A Postcard For Peace And Love
Every year, on my birthday I run distances equivalent to my age. Like 19 km for 19 years, 20 km for 20 years, growing to 22 miles for 22 years and then 250 km for 25 years. When I turned 26, I decided to run for 26 hours and finish on top of the mountain I was embracing in pictures for months over the internet. Varandha Ghat near Pune. First four hours into the run, I ran out of the water and stopped on a farm, where a man was working in his field. I asked if I could get some water to refill my hydration pack, and the bare-chested man wrapped in dhoti requested to wait for five minutes as he continued uprooting the sapling from the waterlogged rice field. Tausif Ali Zaidi, a farmer who lived in outskirts of Pune, refuelled my water supply and generously accepted my request to work in his rice field and learn some basics of farming in tropical lands. Following weeks in monsoons, I’d visit Tausif often on weekends. Together, using some tweaks inspired by his experience and my understanding of water flow, we modified drainage of the rice field and together worked on two of his rice crops that produced much better yields.
Some Saturday nights, I’d stay at his farm where he lived with his wife. Both in their mid-fifties lived on the farm by themselves and their son worked in Mumbai, whom I saw once. Rotis made of rice flour, beans, home-made papad, and three more vegetables I can’t recall the names, Tausif made sure most of his food requirements were fulfilled by his farm. As for animals, he had two dogs who took a while to befriend me, five hen and a rooster. At the end of the season, Tausif with all his love offered me a share in his yield – two giant sacs full of rice, that today would cost me around 5000 rupees in the market. I didn’t know what would I do with it? Did I even deserve it? I forced my share back to Tausif and got him agreed to accept this as respect for sharing his space and life with me.
So, until July 2014, all these tiny things that were happening during runs and travels, I didn’t care much. They made far little sense than what they actually meant. I didn’t know how to process the data I had received. I was just doing what I love the most – exploring places, people and running. Following return, I was sharing my room in the University hostel with Ashik Pathan (a student of M.B.A.), who was much different than people with whom I had shared the living space and I used to have intriguing conversations with him and his friends. I never truly got along, but we had a decent respectful relation. And then, one day I saw a body hanging to the lone banyan tree in our hostel on a Sunday morning. That was a friend of Ashik, who had succumbed to death previous night for unknown reasons. It was for the first time when I was learning a different aspect of our lives and had a deep conversation with few of his friends that was quickly followed by the maiden visit to Udaipur for India Youth Jam at Tapovan Ashram, home of Swaraj University.
Youth Jam had a session on “Understanding Indian Identities”. Before the beginning of the retreat, there was a question I had answered in the application form without understanding at all what it meant. “How do you identify?” I had no clue what that meant. However, listening to narrations of fellow participants and finding some incredible connections with all of them and staff of Swaraj University, who were open – ready to bare their soul and accept me with no conditions – I got an opportunity to pause, look back and reflect on what had happened since my childhood. I always lived in fear of being judged, ridiculed again and a strong sense of self-doubt and the inferiority complex. By the time I hit teenage, I realized I was shorter and weaker than most others I was sharing space with. Hence, being pretentious was the first layer of self-defence I had developed that was so strong, I never allowed anyone ever to penetrate. Not even my family. And then, here I was. A complete misfit in the community.
During conversations with Saud Hakim, Roy Jacob, Arushi Mittal, Vartika Poddar, Rameez Alam and many more, I had unknowingly triggered an awakening of conscience that made me realize, in past 26 years of my existence there were not more than two or three people I had truly met. In other words, I had no friends to look back to. In my adventures, I had considered myself fearless, and others who know would vouch for that. There I realized, the reason I was fearless because my subconscious knew I had nothing to lose. That believed there’s no one out there, that I feel true belonging to. There’s no one in or out of Tapovan Ashram who would be bothered if I didn’t wake up next morning. There’s no one I feel scared for being forgotten. I saw the ego, shattering into pieces with tons of self-hatred and empathy at the same time. A very weird world to be in. I had never really breathed free in past whole decade, hence, was never able to appreciate what I had got.
Three months later, eleven days of noble silence during Vipassana Meditation retreat gave me tremendous reflections of self, my identity, the people I had made invisible, the connections I had rejected, the voices I had made unheard, the noise I was carrying in my head, the goodness I had made unseen and, Gaurav I had forgotten. How could I hate anymore? I realized, hatred was a strong term and it took a great amount of apathy towards self to allow it to develop. These reflections were not instant, but slow and extremely painful. For those who don’t know, Vipassana is an eleven-day silence retreat, where one observes noble silence and meditates for nearly 17 hours a day. One is not expected to carry anything other than clothes and stuff for basic hygiene during the stay. Thus, you have nothing to write, read, talk, or speak. All you do is meditation. Here I’d want to mention, it’s impossible for anyone to truly do meditation as we are in constant thoughts. Meditation is a method of bringing ourselves back to consciousness, that assists bridging in the near-impossible gap between consciousness and subconsciousness. And when one is in thoughts, there are only two possible things to process – thoughts of past or future that are not in control, and the present – which is all the information that you are receiving and reacting to right now. However, when without reacting we dare to stay aware, we call that “being present”.
