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Friday, May 17, 2013

An Elusive Silence

I find it difficult to find moments of complete silence in today's wold. I remember that as a child, I could find a place at home or when I'm outside when there's almost complete silence, interrupted by the pleasant song of birds and possibly the sounds of crickets in the summer months.

I don't want to sound too nostalgic here. But, the fact that as I grow in my Buddhist practice of meditation, the more I've come to appreciate the value of stillness and silence. Unfortunately, if the silence I am seeking depended on the environment or the people around me, then returning to a past where there were times when the world seems to rest and simply become silent for just a few hours.

Today,, we are literally bombarded by a cacophony of noises, music that is sometimes too loud to bear, the sounds emanating from our mobile phones and email programmes informing us that we received a request of some kind, or a reply and so on. Requests that distract our attention from the world around us. Tools that are meant to enhance our communication but which, at times, isolate us from those who are around us.

I wonder if my own need to keep in touch with the virtual world is but an escape from facing the immediate world. Or, if this as sometimes an attempt to escape from a silence that might draw my attention to parts of who I am that I rather not explore. Parts of me that I would rather be unaware of. Painful or disturbing memories of a past that I wanted to forget. But, then what does this say about me?

If we are seeking more a life where we need to be connected with the world from the moment we wake up to the moment we are getting to sleep, what does this say about us?

The reality is that, unless we can travel to a remote part of the world where technology hasn't caught up, the reality of those who are living today in most parts of the minority world and small parts of the majority world, remains one where silence is a rarity or an impossibility. However, amidst this noisy world we have created, I still find time when I can find a silence.

It's not a silence where's there's no sound such as that found in the vacuum of space. It's the silence I find as I become aware of my breathing. As I stop moving and just rest my body and let my thoughts pass by. It's a silence where I know that I have a time when I only need to listen to the world around me and not necessarily react or respond. It's simply stopping and noticing the sounds around me, the vision I still have and be aware of the sensations of my body.

This is the silence that I may aspire to. For, even if we use our mind and body on a daily basis, we often take all this for granted. That is, of course, until we become ill or are in pain.

It is recognising the uniqueness of our present experience that we can actually enjoy life and discover that silence that provides us with the space to be who we truly are!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Meditations on Mother's Day

First, let me share a haiku I composed to mark this year's Mother's Day:

To All Mothers*

Mothers of all time,
Now, you made us who we are.
You've given us life.

Mothers without child.
You've given birth to new hope.
You've given us life.

Mothers, you're human.
You may fall and rise, but then,
You've given us life.

If it hadn't been you,
We would not be here. No one.
For that, we love you...

Divided we are.
We forget that we all had…
We all had mothers!

And, now, some  meditations...

On May 12, we celebrate Mother's day in our country. However,as I realised as I grew older, other countries may celebrate Mother's day on a different day. In spite of this, every nation and culture appears to hold a special place for mothers.

The fact is that, whatever our differences, we all have or had a mother in our life. If it weren't so, we wouldn't be here. Unfortunately, we often take our mothers for granted and fail to appreciate the precious gift our mother has given us. The unique opportunity to live. On the other hand, it's dangerous to idealise mothers and motherhood for the simple reason that mothers remain human.

I am thankful that my mother is still alive. But, I cannot forget those sons and daughters who have been rejected by their mothers or given away without understanding why. Children whose mothers died during childbirth. Children who lost their mothers during their infancy or childhood. And those mothers who, due to personal issues, had to give up their child for adoption. The

mothers who became mothers because they didn't receive the proper education. Mothers who have become mothers out of violent relationships or through rape, where the child becomes a constant reminder of the rapist and violator of her body. Then there are mothers who reject their unborn child for their own reasons. There are many mothers who don't have children but care for other people and children as if they were a mother. In a way, aren't these mothers to?

There's no one relationship that exists between mother and child. We might prefer the idea of a good mother as one who nurtures her children and construct a 'perfection of motherhood'. However, in the real world, such motherly perfection doesn't exist and is impossible to achieve. Yet, what all mothers have in common is that they are the only ones who can have children. They are the life givers and, in their hands, they hold the future of all of humanity.

True, as men, we have a part to play in bringing other human beings, but women are the only ones capable to bring forth new life into the world. Indeed, we call our Earth, mother Earth and not Father Earth.. Indeed, many species of the Earth are born of women, who become mothers. In a way, the fact that women are the only ones who have the potential to become mothers,, makes you wonder why, where there's mention of God, God always referred to inn terms of 'he' not 'she'.

This may be due much more to the way civilisation has evolved from one worships the Goddess to one that venerates God but I won't go into that today. However, the reality remains that every single aspect of human civilisation would have been impossible if there weren't mothers. Indeed, without mothers, there would have been no humanity to begin with.

Of course, various religions and cultures have their particular takes on motherhood. However, all great leaders, scientists, artists, musicians, writers and religious figures and, indeed, all of us, had or have a mother. Indeed, in spite of any differences we might have as human beings, we all share a common experience of being born because we had a mother.

Even if we are invited to think of our mothers if we're lucky to have had one we can remember, it is important that we appreciate the gift that is life we have been given.

And even if our mothers have somewhat failed us or even harmed us in the past, they gave us this life which no one else could give us and which no one can give us in our life.

* For more haikus like this, kindly visit my haiku blog at: Haiku Flow. Hope you enjoy!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Call of the Phoenix

The Mythical Phoenix or fire bird reborn from its ashes
> Download the Phoenix Haiku  trio as a song from Sound Cloud
> Read the original Phoenix Haiku Trio on HaikuFlow

* Please note that links open in a new window!


