Sreenath Sreenivasan

Thriving Mindfully

Category: Learning from kids (page 1 of 2)

Wonder and Worry

The adult worries

The child wonders

The adult wonders why a child doesn’t worry

The child worries why an adult doesn’t wonder

 

 


Photo : Ricky Turner via Unsplash

Lola and the River

In summertime, the river is a channel narrow,
A trickle, it flows, as if in deep sorrow

And even though the river bank turns into a desert,
The river remains a friend she would never ever desert.

In monsoon, it floods, as clouds cry a river,
It flows with a fury, she hadn’t seen ever

And even though for safety, she has to run away,
For the river, she would kneel down and silently pray.

In winter, the river freezes to ice,
It’s a miracle of nature, a superb surprise,

From her warm company and the songs she would sing,
The ice melted slowly, to the arrival of spring.

In springtime the river has a gentle flow,
She’s ecstatic and so is her water buffalo

And nature responds to her love and deep wish
The river is full of flowers and fish.

Seasons change but to the river she is always nice,
Her life is a sign, a subtle advice,

For Little Lola she knew,
A truth simple,
That people are rivers,
And rivers are people.

Image : Delphi De La Rua via Unsplash

 

A Rhyme for Lola

Little little Lola,
She was sure she knew
That each morning the birds,
Sang a song new,

Everyday they chirrup,
The world they apprise
Of the daily wonder, the gift,
Of a new Sunrise.

To an ear untrained,
The song is clamour
Unintelligible, without any glamour.

And If eyes could truly see,
They would know why
Each sunrise is new,
A painting in the sky.

But Little Lola, wise,
With senses in sync,
With nature she has, a seamless link

So each morning she sings,
She dances along
To the gift of each sunrise,
Of every birdsong.

Picture : Khanh Steven via Unsplash

 

 

Christmas Come Later !

It was the day before Christmas.

The whole neighborhood had come alive with lights, colours and decorated Christmas trees. Everyone in the village was brim with the spirit of Christmas.

But little Lola wasn’t as happy as her friends. She sat on the window sill, moping.

‘What is the matter Lola? Where is the smile on your face?’ asked her mother.

‘Mom, when is Daddy going to be back home?’

‘Ah, your Daddy will come home in two days, in the morning on 26th December.’

‘And when is Christmas Mommy?’

‘Christmas is tomorrow my dear.’

‘Can we ask Santa Claus to come after two days and not tomorrow?’

Her mother smiled at the innocent wish.

‘If you pray for it, maybe he will listen to you !’

And little Lola, seated on the window sill ,whispered a prayer with hope.

On Christmas Eve, she spent most of the her time indoors, praying still that Santa arrives on a day after Christmas, when her father is at home.
She fell asleep that night praying still.

On the 26th of December, early in the morning Lola’s mother found her waiting at the doorstep, dressed in her new clothes.

‘Lola, you woke up so early !’

‘Yes, Daddy will come today won’t he?’

‘Yes, anytime today. Are you excited?’

‘Yes very very much !’

There was a knock on the door.

‘Maybe that’s Daddy!’ she exclaimed.

She rushed to open the door.
And there stood a mighty man dressed in Red wollens, with a flowing white beard. He let out a loud guffaw of a laugh.
It was Santa Claus!

‘Oh Santa is here Mommy! He listened to my prayer !’

‘Come in Santa. You have to wait until my father arrives Okay?’

‘I am in a bit of a hurry my dear. And I am tired from riding on my sledge all night.’

‘Mommy can you make him a Hot Chocolate? By that time, Daddy will be home.’

‘Such a considerate little girl you have miss!’ Santa remarked.

Soon Santa had a cup of hot chocolate in his hands. He rocked gently in the wooden rocking chair next to the fireplace. He felt calm, as if he was at home.

But Lola’s heart knew no calm.
Her eyes flitted from the door to the clock and then to Santa, hoping her father shows up before it’s time for Santa to leave.

‘Are you looking for your father my dear?’

‘Yes, he should be here any minute, please wait sometime Santa.’

Santa let out a big laugh.

‘Come and sit on my lap little Lola. I can make your father appear right now. ‘

‘Really? Can you?’

‘Yes of course ! Now I will need your help though. Here, hold my beard.’

‘Okay’ she said resting in Santa’s lap.

‘On the count of three you have to pull my beard real hard and your Father will appear. Okay?’

One…Two…Three…

She hung onto Santa’s beard with all her might. His flowing white beard and moustache was now in Lola’s hand and she found herself sitting in her father’s lap !

