Sreenath Sreenivasan

Thriving Mindfully

Category: compassion (page 1 of 3)

When Faiths Unite

Situated side by side
Sharing a wall
There stand
Two shrines

In the morning
The temple prays
In the shadow of the mosque

In the evening
The mosque prays
In the shadow of the temple

At night
Both shrines, they hum
And watch each other’s back
For they share,
The same spine

The temple’s bell
A muezzin’s call
How elegantly
Do faiths entwine

We wear different caps
But should we ever fight
For what’s yours
And what’s mine?

So shall we stand
In each other’s shadow
When tomorrow,
The sun shines?

Caps aside,
Can sing a few lines?
In a rhythm divine
Of this elegant design?

 


 

The Yellow Balloon

It was a windy winter morning. Little Kalpana was standing on the pavement next to the traffic signal, waiting for the lights to turn red. She was a balloon seller, like the many other kids who lived on the streets. The one minute window of red lights on the traffic signal was the arena of her life. She held a wooden stick that had 10 balloons tied on to it. The colorful balloons dangled in the air as she ran from windscreen to window, hoping to make a sale.

That morning, an elderly gentleman named Ajay, was strolling on the pavements. He had taken a detour from his usual morning walk route in the park. From far away, he could see bright balloons hanging in the air, rising up from the stalled traffic. It was a wonderful sight to witness from a distance. He strutted slowly towards the balloons.

But as he got closer to the signal, the traffic lights turned green, and all cars moved onward. What was left was a little girl, with ten balloons, standing barefoot on the dusty road. The colorful sight of the balloons suddenly lost all its charm. Ajay, realized that the little girl was selling balloons for a living.

As he came closer to the traffic signal, Kalpana ran towards him, hoping to sell a balloon to the old man.

There were no words spoken. Ajay stopped on the pavement, and Kalpana stood right in front of him, with hope in her eyes.

Ajay smiled. In that moment, he gave her something that was denied to her all her life. A modicum of attention.

He dug into his pocket and slid out a ten rupee note. Kalpana’s eyes lit up. She quickly untied a yellow balloon from her stick and offered it to the old man.

Ajay gave the ten rupee note to her. He held the soft thread that was tied on to the yellow balloon. He smiled and offered the balloon to Kalpana.

She could not understand the transaction. The old man looked into her eyes one last time and walked away. Little Kalpana stood on the pavement with the ten rupee note and the yellow balloon in one hand and the stick with nine balloons in the other hand.

Before she could take a moment to understand what had happened, the traffic began to swell up. She quickly got to work again, trying to sell balloons on the roadside.

Later in the evening, she was left with two balloons. In her right hand, she had the yellow balloon and dangling from the stick in her left hand, there was a red balloon.

A lady in a car summoned Kalpana by blaring her car horn. She ran quickly to her, hoping to sell the last balloon and go home.

The lady asked for two balloons. Kalpana looked up at both the balloons.
At that moment, as she looked at the yellow balloon, a strong feeling took over her heart. How could she sell the yellow balloon? It was hers!

Somehow, she found the courage to say she only had one balloon to sell.
The lady in the car asked for the yellow one for her kid seated next to her. Little Kalpana was firm about her emotion for the yellow balloon. She told the lady that only the red balloon was up for sale.

The signal was about to turn green soon. Caving to the wheedling of her little kid, the lady in the car bought the red balloon from Kalpana. Soon, the car was gone, in the direction of the next traffic signal.

Kalpana was only left with one balloon. The yellow one.
A smile surfaced on Kalpana’s innocent face. She danced her way to her hut next to the pavement, with the yellow balloon, the sun of her life.

That morning, the elderly gentleman Ajay, had bought something priceless with just ten rupees.
With the compassionate transaction, he had brought Kalpana, a moment of her own childhood.

 


Photo by Sagar Patil via Unsplash

A Farmer’s Demise

Life gives the farmer grains and lemons few,
He take them to sell, with a hope new,
And again he falls for the market’s spell,
He makes a big loss, for all that he could sell.