A few days after Easter this year, I was inspired to write another haiku trio I called “The Phoenix”. There were many reasons why I chose to write this haiku trio. The trio itself deals with the inevitability of death and seeks to capture our longing for safety, order and stability in face of doubt and death. During that period, I was also facing personal health issues that forced me to reflect on what meaning I could find in my state of physical weakness and  to deal with a  growing sense of isolation. 

While the mythological fire bird, the phoenix, is at the centre of the haiku trio, his manifestation is only symbolic as he serves me to embody my hope in a better future when I will return stronger than I was before to the world. It’s not about overcoming the pain and darkness that we may have to deal with in our lives. It’s about accepting it for what it is and attempting to understand its origin and real causes. Like the fire that burns the phoenix, pain and suffering can help us build us inside and make us aware of of what is really important in life. Indeed, while we often despise pain and suffering and, more often, have demonised these experiences in modern life, there’s certain pain and suffering that is both essential and necessary to ensure that we grow and learn about the world and ourselves.


Indeed, the first verses of the trio define the phoenix as being inseparable from his burden of having to burn and turn into ashes. Fire itself opens up an opportunity for another life - possibly better than the life he had before. In this sense, if we regard fire to be a metaphor for physical and spiritual pain, then the triumph of the phoenix is not in fighting the fire but enduring it until it consumes itself. For fire cannot survive without being fed but may need to be left to burn out until it is extinguished. Pain and human dissatisfaction represented by the fire can only be defeated if they are accepted for what they are. Experiences and characteristics of human existence that won’t last forever. Yet, while we may dismiss or reject them as they cause discomfort, they can also help improve us and change us for the better. Indeed, the may provide us with a chance to “live again”::   

I am the phoenix…

I will rise from my ashes…

I will live again!


In other words, in order to be happy we must be aware that we should not be so attached to the things we have or the life we have. For while we do good to enjoy what we have been given, we must also be careful not too become too tied and attached to what we have. For, despite any beliefs we might have in an absolute or in our own immortality, the fact is that, ironically, change is our only constant. Indeed, like all material reality, our body and brain are constantly changing. 

This is the process of renewal. However, although renewal can be understood to be a positive idea, renewal itself only describes that change has taken place and doesn’t draw judgment on the nature of that change. Indeed, as all matter in the universe is in the process of losing energy in an ongoing process of entropy, so does our life inevitably lead to our own entropy, we call death. Thus, the last line of the verse emphasises the fact that the phoenix too knows that his existence is finite. 

This  line apparently contrasts but  complements the last line of the first haikus. Death and life must co-exist for the cycle of existence. Death provides the chance for new life to be born. A life without dying  is impossible for, at the end of the day, no matter can escape the process of entropy and decay:

Ever constant change…

This cycle of renewal…

I will die again

Hoping against hope

While I won’t go into the issue of whether there is life for those who die, it’s a fact that the living will continue to live for some time after a person dies. Thus, we choose to remember and honour the loved ones who have died before us. Even if honouring our dead is a proper way to express our love and respect for those who died, it’s a ritual that we do for ourselves. Its a way how we can get to terms with the reality of dying and with the fact that another human being is no longer living with us. Life will continue but such an occasion should also remind us of our own impermanence and mortality. It may even be an opportunity to look at our life and realise that we cannot grow too attached to this world, as one day we will have to die too.

The hope, of course, found in many religious traditions, is that the human spirit will continue to live in another plain or in another dimension. However, we don’t have any proof of an after-life and having proof of such an existence beyond life misses the point. For, in many ways, it’s not where we go after leaving this Earth that matters as human beings. Rather, it is how we lived our present lives that really  matters. For if we lived in constant greed and  competition, if we are  held by insatiable  envy, desire  and hate In our present life, we are already living in a hell of our own creation. 

The ritual of death…

To be buried in this earth…

Hoping to return…

The final lines of the trio promise that, in some way, our material  essence, at least, will remain on this Earth and will contribute In the making of new life. In this sense, I wished to evoke a sense of continuation and as in the second haiku of the trio, to provide an example of renewal. From our deaths, there will arise new life and when this life dies, new life will once again emerge. Thus, the cycle of renewal continues but will continue indefinitely. Of course, the last lines encapsulates our human longing to see our departed loved ones to return. 

Indeed, we unconsciously seek to return to our previous life or to a better life in an after-life. We fear losing our sense of selves because we have unknowingly identified our very being with the world. We fear that death will mean that our unspoken fear that we are indeed nothing without others and without the things that make up this world. We are afraid of recognising our impermanence as this would undermine our idea of a constant and absolute self. In this life, we fear to lose our memory and sense of identity. In death, we fear losing all that we thought would be forever here. In spite of the apparent despair one may get from reading this haiku trio, the facts of life and death that I have dealt with in the trio are not matters of opinion or belief. We live and die, our bodies decay and decompose, matter in the universe is in the process of entropy. Nothing can be created or destroyed. Matter only changes in form but remains present.


In the spirit of our renewing existence, I find some consolation. For even if I will simply become nothing, I know that a part of what I was on this Earth will remain and possibly yield new life. There may be an after-life, but I feel that I cannot live a happy life if I rest my hope in an after-life that may or may not be there. I am living in the present. And it is in the present that I can find happiness. A happiness that doesn’t depend on objects of desire but that is based on an understanding that as a human being, all I am and all I have is a gift of a life that I must treasure. A life that is ultimately dependent on the world and the people who form part of it.

This, I believe, is the hope in a return that I tried to  express through  the call of the phoenix!