‘Ah Daddy it’s you !’ she shouted gleefully.

Her mother stood next to them with a content smile.

That day little Lola learned a lesson.

Christmas is not on the 25th of December.
It is when the people who you love with all your heart are close to you.

It is about the spirit of togetherness.

It was the 26th of December,
And it was the best Christmas of her life.

On just doing things without thinking

There’s a certain sense flow in the spirit of a child, a magical blend of curiosity and fearless adventure in every moment of its being. The openness to explore, decipher and create emanates from its core, as a natural expression of life itself.

Kids never think twice before they attempt something. They could open up their whole racing car toy to make sense of how it works, talk to strangers as if they’re long lost friends, dance even if there’s no music around, and even reprimand their Grandpa if he doesn’t practice what he preaches !

The energy flows as it comes, unhindered.

In a way, they are ‘just doing things without too much thinking.’

And how much life do they squeeze out of each living moment with that flamboyance !

While we adults, in comparison, have quite a constipated existence.

Why?

Because, believe it or not, we too,
are ‘just doing things without too much thinking.’
The same expression I had used earlier for a kid’s state of being applies to us, however in a way that doesn’t serve our growth

We are too busy doing things without giving conscious thought about it. Despite access to all the knowledge in the world we are just getting on with our lives.

What are we making off of our privilege?

We choose to not take care of our health,
eat and sleep at ungodly hours, poison our bodies with socially accepted addictions, all the while knowing that it does us only harm.
We box up our lives, feeling sorry for ourselves despite our privilege while we could be finding ways to help people in a greater need than us.
And life goes on like that, as we keep scrolling through a stream of information just to fill up the void in our life.

We get on with our lives,

Just doing these things without too much thinking.’

Life goes on.

A child also keeps doing things without too much thinking, but how profoundly different is its life from ours!

We need a phase shift.
Now.

For that shift to happen we must follow a two step process :

1) Rediscover the childlike abandon in us and do things without being bogged down by self doubt and fear of judgement.

2) Be mindful and deliberate about our lives, and not let it just happen.

With step one, we will regain the creative vigor of a child, beyond any imagined fear.

With step two, we will make the best use of our knowledge and channel our creative energy wisely, in the direction that serves everyone best.

After all, there are so many things in worlds within and without, that deserve attention and action from our end !

It is the same expression :

Just doing things without much thinking

It could mean a mindless existence in one sense.
But it could also mean a flamboyant existence rolling like a juggernaut in the direction of divinity.

It is a matter of choice, isn’t it?

Let’s change gears, course correct our journey, and give a better meaning to our existence.

Let’s do this !

On imagination, discernment and the peace perspective can bring

Imagine a little girl with a big paintbrush in her hand. She’s got hold of water colours for the first time and she just cannot wait to paint something.
She chooses the living room wall as her maiden canvas.
Soon, the smooth white wall gets dyed in mild shades of every color in the palette.

Her mother arrives to find that her daughter has painted her dress just as much as the wall she’s been painting on.

The mother could take recourse in two ways.
She could either

a) See things as they are.

Consider it to be a wall in flux, which could be painted over again.
She could use her discernment in a sound direction.

b) See things as if they’re so much more.

Consider it to be disaster and reprimand a budding artist at the outset.
She could use her imagination, albiet in a misleading direction.

The two key phrasess here are

a) sound discernment

b) misled imagination.

Discernment and Imagination are powerful tools, but when used incorrectly either cause us only detriment.

Now imagine the same incident again.
The mother could use another train of thought.

She could either

a) See things as they are

Look at only the colored stains on the wall and not the blobs of a butterflies her child sees through her eyes.
She could use her discernment in an unsound and sterile manner.

b) See things as if they’re so much more

She could not only look at the blobs of the butterflies but use her imagination to see the whole animal kingdom waiting to appear on the living room wall.
She could look at it as the first page of her little daughter’s art portfolio.

She could use her imagination in the right direction. I call it right because it brings peace to both mother and daughter and the art still thrives.

Again, as I’d said earlier, discernment and imagination are powerful tools.
We must make use our wisdom to make the right choice,
The ideal mix of discernment and imagination.

True wisdom though, lay in the mind of an unconditioned child.
Like the little painter, who could see things the ideal way.

By discernment she knew it was a wall but her imagination suggested her to use it as a canvas.

By discernment she knew it to be a blank canvas, but her imagination suggested her that it could be so much more.

The little girl was easily weaving her thoughts using both discernment and imagination as it deemed fit.

Much of the distress we face in life is because of unwise choices between discernment and imagination.

