The Scarf (short story by Nikki Hallur)

The Scarf

 

Germaine Baxter wrapped her coat around herself, missing the feel of the red silk scarf she’d lost on the tube. London was far too large to hope that she’d ever find it again. It had been a Christmas gift from her mother, which made her regret losing it even more. It was not easy to replace either, coming from a unique artisan’s shop in Cairo, where her mother had recently had a holiday with her second husband, David, who was now Germaine’s extremely wealthy step-father.

Germaine was happy for her mother, who had raised her almost alone after her father lost his life in the line of duty as an army official. They were very close because there was no one else in their extended family living nearby, and no siblings or cousins that Germaine had spent very much time with. Germaine and her mother had been financially provided for through her father’s legacy, so they had chosen to stay in London where Germaine could attend some of the country’s best educational institutions, whilst most of her parents’ families remained in the rural parts of south east England, where her parents had met. The scarf her mother had given her at Christmas was a visual reminder of how much her mother had given her, and how loved she had felt as a child. Apart from its particular silken texture, it had a pattern embroidered thinly into its borders. It felt warm but not stifling, beautiful, luxurious and meaningful around her neck.  When Germaine had mentioned the loss of the scarf to her mother on the phone, she had received the sort of answer she expected to receive. “Don’t worry, darling,” assured her mother’s voice from the other side of West London, “things are just things.” Germaine tried to comfort herself with the thought that her mother was not upset about the scarf, as she left the house for another day’s commute.

 

 

Amira ran her fingers through the silky patterns of the red scarf she had found on the Bakerloo Line. She had meant to hand it in to a member of the Underground staff to put into their lost property, but having held it in her hand for a few minutes, she noticed something about it. It had dark red patterns that looked like rivers meeting, stitched into its edges. It also had a noticeable fragrance that was iconic and expensive. She felt like holding on to the scarf for a little longer.

Amira was far from home. Home meant the town where she was born and had grown up. The scarf reminded her of other parts of the globe. It reminded her of the freedom to visit different countries without risk. She felt that she would not have been able to afford the scarf or the fragrance that had imbued its fabric. She decided to wrap the scarf around her neck.

 

 

Joseph heard the doorbell and let the cleaner in. She was an immigrant with broken English but she communicated well with her expressions and smiles. Today she stepped in with a striking red scarf wrapped around her neck. It looked out of place on her ordinary-looking clothing but it suited her in a strange way, complimenting her delicate, innocent features. Joseph wondered if the young woman had more money than she said she did. He knew she was some sort of a refugee, most of her family still trying to survive in a part of the world that had been devastated by war. She wanted her parents and siblings to leave their homeland the way she had done, but she’d told him they felt it was too risky for them to leave in that way. She had felt it was too risky to stay.

In her heart Amira knew it wasn’t just the bombing, the lack of supplies, the everyday confusion that she had wanted to escape. It was the lawlessness. The feeling that anyone could do anything to her without her permission. When a group of her friends found a way to get out, she had taken her mother’s blessings and fled. Her father had been out at the time and she knew her mother would handle his reaction. She had had barely any contact with her family since that time, over a year ago. She had been detained in a camp whilst her right to asylum was debated. Many were sent back, but the authorities knew the danger of sending her back to her hometown and decided to let her stay.

Joseph didn’t mind immigrants being in the country legally if they were contributing to the economy. The girl’s English had improved a lot over the course of the six months she had been cleaning for him. He was pleased for her and he found her trustworthy. He left her in his apartment to finish cleaning as he went out to meet his new girlfriend, a budding lawyer who was intelligent and beautiful. The sort of girl he was excited to introduce to his parents.

 

 

Germaine took in Joseph’s apartment as they sat in his living room drinking wine. It was the first time she had stayed at his place since they had been dating. “It looks very clean even in the light of day,” Germaine said approvingly.

“I wish I could take credit for it, but I have a cleaner, a lady — she’ll be in soon,” Joseph explained cheerily.

“A young lady?” Germaine asked casually with a smile.