 

Life gives Sahib, means to money and more,
He trades all day, hoping the market shall soar,
A seasoned player, he knows the game too well,
He makes a fortune yet, to no one shall he tell

 

The farmer in agony, comes home to rest,
He pours himself a drink meant for a pest,
Dejected, in tears, down he chugs,
And wreaths and submits to a death meant for bugs.

 

The Sahib comes home, ecstatic from the gain,
He pours himself a drink, brewed from the farmer’s grain,
Elated, he finds himself in seventh heaven,
And follows the drink with a lick of salt and lemon.

 

It is high time, Sahib needs an awakening rude,
He needs the farmer, even before there is any food,
Sahib, make a change, make sure that you see,
That no farmer ever dies, wishing money grew on his tree.

 

 

How a Himalayan trek refined my Education about Veganism

It had been five hours since we started our trek downhill from Beding, a little hamlet in the Rolwaling valley in North-East Nepal.
Exhausted as we were, the sight of a house at a distance felt like spotting an Oasis.
Our determined feet stamped onward to reach the solitary house in a village called Dugong.

We could smell a local alcohol made out of rice called ‘Rakshi’ brewing in the kitchen.

‘Namaste, Ajool…’ my friend Lee greeted enthusiastically.

An elderly Sherpa lady stooped out of her house with the most welcoming smile I’ve ever been graced with.

She invited us into her kitchen-cum-restaurant.

We could see she only had two wood fired stoves with her with one brewing the ‘Rakshi’.

‘Khana Jaldi Chaiyo’ Lee explained with animation that we need food fast.

She laughed and pointed her finger towards a packet of noodles. I was sure she was used to the state of hunger of trekkers.

We assented at her suggestion and she got busy in her kitchen.

The house was made out of a lot of wood, labor and love. The cutlery, minimal and neatly arranged. There was water pipe delivering water right to her house straight from the little cascade behind her log cabin. The place had an energy of contentment, one that can only come with age, acceptance and wisdom.
There was a place for everything and everything was in its place.

After a moment, I wondered what this old lady would be doing for company. She only had one neighbour who seemed to be out for work in the forest.

‘She must surely feel lonely all by herself’ I wondered.

Within moments we heard the door of the kitchen being banged at. We wondered who it could be. The Sherpa lady’s face lit up with a smile. She reprimanded at the person at the door with unmistakable affection.

The determined banging continued on.
Finally she could no longer keep the door closed and lightly let it ajar.
And with the halo of the outside world behind itself, shone the bright white fur of a little baby sheep.

It jumped inside the kitchen and went straight to the lady. For the next half an hour, they played with each other like grandson and grandmother. There was such stubborn affection in the sheep for the lady, that it would never leave her alone. The lady would push it aside with loving aggression only to secretly expect it to come back to harass her.

Tumbling many pots and pans around the kitchen and eating out of places it shouldn’t, the baby sheep made itself feel at home.

The lady could only love the sheep more. There was no other way.

Once our meals were ready, she served us on the beautifully aged table made out of forest wood.
She rested herself on the ground, took the sheep in her lap and adoringly spoke to it in a language she was sure the sheep understood, only to not obey.

Just moments ago, I was feeling a bit sad for the woman who I assumed was living all by herself in this remote mountain village.
How wrong was I !
She had such a bountiful expression of life living alongside her.
The sheep was not just entertainment, or company or a means to have food, milk or leather for that matter.
It was life itself for her.

Witnessing this aspect of life changed my perspective profoundly.

A day ago, we were served Yak cheese with boiled potatoes in the village uphill. I was a bit hesitant while eating since I refrain from having animal products as much as possible.
But that was the only food available and we had to respect the emotion of the locals for whom Yak cheese is a delicacy reserved for special occasions.
We chose to eat what was served.

Much to my surprise, that was certainly one of the most delicious food combinations I had ever tasted.
I ate as much as I possibly could.
The next day, we saw free roaming Yak in the pastures nearby being milked lovingly by a village lady.

The Yak showed it’s affection back in equal measure, much like the baby sheep at the Sherpa lady’s house.

I felt fortunate for being able to witness this bond between humans and animals. I have lived in cities all my life and have never experienced this paradigm of a relationship.

