return of the drifter.

Whatever I said I didn’t mean it. This feels a good place to begin. A continual undoing. All endings are beginnings right?

I’m sat in padmasana in the Gurdwara, wearing a suit, chunni covering my head, the kirtan is playing, and a few aunty are probably giving the blonde girl the eye; ha it’s been a while.

We begin the Naam Simran, I close my eyes, palms to my knees.

I think of my two best friends who, in different ways, I have lost. I think about how a connection can be so indisputable and so confusing. I think about how we reverberate through each others lives and how we cannot ever quite foresee how we affect into the other and they will never quite see how far they reach within us.  “The pull is always stronger than the push…” someone said earlier. What is it that pulls us at these moments, seizes us, makes us not the master of our own actions?

All my friends tell me I should move on… Everyone’s asking: and I’m tired, tired of the advice. Though it seems my intuition isn’t up to much. “It’s just that your instinct was wrong, they’ll be another situation and you’ll make the wrong choice.” Waheguru. I’m trying to dissolve this. I think of India, I think of you, I think of how simple it could all be. I can’t feel my legs and my arm tingles, a body sedated with langar and a sleepless night. I’m absorbed, I’m lying in the ocean singing your song, la la la la la la.

Kirtan. Cur-tan. A circle of eager yogi faces and bad tabla and bad pronunciation. I almost snort with laughter remembering.

“God is inside you”. Have you ever truly visualized this? It’s wild. No looking up, out or beyond, inside others, objects. Not even to a dristhi at the end of your nose or your palms or feet. A dristhi that drenches the whole body. Directed nowhere and everywhere, at the porous, the fleshy, the bones, and the vitalism that keeps you breathing. Is this where God lies? In the breath? Is God then not just the vitalistic element of life. God is in all that is vital, living. Why do we seek to fill ourselves to feel alive? Infused with vitality we are full to the brim. “For the moment forget about those you love”. And then I’m suddenly desperately alone. I- I- I am nothing “..no words…”.

A spirit that lives on: I’m ambivalent about this. How much do we say to make us feel better, to reduce the fear of death, and how much do we feel to be true. “I’m not an atheist”. If God, that is to say, the spiritual essence exists within us, and is what infuses our body with vitalism and is what infuses our creative endeavours like art, writing, music, yoga, then vitalism is the extra in addition to the biological – its the body without organs – its what’s left over. And too, loving is an excess, even if they tell us loneliness is pathological or gives you heart disease or whatever: it’s just the excess we conjure in our encounters. We’re already full up, but in the encounter the water levels change and we become all over again. This is a spirituality with no form or boundaries, it moves in and out and in-between.

I’m just not at all sure how to feel on the journey back as the sweet prashad rests in my belly. I think of my two best friends who, in different ways, I have lost.

Anne

When I was younger I always wanted to disappear. It became an obsession. I was going to pack my bags, change my name to Anne and just leave. No goodbyes, no turning back. I must have been no more than 10 years old. When I grow up I want to be nothing. And then I lost my grip on that dream when I disappeared behind loss and became a ghost just like them.

I just want to keep walking until I don’t feel sad anymore. To keep moving is to never really allow the chance for visibility; the chance to become fleshy and real. Present.

One always speaks as the stereotype of the person they think they are.* The more we caricature ourselves the more we lose ourselves. We let others befriend the personas we adopt. What a fraud. Perhaps that’s why friendships leave me feeling so lonely. A sad acknowledgement that you made people love characteristics that do not even belong to you. I just borrowed them, see. They just decorate this otherwise transitory soul. And the more I reveal the less real I become.

Realness feels weighty. That moment when someone looks at you and you know that they know what you are. You are depressed, crushed, trapped inside the gap of place/time. A participant in something real at last. Or those lucid moments in practice when the pain, tiredness, strength, feels so very vital (and bodily in a way that cannot be articulated). Or this white page where I routinely lay my soul bare. And dreams. Dreams delve into the layers of being. Memories. Reliving memories over and over. This is the tapestry of you. I.S.M.M. It will never change. Home. Home. Home.

Freedom is always light, freedom is a glorious Mysore practice and 3am walks in the darkness. Freedom is forgetting your own name. Freedom is disappearing and no phone calls from home. Freedom is stealing from others the ways to exist in this world. Freedom is always being a bit absent, freedom is being a fraud, freedom is myriad identities and an open road and walking until your feet bleed. Freedom is having no responsibility, no accountability, having no borders. Freedom is a tiny speck and the infinite abyss at one and the same time. Freedom is truths and masquerades, freedom is loneliness, and detached and never quite part of. Freedom is illusions and utopian and dumb and beautiful and full of hope and idealism and contradictory and believing and it is love and home and it’s in my palms and it’s shining brightly and I close my eyes and it’s a warm, familiar embrace and it is everything.

