Memorial Day Wishes of Peace for those on all sides of the Vietnam War – Bánh Xe Y Học: Hành Trình

On Memorial Day we remember those whom we have lost. Official reports of loss of US soldiers in the Vietnam War is 58,000+. A 2008 British Medical Journal study estimates 3.8 million total deaths during the Vietnam War (called the Resistance War Against America in Vietnam). The suffering of war continues long after the war ends with PTSD, Moral Injury, Agent Orange exposure, and even suicide. Controversy exists over the number of US Vietnam veterans who have committed suicide since returning home, with estimates from 9,000 (in a 1990 study) to over 50,000 reported in various places. As a psychiatrist who works daily with veterans, I see the long-lasting after effects of war. Brain science has been pushing back the age of full development for the human brain, with 25 years of age being considered brain maturity. Wars typically are fought by the young and after every war we have a generation of veterans whose developing brains have been shaped by war and the imprint of death. The casualties of war are the walking wounded as well as the deceased, and many of the wounds are not visible.

I just received a box of books from Vietnam, the Vietnamese translation of Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD (Bánh Xe Y Học: Hành Trình). It is really amazing to hold these books from Vietnam in my hands and compare them side by side. I work with so many veterans at the VA who served in Vietnam and to have the words of peace that Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) and I have put together into this book translated into Vietnamese feels very important.

The work of peace is a continual work, like tending a garden. To receive a box of books from Vietnam about bringing peace to veterans is like getting a big packet of seeds to replant what has been injured by war. For Joseph, language is very important, not just in conveying meaning, but in creating spiritual realities. To have the healing properties of the medicine wheel translated into Vietnamese brings our two lands and peoples closer together in peace. Translators Huỳnh ngọc trụ & Lê Thục Uyên Phương have worked to bring American English and Vietnamese into resonance with each other. In his book, House of Shattering Light, Joseph wrote about how the war gods were first created out of the fear that people had, but that later they came home to peace and became peace gods. In Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD, the title of chapter 14 is “Return to the Held-back Place of Goodness, which translates into Vietnamese as, “Trở Về Nơi Tốt Lành,” Return to Good Place.” Peace is this Good Place and Joseph tells us that we all have it within our hearts, we can forget about it, we can loose touch with it, but is always there. Our jobs as healers – both those working as healers for others, and those of us who are seeking to heal ourselves – is to find our way back home to this place of goodness, this place of peace. We are all wounded in one way or another, and yet we all have a source of goodness and healing within us – we are the medicine that we are seeking!

Zakir Hussain at the Moore Theatre, Seattle, 4/2/19

Zakir Hussain & Niladri Kumar with the image of Ustad Allarakha as a perpetual presence.

The Masters of Percussion 2019 – The Ustad Allarakha Centenary Tour came through Seattle this past week. The tour celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ustad Allarakha, Zakir Hussain’s father and internationally-renowned tabla player in his own right. Ustad Allarakha influenced Mickey Hart of The Grateful Dead and had collaborated with Ravi Shankar and made an album in 1968 with jazz drummer Buddy Rich, Rich à la Rakha. Zakir Hussain, played with Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum, as well as with Bill Laswell’s Tabla Beat Science. (Which was, incidentally, the first Bill Laswell album I ever heard, sitting in a cafe in Minneapolis).

The show started with Niladri Kumar on sitar, joined by Zakir Hussain, then added Eric Harland on a full drum kit, and the four piece Drummers of Kerala. It was a great show, filled with lots of beats. The musicians all were smiling and having fun and challenging and riffing off each other.

Zakir Hussain ended the show saying, “Rhythm is a unified concept, it is one language.”

Words Create Worlds – new essay in The Badger

“Words Create Worlds,” my new piece in The Badger, Year 5, Volume 1, is available now through the link, page 47. The title is taken from a quote by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel:

“Words, he often wrote, are themselves sacred, God’s tool for creating the universe, and our tools for bringing holiness — or evil — into the world.  He used to remind us that the Holocaust did not begin with the building of crematoria, and Hitler did not come to power with tanks and guns; it all began with uttering evil words, with defamation, with language and propaganda.  Words create worlds he used to tell me when I was a child.  They must be used very carefully.  Some words, once having been uttered, gain eternity and can never be withdrawn.  The Book of Proverbs reminds us, he wrote, that death and life are in the power of the tongue.”[1]

Heschel points to the power of words to create good or evil in the world. My article is a meditation following the shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand and the increasingly disturbing words of separation and “othering.” I have a special connection with Christchurch, having lived in New Zealand for 3.5 years and having visited Christchurch a few days prior to the second devastating earthquake in 2011. These words that separate us from each other are earthquakes and weapons, in and of themselves, and these words pave the way for future violent actions. You can read the full article in The Badger through this link (scroll to page 47)

In writing Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality with Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow), I have felt obligated to write about “spiritual democracy” and the responsibility to act in ways that increase, rather than decrease, our inter-relatedness and oneness. A living spirituality is a call to action. Joseph Rael has been working for world peace for decades now, and working with him, I have taken on this responsibility as well. I plan to write more on the power of words, the ways that they can divide or unite us, and the disturbing trends towards fundamentalism and fascism in our world today. Here is the last paragraph from my essay in The Badger:

Over the next year, I would like to write about some of these topics of how our “words create worlds.” In working with Joseph Rael, writing our next book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality, I felt compelled to write about the responsibility of mystical, visionary, and shamanic experience—that we must work toward “Spiritual Democracy.” At its deepest point, mystical experience leads to an awareness that we are all one and this comes with a responsibility to challenge words of separation which ultimately lead to fascism. Mystical experience is a pathway that leads us to question who we are and gives us a responsibility to use our words wisely to create worlds where we are becoming the medicine that our world needs. As Rumi says, “We are pain and what cures the pain.”[2]


[1] Life Between the Trees blog, https://lifebetweenthetrees.com/2012/08/06/words-create-worlds-monday-morning-parable/.

