Microscope IIIc: Walking

Gravity is a funny thing. I’ve been listening to a lot of John Mayer recently. Particularly ‘Gravity’. The song itself is like butter – smooth, voluptuous, everything you want but not quite it. It’s not your lifelong treasure of destiny – not mine at least.

But what of gravity itself, not the song, but the concept. That unknown force that keeps us anchored to the ground. I hate gravity. To me, walking is the greatest act of defiance known to man – our ability to walk is our refusal to be weighed down to the ground. The ability to move forwards, backwards, left, and right is what precipitated running, what gave birth to flight. It is the essence of our humanity – to get up and walk.

As you can clearly see, the practice of walking is extremely personal to me – akin to prayer. If kneeling at church is to find your place in the universe, if standing at a temple is singing to the cosmos, then walking is to look for the answer. When you kneel, when you stand, you are a slave to gravity. When you walk, you’re a slave to nothing.

And today, I find myself walking far more than I ever have, probably more in the last 9 weeks than I have in the last 9 months. But do I feel any freer? Not really. I have never used walking to seek freedom, it has always been there.

I have used walking as a contemplative mechanism.

I have needed to find a lot of answers recently. Answers to questions I never thought I would have to ask. Questions about myself, my past, my present, my future. Sometimes, I have had to find the strength to go on, sometimes the quiet to stop my mind racing. None of it has been easy, walking has made it tolerable. One day, perhaps, I’ll get to tell you more about it.

So what are some of the more interesting walks I have been on recently? I could tell you about the time I walked back home from the temple from the last blog along the canals of Little Venice. I could tell you about the walk from my apartment on Wells Street to Regents Park, getting lost near the little waterfall, reminiscing about times past. And what about the numerous walks in Hyde Park? Getting lost in the trees, feeling so fragile in the open.

No.

Let me tell you about the simplest, strangest, and certainly calmest walk I take –

Every morning, after our daily team meeting, I take 15 minutes to walk from my office in America Square to the Starbucks down the street. It is not a glamorous walk, after all, the Tower of London is right around the corner. Perhaps it is the funnel created by the skyscrapers around me but there is a particular direction to the wind as I walk down the street – as if it cuts across me as opposed to into or behind me. I am usually halfway through Gravity at this point where the guitar gently takes over somehow making my head feel lighter. All the anxiety, all the worry, all the thinking from moments ago disappears as I enter the shop.

A friendly face at the counter, with an all too familiar name, welcomes me with a smile,

“Peach green tea lemonade, lite ice?” She asks me, knowingly.

I give her a half smile, a simple nod, and an empty look. I pay and walk to the corner.

I pick up my drink, I take a sip – paradoxically, the cool liquid envelops me like a warm hug. I take one step after another, out into the windy street, back to my office. I look up into the cloudy sky as Mayer croons, 

“Gravity, stay the Hell away from me.”

The thing is you can’t logic your way out of Iman. Gravity can push you down as much as it wants to but it is Iman that makes me look up into that cloudy sky and say,

One day at a time, one step at a time. You’ll get to where you want to go.

Not where I need to go, but where I want to go. Walking on a cloudy day to a Starbucks down the street is enough to remind me that I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul. Because I have Iman.

Microscope IIIa: Kneeling

All Saints on Margaret Street was, up until a few weeks ago, just another charming and enchanted building I would walk past in London. It is a few feet away from my apartment, opposite a Buddhist Temple, with imposing towers adorned with the Cross. This should be reason enough to use it as shelter when a hurricane hits you. I remember the first time I walked into this old, stone building that looked as heavy as it was. Hallowed ground comes with it’s baggage – not a bad thing in this case.

Its ornate and gilded interior providing the perfect refuge for someone seeking divine intervention. It’s often typical to think of a higher power after an evidently PTSD inducing experience. I remember looking at the giant arch above me – Alpha and Omega adorning its opposing sides. It was 6:35pm on Wednesday, the 21st of June, a scorching day. My shirt was drenched in sweat, my eyes were red with tears. I’m not ashamed to admit it.

