The beauty of silence

There is constant noise in the world around us. And then there is constant noise inside us too: the mind which does not stop. If you’re like most people, you’ll notice your mind is making judgements about everything. Before you even realise it, the mind has flown to this place and that, and you’re definitely not in control of where it goes.

Sometimes the noise outside is a comfort. It distracts us from ourselves, and it stops us having to face our own thoughts. Sometimes we contribute to the noise by talking and judging, gossiping without even thinking about what we are saying. At night, everything comes back to us in our solitude and we might find it difficult to truly rest. This is the nature of the adult human mind.

Very young children don’t have the words and ideas to make constant judgements in their minds; they tend to live from moment to moment. They are more at peace with themselves, but they are prey to the outside noise too, and they become restless living in a restless world.

For our own mental health and for that of our communities, it’s important to learn both silence within and silence without. This does not mean stopping communication; it means deepening our ability to communicate so that fewer words and gestures can achieve more expression. There is time to speak and reveal, and also time to be silent and observe without judgement.

Silence is beautiful because it allows us to see things we might have missed. There are patterns in nature which we can observe in silence. Love communicated without words is one of the most powerful expressions of silence.

It’s hard to change habits. The habits of judging, gossiping, getting irritable and complaining have become second nature to a lot of us. But people can change the way their minds work, with repeated practice. Even ten minutes a day observing thoughts as they come, and then letting them go is enough to give you an idea of how your mind works. And then gradually, thoughts will pass more slowly and sitting in silent observation will become more pleasurable.

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Being vegetarian

Vegetables
As a young child, I used to eat all kinds of meat and fish. In fact, I don’t even like to mention some of the kinds of meat that I happily ate. But as the years wore on, I began questioning meat on every level. Now I’ve been 100% vegetarian for about eleven years.

I honestly don’t know why meat began bothering me in the first place. I used to love the taste, but at around age seven, I began disliking the flavour. After that, I began associating meat with the act of killing and bloodshed. A lot of people argue that it’s natural for humans to be omnivores, but I feel we’ve reached a state of consciousness in which what we eat is a choice, not just an instinct. It may feel ‘natural’ to start a fight with someone or to be promiscuous, but we make conscious decisions which instincts we should follow through with – that’s what makes us responsible individuals and allows societies to progress. Even primitive societies display such traits of consciousness – it’s the hallmark of human evolution. I think being vegetarian is an important choice, both for the individual and for the ecological systems we contribute to. Animals live on instinct, but in a way which is in sync with nature. The way in which we consume meat these days is definitely not in sync with nature.

The meat industry keeps and produces livestock in a very ecologically-unfriendly way just in order to make money. The natural balances of the food chain are disrupted and the proliferation of diseases becomes much higher. I realise that vegetables are grown in artificial ways too, and that there are now options to buy organic meat, but despite all this, the risks of producing meat are always less natural and more detrimental in terms of self-sufficiency, the environment and individual health. A lot of people think that vegetarians miss out on vital food elements, specially protein. But this is simply not true if someone follows a balanced diet. For all these reasons, I think it’s worth being vegetarian.

Where to live – east or west?

My husband and I have been living in India for over two years now. After being settled in the UK, we relocated to the east for work reasons. Now we’re about to have a baby, I’ve been thinking a lot about which society is best to settle in – the east or the west?

Our background is that we’re both British Indian (Indian origin but were brought up in the UK when our parents emigrated there for their careers). Now our parents are retired and resettled in India, which is an unusual trend even today (migrating back to the homeland after 30 years working and living abroad). My husband was born in the UK and I was born in India; his family is originally South Indian and mine North Indian – but apart from those differences, we have a very similar cultural identity. We were raised in a British society, with British friends and pastimes, but our family life was Indian. As a result, we’ve become very mixed in our cultural outlook, and open to living in different societies.

There are so many considerations when it comes to deciding where to live. One is work and finances, then there’s the environment, social values, education, family life and, the all-important, everyday lifestyle. In almost every category, the west has a more established infrastructure which we find easier to live with, but then again in every category, the east offers more variety and unpredictability which makes life more exciting. In terms of health and safety, environmental awareness, education, I prefer the west’s sense of order. But our family is now mainly in the east, so social values and everyday lifestyle are better for us in India right now. I also like the fact that the sun comes out everyday, as it does have an uplifting effect. It’s a very difficult decision between logic and emotion (west=logic, east=emotion).

To some extent, as the recession looms, the decision is not entirely up to us. We’ll have to consider the work situation at the end of the year and that will be one of the priorities for where to settle. I think raising a child in a safe and secure environment is important, but a bit of unpredictability and a richer family life are important too.

What India means to me

Map of India

I have developed a very strange relationship with my motherland.

I was born in India, but my parents took me to the UK when I was five years old. They tried to come back and settle in their homeland twice during my childhood, but it never worked. They were absorbed in their medical careers, which required them to be in the UK.

My sister and I spent a couple of brief school years in India, looked after by grandmothers and other relatives while my parents went back and forth between continents, trying to manage work and family life. For both my sister and me, India was our first home, our native country, undisputedly. As a young child who had known no other territory, ‘Mr India’ was my favourite film. But gradually, everything I took for granted as my natural identity became questionable.

As I struggled and succeeded to learn British English in London, my grip on Hindi began to falter. As I became accustomed to my friends’ ways of being and doing things, the memories of my childhood home began to fade. Those brief spells in which we tried to come back to India were like a temporary reawakening – a door to the past that would open and pour its wisdom into me for a short time before shutting again. My relatives thought I had become ‘angrez’, even thought I hardly thought of myself that way. In India. I became ‘different’, and in the UK, I was ‘different’ too.

So now, years later as I write this, I am very aware of what India represents to me. It’s more than just an idea; it’s a reality that I feel everyday. It’s huge and complex, something that I won’t ever be able to explain fully. Every time I feel a sense of ‘Indianness’, I am aware there is a ‘Britishness’ which rests uncomfortably alongside this. After all, the countries struggled against each other historically, precisely because their identities could not integrate fully with each other.

Whenever I am in India, it’s tempting to see stereotypes all around me: spiritualists, poverty, chaos, consumerism. Only when I actually talk to people personally – the rickshaw wallahs, relatives and their neighbours, dry-cleaners and taxi drivers – I see the reality behind the overpowering image of India. The authenticity of other people’s cultural behaviour allows me to see what it means to be Indian.

Despite this feeling of identification, I disagree with the concept of national identity (the idea that an individual can be defined by which country they come from). I see my identity as drawing from, yet separate from, nationality and culture. What I understand about India is cultural rather than political, although I’m aware that there is a connection between culture and politics which cannot be ignored. Even the naming of a country is political and represents a territorial division.