A few years ago, I chose to follow a Vegan lifestyle, primarily educating myself from resources online about how cruel the animal rearing industry is.
My education happened mostly,
online.

But for the first time, I could actually see how effortlessly animals and humans exist symbiotically.
With sincere love for each other.
There was never a rope in sight to secure an animal, for their hearts were always strung together to their human friends’ hearts.
In harsh winter, the animals are taken care of by the local villagers like family. The village moves downhill to warmer places only when all its animals do.

In a way, it felt as if the animals took care of their human friends by giving them loving company, and perhaps a share of their milk.
Of course it can be disputed, and seen as exploitation.

I would argue like that earlier.

But once I saw the pristine relationship between man and animal in such harsh environment where weather and loneliness can take a toll on your health,
I realised the need for them to coexist in such beautiful harmony.

No animal is reared for meat in the villages here in the hills. And an animal’s death is mourned just as much as a family member’s.
Here, man chooses to be animal himself and treat another animal as family.

I turned Vegan thinking it would help end suffering, save the planet and create a peaceful world.
I still oppose commercial farming of animals.
But, this experience of witnessing symbiotic coexistence between man and animal has only made me realise my own animal self,
And how,
To understand our nature better, we need to spend time in nature.

While educating myself about veganism on my smartphone screen, all I could see was oppression and violence inflicted by us on animals.
I could feel a sense of guilt and hopelessness inside me for what we do to our fellow earthlings.

But out here in nature,
far away from the civilization I was brought up in, I could witness the animal side of us humans –
calm, compassionate and caring in the heart.
This education filled me with warmth, hope and optimism.

As I journey back to my life in the city,
A deeper understanding dawns upon me with each step,
About our true nature as a being,
The love we all have in our hearts,
And the way we should tread forward despite our conditioning,
Retaining the deep loving spirit that is part of us all.

Once we can do that, can we ever hurt any being?

Yak cheese tastes amazing by the way.
But what would feel inevitably better and worth experiencing is the gentle rub of a Yak’s fur on your shoulder on a windy winter morning.

 

 

The most important quality of a leader

There was a pleasant stillness in the air.

My friend Lee and I were sitting on the banks of a placid glacial lake called ‘ Tsho Rolpa’ . We had been treking uphill for the past 5 days and we’d finally reached our destination at 4550 meters above sea level, barely 5kms from the Nepal-China border.

It was the first time we had seen a glacier feed a glacial lake that in turn became the source of the mighty Rolwaling-Kosi river we were trekking on the banks of for the past few days.

As the weather turned moody we decided to walk back to the village where we were staying.
As soon as we reached back at our host’s place, Lee fell asleep right away.
I assumed that he was worn out by the long walk and needed rest.

He woke up only briefly in the evening to have dinner and disappeared in the blankets for the rest of the night.

Hoping that he would feel fine by morning, I too rested myself for the night.

The next morning, I awoke to find Lee sitting peacefully on his bed.

‘Lee, How do you feel now?’ I asked.

‘I feel so happy about what happened yesterday’ he shared with a lilting half smile on his face.

‘You mean, our journey to the lake?’

‘Yes that too. But I am happier for something else.
Do you know, I had such a severe splitting headache ever since we got back from the lake?’

‘Ah, altitude sickness is it?’ I asked.

‘Yes.
It is the first time in my life I experienced altitude sickness.
I have trekked so much all my life in Korea, led teams of upto 80 people on treks, but I have never faced this situation before.
Many people in my teams would experience health issues at high altitude but I could never help them in the best manner possible for lack of experience.
Now, that I have experienced it,
I can understand the situation of another human being who is going through altitude sickness.
Now I am in a better position to help someone in need.’

I could only nod and marvel at the beautiful way he turned a hardship into a learning experience.

‘Indeed Lee, You are in a great position to help. Now I can scale more mountains with you.
If I ever feel altitude sick,
You’ll empathise and help me out won’t you !’

His peaceful face was half lit from the sunlight infiltrating through the seive of the curtain.
He nodded.
His demeanor was placid as the lake we saw yesterday,
Holding the promise to flow like a mighty river,
Seeking to help someone in need at every moment possible.

