Buddha Stone Statue in China
A movie and a book intersected in my life recently with stories about how God is experienced and perceived by us humans throughout the ages. Life of Pi (the movie, released in 2012) was made from a book written by Yann Martel in 2001. A book written by Deepak Chopra called God: A Story of Revelation(Amazon link) happened to come to my attention through a marketing email, and I read it on my iPhone Kindle reader over the last couple of months. I have been fascinated with stories about God, psychology, and philosophy since I was about 11 years of age.
The movie is intense, full of metaphors, and starts with the statement that once you hear Pi’s story, you will believe in God. I don’t want to ruin the punchline, but it’s worth noting that Pi says “and so it goes with God” when he finishes telling the two versions of his story about the time he was lost at sea and the character listening to his story tells him which story he prefers. One is a magical story of triumph with God’s help, the other reflects the darkest side of humanity and “survival of the fittest.”
Deepak Chopra’s book described the lives of several people of differing faiths and the paths that led them to profess that they heard God speak to them. The people he writes about are: Job, Socrates, St. Paul, Shankara (similar to Buddha), Rumi, Julian of Norwich, Giordano Bruno, Anne Hutchinson, Baal Shem Tov, Rabindranath Tagore, and Einstein. It’s interesting to note that all except one are men. I guess women were too busy raising kids and taking care of their husbands to have the time to wander the streets, write poetry, or be thought anything other than heretical/batty if they proclaimed God spoke to them.
Those on a path to find God usually lead pretty persecuted and misunderstood lives where “bliss,” for lack of a better word is only sometimes achieved after much affliction combined with not “fitting” in to the time they were born. But they all seemed to have felt as if God was within them and inside all living things. Even probably 50 years ago saying things like God was anything other than someone up on high looking down on us (randomly helping us), would result in persecution. However, now as Eastern philosophies blend with Western, it’s not so odd to think that we and everything on this planet are pieces of God. Science has even started to prove that we are made up of vibrating energy. His book states that science moved us away from mysticism/faith to cold hard facts and is now moving us back to the unexplainable and cohesive universal force that keeps things in order.
It seems that our belief in God and what & who God is evolves and changes based on the stories we tell about the human condition. Apparently, the more we explore ourselves & the universe and the more we share our stories, our relationship to and with God changes.
| Filed under: book review
, movie reviews
| Tags: Anne Hutchinson
, Baal Shem Tov
, Deepak Chopra
, Giordano Bruno
, God: A Story of Revelation
, Julian of Norwich
, Life of Pi
, Rabindranath Tagore
, St. Paul
, Yann Martel
| 3 Comments »
My best friend of 23 years is an English professor. We met during my first day in the dorm before starting my freshman year in college. I was a business major who didn’t know much about English other than writing seemed to come easily for me even at a young age. I can trace my interest in creative writing back to a 5th grade teacher I had the first year I moved to Lubbock, Texas. I would make A’s and A+’s on my English papers in high school for creativity but practically fail grammar until my freshman year in college when grammar all of a sudden made sense to me. Or maybe I should say I quit trying to make sense of grammar and accepted it for what it was. My best friend is a grammar guru and maybe the combination of taking freshman English and typing her papers for her, because I typed faster than she did, somehow helped me get the practice I needed to improve my grammar and punctuation.
Our professional worlds rarely collide, but when I’m facing a situation personally or professionally, she often has a reference to literature (sadly, my knowledge of great literature is not deep or wide given my business degrees) to help me try to make sense of what is happening. Fiction is fiction but as a writer I have come to appreciate that really good fiction is based often times quite heavily on the author’s direct experience or observation of others. A book that my friend suggested I read a while back when I was going through my personal family transition is called The Awakening by Kate Chopin (wikipedia) [The Awakening (Norton Critical Editions) – Amazon link], but she didn’t think it wise for me to read it while in the middle of my turmoil since the main character kills herself and she was concerned about me. Not that I ever had suicidal tendencies, but it was probably wise I wait to read it because I’ve come to realize that the state of being one is in when they read certain words has a huge impact on how they receive and interpret those words. So I read it this weekend.
The book was banished for decades after Kate Chopin wrote it in 1899 for it’s scandalous depiction of Edna, a married woman with two young boys, and her behavior. I find it scandalous even today given her dramatic moves, an affair with not one but two men (one physical, one emotional), feeling no remorse, shame or guilt, and then killing herself when she can’t be with the man she loves thereby leaving behind two young children. But it was back in the late 1800’s, when most women had no means to support themselves and they had to remain in situations they did not want to be in. The man also loves her but knows he can’t be with her because of the rules of their society and withdraws himself from her life. Since Edna is not able to pursue other opportunities or escape her current life, she resorts to killing herself (you’ll have to read the book to see how she does it) rather than live in a despondent world “without the vibrant colors of love.”