“Yes,” Joseph laughed. “You have nothing to worry about!” he added.

Germaine laughed with Joseph. She liked his warmth and humour and determination to succeed. Still in this mid-twenties, he already owned his own place in London, without having had any help from anyone. He had achieved everything himself, getting scholarships all the way through his education. He looked and sounded perfectly English, but his parents had come from eastern Europe when he was just two years old, and they had faced some hard times. His younger sister was born in London, like Germaine. Now that Joseph was working for a big company in central London, he’d started lavishing his parents with things they could not have afforded when he was a child. Germaine loved his generosity.

The doorbell rang and Joseph walked over to let the cleaner in. Germaine looked up and noticed the girl in faded jeans and a cream-coloured sweater. She noticed a child-like face and an uncertain demeanour, but most of all she noticed the richly pigmented red scarf around the girl’s neck. The girl said hello and Germaine nodded as the girl began to busy herself in the apartment.

 

 

“Amira,” Germaine said to the girl cleaning up one day as they both stood in Joseph’s kitchen. “Can I ask you something personal?” Joseph was showering and the question had been on Germaine’s mind for weeks.

“Of course Miss,” said Amira as she wiped the kitchen surfaces.

“Where did you get that scarf?”

Amira looked embarrassed. “Miss, I found it on the tube. I wanted to give back but it so nice.”

Germaine sighed. She had suspected Amira had found her scarf after she’d realised they took some of the same train lines. London was not as huge as she had thought.

“Amira, I lost that scarf soon after Christmas. It’s mine. I will give you some money for it if you want, but I’d like to have it back.”

Amira looked flushed and uncomfortable. “Are you sure Miss? I don’t need your money. I like the scarf a lot. But if it is really yours you can have it.”

“Thank you, Amira. It was a gift which is why I want it back.” Germaine opened her bag and pulled out a note. “Here is ten pounds. For the scarf. And for being honest.”

Amira looked down at the floor and took the note. When Amira had finished cleaning, she took her things and said goodbye, leaving the red scarf on the table.

Germaine picked up the scarf and wrapped it around her neck. It felt changed somehow. It didn’t feel like it was hers anymore. Germaine felt awkward and wondered if someone else had lost an identical scarf that Amira had picked up. The odds were inconceivable. Joseph stepped out from the bedroom, the smell of the aftershave he had doused over himself filling every corner of the apartment. Germaine stroked the worn-looking scarf as she glanced at him.

“Ready to go out?” Joseph asked. “Is that the cleaner’s scarf?”

“It’s actually mine,” Germaine answered. “I’d lost it on the tube and she’d found it. She was happy for me to have it back when I told her. Uncanny, isn’t it?” Germaine smiled at Joseph. He eyed the scarf on Germaine and it looked out of place. It seemed to look borrowed, worn-out.

“I think that scarf has done a few rounds in the city, it doesn’t look like one of yours,” Joseph remarked.

“I was thinking the same thing,” Germaine said wistfully. Then her expression brightened. “Come on, I want to go to the shops,” she announced as she took Joseph’s hand and pulled him towards the door. With her other hand she pulled off the red scarf and dropped it into the recycling crate outside the apartment.

Amira saw her boss and his girlfriend leaving his apartment as she herself was walking to the station, on her way to her next job. They were laughing and holding hands. She looked out for the pretty scarf she had grown attached to, but it was not around the lady’s neck or in her hands. She felt the absence of it on her bare neck as the cold air chilled her skin. The loneliness of an alien city enveloped her once again.

 

******END******

 

Life lays us bare

Sooner or later, life lays us bare. Life makes us humble. It exposes our vulnerability and puts to silence our attempts to glorify ourselves, or to belittle ourselves.