[2] Rumi, “We are the mirror as well as the face in it,” The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks, 106.

Red Begonias, Christchurch Botanical Gardens, 2011

New Mexico

Sandia Selfie

Sunset from the top of Sandia

I took a trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico last month, to do some work with my co-author, Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow). My sister met us there and we did some photos and video in preparation for our upcoming book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into A Living Spirituality. I should be getting the final edit back any day now and will be taking one more review of it and then it will start getting formatted – it should be out in the first half of 2019. It is always a lot of fun working with Joseph and I am always learning new things and ancient things.

Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow)

Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow)

The area is very beautiful and my sister, Karen, and I took a couple trips, driving up the back side of Sandia Mountain and to Petroglyph National Monument.

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Tree Shape on top of Sandia, a little snow in the background

We got up to the top of Sandia with about an hour or so left of daylight and we saw an amazing sunset and beautiful views.

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Looking South from Sandia

Sandia Western View

Kiwanis Rock House, Looking West from Sandia

Sandia Sunset through Trees

Sunset through Trees, Sandia

The next night we went to Petroglyph National Monument, again near sunset.

Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs

Sunflower

Sandia means “watermelon” in Spanish and you can see how this mountain got its name when you see it at sunset.

Sandia from Petroglyphs Sunset

Sandia Mountain at Sunset from Petroglyph National Monument

Having visited Sandia and Petroglyph several times, I always feel as if there is some kind of connection of communication between all the petroglyphs facing Sandia. This night there were light streamers visible above the mountain as the sunset behind us.

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Sandia as Sunset Continues

We went to visit our friends, Mike & Marie Pedroncelli and spent some time in their Sound Peace Chamber, built with consultation from Joseph Rael and based on his visions he had in the 1980s of building circular structures, half above ground and half underground where men and women come together to chant for world peace. There are over 50 chambers on four continents that have been built.

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View through top of Sound Peace Chamber

 

 

A Review of Ruzbeh N. Bharucha’s Dancing with Swans: A Book of Quotes

cover Dancing with Swans

This is a book of short prayers and aphorisms. Ruzbeh Bharucha states in the foreword of the book that 2018 is the 100th year anniversary of Baba Sai of Shirdi’s Maha Samadhi – his enlightened departure from the Earthly realm. Bharucha dedicates the book to “my dear Master, the Fakir of Shirdi; You, The One in whom reside The Goddess and The Lord and the Oneness Family,” (v). Further, Bharucha writes that it is nonsense that Shirdi Sai Baba is gone, “You live in the hearts, minds, breaths and sighs of countless of Your followers and lovers. So how could You ever leave Your body as everything of ours is Yours and if all of ours is Yours, then You reside in millions of us,” (v). The book is thus dedicated to Shirdi Sai Baba as Guru and non-dual Oneness.

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Sai Baba of Shirdi, By Kifayat Hidayat Mawal

Ruzbeh N. Bharucha is the author of many books in which the protagonist walks and talks and jokes (often irreverently) with God in the form of the Guru, Shirdi Sai Baba: The Fakir series, Rabda, and Ice With Very Unusual Spirits. These books remind me of an Indian Richard Bach, filled with humour and love as they explore the relationship between the wayward devotee and the spiritual teacher. The books are earthy and teach that one does not have to be boring to be spiritual. In fact, it is often the outsider aspect of the protagonist that leads to the spiritual relationship.

Ruzbeh N. Bharucha - Copy

Ruzbeh N. Bharucha

Bharucha has also been writing works that are not spiritual fiction, but more of an autobiographical and non-fiction approach, for instance The Aum of All Things, The Perfect Ones, and The Musk Syndrome. The current book, Dancing with Swans: A Book of Quotes, is in this vein, a book of quotes that came to the author whilst he was in meditation/communion with Shirdi Sai Baba. Bharucha was guided to meditate “after sunset for a certain number of weeks,” (ix). He portrays himself as a slacker, falling asleep, and meditating only a few minutes, but then he would write down the inspired wisdom he received. Bharucha summarizes the book in the following way:

“The theme of this book, in reality, is very simple. Give your best to each moment and leave the rest to The One and after that accept your lot with joyous acceptance. Be kind. Be compassionate. Be a bit crazy. Try not to be an adult. Be childlike but not childish. Be mature, not cynical. Don’t judge. Live and let live. Spend time in work, prayer and play. We are the makers of our own destiny through the use of fee will in our past lives, this one and the future…When life is rubbing our noses in the ground, inhale the fragrance of Mother Earth. When life is tossing us in the air, try and gaze into the sky. All is as well as we want it to be,” (x).