The main character, Edna, was 28 going on 29 when she began the awakening process. I was 38 going on 39 when I started to realize I was waking up to a different perception of myself and the world around me. I remember words I read in an email, I remember my response, I remember the place, the person, the drink, the conversation, the expression, a twinge that when placed together triggered a shift in my being that resulted in my songwriting, journaling, poem writing, emotion laden emails to co-workers, family and friends (i.e., gushes from my writer’s soul that had been behind an enormous dam for a long time). I sought understanding through courses like Landmark (Transformation in Process and Who I Was Being Was Not Exactly Who I Am) and Search Within that both guided the participant to live an authentic life and not what Henry David Thoreau writes in Walden – “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” That was a quote my best friend reminded me of this past weekend. I couldn’t go to the grave with the song still in me, and I hope I don’t die (mostly for my children’s sake) before I release the songs based on my lyrics that I’ve been working on with my songwriting partner. I also hope I don’t die before I find what some people call their soul mate so I can sing him my song, and he’ll understand it just as I will understand his song.
Here are some interesting quotes from the book written by an author who was 32 years old, widowed with 6 kids:
“In short, Mrs. Pontellier [Edna] was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relation as an individual to the world within and about her. This may seem like a ponderous weight of wisdom to descend upon the soul of a young woman of twenty-eight –perhaps more wisdom than the Holy Ghost is usually pleased to vouchsafe to any woman.” p. 17
“She [Edna] is not one of us; she is not like us. She might make the unfortunate blunder of taking you seriously.” [This was said by Edna’s friend to the man, known to Edna’s husband, who eventually became the object of her love. Edna was not Creole but apparently it was common for young, unmarried men to cater to the needs of married women and flirt with them in that society.]
“Edna began to feel like one who awakens gradually out of a dream, a delicious, grotesque, impossible dream, to feel again the realities pressing into her soul.” p. 41
“He [the doctor] observed his hostess attentively from under his shaggy brows, and noted a subtle change which had transformed her from the listless woman he had known into a being who, for the moment, seemed palpitant with the forces of life. Her speech was warm and energetic. There was no repression in her glance or gesture. She reminded him of some beautiful, sleek animal waking up in the sun.” p. 92
“Yes,” she [Edna] said. “The years that are gone seem like dreams — if one might go on sleeping and dreaming — but to wake up and find–oh! well! perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life.” p. 147
| Filed under: book review
| Tags: book review
, edna pontellier
, english professor
, henry david thoreau
, kate chopin
, the awakening
| 8 Comments »
Lion Statue in Barcelona, Spain
Of Lions and Beasts
The lions stand defiantly,
Overlooking the aging sea.
The ocean waves around my skin;
The quiet roar won’t let me be.
The plastic cages keep me bound,
Tightly, softly in a dew-like tether.
They move my mind to places I cannot go;
Which lead me to regions nether.
So I must wait until the time,
The rising sun will shine upon my heart.
And take me to a warmer clime;
Where love is appreciated like discriminating art.
But the beast that lives in all of us,
Is harshly judged by one and all.
And will never truly live without much fuss;
Until we can safely emerge from underneath the shawl.
© June – July 2010 Aruni S. Gunasegaram
Barcelona, Spain; Austin, Texas
I decided to share another poem on my blog. This one didn’t come as easy as the Streets of Barcelona. Well, I’d say 90% of the words came, but it took longer, and I had to do more editing before it felt right. I wrote most of this while sitting next to this statue of the lion in the photo. These statues were just across the street from a little port where they launched tourist boats to sea. I played with the visual presentation a little bit. If you look closely you’ll see that one line in each stanza is slightly longer than the longest line in the previous stanza. You’ll also see that the first and third lines in the first two stanzas don’t rhyme but they do in the second two stanzas. In a poem I wrote on the airplane flight from Madrid to Dallas, the last words of the 1st and 3rd lines of each stanza relate to each other but don’t rhyme. I didn’t realize that until after I had written that one which surprised me a bit.
This poem is about the majesty of lions and the beastliness of them as well, just like humans. Humans are so powerful and noble, yet we often forget that we are also made of animal/beastly stuff that surfaces from time to time. The lions and lionesses, fortunately, have no such rules to deny their beastly sides because they are free to be what they are unless they are captured and put in a zoo.
The reference to ‘shawl’ has to do with religions that require their women to be covered up so that men cannot see any of their flesh that might tempt the beast in them. In Western religions women don’t have the same rules to hide most of their body, but I’ve come to discover I/we hide other parts of ourselves: our true minds and thoughts. As women, moms, wives, proverbial keepers of the family, we hide behind those shawls for many reasons mainly because we were told in lore they would keep us safe. The trouble is they don’t keep us safe from our true selves and what’s hiding behind those shawls might be much more provocative to others (men or women) than mere flesh, which could explain why in some parts of the world a woman’s opinion/voice is just not heard.