We imagine fear of failure and discern obstacles to be dead ends.
While we could imagine ways to triumph and discern obstacles only to be hurdles that must be jumped over.

The choices we make shape our reality.

Any tool is only powerful if used with wisdom.

With sound discernment and well directed imagination,
Life would reveal itself in ways that serve you best.

Imagine !

On realising the ideal state of being

‘I want to bicycle from India to Hongkong to see my son’ shared Nirupama, a 71 years young bicyclist I met in Pune.

As lofty as her dream sounded to either of us, I was sure she would be on this dream trip very soon.
She had shared stories about her bicycle trips to Laddakh, Kanniyakumari among other places in India.
Having started bicycling after retiring from work at the age of 60, she kept on challenging herself and went past barriers even young adults wouldn’t dare dream to.

I saw the apprehension in her eyes while she shared her dream, wondering if she could go bicycling across countries to see her son.

I wanted to make her believe that she could do it.
I took out my phone and showed her a route she could take to reach Hongkong starting from Bangkok.

Her eyes lit up like a chiselled diamond.

And I am sure, as I write this, she’s busy back home, thinking of ways to make this trip happen.

What an inspiration she is !

This encounter reminded me of two other elderly friends I had met in Thailand.
One of them by the name of Phulong, 72, who wants to bicycle all around Thailand on his own.
I’m sure he’s biking around in some part of Thailand as I write this.

The other friend, Eugene, 72, an Irishman I had met at a hostel, wished to sail to India on his Yacht.
In fact, that what was he was going to start doing the moment he was back home.
Maybe he’s fixing up his Yacth as you’re reading this.

Meeting such ambitious and proactive elderly folk left me humbled.
I wondered how they could exist in such a state of being.

The answer I found was on the lines of their perception and interaction with two factors :

a) Time

b) Mindspace.

The elderly have only a decade
or so of life left to make something of. Yet, they have the a lot of time to reflect, imagine and think of ways to achieve a distant dream. The awareness of the finitude of their life only helps them to attribute more value to the little time they have on earth.

Also, the mindspace of ‘It is Now or Never’ is most obvious at their age. They are not afraid of anything that used to hold them back when they were young adults. They are in a position to imagine without inhibition.

I couldn’t help but draw a parallel between the relationship kids have with time and mindspace vis-a-vis the elderly.

While it is finitude that helps the elderly imagine and act without inhibition, it is the apparent infinitude, a timelessness in which the imaginative spirit of a child thrives.

A child has no fear of dreaming or acting on its dreams. If a child wants to be a doctor, he would just put a dummy stethoscope around it’s neck, wear the elder siblings oversized shirt and he’s ready to treat anyone and everyone in sight.
A child imagines and acts in the best of its capacity.

As young adults, what can we learn from the elderly and kids about ambition, imagination and taking action?

We live in an age where we have neither the time nor the mindspace to imagine and act on our dreams.
Aren’t most of us busy with something or the other that commands all of our immediate attention?

And sadly, we have become comfortable with devoting time to things that we are asked to do, without really thinking if it truly matters to us in the long run.

Part of the reason is because we dwell in the dangerous domain in our understanding of time,
in between finitude and infinitude.

If we really feel a sense of timelessness as kids, we would truly be present in each moment and be able to imagine the way we must.
At the same time, if we truly understand the finitude, the fragility of life, as the elderly do, we would, at all times, act responsibly and do things that matter to us.

Would it not be the best way to exist,
To live with complete understanding of our relationship with time and mindspace?
To understand finitude and infinity and let the wagon of our lives soar on the twin rails of imagination and action ?

If we choose to live with this awareness,
Could life ever be little?

A Diwali in true spirit

It was the eve of diwali. A celebratory joy had taken over the little hillside village of Jyotigram.

With the advent of the evening, the villagers started lighting up earthen lamps in their homes.
Within half an hour, the whole village had a luminous aura around it.
It was a sight to behold.

Even with the sun setting, darkness could not envelop the village. The flickering flames of the hundreds of earthen lamps kept darkness at bay.

Looking over the village from the little hillock was a young boy named Aadi.
He had worn simple clothes, quite unlike the villagers who had worn their best dresses for diwali.
He had a cloth sack hanging across his shoulders.
And even though he looked modest in his appearance, his eyes shone bright as a full moon on a clear night.

‘What are you doing here son?’ asked a silhouette in the dark.

It was an elderly man called Harish, a photographer from the city who’d come to village to capture the festivity of Diwali.