Swan through bushes, St. James

What follows is some 280+ pages of inspired quotes, roughly divided into different topical sections. To me this is solidly a good book, but not great in the way of The Fakir series is. Nevertheless, there are some gems in the book, such as in pointing toward non-duality, “You are the one praying to The One within you. So you are chanting and being prayed to. You are the one chanting and being chanted to. You are The One,” (14). Or, the following:

“Often sadness or emptiness within is a reflection of the yearning of the soul to move towards The One. Those who understand this, move into silence and prayer, or spread joy and compassion. That’s the only antidote to fill the void within,” (16).

Bharucha teaches a path of living spirituality. “Not the path of religion,” he tells us, “but that of spirituality comes from loving God,” (38). Further distinguishing religion and spirituality, he states that, “All that is spiritual leads us to Oneness. Earlier, being religious and spiritual meant the same. Now nothing divides one brother from another as surely as the false interpretation of religion,” (88). Bharucha often illuminates the hypocrisy of religion, ritual, and conservatism, showing that it is those who step outside societal norms and expectations who are the true lovers of God.

“Till one does not make God, Goddess, Guru—the three Gs—as the sole and soul priority, there are innumerable distractions, obstacles, temptations, confusions, to make life a living hell, this and in future lives,” (39).

There are sources of consolation within the book. Particularly in reminding the reader that emptiness and loneliness are steps on the spiritual path.

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Path to Chapel of Saint Non, Pembrokeshire, Wales, © D. Kopacz 2018

“The emptiness the seeker feels on The Path is a must. One needs to be empty for the Divine Energy to fill us up. The page has to be blank for the Divine Words to be written on,” (23).

In times of darkness, such as our own, Bharucha advises us that the way forward is through, through embracing our fears, just as in the hero’s journey the darkness of the abyss contains the boon that can transform self and world. “The hour before dawn is the darkest but also the most spiritual—the true meditative Kali; you either fear the darkness or go within and become one with Her radiance,” (131). Rather than denying pain or seeking to avoid it, Bharucha writes that the pain is a way to open us up and make us more compassionate and that our choice of how to react to inevitable pain and suffering is what determines our experience.

“I feel sometimes the cosmos has no other way to make us more compassionate than by making us experience hunger, pain, sorrow, loss and anguish. The wise learn from these experiences and become more understanding. Others waste the opportunity and become negative. Karma means going through an experience, while free will decides heaven, hell or in-between,” (195).

Getting back to his main theme of the book, Bharucha reminds us, “The true role of any individual is to allow the unhindered and uncorrupted Divine Energy to flow through him or her. That, in reality, is our only purpose of existence,” (203). Allowing this “unhindered and uncorrupted” flow does not turn us into pious and staid religious people who stand back and above the fray, rather this Divine Energy makes us all individuals, sometimes somewhat quirky and irreverent, engaged in the world, offering compassion and doing good regardless of whether it is an official holy day or not. And yet as the Divine Energy flowing through us makes us into individuals, we are simultaneously in touch with and at one with Oneness, what Bharucha calls the 3 Gs—God, Goddess, and Guru. The Oneness is the energy that flows through the individual, animating diversity, allowing the many in One.

“Don’t waste time on negative stuff. Don’t. In a blink of a moment, we shall be either old, alone or dead, and then realize what we have let slip away from our grasp. All this shit isn’t worth it. Let it go,” (91).

Swan at St James'

Swan, St. James’s Park, London, © D. Kopacz 2018

 

 

International Day of Peace

Today is the International Day of Peace and I would like to speak about the peace work I have been doing with Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow).

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Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) & David Kopacz, photo by Karen Kopacz ©2016

Joseph had a vision in the 1980s of a circular structure, half in the ground, half out of the ground, with men and women chanting for world peace. He brought this vision into reality and over 50 sound peace chambers have been built on four continents: North America, South America, Europe, and Australia. Joseph has been received a letter of recognition from the United Nations for his work promoting world peace.

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Sound Chamber, Mike & Marie Pedroncelli caretakers

Peace work can take many forms. In my first book, Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine (2014), I sought to help doctors and clinicians find a way back from dehumanization and burnout to feel more fully human and to create a health care system that addresses the whole person. I spoke of a compassion revolution that was occurring—many people in health care are working to bring the heart back into medicine.

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In our first book together, Joseph and I worked to help create a pathway from war to peace for returning veterans by walking the medicine wheel. This book is called Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD (2016). One of the things that Joseph talks about with veterans is that they should get their DNA tested so that they can remember that we are all brothers and sisters—because genetic and archaeological science tells us we all came from Africa originally. Scientists even tell us that we all have a common mother, Mitochondrial Eve, some 150,000 – 200,000 years ago. Many Native Americans and other indigenous people talk about Mother Earth. Mother Earth’s initials are ME—the same as Mitochondrial Eve—“ME” is the same thing that each of us call ourselves. Joseph says this just shows that everyone really is related.

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In working with veterans, we wanted to help them in their walking around the medicine wheel, making the journey from being trained to protect us from the “other” to where we can all see each other as brother and sister.

Here is a link to a video of the two of us talking about peace, filmed by my sister, Karen Kopacz, from the website for the book.

