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 IIIb: Standing

I can honestly count the number of times I have visited a temple on one hand. It’s not something that I confess to be particularly ashamed about – I grew up in the middle east and as with any polytheistic religion based on iconography, it was fairly easy to circumvent the usually infuriating trips to an overcrowded building with very little in terms of architectural divinity.

Temples around the world are not the same as temples in India. There’s something lacking in them, almost as if they aren’t connected to whatever is up there in the same way – I can’t quite describe it – think of it as the difference between a wireless, router driven wi-fi and a wired internet connection, one of them can be shaky, the other is almost always steady and stable. I think it’s the same difference here – India being the wired connection, everywhere else acting like wi-fi. Putting that aside, though, I decided to go to the Shri Vallabh Nidhi Mandir, rather conveniently promoted with the extremely 21st Century monicker – SVN, in Wembley.

You know when they say someone is a fish out of water? That was me. The only thing I knew was to take off my shoes. Everything else? Nada, nein, nope, not a clue. I’m a terrible Hindu. Those who know me, the very few, would know how much I hate the feeling of vulnerability that is associated with not knowing. Even if it is my own faith. Luckily, Iman isn’t intimidating.

I walked up the ornate steps of this building that looked as if it was carved out of a single piece of limestone, into a small space (6 feet by 6 feet at most) where you rang a bell (which I did rather sheepishly, at first) and you prayed by pouring milk and water onto a little Shivling (an incarnation of the lord Shiva, the Destroyer). I noticed the people around me, praying in their own fascinating ways,

Someone lay flat in front of this Shivling, his head touching its base.

Others with knees bent, kneeling.

And then people like me, standing, perhaps slightly bent over, pouring milk and water.

Regardless of how they prayed, though, everybody around me said the same three words –

नमःशिवाय

Om Namah Shivaya

It means to salute Shiva, but to me it was more about how those three words felt in the moment. They weren’t fearful of this "Destroyer of Worlds", this deity whose third eye causes cataclysms. They were peaceful, almost as if they were meant for resonation, not prostration. As if that Shivling was an antenna that caught onto this chant and beamed it into the heavens. It was extremely powerful.

I continued on into the “Great Hall” where there was a circular path laid out with statuettes of most of the Hindu deities. The usual suspects – Ganesh, Radha, Krishna, Saraswati (the Goddess of Education and a personal favorite of my dear mother’s) – and some of the more obscure variety. I have always known that Hinduism as a religion, as a doctrine, as something, operates differently – it reflects worship, not prayer. Its a strange dichotomy, you worship aspects of life in Hinduism, you don’t pray to them.

Take Saraswati as an example, she is the Goddess of Education. You stand and bow to her, you respect her, you may petition her, but you worship her because you worship education. It’s a fascinating concept and I remember being shocked at how I had never taken a more acute interest in this.

I walked around that hallway perhaps four or five times and just took in the veneration. I wasn’t feeling particularly good that day, coming off a bout of dehydration and feeling extremely anxious. But walking around that space, standing in front of representations of the diversity of life, they reminded me of something. They reminded me that there is a lot in life – education, occupation, dedication, appreciation. There is love, everywhere. There is hope, everywhere. There is Iman, everywhere.

All you have to do, all you have ever had to do, is look.

Have a good week, my friends.

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.