ageing gracefully

 

Once somebody asked His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar – ‘How can we age gracefully?’  Pujya Gurudev answered,  (with a mischievous smile and a small subtle gesture toward himself) “Like this! See you are really asking how to look attractive. Your desire to look attractive makes you unattractive! If you want to look attractive, have that feverish desire that makes you unattractive. But if you are calm, serene, then that brings beauty….”

Indian BloggersQuite often ageing ‘gracefully’ is equated with sporting a youthful look and many industries now survive selling those dreams. Some people go to great lengths to prove to the world that age has not withered their physical powers in any way even though they might have added a few wrinkles. There was this US millionaire who married an eighteen year old girl when he was eighty six. He spent millions and hired many top scientists to do research on slowing down aging process.

Many wise men have come up with prescriptions and consolations for the problems that come with advancement of age. “Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul”, says Samuel Ullman while Jeck Benny philosophizes, “Growing old is a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter”. However here is a nice piece of advice from Ogden Nash, “Old age begins and middle age ends the day your descendents outnumber your friends”.

In India, traditionally, a certain amount of grace and respect has been attached to aging and in many families the eldest enjoys the veto. While the problem of aging has been an engaging concern in the west since long, with the disintegration of joint family and deterioration of family values it is becoming an ever increasing matter of concern in the east as well.

Be it on the popular films or the media, the solutions suggested mostly emphasise on being young at heart in line with what John Kenneth Galbraith said “If wrinkles must be written upon our brows, let them not be written upon our heart. The spirit should never grow old.”

Some would like to continue to be young in their acts as well.  “I’m not in the least interested in growing old gracefully; I want to grow old disgracefully, with a gleam in my eye. I want to carry my own wood into my cabin on the day that I die,” said Leslie Kenton.

Worse than the obsession of hiding the wrinkles is the self inflicted pain of aging regretfully. Unfortunately, a great many of today’s middle aged and aged subscribe to it. While those concerned with freezing the marks of old age live in an utopian future, those aging regretfully live in a perpetual ‘should have’ past. The latter may agree with Mark Twain’s saying “Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been”, – as if old age is not meant for smiling at all.

A simple antidote to aging regretfully would be to age gratefully.  When one ages usefully, aging gracefully is a natural follow up. May be that is what Pujya Gurudev indicated when  questioned about aging gracefully.

It is not that only when one has some kind of official or formal position, one can age usefully. Just an intention to change the dynamics from trying to be the centre of attraction every situation to giving attention to others will work wonders. One of the common complaints of the aged is- “Now no one cares for me, nor do I command the respect or awe  that I used to have”.

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Sand art tribute by famous sand artist of Odisha – Sudarshan Patnaik

(When we talk of aging gracefully and usefully, who can be a better example than Sri Sri Ravi Shankar himself. By the way, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar steps onto his sixty first year today. Wishing him all the best. He has been a guiding light to millions in mastering the Art of Living. May his grace continue to flow for ages to come.)

The Paradox of Love

In an earlier post Love is in the Air,  I attempted to explore various flavours of love. In any kind of relationship,  one or  more of the flavours would be involved to sustain it.In a broader sense, as prominent spiritual master Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says, “Love is that glue that holds everything together”. Hence love unites, integrates.

Yet, it should not stifle. Even though some kind of interdependence is inherent in Love, it is not true love if it stifles, if it encroaches upon the freedom of another beyond a healthy limit.

Of course we have to consider what kind of love are we talking about? Freedom is inherent in true love. Once you have faith and confidence why would you impose any condition?

Once there is curtailment of freedom, that is the end of love. If one of the parties feels suffocated, then it is not love, but bondage. Bondage and freedom cannot go together.

So, if ever you feel stifled in love, or feel your freedom curtailed, examine. Was it really love?  Or, was it bondage, manipulation or an attempt to control masquerading as love?

From a different perspective, let us consider the following. Love is the process of uniting, merging. Two become one. It is true in the case of romantic love, divine love or any other kind of love. A feeling of oneness comes with love. Where does it leave space for freedom. One feels surrendered in love. In another sense, sacrifice becomes natural. In the land of love, freedom is an absolute stranger. A true lover does not seek to free itself of the beloved, neither does he/she would like to possess the other one and bring the other into submission.

Or rather, in a state of love, one simply does not bother about freedom. Love takes care of everything.

As Rumi says:

“Ride on love and don’t worry about the road!

Because the steed of love has the smoothest ride.
It will take you home in a single thrust.

Even though the road is rough.”

Still, if the question of freedom pops up, let us remember with Kahllil Gibran:

“Love possesses not, nor will it be possessed”.

That is the paradox of the state of love – one does not have the apparent freedom, yet it is love that brings the ultimate freedom.

 

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 Indian Bloggers

Love is in the Air

love
American Bald Eagles during mating season

To associate love with sacrifice is divine. To mix love with pleasure is human. And to make business out of love is American.

According to the Greeting Card Association of America 25% of all cards sent are valentines. Of course, now it is a global trend.

Well, love is in the air. In India it is the Spring season which has been traditionally associated with harvests, festivals, flowering and romance. Then of course, now a days we have caught up fast with this international tradition of celebrating the legacy of St. Valentine.

At this age I cannot join the the young enthusiastic valentine brigade. I cannot ‘beat’ them either by joining the moral brigade in India who are suddenly on a Swadeshi hype. I am still a fence sitter. Maybe, there is no harm in just ruminating a bit on various aspects of love.