I talked with Joseph this last week and he told me some things about peace. He said, “What we need to teach people about peace is open-mindedness. People are held back by their self-imposed limitations. The very thing that people are afraid of is what they should by trying to moving toward so that they can have an expanded awareness.”

I asked Joseph if he could say a few things about the dove as a symbol of peace.

Dove of Peace

Dove of Peace, Joseph Rael ©2018

“The dove is a waterbird and it is bird that flies in the air because that is what birds do. The dove of peace. It drinks water and when we drink water we are doing what birds do. When we drink water it makes the sound with every swallow “Soul. Soul. Soul.” You can listen as you swallow and you will hear it. We, ourselves, are 70% water, our blood is water that circulates through our bodies, so the dove is reminding us that we are soul and reminding us to connect to our hearts which pump the blood and water throughout our bodies. The work of the dove of peace is to bring us peace and harmony.

When someone dies at Picuris, we wash the body in the river and the soul goes out of the body and down the river. The soul goes down the river to the ocean. It goes out into the ocean, it goes out to Baja. Then from the ocean, the soul, with water goes up into the sky and then it becomes clouds, big white fluffy clouds. The dove of peace is white, just like the clouds that bring the rain. The clouds rain and the rain falls back to the earth and we say that the rain is the ancestors coming back to us because they are our caretakers.

At the beginning of many of my visions I see the white dove of peace which opens a circle of light. The circle of light gets bigger and then I am going through it and I am somewhere I have never been before and I am experiencing something other than what I can experience here. And then I am back to where I started and the circle closes but I have gone somewhere new and experienced something new.”

Joseph reminds us that peace is always right here in our hearts. Whether we are veterans or just a human being who has lost our way, we can reconnect back to what he calls a “held-back place of goodness” that we all have in our hearts. The dove of peace comes from above, falling like the rain that is our ancestors, returning to be our caretakers, reminding us that we are made of water, reminding us that we can bring peace and harmony to our souls. With every swallow of a glass of water, we make the sound “soul, soul, soul.” On this International Day of Peace, we should all remember that we are here to do the work of peace. Joseph says that his grandfather would always tell him, “work is worship,” so this work of peace is a kind of worship, in which we are trying to remind ourselves that we are all brothers and sisters of Mother Earth/Mitochondrial Eve and that we all have a “held-back place of goodness” within our hearts. The work of peace is seeking to find this reservoir of peace within our hearts and to release this into the world, like releasing a white dove from the cage of our hearts.

Dove of the Holy Spirit

Dove of the Holy Spirit, David Kopacz ©2017 

Joseph and I continue our work of peace in our forthcoming book, Becoming Medicine (due out early 2019) which plunges deep into the center of the medicine wheel, where not only are we all related, but ultimately we are all one.

A Review of “When God Is A Traveller,” by Arundhathi Subramaniam

Cover

Following up on my review of Where I Live (2009) by Arundhathi Subramaniam, we will next look at her 2014 When God Is A Traveller (HarperCollins India). This book actually contains 22 poems from the “Deeper in Transit” section of Where I Live, thus there is substantial overlap in poems between books. Still, there are 29 new poems in this book, and it is a beautiful hardcover with very attractive cover art, making it a nice little book of poetry to carry around. The 22 duplicate poems are worth reading again, anyway. “Leapfrog” and “Catnap” were quoted in my review of Where I Live. Writing about gods, goddesses, and heroines as well as daily life, and a favourite topic of writing on writing, this little book is well worth reading and travelling along the various textual references which lead to empty space, which is the terrain of gods, goddesses, and heroines.

Arundhathi Subramaniam

In “How Some Hindus Find Their Personal Gods,” Subramaniam answers AS’s question about ishta devas. With so many gods and goddesses to choose from, how does one find one to have a personal relationship with? She advises:

               “It’s about learning to trust

               the tug

               that draws you to a shadowed alcove

               undisturbed by footfall

              and butter lamps

              …

             A god who looks

             like he could understand errors in translation,

            blizzards on the screen,

            gaps in memory,

            lapses in attention,

           who might even learn by rote

           …

          the awkward Remington stutter

          of your heart,

         who could make them his own.

        After that you can settle for none other.” (43-44)

Personal Gods

© D. Kopacz 2018

The book cover features a rich, blue, green, and gold peacock, feathers spread across about one-third of the cover, flowers blooming on a shrub in another corner, above darkness with the silhouette of a hunter shooting an arrow into a stag leaping in death throes. In “Eight Poems for Shakuntala,” Arundhathi Subramaniam pens some modern lines on Shakuntala whose story is told in the Mahabharata. One day King Dushyanta shot a stag with an arrow and pursued the wounded animal through the forest, when instead of his prey, he stumbled across Shakuntala and fell in love with her and married. Dushyanta gave her a ring, but left back to the palace, saying he would return later to fetch her. In the meantime, Shakuntala, pining for her absent love, accidently insulted a holy man who cursed her, that the man who gave her the ring would not remember her, unless she were to show him the ring he gave her. Time passed and Shakuntala lost the ring while crossing a river and when she arrived to court, Dushyanta did not recognize her. Heart-broken, she returned to the forest and gave birth the child she had conceived on Dushyanta’s first visit. A fisherman found the ring in the belly of a fish, presented it to the king, who then remembered his lost bride and searched for her, finding her again and meeting his son, and thus the family was reunited. Poems 3 and 5 in the series capture the longing of Shakuntala whilst waiting in the forest for Dushyanta’s return.