Aadi recognized him. He had seen the man come to the village a couple of days ago with his camera.

‘I am just enjoying the view of my village all lit up on the eve of Diwali. Isn’t it beautiful?

‘Yes indeed ! It is a breathtaking view from this hillock. As if the villagers have won over the darkness of the night with the light of all the lamps!’ said Harish.

‘Just how we celebrate the victory of good over evil, knowledge over ignorance on this day.’

Aadi didn’t look anywhere else but at the village the whole while as he talked. He seemed happily transfixed by the luminous aura of his village.

‘Are you not celebrating Diwali?’ asked the old man.

Aadi turned around breaking his gaze.

‘In a way I already celebrated it, but in a way I didn’t!’

The answer perplexed Harish.

‘So you lit up a lamp at home and came up to the hill to look at the village is it?’

Aadi looked at Harish lovingly and said,

‘I am a poor village boy Uncle. I cannot afford to buy oil to light up a lamp. Neither do I have the means to buy a gift for my friends nor the ability to make sweets for neighbors.’

Harish felt a sense of guilt, to have made the boy realise his penury on a day of celebration and festivity.

‘I’m sorry to know that my friend.’

‘Ah you don’t have to be sorry. I never pitied myself for my poverty.’

‘But you said you also celebrated Diwali in a way. Would you tell me how you did?’ asked Harish.

‘A month ago, I realised I would not have the means to celebrate Diwali.
So I went to the river bank and sat down to pacify my sombre self.
But then I saw all the heaps of clay on the banks of the river.
And I knew what I had to do to make things better.
I started making earthen lamps with that clay and left them to dry in the sun.
I worked hard night and day and managed to make enough lamps for every household in our small village.
I couldn’t afford oil, but I made the lamps that could contain the oil that would fuel the flame.
Those lamps were my gift to my villagers.
And the sweetness of this sight from the hilltop of all these earthen lamps I made is better than anything I’ve ever tasted. That’s my Diwali.’

There was a majestic delight in his shining eyes as he shared this.

Harish felt as if he’d gotten the best gift he could have gotten on the eve of Diwali.
The gift of perspective.

Both Harish and Aadi looked at the luminous village in awe.
It was a beautiful sight.

Harish clicked a picture of the radiant village from the hilltop.

He gently placed the picture in Aadi’s palm.

Aadi smiled as he looked at the wonderfully shot image. His eyes shone even brighter than the lights of the whole village.

‘A gift for you’ said Harish smilingly.

Aadi slid the picture in his cloth bag. He pulled out an earthen lamp he’d made from the river bed clay and placed it on Harish’s palm.

‘Happy Diwali’ he wished.

Both Harish and Aadi basked in the gentle glow of the village’s luminous aura.
Cherishing a gift unexpected,
A picture and and earthen lamp,
Either of them realised deep inside,
that this was a Happy Diwali indeed.

On an artist’s state being

‘So what music are you listening to these days?’ I asked my friend Vijay over a phone call.’

‘Ah, I must share this artist’s music with you. His playing is absolutely mesmerising. It is a wedlock of poetic expression with reckless abandon. He plays as if he doesn’t care who is listening or not listening for that matter. He just does his thing. I wonder how long it would have taken him to have that state of being.’

‘Sounds fascinating ! Do share his music with me !’

‘I will, when we hang up.’

And we went on with our friendly, fruitful conversation.

The way Vijay described the musician’s state of being made an impression on me.
I remembered a phrase a dance teacher used to say when people were shy to sway. He would say,

‘Dance as if nobody is watching.’

While that helped people for a while, of course their conscious state of mind came back to them in no time.

But when kids dance, they know the whole world around them is watching. Their expression spouts out in bountiful measure nevertheless.
They don’t dance as if nobody is watching !

Maybe the way to dance best is to dance with a subtle awareness. An awareness that people might be watching. Or not.
Consciousness is such a gift. It should never be stifled by being ‘conscious’!

As a musician, I have also felt this state of being ‘conscious’ while playing. It happens even to the best of us.

We all fall in that trap of trying to be ‘good enough’ as someone. That someone could be your favourite artist, a contemporary or  your own mentor.
But in reality we can only be as good as our best selves. We can never be as good as someone outside our own being.
We can only push further and reach the heights we are capable of. The moment we stop having an external benchmark, a sense of emancipation will dawn on us.

While you should always strive to learn from everyone,
from a master to a novice,
The goal should always be to reach your best possible expression,
Your truest artistic splendor.

And it is best achieved by not striving to ‘be like someone.’
Surprisingly, it is not even achieved by striving ‘to be the best version of yourself.’