This little interaction was a deep sermon.
I would often relate leadership with power, rank and authority.
But this warm hearted person, through his own experience,
Taught me how,
The foremost quality in a good leader,
Is Empathy.

What writing everyday taught me about being a better person

A few days ago, one of my friends asked me a question that I had never confronted myself with.

‘How do you manage to write a blog post every day? What’s the most difficult part about it?’

I thought about it for a while. And I realised, writing a blog post is not the most difficult thing in the exercise. It is writing the first few lines of the blog post that’s most challenging. Once you’re past the first few lines, the blog post fashions itself.
All I have to do is get past the first few lines. Once I am past the inertia, it is a breeze.

The same is also true for physical activities. I remember the toughest phase of my bicycle trip to the mountains to be the first half an hour of the ride.
Once your body is warmed up, you don’t even realise you’re bicycling. The process just happens on its own.

Extrapolating further,
I wonder if the same is true for the more human qualities one wishes to embody.
We all wish to be better human beings.
We desire to be more loving, more accepting, more friendly and allow ourself to have an open heart.

But if we think of starting to embody these qualities all through our existence, the task, however desirable, seems to be far too daunting.

How do I have such an open heart full of love all through my life !’ one would wonder.

But there is a way of thinking that makes the task much easier and accessible.

Say you wish to be more compassionate and loving.
Don’t think about being compassionate and loving all through your existence.

Just start to be compassionate and loving in the present moment.

Once you are past the barricades you’ve built around your heart, the task becomes easier and but natural.

Of course, this has to be practiced every single day with solemn awareness.
Just how I choose to begin to write and get past the first few lines every single day.

Before you know you will have a continuum of existence, full of the qualities you always wished to embody.

Open your heart and ask,
What quality do I wish to imbibe.
And start.
Everyday.

You will realize your better self with every glorious sunrise.

To your undeniable growth.

 

 

Smile, will you?

I had been bicycling uphill constantly for an hour and a half. I wished to reach a village called Marhi, 40 kms uphill from Manali, India.

At one point, the elevation was too steep for me to keep the bicycle in motion. I decided to stop catch a much needed breath. My heart was racing like that of caged mice on steroids. I leaned my head down to rest it on the handlebar and slowly let my heart rate drop with each deep breath.

In this incapacitated state, I heard a voice from behind.

‘Hey, where are you coming from?’ asked a man wearing a friendly smile.

‘I have been bicycling from Delhi. Today, I wish to reach Marhi, about 30 kms up from here.’

He took a good look up and down my petite body frame.

With an equal measure of wonder and resolve, he said,
‘I own a gym back home. But I myself feel quite unfit. I used to take a car from home to the gym and then exercise hoping to lose weight.
But today, after seeing you, I promise that I will get myself a bicycle and bike to the gym everyday.
You gave me great energy !’

I wondered, how could I, being in such a beaten down, tired state, could still energise a random stranger on the road?

His gesture eased my heart. I thanked him and continued onward.

At a point where I was vulnerable, this person acknowledged my presence, my pursuit and my grit and replenished me with energy.
I realised how much a person desires to be acknowledged.

Moving on, I saw a board on the highway that grabbed my attention. It mentioned the name of the army engineer who first envisioned and surveyed the Manali-Leh highway. I felt good to know of the visionary man who dared to dream of a highway in such treacherous terrain.

Further down the road, I saw construction workers toiling away under the full sun, building a section of the highway. A few kilometers ahead, there were people laying down optical fiber cables.

And I wondered, the names of these people will never appear on any sign board saying that they helped build a highway, or they laid the cables for the high speed internet we would enjoy.
Then, at that moment, I remembered how much I’d liked being acknowledged by the gym owner in the highway.

It is such a human quality after all!

Right then, I made a decision to wave at or give a thumbs up to each person I find working on the road.
And thereafter, no construction worker was ever left without a smile.
Some of them were apprehensive to smile. That just made me realise how rarely were they even acknowledged as humans.

This experience only made me believe that we should acknowledge and celebrate these name less faceless humans who work hard in oblivion to ensure our lives run smoothly.

Next time you find someone whose work would mostly go unacknowledged, choose to just smile at them, give a thumbs up, or if you can afford the time, talk to them for a bit.