I’ve seen other women cling to customs/behaviors and judge others based on them. Not because they believe them to be right or true but because that’s how they were taught, and they are too afraid of change and sometimes even freedom. I’ll be writing about a book I’m reading on the topic of choice. With choice comes more freedom but also a lot of anxiety and stress. The more options we have, the more knowledge we have about the ‘paths not taken.’
| Filed under: poetry
| Tags: dallas
, lions and beasts
, poetry in barcelona
| Comments Off on Of Lions and Beasts
I just got back from Barcelona, Spain, and I don’t recall another time in my life where I’ve had the time to sit, think, write and let the words come without having some daily routine distraction. I was in Barcelona visiting my cousin, Ashan Pillai (a true Outlier) on my way back from a business trip to Portugal. After getting all the gifts for my kids (couldn’t forget the Spanish team soccer/futbal outfit), I sat in a plaza near the famous Ramblas shopping area in Barcelona with a notebook, listened to the people, listened to the street noises & pigeons, and waited for the words to appear. I had a lofty goal of writing 7 song lyrics. I should have gone with the goal of 3 that Brett Wintermeyer, our courier at work and also band member of The Sophisticates suggested, but I have an ‘eyes bigger than stomach’ tendency. I wrote 3 lyrics and started 2 others. I wrote 5 poems and started 2 others. Many more started and swirled around my head but never made it to paper or computer. I still have no idea if my lyrics are any good as I haven’t yet put them to actual music.
The thing with poetry that I’ve discovered over the past year or so is that sometimes its meaning is different between the writer and the reader. Who or what the poem is about becomes about the readers personal experience or interpretation of the words. As a writer I know that I often write things that have double meanings which are both true but the degree to which one is truer can only be fully known by the writer and possibly specific readers close to the writer.
The meaning can also slightly change depending on how it’s read out loud…the rhythm of the reading can affect someone in ways unknown. If you are a poet, this is probably not news to you. I suppose that’s the point…if it can touch someone even if it’s different than intended then it would have served its purpose. I wonder how many poems/lyrics go unread by others because there are so many writers out there who write for themselves as they struggle with their humanity. I suppose the really famous writers have their poems discovered after their death and people are left to interpret them best they can, but for us mostly unknown writers they probably disappear into oblivion.
I have never shared my poetry on this blog…well not the serious ones anyway but after being inspired by Shaku letting me post her Icarus In Flight poem on my blog, I thought I’d share just one. On a side note, in addition to me knowing Shaku through a non-profit organization, she also worked for an Austin Technology Incubator (ATI) company called Webify that was bought by IBM. It’s a small world considering I work for ATI now.
I wrote the following poem in my cousin’s neighborhood (the day before I went to the Ramblas) after hearing a song in a video my aunt was playing for me that evoked many juxtaposing emotions that compelled me to escape outside. Fortunately, the weather is gorgeous in Barcelona this time of year. This poem is a mixture of recent stories…a little bit of mine, a little bit of his, a little bit of people who changed our lives. He is in the middle (or shall I say the beginning) of an experience no new father should ever have to go through. So without further ado…
Streets of Barcelona
On the streets of Barcelona
I wander with ancient tears in my eyes
Thinking of you and nights all alone
At Last the song with many sighs
A translucent marriage to a soul
Recently departed to a sully sea foam world
Because one could not wait to grow old
Afraid to take comfort in touches never know’d
The blustery city noises and a pigeon’s soft coo
Might wash out the pain of consequence ridden choices
And obliterate irrelevant, life altering feelings taken by you
While holes you exposed must be filled with clear voices
True sadness eludes me because fear
Overrules the quixotic, addictive emotion of love
But steely sharpness of knowledge shall bring forth to bear
Wavering courage to continue onward from Above
© May 30, 2010 Aruni S. Gunasegaram
| Filed under: father
| Tags: austin technology incubator
, icarus in flight
, the sophisticates
| 6 Comments »
While I find the time to write-up my takeaways on the recent book I finished reading, here is a poem from a friend name Shaku Selvakumar who blogs at Brown Girl In The Ring – Brown Girl grapples with work, life, family and striking that fine balance. How the world affects us and where we can affect change in the world. Reducing our carbon footprint and increasing our heart imprint.
She is brave enough to share her gems on facebook and on her blog. I am not as brave as she to share my poems and song lyrics as I fear most people would not understand them. I don’t know about Shaku but sometimes when I write, the words come out without me having to think too much about them. On occasion, I’ve gone back to read what I have written not remembering that I actually wrote some of those words. With her permission, I am republishing this wonderful poem of hers. I met Shaku many years ago through an organization called The Indus Entrepreneur now known as TIE Austin. One of her three daughters went briefly to the same home care my kids went to. She also worked for a company called Webify that was an ATI company bought by IBM. Although we haven’t seen each other in years it seems, I feel as if we are on similar journey’s.
Icarus In Flight
I have wondered
About the road ahead
It twists and turns
It craves and burns
I have wondered
About the flight of the Dead
Where do souls converge
In oneness or splintered to return instead
I have wondered
About the colour of Love
Is it green, or black, is it blue
Or blood, a reprieve of a fearless vow
I have wondered
About the path of Dreams
Lifting, soaring, flailing, crashing
Breathing barely, fearing a requiem
I have wondered
About the burden of Stones
Silently groaning waiting to be thrown
Now I wander
Through rows of Marigold
Wading in murky waters
Looking for Lotuses to unfold
Who dared the Sun
And touched the Sky
The Gods did he slight
To be Icarus on his flight
| Filed under: poetry
| Tags: poetry
, shaku selvakumar
| 4 Comments »