 

              “But all those nights

               when all you want

               is a lover’s breath,

                              regular,

                              regular,

 

               starlight through a diaphanous curtain,

               and a respite

               from too much wisdom?” (III, 50)

               …

               “Nothing original

               but the hope

               of something new

               between parted lips.

               A kiss—

               jasmine lapis moonshock.

               And around the corner

               with the old refrain,

               this chorus,

               (Sanskrit, Greek, whatever):

               It’s never close enough

               It’s never long enough

               It’s never enough

               It’s never” (V, 52).

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“Shakuntala looking back to glimpse Dushyanta,” by Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Subramaniam often writes about the mundane as well as the sublime in her poems, and often there ends up being a poem or two about a cat. In “I Knew a Cat” she writes of the pain of losing a beloved furry friend:

               “I knew a cat

               with a face like a star.

               I waited for her to die

               so my heart would hurt

               a little less.

               Now the nights are darker,

               my life a little easier.” (71)

 

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Neo, d. 2010

In the poem which gives the book its title, “When God is a Traveller,” Subramaniam muses about “Kartikeya/Murga/Subramania, my namesake.” Kartikeya/Murga/Subramania is known by all those names, as well as Skanda, and is the son of Śiva, in some legends of him alone, as Gaṇeśa is born of Pārvatī alone, but also often considered the son of both Śiva and Pārvatī. Subramania is the god of war who is also known as Guhā (cave, secret) or Guruguhā (cave-teacher) as he renounces war in some legends and retreats to the mountains. (For stories of Subramania, see Kartikeya as well as the Skanda Purāṇa and for comparison of various legends, Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty’s Śiva: The Erotic Ascetic). Arundhathi Subramaniam writes in this poem:

               “Trust the god

               back from his travels

               …

               Trust him

               who has seen enough—

               revolutions, promises…

               …

               Trust him

               who recognizes you—

               auspicious, abundant, battle-scarred,

                              alive—

               and knows from where you come.

               Trust the god

               ready to circle the world all over again

               this time for no reason at all

               other than to see it

               through your eyes.” (100-101)

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Sri Shanmukha Subrahmanya Swami by Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906), [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In addition to writing about gods, goddesses, and heroines, in addition to writing about love, Arundhathi Subramaniam loves to write about writing. In “Six About Love Stories,” she writes:

               “Some stories have holes.

               Some don’t join the dots.

               Sometimes the only way from middle to end

                              Is the leap.

               …

               Some stories devour other stories.

               I recognize you.” (96)

And in the closing poem, “Poems Matter,” she again writes about writing and about what it is that gives poems their meaning – not so much because of their substance, but because of the space within them that allows for something more than what we can say:

               “It’s taken a long time

               to understand

               poems matter

               because they have holes.” (103).

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Crow Flying Through Dark Matter, © D. Kopacz 2017

 

A Review of Where I Live: New & Selected Poems by Arundhathi Subramaniam

Where I Live Cover

I first heard of Arundhathi Subramaniam in her role as the editor of Eating God: A Book of Bhakti Poetry (2014). I started reading Sadhguru’s Adiyogi: The Source of Yoga, and to my surprise it is co-written by Arundhathi Subramaniam! I was interested in her journey with this spiritual teacher and her blending of rational skepticism with thirst for spiritual knowledge, and it reminded me a bit of my own work with Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow). This led me to look to see what else she has written, as I like to read all of a writer’s work once I become interested in one aspect of the work. This led me to the collection of poems, Where I Live (2009) published by Bloodaxe Books, in Northumberland, UK. (Please note that 22 poems from Deeper in Transit also appear in her 2014 book, When God is a Traveler).

Arundhathi Subramaniam

Image from Neil Astley @BloodaxeBooks tweet, 10/10/17

Where I Live contains selections from Subramaniam’s earlier works: On Cleaning Bookshelves (2001) and Where I Live (2005). The back cover describes her poems as exploring “various ambivalences – around human intimacy…myth the politics of culture and gender, and the…existential journey…the desire for adventure and anchorage; expansion and containment; vulnerability and strength; freedom and belonging.” This is an apt description of poems that often have a tension within them, exploring the places between contradictions and ambivalences.

The collection opens with “Blank Page” which sets up the Indian writer as a “conquistador of the blank page,” with its “white autocracy of silence,” juxtaposing creativity with conquest. The poem raises the power and omnipotency of the writer over the blank paper, and perhaps the reader as well, who possibly fears that she will “surge/into your frontiers/and claim for my own/the sleeping mohenjodaros of your mind,” (11). Mohenjodaro (c. 2500 BCE) is an ancient city, now an archaeological site, perhaps the home to the ancestors of Dravidian peoples living in the Indus Valley prior to the arrival of the Aryan migration into India. The poem immediately raises issues of race, culture, history, power, subjugation, and creativity in a few short lines, without any sense of resolution.