Your attention and affection are precious.
Choose to ration a little of it to people who go unnoticed.
All of sudden, the world around you will embody more love and brotherhood.

It all boils down to your choice.

Smile, will you?

 

 

On importance of old school friendship in the age of social media

We are living in times where we dwell in two worlds at the same time. One is the real physical world, where all our interactions happen, and one is the virtual world, where we curate how we want our life to be seen as.

In the real world, a person experiences a whole range of emotions. On one hand he experiences pain, sorrow, rejection, depression, anxiety, diffidence…
On the other hand he also experiences pleasure, happiness, exuberance, emancipation and a sense of confidence.
The real world is a kaleidoscopic experience of all these myraid emotions.

But in the virtual world one dwells in, one always projects the happier state of being. All pictures shared by someone, be it of a momentous point in life to the banal selfie stream, it all has a positive connotation.
On social media, everyone is happy.
All seems to be well.

But is it?

If our life was seen only through our curated virtual identity, all of us are living an incredible life with no trace of pain or sorrow.
But deep inside, we all experience challenging emotions as much as we enjoy positive ones.

Our indulgence with social media has consumed our time and mind space which would earlier be engaged with real conversations with friends.
With friends, we would talk about what pains us and what makes us happy in the same breath.
But now we don’t have time to speak to a friend. For some reason the dopamine rush of social media validation eclipses the experience a real friendship promises.

This culture of curating a happy state of being comes at a cost. The challenging emotions like sorrow and diffidence that test our character are being avoided at all cost.
But how will one shape his character holistically if he is in such a state of avoidance ?

In life, one should always strive to have a space to speak about what pains him, what makes him sad and how lonely he feels at times.
For such a space to exist, trust is a must.
And that can only be found in the company of a trustworthy friend.

Speaking about challenging emotions brings forth clarity in one’s mind about who he is, while avoidance only enfeebles and diffuses his identity.

If you wish to have great emotional health, foster a trustworthy friendship. And share things with a friend as frequently as you share your curated happy state of being in the virtual world.
It will do wonders to your understanding of your own self.

To your wholistic growth,
To acceptance of happiness and sorrow as it comes.

 

 

I am a Volunteer for Life

I’ve been riding my bicycle in India for ten days now. And it is the first time I rented a place to stay at night. On all other nights I would either sleep at a Gurudwara or a temple or at a friend’s place.
Today is my first paid stay so to say. I feel such a huge difference between the experiences of being hosted and paying to stay.
The place where I am staying looks like a chawl in Mumbai suburbs of the 90s. There is no fan, shower, Wifi, clean linen or even a doormat. There is a 50 watt bulb that infuses gloom in disptempered walls.
Frankly, it is quite a sad place.

But that is not what bothers me the most. I’ve stayed at places where I’ve had to sleep on the floor, in under construction houses and on one occasion I even spent the night on a bench at a bus stop.
I’ve spent most of my nights at a Gurudwara or a temple in India.
And I was totally okay with the utmost basic facilities I had at these places.

Why?

Because I was invited with open arms without any expectation of a transaction.
I had the freedom to move around and look for opportunities to help in the best manner I could.
I have volunteered in community kitchens, served food at the langars, swept floors, helped wash dishes for hours and on one occasion I even volunteered to clean up a disgusting community toilet out of my own desire to make things better.
I’ve slept in community halls on the floor after the long day filled with 6 hours of cycling and volunteering thereafter.
Yet, I have always slept like a baby and woken up with enthusiasm and purpose with the first light of the sun.

But today, in this enclosed space in the guest house, I feel sleepy, drained and devoid of energy.

I realised, maybe a transactional reality is not the context that brings out the best in me.
Here, at the guest house, I pay money and get a place to stay.
A transaction.
It doesn’t serve my spirit.

I would rather wish to engineer a context where I am free to contribute in whatever way I am capable of, at a place where I can engage with people and hopefully make friends and leave behind the place in a better condition.

It is not even about being a stingy traveller, who is always careful with money. I contributed monetatily at most places I was hosted for free, because I wish these places to exist and multiply, so that we have another context to experience. Because I want places that foster brotherhood to thrive.