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*paraphrased from the words of my academic hero Gayatri Spivak. Listen to her here: http://culturemachinepodcasts.podbean.com/2009/05/07/hope-i-gayatri-chakravorty-spivak-whitechapel-salon/

Belonging

As someone who is relatively well-acquainted with Indian culture and customs, during my time in India I have never felt obligated to take photos of cows walking in the road, or of myself with sindoor on my head, nor have I been bewildered about what daal or parathas are or find Hindi films exotic and fascinating. All the stuff that enamours people to India merely frustrates me and I have always scoffed and rolled my eyes at those who go to India and come back all spiritual, talking about Buddhism and chakras, wearing bindis, and talking about their life changing experiences helping poor people and going to the toilet squatting over a hole.

India – or at least the idea of India  – feels like second nature to me, an identity bestowed to me when fate stole away the life that was intended. The fit between the two identities however certainly hasn’t been an easy one. My ambivalent relationship with India – and my Indian sense of self – has only been confirmed in my time here. This feeling of ambivalence will never change. Even before coming to India, adopting an Indian identity has brought a myriad of challenges. It taught me to accept new cultural norms that were often disagreeable; it taught me to eat more saturated fats; it forced my introverted self to express my emotions and open myself up to others.

I also learnt about the importance of family and how to care and depend on others; I learnt (some) Punjabi; I learnt how great and awful Hindi dramas can be; I learnt how rajma and chawal is the best dish ever (as well as saag); I went to many, many weddings and danced to bhangra until my kameez was soaked with sweat; I did seva in the Gurdwara on many occasions, working alongside the suspicious glances of the elder women in the kitchen who finally accepted a gori as one of their own. I realised how easy it was to win over the hearts of people by simply showing respect – and a white girl understanding Punjabi never fails to amaze – and I learnt to make the best chah (chai) ever.

So the point of this little sentimental babble? (stimulated no doubt from reading Shantaram and relating with the lead character and how he finds his spiritual/emotional home in India). I suppose I have realized how I have been clinging on to discovering a family that doesn’t really exist. I thought I needed the reassurance of biological ties, to look at people who resembled me in order to feel at home. But I have been thinking about belonging all wrong.

Though I know that I do not belong here in India. Perhaps I don’t even belong to the Indian family I know back in England. In some way I will always be the white girl – never quite part of – I will always be expected to leave. I am not their daughter, I will never be fussed over in quite the same way, I will never incur the same protective feelings. And so the price of this freedom – of not being tied – is the absence of phone calls from a worried parent back home; of someone being concerned for me, happy for me, proud of me. The childish desire to fill this absence will always be there. Maybe past life regression (or knitting) could help me overcome my recurring hamster dreams and stop my continual return to a phantom home. Yet my gaze has been too fixated on eradicating this desire (this weakness). And then the other day, in one of those moments that seems like an epiphany in retrospect but at the time was in fact very commonplace, the thought appeared clear in my mind, as clear as the image of my grandmother’s tombstone: ‘I have to let go’. Now letting go is a problematic concept for me (as discussed here) but in this instance it finally made sense. It wasn’t so much letting go of my past – and the ghosts that shape that past – but letting go of the belief in answers, in a timeless essential truth (about my self, about life) from this past.

The search for origins – it all goes back there (and Michel Foucault it seems). This is where the journey all began, the stimulus for escape. And now I look to returning back to the place I fled from a number of months before. Returning in what form? To return, to find one’s home, to belong – these do not have to be definite (or definitive) states, they are not things one accomplishes once and for all. As I change, as others around me change, and as the world changes, so does my sense of belonging, where my home lies, and what the act of returning means. My own life is evidence that home is open to transformation. I have found home in places that society (or the boundaries of my skin colour, nationality, ethnicity, religion) didn’t agree I belonged.

And then today in another retrospective epiphany/in reality commonplace moment I was sat in conference listening to Sharath’s stories and feeling as I do every Sunday, with the very exceptional feeling of knowing that I am in precisely the right place at this particular point in time. And afterwards I sat outside on a bench opposite the front of the shala enjoying how the elevated height of the bench easily allows my legs to swing haphazardly in the air, and in my immature delight at this activity I knew, that eventhough my departure was pending and that everything will change tomorrow, I knew for this moment at least, that I was home. And that was good enough.

