everyday, its beauty has become something regular. I closed my eyes and reopened them. That same initial wonder I felt when I first saw the trees entered my perception once again.

Now, this is only with a view from my window, but how many other things could I be taking for granted right now? There are so many amazing visions, moments, people, things… We really have to renew our vision every once in a while to appreciate what we have.

Don’t lose the magic

We create reality on so many levels, but how can we know what is actually real? Are our thoughts, perceptions, feelings, intuitions actually real? If we can see something, taste it, smell it, touch it, hear it, does that mean it’s real? What if what we can see or hear cannot be seen or heard by others? Usually we define reality through collective perception, but what if the collective cannot perceive something which we perceive very strongly – are they blind or are we mad? We give validity to collective opinion, but is this correct?

I think that it is necessary to rely on the collective to define everyday reality because the collective is what keeps society going. But I think that this is something we need to do for convenience, not something which defines reality. I don’t believe in reality, or to put it another way, I believe in multiple realities. I believe that reality and illusion are not opposites, they are part of the same system which creates experiences. These experiences are relative and they come from personal perception. For instance, when we are children our parents look very big to us, but once we grow they look much smaller. Our perception changes according to our relative position. Sometimes we take collective reality so much for granted that we STOP QUESTIONING. We think ‘that’s just the way things are’. We lose the magic of being alive. We forget that reality is elusive and personal, not rigid and enforced. We lose our imagination, our freedom.

This is a very sad fact. Sometimes it takes a visionary to remind us of our magical life, to show us that we are capable of creating wonderful dreams and transforming them into everyday ‘reality’. Such visionaries have a versatile mind which can see beyond limited ways of understanding reality. They see beyond relative reality in order to search for something enduring, something ABSOLUTE, something which never changes. And sometimes, they find that absolute reality, and they spread the word about something wonderful which connects us all in a bond of enduring love.  But we take that message and often do not understand how to appreciate the wonder of it. We feel the power of God’s message in the messenger’s words, but we don’t know how to keep it alive in our everyday worlds, so we create a system for that message, we make a religion, we make a doctrine. In trying to solidify the message of God, we make it into something rigid, which is exactly what the messenger was trying to free us from. We create commandments and we say that the messenger gave us these ‘rules’ to follow. We become followers, when the messenger wanted us to be the leaders of our own wondrous reality. And that’s when the magic is lost.

Reading The Namesake

Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, The Namesake, has been appreciated by desis (Indians) and non-desis alike, to the extent that it has been made into a film in India and appreciated worldwide. The book deals with the cultural situation of first generation and second generation Indians in foreign countries, in this case America. I am in a bit of a strange situation when it comes to cultural categories, as I am neither a first nor a second generation Indian… I am somewhere in between, having been born in India and having grown up in the west (something like a 1.5 generation migrant). Stranger still is the fact that, after living in England, making friends there, graduating from college there, getting married there and having a home there, I have revisited my motherland after all these years. My partner and I are currently working in India for a couple of years… My husband is in the second generation migrant category, and we speak to each other in English (with British accents), he watches the football, we eat a mixture of western and Indian food at home, we don’t practise the Hindu rituals our parents practise and we wear mostly western clothes. So, that’s my situation as I begin reading The Namesake

The book begins with an account of a Bengali couple’s journey to the USA, the wife’s (Ashima’s) sense of alienation as she learns to accept her distance from her family, the lack of authentic Indian food, the cold climate and the sense of being different from those around her. The couple have two children, Gogol and Sonia. The story centres around Gogol’s experience. He hates his name, which was given to him as a pet name but which stuck as his ‘outside’ name. He does not initially know that his father gave him this name because he had been reading a book by Nikolai Gogol when he experienced a serious train accident; waving the book from below the wreckage was the act that allowed him to be seen and rescued. Gogol later changes his name to Nikhil, a name his father had wanted him to adopt for school, but which he had not liked as an infant. The act of naming becomes integral to the book’s exploration of cultural identity. Unlike his mother, Gogol embraces Amercian culture effortlessly, to the extent that he dismisses and discards his Indian identity. He has premarital relationships, goes out with friends and only engages with the rituals of his childhood – of speaking Bengali, attending ‘pujos’ and eating mostly Indian food – when he visits his parents. He visits his parents less and less as he grows independent, preferring his separation from them. This is until his father dies suddenly, when his perspective begins to change. As if in retaliation to his ‘foreignness’ from his parents and from his white American friends, he marries an American-Bengali like himself. But the marriage fails because the couple cannot maintain a sense of connection with each other; Gogol’s wife begins an affair with a man who has the same intellectual interests as her, and Gogol eventually finds out.

The book ends at the point Ashima, Gogol’s mother, is about to return to India to enjoy her retirement. She plans to divide her remaining time between India and America. Sonia is about to get married to an American man who Ashima knows will make her daughter happy. The story is simple but deeply moving, showing the struggle of those who start a life in a foreign country whilst being unable to fully let go of their own cultures and customs. It also shows the more subtle pain of the second generation immigrant, who feels divided between two identities.

What struck me most about the book was that things I thought were specific to my own experience of growing up are actually typical migrant experiences. Such as the loud Indian get-togethers Gogol’s parents have, and his mother’s fussing. It seems to me that the book is ultimately trying to say that however important culture may be in shaping our experiences, it is not the thing which makes us who we are inside. Gogol and his Indian wife have the same cultural experience, but their personalities do not complement. Ashima builds her life around her Bengali community, but when she grows older she realises that America has also become her home, and she cares about her American friends at the library where she works.

The saddest thing about the book is that it is a reminder of cultural fragmentation. People living far from their families and friends in pursuit of new opportunities. But in such a global situation, it becomes even more important to stay connected with loved ones and to be open to unlikely friendships.

Unconditional love

Unconditional love means to love someone regardless of their actions, words or behaviour. You love them no matter what. Usually we love people based on qualities they display or what they give us. We become strongly attached to people for various reasons and we call that love.

I think that saints (very deeply spiritual people who have come close to God) have the ability to see God in everyone. They can practise universal unconditional love. But for the ordinary human being, unconditional love is also possible. This type of unconditional love is not universally applied because we cannot see that deeply. It is a specific, contextualised love which comes from knowing a person through and through. We develop unconditional love for someone whom we feel very closely connected to.

It’s the way a mother feels towards her child. A couple may reach this place of unconditional love over time. This type of genuine, accepting, forgiving, embracing love is totally contrary to the illusionary romantic love we see in films. That kind of love is more about the ego, or what we want to get from another person. Unconditional love is selfless, but still strong and assertive. It reaches out to the other person. It has courage, stability and faith. Even if someone thinks that they are ‘unworthy’ of love for various things they have done, crimes they may have committed, through the eyes of unconditional love, that person has the ability to redeem themselves.