I had an intuition about this, and I’m sure most people do. Trying to appear great, superior and important for the wrong reasons always made me feel slightly insecure. And trying to appear small for the same reasons also made me feel fake. By wrong reasons, I don’t mean moralistically wrong or right. I mean everything that is based on temporary things which were not my true, enduring reality: wrong identification with self as a limited being – aka, ‘ego’.  This doesn’t make ego bad, for indeed, we all have a role to play that is temporary and we can’t deny its existence. All I mean is the attempt to base our sense of self entirely on these temporary ideas. I didn’t know how to deal with this dichotomy that the ego is temporary and yet I must carry it, so I usually tried to paint a false humility (a self-deprecation) over my identifications in order to show the universe that I was aware this is not my true self. This then became a habit of fear and insecurity in itself – a superstition to try and protect my vulnerability.

The letting go comes when we are finally willing to be burned by truth. It is a maturing: we know we will be destroyed anyway, so why keep playing this mind game of trying to keep up an appearance and protect this appearance from perceived threats? This is not in regards to the body phenomenon, which requires its basic care and protection, but more in terms of the mental constructs we have believed in and created around the body we inhabit – ideas like “I am clever so I must always appear intelligent”, but “if I appear too clever people won’t like me so I mustn’t show off”, “I must be liked too”, “I must be brave” etc. These are not easy to let go of, we feel the emotional reverberations of these ideas in quite a physical way. Even if these ideas no longer reside in our thought processes, if we have tendencies towards thoughts akin to these, we can pick up their emanations from other people. But if we are aware of this, then we can begin to let them filter out rather than holding on to them. The body has solidified these ideas in some way and takes time to let reactions go, but the body without these emotional residues must be a very different experience than one encumbered by identifications. I feel this is what Eckhart Tolle means by “pain body”.

So, letting loose all our mental vulnerabilities, to expose them and allow them to lessen the egoic grip on our true self may not seem like something we want. But sooner or later, it becomes something we truly need. And it begins the process of revealing our Beloved to us – the true identity beneath the veneers of pretense.

Childhood and adulthood

It makes me vulnerable to tell this story, but I guess vulnerability is essential to our human nature and there’s too much time wasted in hiding it. If I had to tell one major story, it would have to be about my mother. She is one of the most maternal, caring, self-sacrificing people I have ever known. As a compassionate person, and because her family were quite poor, she decided to work hard and go into Medicine. To be a female doctor where she came from was not a small achievement. But at the same time, she had two children. She married into a Medical family too, so she was expected to succeed in her career. Now, the point where I entered, she was already trying to marry the domestic and the professional aspects of her life. When she was in India, offered the chance to study and work in the UK, I was only two, and my sister was seven. Under a sense of duty, she was encouraged to leave me with my Nani, my maternal grandmother. I cannot complain about how my Nani was towards me: I was totally loved and cared for. But something about this has left its mark on me: I didn’t know my father because he left the country to better his career when I was born, and soon I would not know my mother too well either. Gradually, my mother became a stranger. When I turned five and could start school, I was brought to the UK, but this was now very hard for me because I thought of my grandparents as my carers. Also, as my sister and I grew up, we had to deal with my parents’ very unsettled careers that involved babysitters, moving around and periods left with different relatives.

That gap of not knowing my parents has never really closed. Certainly, to know someone as an infant is very different than knowing them later on. Infants have no judgement. I hardly remember my parents that way. I mainly remember their strange features, not really associating them as my own tribe. Then, I had to also adjust to a new culture in the UK, so I felt even more alone with no one around that knew me, spoke my alien language, someone who would be a real friend. Except, thankfully, there was my sister. Dealing with her own issues, but at least she was there.

All this has impressed on my memory a feeling of grief and sorrow. I don’t know if it is mine or my mother’s sorrow at the choices she had to make. More than anything, this affects me now in my relationship with my children. As early as I could remember, I had the strong desire to form a bond with my children where I would always be involved with their lives. But, knowing the fragility of the human experience, it also became a fear that, what if I can’t achieve this? And in this grappling, there has had to be a huge letting-go, that I can’t control what experiences are meant for my children. Just as I couldn’t control what experiences shaped my own childhood. And in that realisation, there is certainly a grief at how everything seems so vulnerable, but also a search for something enduring. Surely, love endures the human fragility and shows its power within and beyond our human limitations.