The most natural way to progress is just by ‘being’.

It might sound psuedo-spiritual.
And I must admit that it is a difficult state of being to win back.

But we had that state of being as kids.
I am not talking about mastery. Kids are not masters at an artform per se.
I am talking about that subtle awareness.
And the state of just ‘being’,
and expressing until you’re spent for the moment, for the day.

We all had that state of being.
We just have to unlearn.
Unlearn the habit of self-doubt, comparison, and the state of being ‘conscious’.

Now that I wonder about my friend’s question of,
‘I wonder how long it would have taken him to have that state of being’,

I think that the artist preserved the childlike ‘being’ he had as a kid.
Maybe he has always had that state of being.
Like we all did once upon a time.

And we can all strive for that state of being.
In the interest of our best artistic expression.
In the journey of being the best human we can be.

Sometimes the fastest way to learn,
Is to Unlearn.

 

 

How to open up your heart

I had the fortune of volunteering at  ‘Mindful Farm’, a little community nestled among hillocks in North Chiang Mai, Thailand.

One of the things I liked most about being there was the nutritious breakfast we used to eat, seated on the floor, in complete silence, mindfully.

After breakfast, one of us would read a little story about mindfulness in daily life to everyone else. The founder, Pi Nan, had a wonderful collection of stories to be read out loud every morning.

On a particular morning, my friend Alice was reading out a story. She read the story with such an endearing cadence that all of us just wanted to keep on listening. Giving space and emphasis as it deemed fit, she beckoned us all on a journey, like Pied Piper would with his pipe.
After she finished reading the story, we all were secretly wishing that she kept on reading !

We got up from our places and continued on to work on the farm.
While we were busy working, I took a moment to compliment her about the way she read the story.

‘Alice, how did you learn to read like that?’

‘Ah, did you enjoy it?’ she asked.

‘Yes, indeed. It was read with such empathy and emotion. I felt as if I was a kid in a nursery and my teacher was reading a gripping little tale to me.’

‘Well, I am a teacher back in Myanmar. I teach kids. I have to be able to read engagingly, don’t I?’

‘Ah, that explains it!’

‘You know, I feel that we assume that we no longer need to be read to once we learn how to read. But isn’t it a joy to be be listening to a story read with the right emotion and flow?’

‘By all means !’ I assented.

And we carried on our work in the little patch of the garden.

Yesterday, my friend’s father and I sat down to share time and space. I narrated a short story to him I had written a few days ago. He recited a few of the couplets he had composed.
He had such joy in his spirit when he recited his own poetry composed in an agreeable melody.

Once he was done reciting he spoke,

‘You know, my wife has insomnia. When she cannot fall asleep at night, I sing my poetry as a lullaby to her. Before she knows, she falls asleep like a content baby.’

‘How do you think that works Uncle?’ I asked.

‘You know, I think we all feel that only little babies need lullabies to fall asleep. But, we could all use a lullaby in our life.’

Smiling gently to his wise observation, we enjoyed the evening breeze.

These two experiences with Alice and my friend’s father got me thinking about the things we do away with as we grow up.

Most experiences we consider so precious as kids are deemed to be childish.

Who doesn’t remember sleeping to a lullaby? Or a short story performed by Granny in the dark theatre of the night, that soothed us into a dream filled sleep?
The caressing on our ruffled hair by Mom, when we were down with fever? Her peculiar scent that made you feel you’re home in her arms?

As we grow up we do not let these experiences into our lives. We dare not to sleep in our mother’s lap, rationalizing our fear, fooling ourselves out of what we might truly need.

After an age, subconsciously we seek the same feelings as we did as a child, from a partner.

Yes, we need to listen to someone with deep anticipation and intent, just how we used to listen to those childhood stories.
We need to listen to them whisper in our ear, to lead us to a sound sleep, just how a lullaby used to do back in the day. We need to be touched, lovingly, like we allowed our mother to once upon a time. We need that embracing scent of our beloved, to feel home, no matter where we are, just like our mother’s scent made us feel.

Our adulthood comes with a baggage. The inertia of all those walls that we build between us and our guileless heart.
Our heart was open to love as children.
But as we grew up, we even started feeling awkward when embracing our own parents, something that used to be so natural !
How is this growth in any sense of the word?

Sometimes, growth means to retreat.
Retreat to a state of pure being,
Of having an open heart,
An all embracing soul,
That touches and let’s itself be touched.
That seeks out an embrace,a lullaby, a story, the scent of home…

 

 

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