On the first day, I was warned by one of the fellow meditators, “When you’re observing noble silence for next ten days, do not look in the eyes of anyone.” For natural tendency of ours as we have grown, it’s almost inevitable to look at someone without judging and appreciating that person’s whole existence. It’s virtually not possible. I followed the advice as thumb-rule for first three days and then lunch of the fourth day happened. I had gone through a treacherous journey in my head already, where in past three days I was reliving my entire life every hour. I was in the Himalayas, where water supply is scarce being 7000 feet high. Accidently noticing two friends, who were fellow meditators I had not spoken to, wasting water like anything was haunting. For next 12 hours, all I had in my thoughts was the trigger of hatred. I lived with that hatred, let it evolve as I wanted to see where would that take me. By next morning came the realization, hatred had nothing to do with people I was hating, however, it was just my discomfort in accepting another personality that did not conform to mine. I realized we move out in the world holding those banana cases with little knowledge of the fact, that no two bananas are exactly same. We accept the ones that fit in and hate the ones who don’t because our banana cases are too rigid due to lack of self-awareness and empathy. The moment we encounter the slight difference in shapes, the aversion develops and starts corroding our peace followed by an instant reaction. But, is it ever too late to come back? Not quite. I was back on the fifth morning with a new perspective that was not taught by anyone, however, was wisdom that was mine.
Spending more time in Tapovan Ashram following the extremely intense Vipassana experience allowed me to develop more self-awareness and know the insights. The insights to my needs, my thoughts, the zones in my head from where I operate in situations that were happy, sad, triggering or confusing. I could hate someone no more. I could just like things less or more, with no aversion. Knowing self is definitely not an instant gratification or something that meets an end. It’s a process that I began then and now, I’m just present to the present moment with little judgements (no judgement is a myth) and more awareness. Delhi, the city that I hated, became home once more as I got the opportunity to connect with many souls who were out on largely the similar journey, and this all happened when our governments were brewing the communal-hatred soup for securing the power in the ugly backdrop.
This didn’t last long, and I set myself out on an incredible journey where identities were not restricted to being just Indian, but the entire globe. Moving to Montreal last year was one of the toughest, yet fulfilling decisions of my life. Exposing self to an immense cultural diversity of the globe was a tough task, and that is what I learned in early months. I was encountering new identities every minute, and processing so much of information with a hint of inferiority complex, language barriers with academic schedules was far too much of work to sustain the awareness. However, I did eventually succeed after initial shocks and dramatic reclines. Sharing living space with over twenty individuals I would speak to often, and learning the history of middle-eastern nations form their own nationals who became my family members away from home, was an incredibly absorbing experience when I was looking everything under a light that was full of empathy, little judgements and aware bright. How long did this last? Not much.
Very soon, academic pressure and winter took over the peace of mind and I succumbed to self-generated loneliness and depression. Now, this was something never encountered before. However, I’m smart in my decisions. For a period of few months, I moved from Montreal all the way to Kingston with nearly twenty more people and began my life’s most incredible adventure that required all the skills I had learnt in school, outdoors, adventures and relations. The immensely absorbing psychological training to sustain the physical abilities to best of its use added a new dimension, loading me with a set of tools that were beautifully complementing the artillery of self-designed weapons I had developed for being more self-aware, establishing honest connections, letting myself be known and knowing others with no prejudice or scanning under monocoloured flashlight.
My journey is mere three years old, and it is a process with no end that I am chasing or will eventually find. However, in all the spiritual encounters of finding my soul – that I call finding my space and role in this society – what I learned is I do not need a religion. Moreover, given the way the appointed powers are using that as a tool to bring an anti-humanity context, I believe no ones needs a religion. It’s regressive. I’m no philosopher or anthologist, but if I have a right or medium to speak to the world I would express my opinion calling being bound to religion as regressive. To me, religion seems to be derived from R-E-Legion that would mean “Regressive and Ensnared vast group of people” I don’t think it exists for any other species. If aliens are looking at this, they would laugh at humans for us killing each not for food or lands or homes, but for imaginary gods that no one has heard or seen or have any power to change their future feeding to blind greed. One big community worshipping their home makes far greater sense than fueling to egos of fellow men who probably once lived and died ages ago.
Why I hate Muslims and you should too? Because everyone else does. No one bothered to ask for the reason, and before anyone could realize what’s real, the loud noise of violent minority became new common sense. If Muslims are to be hated, there exists an equal right of every other religion to be hated with similar zeal and heat. We stand for equality, right? I think the centre of the universe (which is again largely a hypothetical concept) is the only god, and since they are not ruled by RSS or Trump or other similar powers, they definitely have no religion. I’d leave you with a question of what religion do you think moon, earth, your cat or dog, or cows, or the Himalayas, or the stones of Mecca or Vatican or the temples, or water or maybe your home have? They all have consciousness, and anything that has consciousness must have a god to please for their well being that may be similar or different than yours.
In my opinion, every element has consciousness, but the ego is the god. How are humans different than most other living and non-living elements, is because we have the ego. We know, that we know. Most other animals can not acknowledge that they know if they know. Our ego is what enables us to think about thinking and seek for our soul. Non-living elements are blessed that already have aligned soul. We won’t find a rock or a tree seeking for their soul. Rocks, trees, water, air – they know their purpose. Even your dog knows his purpose. We always seek to establish the connection with the soul and see religion as an easy pathway to achieve that with little work and lesser pain. However, as Buddha stated, the true path of wisdom is full of pain and miseries. Religion mere fakes the path and make the journey feel easier leading us to an abyss with no escape.
My journey has not ended yet. Egonomics has many adventures waiting to be experienced in various forms to connect me to my soul through the darkness that is still far brighter than your religions and gods. Is this is the final episode? Not quite. I’ll continue to add more episodes as I dive deep again in the tons of collected reflections through the experiences that are true and wisdom earned is mine. I’d take this opportunity to apologize to people who felt triggered due to the difference in faiths. I do not stand against being religious. I stand against using your or someone’s religion as a tool of hatred to hide your ignorance, awareness and apathy. May you all be at peace.