I interrupted the typical Low Mass ceremony that takes place at 6:30pm everyday except on Sundays (5:15pm). There were three other people standing in silence facing Father Alan Moses. He looked at me, and said sternly,

“Son, if you’re here to pray, kneel before the Lord, find a seat, and confess your sins.”

For the first time, in ages, I cannot even recall how long it’s been, I bent a knee.

There was a power to the act of kneeling, a foregoing of our human stiffness. Let me clarify something here, I am not saying that I am a born again Christian or a man of the cloth – as always I am respectful and in awe of all faiths, of the strength of belief, of the humility of giving yourself to something greater. I am in awe of Iman.

I rose and took a seat, the first seat on the third row to the right as Father Moses continued,

“May all those who truly repent be forgiven for their sins.”

A little while into Mass, we were all called to receive Communion – non-Baptized folk could receive a blessing. As you would suspect, I went up and asked for one – something I now do every day.

“May the Lord bless you and all the angels pray for you.”

I knelt back down, feeling the power of something greater than me. Perhaps it was a heightened state of emotional reception or perception, perhaps it was the hurricane, but in kneeling, for the slightest moment, I found a sliver of peace. 

I now go to All Saints every morning, and kneel in front of that gilded arch. I don’t say any prayer, I don’t recite any scripture, I just kneel and imagine a hand on my head –

“May the Lord bless you and all the angels pray for you.”

Amen.

Microscope III: The Trilogy of Prayer

In the last 6 weeks, I have found myself engaging a variety of…spiritual pursuits. The kind that you have already read about and some of the more, eclectic variety – God men and mad men, touts and trumpets, fountains and fantasies. I genuinely enjoyed writing the piece on prayer. It was born out of a rather difficult experience, writing about which was even more cathartic than I originally admitted. As such, I thought I would turn the microscope onto the forms of prayer I had mentioned in that post. 

Stay tuned throughout the upcoming week for my Trilogy of Prayer – Kneeling, Standing, and Walking.

V

Microscope II: Madness

Not a lot of people know that I originally started by writing poetry – perhaps it’s apparent in my writing, perhaps it’s not. A wonderful friend of my describes my writing as that of a poet. As such I thought I would share a poem I wrote on my way to work a couple of months ago.

The piece is called Madness. I would love to get your thoughts on it!

Madness

Love on a real train,
Like a tangerine dream,
Louis the fifteenth
Draped in moonlight sonata.
A bird in the air,
Flanked by fireflies,
Blanketed by the clouds.
Frenzied obsessions,
Built on untrue confessions,
Find the hidden meaning,
Hear the blind nun screaming,
Ready your swords,
Guitars playing power chords.
Madness is not taught,
Neither is it earned or bought,
Madness is inherited brilliance,
Gifts of generational passing,
Percolating without asking,
Trickling into your brain,
Permeating every fiber of your being,
Giving you sight without seeing,
Traveling a thousand miles a second,
Count from one to five,
And see it come alive.

Happy Monday, my friends.

P.S. – Amanda, this post was inspired by you!

Telescope II: Prayer

What does it mean to have faith? How is it possible to show that you have faith? For most people, myself included, I would suspect that it is through prayer. But what is prayer? What does it mean to pray? I cannot speak for you, but I can certainly speak for myself.

I have never considered myself particularly religious. I was born into a Hindu household, but we were never religious. My grandmother chose not to eat beef primarily because her teeth hurt and it would be hard to chew. No, we were never religious. We respected all faiths at home – celebrating Diwali, fasting during Ramadan, lighting up a Christmas tree, and not really knowing what Kwanza was.

Our living room at home in Dubai is, to me, the most religiously harmonious place on the planet. In it, you will find a painting of Jesus looking at the serene face of Buddha. In it, you will find the Lord Ganesh, flanked by two paintings that say Allah. It’s no surprise that I have always considered that living room my happy place.

I will not lie to you, I did not write yesterday because I found myself in an emotionally difficult place. I will not lie to you, the last 6 weeks have been the hardest of my life – when you are faced with the idea that the life you imagined for yourself might not be possible, or presently impossible, you tend to give in to the sadness of loss. You tend to lose faith. You tend to lose Iman. Just thinking about it makes me uneasy.