Flavours of Love

Love is something that everyone experiences in some form or other. No amount of talk or preaching about love can transfer one’s experience of love to another.

Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says, “Love is that glue that holds everything together”. Going by this definition, everything is love, expressed in its various flavors or distortions. No one is devoid of love. Even the so called loner loves his loneliness, disregarding the love poured on him by nature from all sides.

Gurudev also says that the negative emotions like anger, lust etc are distortions of love. Love for the objects becomes greed, love for perfection becomes anger, love for one’s own supremacy becomes jealousy. Taken to extreme, coupled with a sense insecurity, one’s love for one’s religion, race, language etc.  may make one a chauvinist, bigot or extremist depending on one’s intensity and stupidity.

Transcending Relative Love

When love  is relative, all these flavors and distortions are experienced. Love for parents, love for one’s own children, love for siblings, romantic love etc. are all different flavors of love. Then there is love of the highest order, when all these relative flavors are transcended. That is what Maharshi Narada calls in His Bhakti Sutras parama prema rupa or the ultimate love or the absolute love or bhakti. Bhakti may start as a love for the divine in form or formless. But it flowers to its ultimate state when love remains without its distortions. Then one becomes love and one’s being permeates love.

The Legend of St. Valentine

Somewhat similar to the eastern concept of Bhakti is the Christian concept of ‘Agape’. Four kinds of love are described in the Bible. The lowest being the erotic love (Eros) and the highest being the Agape, exemplified by the love of Jesus Christ to humanity and God. In between are Storge (family love) and Philia (brotherhood or love between co-followers of Jesus) .

Many scholars trace the origin of  Valentine’s Day to the ancient pagan ‘fertility’ festival of Rome celebrated on 15 Feb. Later on, along with the people of Rome, the festival too was Christianized and renamed as Valentine’s Day, to commemorate  agape. Towards 14th century the term came to be associated with romantic love. Fourteenth Century English Poet Chaucer extended Valentine’s Day beyond human beings, when he wrote:

“For this was on St. Valentine’s Day,
When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate.”

By the way, nothing is known for sure about the St. Valentine- the inspiration for the Valentine’s Day. There are many versions of the legend of St. Valentine. However, according to the majority of scholars and theologians, this day is associated with the St. Valentine who, performed secret marriages in 3rd century Rome against the dictate of the emperor to debar young men from marrying  so that they became better soldiers.

The English Church removed the feast Day associated with St. Valentine in 1969 citing his questionable origin.

P.S. – I Love You

This expression is commonly used to express love, particularly in western countries and the westernized in other countries. Even a romantic movie has been made by this name. As we know, P.S is abbreviations of ” Post Script”,  written at the end of a letter when someone remembers to have forgotten to write something in the main script.

I wonder what kind of love it is that comes as a post script, some kind of an afterthought. If there is love, it is there at the beginning, in the middle and at the end, it is a continuum. If you love something, you do not make it a side issue or forget it.

Some say, the expression is used to remind the other how much one loves the other. It is like saying – “By the way, do not forget that I love you”. Do real lovers keep on reminding expressly how much they love each  other? Like everything else, as we progress in the name of civilization, is love also becoming formal, superficial?

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Of self discovery and spirituality

May be somewhere at the age of twelve I started to have deep feelings of uselessness of life. The feelings continued off and on. Pressing responsibilities and needs, first of a student life, then of a professional and family life drowned out the inner call.

Of course, since childhood I had been interested in yoga and meditation. I used to do certain practices following the instructions in some books that I had come across. However, I was not having any deep  feeling or any significant progress as an amateur self taught pilgrim of the spiritual journey. But my self taught yogic practices continued from high school till the first year of college. Then, sometime in the second year I discontinued the yogic practices and my lifestyle took 180 degree spin off.

Indian BloggersIt is said in esoteric spirituality that every spiritual / non-spiritual  cycle lasts twelve years. It may be a matter of pure coincidence that after my third 12 year cycle,  I started again to search for answers to some of the existential questions that had bothered me every now and then: Who am I? What is the purpose of life? Is there any use in this thing called life? yeh jina bhi koi jeena hai yaro? These feelings of inner emptiness, uselessness, meaninglessness continued for quite some time. I turned my attention to a variety of spiritual literature. But nothing satisfied me.

One day while channel surfing on TV, I got stuck with an interview of Sri Sri Ravishankar taken by Pratibha Advani. I do not remember what exactly was the question or what was the answer, but I had a feeling that I  got a starting point for the answers to some of the disturbing questions in my mind. Then, one day out of curiosity I went to the Art of living center to inquire about their workshops. It was a Tuesday and I was told the next workshop known as the Art of Living Basic Course was to start in two hours.Without thinking much I enrolled my self. Then I was in Hyderabad.

The six day workshop, for me was sheer bliss. By the end of the course my journey of self discovery had begun on a serious note. After that I visited the Art of Living International Centre in Bengaluru and met with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. I also did many advanced courses.

Of course till now I have not got the final answers to my ‘existential’ questions. The quest of self discovery is still on. But the difference is, now I have the feeling that  I am on the way. As I continue with the spiritual practices and knowledge, I experience many positive changes in my attitude towards life and society.

Different people may have different experiences and opinions about Art of living and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. But one thing I know is that the word bliss cannot remind me, first of all,  anything other than the Art of Living.

I have realised that one need not be a believer of anything to experience the bliss of meditation, yogic practices and mystic glimpses into the nature of truth.

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In addition to Sumelika Das, I must thank Cattie’s World  for being the inspiration for this post.