Karmic webs

“There is no beauty without fragility.” – Susan David

I recently heard a talk by Francis Lucille in which someone asked the spiritual teacher, “Why do some people have better lives than others? Why are some people rich, others poor, some healthy, others unwell. Why also can some people deal with setbacks with grace and others not?”

Francis Lucille was to-the-point as usual. He said, “You are mixing up happiness with lots of sociological conditions. True happiness has nothing to do with sociological conditions.”

The questioner can be forgiven: we all tend to measure our happiness through conditions, because our minds are directed outward and we seek happiness through desiring conditions. Even surveys of happiness measure these according to economic and sociological factors. Indeed, when sociological factors are unfavourable, we notice more problems and more suffering.

More suffering. Is that true? Can we really say that to have wealth, health and favourable conditions in life gives you more happiness? And to lack these conditions allows less happiness? Can favourable conditions be a constant for anyone? A deep happiness may have nothing to do with good conditions, but outward conditions being unfavourable can afflict the mind in different ways: some suffer more than others. We may not know why we face the things we face, but we do know that some people handle their pain better than others. And that no one escapes some kind of pain, for pain propels the journey of human consciousness towards truth and the seeking of real happiness.

The mind has its patterns. The mind and body, with their patterns, may affect what happens in our experience, but this karmic web that influences how we think, feel, react and act has nothing to do with who we essentially are, the inner core which is the access point to truth. But the mind, so dominated by its patterns, needs to transcend its tendencies to reference the self in forms before it can transcend the forces of ‘karma’.

Meeting the radiant Mr Rupert Spira

This month I had the rare privilege of meeting author and teacher, Rupert Spira. He is a public figure now, with thousands of students across the globe, and the reason for his following is that he expresses and embodies the truth of non-dual teaching in the most beautiful way.

I went to a meeting in London’s Colet House, where people had gathered to hear Rupert talk. Mostly he answered questions by his students and friends. I asked questions and while Rupert was talking, his presence of peace and tranquillity could easily be felt. Here was a teacher actually living the understanding that he taught, walking his talk so to speak.

The urgency of my question to him lost its importance. I was basically taken over by the peace which made my questions trivial.

I have been reading the Bhagavad Gita since I was a child, having sleep paralysis in my teens which turned into Out of Body Experiences in my twenties. I felt uncertain about discussing these things, but in Rupert’s gathering, such experiences were not unusual at all: many people spoke of them. But the emphasis as always was on a very thorough and scientific approach of testing everything with our experience. Rupert always draws us back into the primary experience we have of ourselves as Awareness alone. He references the work of Ramana Maharshi and others but simplifies it for a modern, western audience. The truth, after all, should be accessible to everyone.

I am very grateful for Rupert’s work and I look forward to reading his new book, The Nature of Consciousness.

 

When you give up…

Giving up is not a “positive” idea in the world; it lacks personal will to impact reality. But personal will is a very limited thing which depends largely on the beliefs we have about ourselves. We can empower ourselves with our beliefs, but only if we have a way to really see ourselves beyond our beliefs and accept them for the reasons they are there. Getting to this place beyond is so absorbing that the need to change personal experience from that level often feels like a false effort, and whilst the ‘person’ who has started to see themselves as spiritual might work on the mind, once their spirituality has consumed them entirely then they will leave the mind behind. Thoughts may still be there, but the identifying faculty which gives them their emotional charge will start to loosen its grip.

So it is not about a person giving up, it becomes the giving up of personhood itself. Ages of dissatisfaction and suffering lead to the point where a person surrenders themselves so totally. Maybe by the force of a situation, or maybe through the pointings of a guru. When we give up on personhood, it means giving up desires that we know are not taking us to the fulfilment we seek. Usually by this point, a person will have fulfilled many of their outward desires through personal will and motivation, and seen that it does not bring them total freedom. Everyone’s inner purpose is to find that place of freedom, whatever their chosen outward roles. The fact that each desire was propelled by its contrast (the fears of not having that desire), will bring those fears to the forefront for our experience, as the shadows that exist in our unconscious thoughts (the thoughts we are not aware of). So we have to face all the fears of our personhood. And ironically, it is the complete acceptance and surrender to this play of opposites that leads us past opposites into wholeness, where both fear and desire are two sides of the same coin, as are pleasure and pain, suffering and liberation.