On Cleaning Bookshelves Cover

I love the poem title, “On Cleaning Bookshelves” which brings up the practical issue of the bother of what to do with piles of books, yet also speaks to the organization and categorization of knowledge. I particularly relate to this poem as I recently had the brilliant idea of turning all my books on their side so as to pack more of them on to the shelves, which is very efficient, but not very practical, as they are now very difficult to extract. The poem starts with the advice: “Begin by respecting the logic/that governed earlier conjunctions,” (30). As the narrator of the poem arranges her books, we get an idea of the breadth and scope of her reading, which spans the globe. She describes rearranging books as a chance to “match-make” which allows

“Kerouac

to nudge familiarly

at Milton,

Mira at Shankara,

watch Nietzsche sniff suspiciously

at Krishnamurti.

And listen close,

as Ghalib in the back row

murmurs drowsily

to Keats.”

There seems to be a conference of books happening, everything is coming together and jumbling up East and West. New possibilities seem to arise from these conjunctions. Goethe’s Faust came to my mind, “Formation, Transformation, Eternal Mind’s eternal recreation,” (cited in Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 196).Yet the poem ends by throwing this off-balance and raising the possibility that the gaps cannot be bridged:

               “And amid the whispers

               of reunion and discovery,

               the hum of interrupted conversations

               resumed after centuries

               know that it is time

               to turn away.

               And accept finiteness.

               Accept exclusion.”

I read “On Cleaning Bookshelves” a few times, both excited and disappointed by it. Eventually I had to move on and read about the inevitability of inner and outer changes with ageing in “By Thirty.”

“By thirty,

you know you want to walk

away from ruined empires of fermented dream

towards lands vast and unchoreographed,

where every step ahead is adventure,

and every step ahead, anchorage, (42).

And then on further to “Arunachala (at the ashram of Ramana Maharshi, Triuvannamalai)” which has, perhaps some hope: “It feels like given time/I could understand something here,” but instead, it is time to move on, “But for now this enough,” (43), ending with:

               “For somewhere here, I know,

               is something black,

               something large,

               something limpid,

               something like home.”

Arunachala

Sakthiprasanna (2015) Wikipedia, “Arunachala”

 

We then move on to Arundhathi Subramaniam’s newer poems. “Where I Live” begins with, “I live on a wedge of land/reclaimed from a tired ocean/somewhere at the edge of the universe” and ends with “where it is perfectly historical/to be looking out /on a sooty handkerchief of ocean,/searching for God,” (49-50).

Subramaniam writes about writing in the collection, from the first poem and throughout. “First Draft” writes about the “old fashioned” way of using pen and paper for writing before putting the words of a poem through a word processor. The handwritten words on paper are compared to spaces in the world: a stream, an alley, a glacier, a chasm. But, eventually, the words must go from individual to mass-produced:

               “when a page I dreamt piecemeal

               in some many-voiced moon-shadowed thicket

               flickers back at me

               in Everyman’s handwriting

               filaments of smell and sight

               cleanly amputated –

   Times New Roman, font size fourteen,” (73)

In the beautiful poem, “Leapfrog,” she states that she does not want to write “scripture,” but rather would capture with words the movements of life, invoking frogs, birds, and childhood memories:

“that allows words

to spring

from the cusp of breathsong,

from a place radiant

with birdflight and rivergreen.

Grant me the fierce tenderness

of watching

word slither into word

into the miraculous algae

of language,

untamed by doubt

or gravity,

words careening,

diving,

               swarming, un-

forming, wilder

than snowstorms in Antarctica, wetter

than days in Cherrapunjee

alighting on paper, only

for a moment…

before

leaping

for some place the voice

is still learning

to reach.

Not scripture,

but a tadpole among the stars,” (104-105)

Arundhathi Subramaniam’s collection of poems, spanning 9 years of work at the start of the millennium, captures the moods and understandings of a traveler in the world and brings together, like a jumbled collection of books on a shelf, different, shifting conjunctions and disjunctions of the profound and the mundane. In “Catnap” she quotes the Heart Sutra, “Form is emptiness/Emptiness is form,” and of how her cat, “Pukka sahib/learns/to purr,” in a shoebox (117). In the final poem, “Swimming,” Subramaniam compares the thrill of carnival rides with a sense of identification with Lord Śiva’s dance of creation and destruction of the cosmos:

               “Because for a moment

               you could even be Him

               the Lord of Tillai,

               birthing, juggling,

               slaying universes

               in an inspired mayhem

               of limb and lust.

               Because deep within your seashell heart

               you hear it again,

               the oceanic roar

               that reminds you

               that it’s happening

               right now.

               Life is here,” (126).

Siva

 

 

Review of the Taittirīya Upaniṣad: Ancient Wisdom that is Much Needed for Modern Times

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This short book follows the course of the Taittirīya Upaniad with commentaries by Swami Muni Narayana Prasad. The reading requires a moderate degree of concentration and has technical Sanskrit terms that are well-defined (and includes a 12-page glossary). A major theme in this, as in many Upaniads, is that the seat of the Divine is within the heart of the human being. The concept and experience of human-Divine Oneness leads to a very practical and much-needed change in our current world culture in which separateness and division lead to war, suffering, and discrimination.

The book is part of the Rediscovering Indian Literary Classics series published by D.K. Printworld out of New Delhi, India. This series is reasonably priced and attractive, with some of the larger editions in hardcover (as is this one, at 200+ pages). They include the original Sanskrit text, the Romanized transliteration, and the English translation. The Taittirīya Upaniad is the 16th in the series. The translator of this ancient text is Swami Muni Narayana Prasad, who is of the lineage of Nataraja Guru and Narayana Guru.