While I know, the people running this guest house need money for sustenance and I’m happy to give them business, I realised this is not the best context for me to stay at.

In the interest of feeling more energised , enthused and eager to contribute I would choose to stay at a temple or a gurudwara or a kind host’s place.

This experience also made me understand why people choose to volunteer even on weekends despite a busy work week.
Volunteering is such an energising experience!
It will only fill you up with love and hope.

Maybe this weekend, instead of choosing to sleep over till late in the morning and going out for a brunch at a restaurant, I would like to suggest an alternative.

Go to a Gurudwara and volunteer at the community kitchen. They accept help form anyone who is willing to volunteer.
Instead of spending money at the restaurant, eat at the Langar in the Gurudwara for free.
I assure you, the experience will only leave you happy and energised.
And you will wish to donate a fraction of the money you would have spent at the restaurant to the Gurudwara donation box.

It is a much better investment of time and money.

Tomorrow, I am going to leave my bicycle behind and trek with a couple of friends to Kheerganga, Himachal Pradesh.
It is likely that I will pitch up a tent for the first time in India.
Since I would be hosted by mother nature in the valley, I am wondering how to be of help to her.
I have a huge garbage bag folded up in my backpack.
Maybe, I will just pickup all the trash that doesn’t belong in mother nature’s lap.

I can’t help being helpful.

I choose to be a volunteer for life.

I hope you have a fulfiling weekend my dear friend !

 

 

The art of listening

After a 52 day sojourn in Thailand, I reached India a couple of weeks ago. I had the fortune of staying with my friend’s family in Kolkata. I was fed home cooked food with utmost love by his mother for a whole week.
Both her sons are working in different cities and her husband is a working man who isn’t home for the most part of the day.
I would love to spend time with her in the afternoons, which she would usually spend alone, all by herself. She enjoyed my company too, and shared so many of her stories with me. It felt as if she didn’t have anyone to speak to for a long time.

On the first day she seemed to be a shy and introverted woman. But as she got to spend time with someone who would listen to her patiently, she opened up and spoke freely with joy.

During my stay in Kolkata, I also met with a school friend who’s been preparing for an entrance exam for a year at home.
We met up and he spoke on and on for hours on end. I felt happy to be there and give him company, for it felt as if he had not spoken to someone openly for a long time.

While in Delhi, I met a brave friend of mine who’s mother has been bed ridden for four years now. We used to play a lot of music together and share great brotherhood.
He also, had so much to talk about when we met. He spoke of his struggle, the hardship, his mother’s fighting spirit and his newfound belief in Buddhism. Despite his extroverted nature, I knew he had few people who he could talk to about matters of the heart. His sharing felt like a catharsis.

On my last day in Delhi, I found great company in another close friend’s Mother. When she came to know about my ambition to bicycle up North in the mountains, she started sharing her suggestions with spirited encouragement. Over time, she opened up and talked about her dreams, aspirations and nostalgia. Within half an hour, it felt as if she had shared so much of her life in the conversation.

These experiences got me wondering about a person’s desire for expression.
Anyone who has heard their own voice in a recording would say they do not like it at all. It sounds weird and whiney. One might sing to himself when alone, but would not record himself and listen back. It doesn’t sound as good !

But that is merely the physical aspect of our voice. Our true voice is in our thoughts and actions. The act of speaking merely helps to communicate.

Most of us are convinced that we do not have a good voice.
But boy, do we not love to be listened to?

In that moment, one forgoes the idea whether they have a good physical voice or not. While speaking to someone, what matters most is the voice in the heart.

It is tragic to see that despite our hyper connectedness, many of us do not have a patient, judgement free space/ friend to speak to. The voice deep inside our heart never finds expression.
But the moment, one finds a conducive space, even the most introverted of people share their life and experiences animatedly.

I wonder, maybe the best gift one could give to someone, especially to the elderly, is to just lend them a patient ear and listen with intent. There is plenty of learning and avenues to grow in the exercise.

Listening is an act of compassion.

And sometimes, the easiest way to be accepted and loved is to just listen,               with an open heart.

 

 

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