By now it’s getting quite complicated, but it appears as such for the mind that can only understand things through ideas. The consciousness in us, which has a self-conscious mind, begins to see its own nature as consciousness itself rather than as a limited person playing a role. A child does not have a strong sense of self-consciousness but neither does he or she have strong ego-consciousness: such a mind experiences both pleasure and pain, letting them go. The developing mind that can create low states of false identification or advanced states of peaceful beingness is the mind that begins eventually to search for its source.

As more and more ‘people’ awaken to their nature as consciousness, they realise there is no dimension to their true being, it has no limits, and therefore it must be shared. If it is shared then we and our world are an appearance in the same one being. That shared beingness has the fragrance of love. The egoic development may be a natural part of transitioning from childhood to the use of an adult mind, but in an awakened world, the mind need not go through as much search and polarity of desires and fears in order to know itself. I hope a more easily awakened world comes forth, which makes experiencing much more joyful instead of tainted with separation. Then humanity will begin to evolve to another dimension of being.

The Dissolving

In one of his question-answer sessions, Mooji explains that the reason consciousness chooses to come into the play of form is because it loves experiencing: it loves the variety, the contrast, the tastes. It is totally in love with it. But it forgets itself to do this, and eventually this forgetting turns into suffering.

What he speaks is clearly demonstrated in the the way children, animals and nature seem to dwell. They lack a ‘developed’ mind, but they are infinitely more advanced in their ability to absorb and enjoy life. This is because of the absence of thoughts, which we adults value so highly as a means of success and survival. Yes, maybe the mind is a helpful tool that allows us to do more than animals and children, but has it really made us happier? I think you’ll say no. Why does it have to develop then? Well, the short answer is, it is a necessary but painful stepping stone in the growth of consciousness. It is the mind that enables us to question Who We Are and the Meaning of Life, in order to search for Truth. It does this through a process of what the ancient Indian texts call ‘neti neti’ (I am not this, nor that). I say Indian, not Hindu, because Hindu now has religious implications, and the Yogis that wrote the old texts would probably not have wanted to brand themselves has having a religious identity. Their truth, after all, is the deconstruction of identity.

As children and animals enjoy the experiences of ‘No-Mind’, they do so unconsciously, not knowing that what they are enjoying is the truth of themselves reflected in many forms. Once their minds and hence, egoic ideas, develop, they think of themselves through their analytical faculties and can no longer enjoy pure experiencing. This is a push from consciousness to create misidenfication and unrest in order to investigate Reality (through the faculty of mind), and make the mind a servant to self-knowledge.

The mind begins its seeking and and goes through many identities before it eventually realises that ultimate truth is not ‘out there’. Once it turns inward, its conceptual identities fall away and it eventually is able to come back to pure experiencing, like the child or the animal. Suffering may also start losing its mental sting, as pain is no longer burdened with the concepts that make it unbearable. Pain and pleasure become passing phenomena. The deeply embedded fear of annihilation may begin to erode. We may feel like kids again. But there is an added seeing because this experiencing is now coming from knowledge rather than ignorance. We know God’s grace rather than innocently sleeping in it.

The being that enquires within through the thinking mind is able to dissolve into Ultimate Reality. The thinking mind is a useful tool but once it has done its job, it is not needed for consciousness to know itself. The mind and its patterns (karma, genetics, whatever you want to call them), eventually dissolve into all-pervading Reality. A step into this dissolving is to become the witness of experience, rather than the one identified with a role (ego). The witnessing consciousness is a step inwards. But there is further to go. Everything has to be given up from the mind. Even the desire to use thoughts to get certain outcomes (which can work depending on the patterns of the ‘person’). In the ultimate reality, the feeling of personhood is gone.