The Upaniads (which Swami defines as “secret wisdom,” 25) consistence of 108 texts. Ten are considered “major” or “principle” (Mukhya)   Upaniads, which includes the Taittirīya. There is a Wikipedia page (“Muktikā” meaning “deliverance”) that lists all 108 texts. They were written across the centuries, dating back as far as 6th century BCE, and as recent as 15th century CE.

In his preface, Swami Muni Narayana Prasad writes,

“Indian spiritual tradition is a great banyan tree…the Upaniads are the flowers having the fragrance and beauty of the philosophy of non-dualism, blossomed on the vast banyan tree of the Vedas which in turn are enlaced by the complexities of rituals. The Taittirīya Upaniad is one of the best among such flowers.”

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Chestnut Tree Flowers, Hever Castle, UK, © David Kopacz, 2018

Swami describes the text of the Taittirīya Upaniad which is in three chapters. The first chapter has two parts: the first part focuses on śikā (“the art of correct chanting of Vedic hymns with proper intonation”) and the second part includes instruction for a disciple leaving gurukula education (a period of time living with the guru). These instructions are “meant for leading an ideal worldly life, show clearly that Brahmavidyā or Vedānta is not merely escapism. Rather it insists on making the life in this world perfect with the guidance of the wisdom of Vedānta,” (7-8). The second chapter focuses on Brahman “directly perceived by one in his own being, as the Self,” (8). This chapter follows a “gradual interiorization” which “begins from food and ends with ānanda (Bliss or Value),” (8). From a non-dual perspective, all nourishment is spiritual nourishment. The last chapter follows the seeker’s journey toward Brahman.

I will give a few highlights of the text from here on.

“One who knows Reality…sees himself or herself in everything and hence loves everything as one loves oneself,” (18).

In discussing the “science of pronunciation,” Swami describes the non-dual relationship between sound, meaning, and spirit:

“Knowledge, when expressed through language, has three basic elements: the uttered sound (śabda), its meaning (artha), and the mysterious power of a sound to contain a meaning as its own (śakti),” (21).

Rather than approaching material reality the way that Western science does – by a process of objectification and separation – this Upaniad teaches that all that manifests as diversity is, in reality, part of One non-dual Reality, which is a complementary and opposite approach to Western science taking everything apart into pieces. Swami reminds us of his guru’s guru, Nārāyana Guru’s prayers to Subraḥmanya [one of the names of Kartikeya, son of Śiva], “Please grant me the favour of the intimate merging of you and me,” (37).

One of my favourite parts of the Taittirīya Upaniad is the discussion of God being in the heart. This brings together the microcosm and the macrocosm in non-duality. The journey to the Ultimate is through the centre of one’s own heart. I am reminded of Abhishiktananda’s discussions of the guhā, the cave of the heart (Joseph Rael and I write on this topic in our forthcoming book, Becoming Medicine). The word “guhāyām” does appear in the text of the Taittirīya, translated as “secret cavern” in the phrase “the transcendental space within the secret cavern,” (84). Here is Swami’s description of finding the Truth (“AUM, maha, Brahman, ātman”) in the space within the heart:

“To make the placement easier to conceive, the Truth is called purua (Person) in this section. The seat of that Person is within the heart. The heart here is not to be understood as the organ which pumps blood to all parts of the body. It is rather an imaginary locus of the psycho-physical entity of the individual. While the heart is the locus of the individual, space (ākāśa) is that which gives room for the universe to exist. Here the Person is described as seated in the universal space within the heart,” (49-50).

Heart Meditation

Heart Meditation, © David Kopacz, 2014

Swami unpacks nihitam guhāyām in a section entitled “Placed Within the Cavern,” which examines the non-duality of the individual and the Self that is found within the unitary centre of the heart.

     “We could conveniently say that the Self is hidden in us. This hideout could be poetically imagined to be the darkness of a cave. Hence the Upaniadic ṛṣis, at the beginning of their inward search for the Self, imagine it as seated in the darkness of the cavern of every being. We can see the same imagery in the Kaha Upaniad (II-20) as well. Nārāyana Guru also, when he defines the Self, refers to its being in darkness. He says, ‘the Self is that which knows while sitting in darkness’.

     It might sound strange that the consciousness that hides in darkness is bright. Moreover, what was thought to be inside turns out not to be inside. Really, it is neither inside nor outside. Truth subsists equally in what we call interior and exterior,” (93).

Swami tells us that education and experience in the ordinary view of the world lead us away from this place of the heart which contains the seat of the Divine, we thus “forget our real nature,” (68). Similar to my writings on re-humanisation in medicine, Swami tells us we must reconnect with our hearts in order to understand our real humanity.

“Thus we become alienated from ourselves through our educational process. The only remedy for this is to remoralize our education so as to make all the knowledge we accumulate an outgrowth of the main trunk of our real humanity. Knowing our real humanity means knowing the oneness of all humans, and seeing those we call ‘others’ as not different than ourselves. Living with a full awareness of this oneness makes us really human, and our life becomes peaceful,” (68).