To Return (Home)

“Whenever I was home, I wanted to get away, and whenever I got away I wanted to go home again.” – Erica Jong, Fear of Flying

Sometimes I wonder if certain things will ever change. Actually no, I wonder if certain things are even meant to change. I have been so enamoured with the possibility of transformation, of escaping (one’s self/environment/bad habits), that I have failed to acknowledge the importance of those parts of life and of my sense of self that remain resolutely unaltered.

Recently I have been longing to leave Mysore. The routine of the days no longer comforts me but leaves me feeling trapped. Though escape from Mysore is not possible so instead I sleep away my days, finding a familiar refuge in my obscure yet increasingly repetitive dreams. On waking I am initially nestled in the pleasant suspension of all realities where I do not even remember my own name. But then the burden of context descends and I feel heavy again with the knowledge of my present and my blurry and indeterminate future.

As the night continues to refuse me sleep and my mind chooses to escape the day in slumber, dreams and realities merge and my skin grows paler, lacking the stability and sunlight the daytime hours bring. I realise the patterns of my days here in India remain as incoherent as my life before, back ‘home’. Staying up late, eating too much of the wrong things, spending hours drinking tea alone in a cafe reading, staring into nothingness and feeling restless. All with the persistent thought in my head of wanting to escape – no a persistent pounding of my heart, my heart, that longs to get away… But I am away and as I acknowledge this I am engulfed in a panic; even in my escape I am not freed from whatever I am running from.

And so is what I long for to go home again? Yet wanting to go home – this is a futile longing for someone such as I who does not have a home. How to reconcile this dilemma? This ambivalent back and forth motion of dissatisfaction? It is feelings like this that my yoga practice can normally remedy, even if it is only transitory. But now my practice is failing to fully save me. As I leave the shala the emptiness is there waiting for me in the early morning darkness, enrobing me once again. I hurry back to my bed to shed its overbearing mass in the lightness of sleep.

But still the sleepless nights torture and the clock measures out my impatience, my anxiety. Another day left unresolved. And again the long unbearable wait for tomorrow, for the start of another day. Another day in which I will escape over and over again in pointless journeys that lead me back to the same place.

I keep writing the same story. Perhaps it is time I gave up my childish expectations of transformation, of change, of escape, and began to learn to resign myself to the impermanence and unfulfilled nature of life. Maybe then I will finally find my way home.

Home (to return)

I am walking through the overgrown garden, grass up to my knees, wading across the lawn. The unruly stems and branches of the surrounding bushes and trees appear almost grotesque, hideously deformed from their previous groomed shape. The garden thrives on its neglect, out of control, greedy it feeds upon the loss. I enter the house, as ever it is empty, silent, cavernous; I am alone. A languid warm summer glow illuminates the rooms. Ahead I see the front door, slightly ajar, light lurking around the door’s edge. I hurry towards the door, it is open. I push it shut but it swings back again, the glow from outside overwhelming my vision. The open door fills me with an unspeakable fear. The fear of someone (thing) inside the house, intruding in my home. I try once again to seal the door. Panic.

As I begin to acknowledge that my time in India must come to an end I wonder where to go when I leave. People speak of going home – ‘when are you going home??’  But where do you go if you have no home? If my home is wherever I am then to where do I return? Is home not just a fiction we construct to enable us to feel secure so that even if it remains a lie, at least we feel assured and contained in our illusions.

As I am met with ambiguity in my life – the precariousness of my future, the lack of vocation, a restless disposition  – I struggle to form a home inside, a stability dependent on neither people nor place, wealth or possessions. But to find this home I must first dissemble the home of the past. In my dreams I find myself continually returning to one place. The house of my childhood. Even as I actively seek a new home in my waking life I return to the only home I know. As much as I wish my imagination to be free of this ghost I protect it against intrusion. I keep trying to shut the door on the world outside, maintaining this little bubble of sameness inside. This phantom house possesses me.

I have not walked through this house for years and yet in my dreams it appears vivid and alive. My dreams remind me of things I had forgotten (or choose not to recall). The garden of the house was once grand and as a child, a wonderland in which I would spend hours roaming alone. After my mother died, it grew and grew. I would peer at it out the window as the chaos multiplied. It disgusted me. The insatiable appetite of nature. Relentless, no pause to mark my grief but just going on, taking over (me).

In my dreams I keep going home again but this is a place that no longer exists. I can never go home again. But somehow the child in me doesn’t give up trying. So in my dreams I return, returning over and over and over again. There will be no end to this. It can never be changed. For this house (home) lies at the heart of all things.