In the last 6 weeks, I have found that there no greater peace than in re-embracing my spirituality.

So, what is prayer? To me, these days, prayer is peace. Prayer is singing to the universe and hoping to hear back. Prayer can be daily, it can be weekly, it can be every decade. But prayer is prayer.

I went to a temple for the first time in almost 10 years yesterday. 10 years. It’s such a humbling thought to realize that you have lived long enough to have last done something a decade ago. I walked past dozens of Hindu deities, the same prayer to each one. I sat with what could best be described as a cornucopia of old ladies, singing songs that could well have been in Chinese. Seated there, legs crossed, eyes closed, peaceful.

I go to church every day, Low Mass at All Saints on Margaret Street in Fitzrovia. My dear reader, if you ever wish to join me, to share in the peace of prayer, I will be there at 6:30pm every day. The ritual of contrition, of believing in something more powerful than yourself, the ritual of earning a blessing somehow puts my mind at ease. I spoke to a bishop of the church yesterday, asking him about the power of prayer,

“It’s not about asking the Lord for what you want, it’s about asking for the strength to be a better you in the service of good.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

I thought other rituals that I had somehow formed a spiritual connection with. Walking. I love going on long, ambling walks. I walked home from the temple yesterday – it took me 3 hours and I loved every second of it. I walked along a canal in the middle of London that ran for 7.8 miles. My mind raced the entire time, it zoomed way beyond the canal, way past London, across the world, to the East. How could it not? But taking one step after another, towards home, there is prayer in that.

There’s a wonderful, wonderful quote from a Bollywood movie I love, it’s called Delhi-6 and I suggest you watch it for all it’s manic brilliance. The original Urdu/Hindi goes something like this,

Zarre zarre mein uska noor hai,
Jhaank khud mein wo naa tujhse doore hai,
Ishq hai usse to sabse ishq kar,
Ishq hai usse to sabse ishq kar,
Iss ibaadat ka yahi dastoor hai,
Ismein usmein aur usmein hai wo hi,
Ismein usmein aur usmein hai wo hi,
Yaar mera har taraf bharpoor hai.

Roughly translated it means,

His light permeates each and every particle
Look within yourself, he is not far from you
If you love him, then love everyone
If you love him, then love everyone
As these are the rules of prayers to him
He’s in you, them and everybody
He’s in you, them and everybody
My friend is there completely in all directions

So take a moment, a brief flutter of your day, to think about what it means to you to pray. Think about the rituals that you share not with others but with something above you, something within you. Take a moment to appreciate it, to smile while doing it. Take a moment to remember that prayer is a beautiful, beautiful ritual. And maybe, just maybe, prayer can have the power to work. Take a moment to remember that faith, that Iman, it exists everywhere and in everything.

Have a good week, my friends.

Microscope I: Serenity in Chaos

These days, I find moments of serenity to be precious – they are very few and very far in between. Tonight, as I write this on the eve of my 24th birthday, I find myself sitting in my office, of all places. There is a cup of what can best be described as “utility” coffee next to me, and no one else around me. This is not the dark, cavernous coffeeshop, this is a fluorescent space, enough to make your head spin in a neon haze. Somehow, it is in this, very, very, non-functional, functioning office space, that I have found a moment of serenity.

Today, or rather, tonight, I want to turn the microscope onto work. My work.

There are two types of work places – the corporate jungle – built on rules, policies, regulation, and formality – and the wild west – where anything goes. They are both equally savage, equally consuming, and equally miraculous. I chose the wild west. Why? For many reasons – the opportunity to grow, to learn how to fight, to survive in an environment full of cowboys and Indians. It hasn’t been easy, constantly having to find ways in which to “deliver value”. I have often found myself backed into a corner, my weight has fluctuated more times than I can remember, my hairline has receded more inches than I care to count. But each time, every day that I was told that I was not adding value, was another day that I learnt something new. That’s the beauty of the wild west, you learn or you die. Best try and live a long life.