The way to peace is through realizing that we are not only all interconnected, but we are all actually One. This oneness leads to compassion and peace. Thus, this esoteric, mystical doctrine of non-duality leads us back to our responsibility for each other, for humanity, and for the planet.

 

The Long Road Home for Refugees

 

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This is a 5 song EP put together by various artists through the British Red Cross to raise awareness to the plight of refugees worldwide. Tinariwen, Scroobius Pip & Didier Kisala, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, Robert Plant, and Kindness all contributed tracks to this project. It is a great album of diverse moods and styles that all synergistically combine to speak with one voice for human dignity and human rights.

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The British Red Cross even developed a Lesson Plan with learning objectives, song lyrics, video, and discussion points for use in the classroom for students age 14-19. Specific learning points focus on developing empathy and understanding identity formation and acculturation. So the whole thing is an excellent educational package as well as including great music. Many of the artists are refugees themselves and the artists spoke with other refugees and captured real-life aspects of their stories in the song lyrics.

 

Tinariwen

The first track is “Kek Algahalam Mas Tasossam” by Tinariwen. It is a great track that has both movement and spaciousness and a very catchy chant. This band is great and their sound defies classification – layers of guitars, harmonic group singing, soaring movement, and a spaciousness that brings images of the desert. They are a Tuareg group from the deserts of northern Mali. They formed in 1979 in Algeria after being displaced by war, and returned to Mali during a cease fire in the 1990s. They have performed internationally and are well-respected by many diverse musicians. Their 5th album Tassili (2011) included guest appearances by Nels Cline (of Wilco) and Kyp Malone (of TV on the Radio). In 2012 the group was specifically targeted by anti-music Islamic militants, most of the group escaped but Abdallah Ag Lamida was briefly captured whilst trying to save his guitars. They resettled, temporarily in the Southwest USA, where they recorded their sixth album, Emmaar, at Joshua Tree National Park in California. (Biographical details from Wikipedia page, “Tinariwen”).

The second track is “Who Are You?” by English spoken word artist Scroobius Pip and Didier Kisala, founder of the English Congolese band, The Redeemed. The song was inspired by the real-life story of Ramelle, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I had never heard of either of these artists before, but it is a moving song. It starts out slow and melodic guitar for a bit with Didier Kisala singing and then Scroobius Pip layers in with a smooth rap about the plight of a refugee fleeing war and violence and finding discrimination feels increasing frustration and anger (as a guitar cuts in with dissonance), but the anger is directed toward getting a degree from school.

 

SLRAS

The third track is “World Peace,” by Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars. I love this band and the song is so positive and upbeat with a reggae vibe as they sing “We talk about peace, we want peace, everywhere, we talk about love, spread love everywhere.” This band knows first-hand the plight of refugees, having to relocate from Freetown, Sierra Leone to neighbouring Guinea due to war. The band formed in the Kalia refugee camp in 1997 with the help of a couple guitars and a microphone donated by a Canadian relief agency. Eventually they returned to Freetown and met more refugees there and continued making music, releasing their first album in 2006, Living Like a Refugee. A documentary called Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, they had a song, “Seconds,” on the U2 tribute album In the Name of Love: Africa Celebrates U2, and they released their fourth album in 2014. Their website summarizes their story: “After a 10-year adventure that has taken them from the squalor of refugee camps to the world’s biggest stages, Africa’s most inspirational band continues to ascend. Over the years they have evolved to become one of Africa’s most recognized bands with fans across the globe. Their albums and live shows embodies and radiates the joy, passion for music and love for their fellow man that have made Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars a living testament to the resilience of the human spirit and an inspiration to hundreds of thousands of people across the globe.”

 

Robert Plant

Robert Plant contributes the fourth song on The Long Road, “The Blanket of Night,” which is a cover of the original song by the English band, Elbow. This song is off their 2014 album, The Take Off and Landing of Everything. Plant’s rendition is even more ethereal. The song is a slow, sad, and open, evoking the wide open ocean and the dangerous journey that many refugees make across the open waters. The lyrics capture the rise and fall of the waves and the sea of chance and fate as refugees face the perils of the ocean’s nature.

The ocean

That bears us from our home

Could save us

Or take us for its own

The danger

That life should lead us here

My angel

Could I have steered us clear?

Kindness

The fifth song, “A Retelling,” is by Kindness (Adam Bainbridge). The song was inspired by the story of a refugee who fled Syria:

Ayman Hirh said, “I hope that my experience and the album will encourage people to think about the reasons people like me are forced to leave home.”

The song has a sad, plodding piano with Kindness’ slow vocals. (Kindness did a haunting cover of The Replacements “Swingin’ Party,” on his 2012 album World, You Need to Change Your Mind).

Johns

The British Red Cross web page for the album also features a video about the making of the music and the vision of the project that was musically produced by Ethan Johns, who has worked with Kings of Leon, Paul McCartney, and Crosby, Stills and Nash.

This 5 song EP brings together a topical message about tolerance, empathy, and understanding moving between cultures in an educational package. The stories of many of the musicians, themselves, testify to the resilience of the human spirit. The music is heart-felt and brings together the full-spectrum of human emotion. We should remember that all of us are immigrants to the wide world outside of Africa as scientists tell us that Africa is the homeland of ancient humanity and we all trace back through our DNA to one mother: Mitochondrial Eve (whose initials happen to be the same as Mother Earth).

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