Then what about the corporate jungle, the place where trees grow tall, with green leaves, with plentiful rain. Where branches on vines are serpents, where fire ants roam the ground, where the treetops are so far above you, that they have forgotten what the ground looks like. What about that jungle? It is a space of great sadness, many bodies are buried there, many more skeletons in the closet. But it is a place of great opportunity. Those who climb those trees have the ability to shape the world. Those who hang from the vines learn how to survive, how to swing from branch to branch without falling. And those who fall, they have the memories of a beautiful view.

In both the wild west and the corporate jungle, the going is hard. You are forced to de-sensitize yourself from the world around, often to devastating effect. The long hours, the continuous pressure, the mind numbing tediousness. How can you not give up on your humanity? How can you not let the tracking of your productivity as the number of hours you bill not make you feel de-humanized?

I used to hate the long nights at this office. Despite it being on Baker Street, it had none of the charm you would expect. It was cold, it was quiet, it was barren. And it was frightfully apparent and ferociously potent. I would FaceTime from the office at night and dream about being on the other side. And somehow, tonight, I find serenity in this dead space.

“Abandon all hope ye who enter.”

Dante, you’re wrong.

As I sit here, on the desk that saw me gain almost 10 kilograms (that’s 20 pounds), the same desk that saw me lose 20 more kilograms (that’s 40 pounds), I remind myself what kept me strong throughout the cold. As the clock strikes midnight, and the 18th of July begins, I want to leave you with the thought keeps me going,

Work is not a reflection of you. Sometimes, you are a reflection of your work. But you, and only you, are a reflection of you.

So feel the sadness, feel the loneliness, feel the despair, feel the coldness, feel it all. Feel the happiness that you learnt something, feel the gladness of being with your team, feel it all. And remind yourself that this place, in the dead of the night, this place is the only place, other than where you are loved, that makes you engage with your humanity and makes you fight for it.

Now wipe your brow, be thankful to be human, and sweat the glorious sweat for there is serenity in this chaotic place. Have faith, have…Iman.

Happy birthday, V.

The Coffee Shop

I find it tremendously hard to focus these days. As I sit here, in the Nordic Bakery in Soho, London, I remember my thoughts about writing in coffee shops – how invigorating people I knew used to find the smell of freshly ground coffee in the morning as they hid themselves in the deep recesses of dark coffee shops while the sun shone outside. I was always more of a sunshine person, the warmth on my skin, like a blanket enveloping me as I faced the world outside. Come to think of it, I was always an “outside” person, I would stand under an umbrella in the rain, outside. I would watch snow fall in a ski jacket, outside. I was never built for the coffee shop.

But somehow, today, I find myself in a coffee shop. There’s a very large latte to my right, adjacent to the laptop on which I write, to my left is a picture – I’ll tell you about it one day. With any luck, I will explain it the way I wish I can. I write a lot, in recent days, I’ve written even more, always for myself. I smell the coffee next to me and it gives me what I have been craving, so desperately, for the last few weeks – focus. I sip the coffee, to my great surprise, it truly is invigorating. 

So, in this temporary reprieve of mental stability, let me introduce you to this blog. Have you ever watched the movie, Chef? If not, I suggest you do. If you have, I suggest you watch it again. This is my food truck. I will have my own food truck one day, when a career, a non-restrictive visa situation, when all the operational difficulties of life aren’t a factor anymore. Until then, I hope I can serve you my words.

The name of this blog is Iman. Iman means faith. To me faith is belief. Not just belief in the power of the universe, it’s ability to resonate back to you. It is also my belief in myself, in the power that I possess to cause change. Whether it is to end conflict in the world, to achieve my goals, or, perhaps, to win back a heart. Faith is a sweet, sweet poison, it permeates every inch of you, it binds with your soul. As much as I wish I could take credit for this, I remember someone telling me about a quote by Victor Hugo,

“Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins. Which of the two has the grander view?”

Victor, you beautiful bastard.

Iman is about the telescope – my long term vision, and the microscope – my self, my best self. And the faith to achieve both.