News from Lake Michigan
- Sometimes, when the weather is nice (ha!), I go to the shore of the big lake here in Chicago and just sit and think and look at the water. I like listening to the gentle surf and watching the waves beat against the rocks and the wharves. My favorite time to go is in the evening, when the darkening pink of the sky somehow turns the lake into the most pleasing pastel shade of gray. It's a gray so smooth and somehow so voluptuous that even Rothko would be jealous of it.
I've been thinking of colors a lot recently, because winters here in Chicago are often devoid of them. But Chicago has two saving graces. The first are the people themselves- kind, self-effacing, polite, endlessly friendly and helpful. And the second saving grace is the music and art scene. I go to classical music performances almost weekly. They take my mind off the dreadful weather and remind me of the fact that we carry inside our hearts the possibility to make even a dull day shine with joy and hope.
Last week I went to a marvelous performance of Handel's Messiah put on by a small Baroque-oriented ensemble. It was a simple, stripped-down, humble performance. There was no chorus, so the soloists handled the choral numbers. The very small instrumental section included just three violinists, one bassist, one harpsichordist, and one trumpeter. I never thought Handel could be performed in such a down-to-earth, prayerful way, with no fanfare. It's really deep music; this small ensemble showcased Handel's tremendous versatility and beauty. I've never attended a live performance before, so I was surprised when everyone in the room stood up for the Hallelujah chorus! Apparently that has been the tradition ever since it was first performed in Dublin in 1746.
What follows is a topical question that the great pianist Masanobu Ikemiya asked Sri Chinmoy and his response:
Question: So many people in this country do not care for music or poetry or dance anymore. They do not see value in it. Do you think it will change?
Sri Chinmoy: It is only a matter of time. The eagerness and self-giving of the musicians, poets and artists will eventually conquer the public's restlessness or unwillingness. If the performer has readiness, willingness and eagerness, then he is bound to win over the heart of the audience. Right now the audience is like a naughty child, but if the mother is extremely kind-hearted and has infinite patience, eventually the mother is going to win. The mother's compassionate tears or her smile will eventually conquer the heart of the child.
On another note, I've started competing in underground cage fights. Just kidding. But, if I ever did end up in the "cage", I think I would try to overcome my opponent by reading out Wordsworth:
I WANDERED lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
A funny aside: One of my high school English teachers told us that she had once taken a week off because of sickness. The main assignment that week was to write a rhyming poem. A kid actually submitted this poem as an original work to the substitute teacher. The substitute gave it a C. When the teacher returned, the substitute showed the poem to the teacher, saying something along the lines that the images are somewhat trite, but it's remarkable that a high-schooler would've thought it up.
"That's Wordsworth!" my teacher screamed. The kid got an F.
Tawdry jokes aside, I think Wordsworth wrote that from a very deep, introspective space. I especially like the phrase "They flash upon that inward eye/Which is the bliss of solitude "
One of the advantages of my simple life is that I have time to read poetry, enjoy great books and go to lots of concerts. My dear college Professor Dominick lived as a cloistered monk for many years and observed complete silence during that time. I asked him how he spent his time, and he told me he read every book on Judaism, Buddhism Hinduism and Daoism he could possibly find. He also read voluminously on Western philosophy. Reading was his great avocation. Maybe the spiritual life doesn't necessarily mean the rejection of the mind as much as it implies the proper training and refinement of the mind. With a clear, focused, tranquil mind we can accomplish miraculous things in life. Sri Chinmoy was a shining example of that.
Vivekananda once wrote, "We are always in a hurry. [But] if any great work is to be done, there must be great preparation." (From the Collected Works of Swami Vivekananda) The time we spend reading and meditating is not wasted. We are playing a preparatory role today by aspiring, studying the inner library of light, peace and inner joy. Maybe tomorrow God will bless us with illumination and inspiration in measureless measure to share with the world. To indulge in a little bit of understatement, I feel that I have a *long* way to go. But that's what the journey is for. Every grade, every step has its own contribution to make in our pursuit of purpose and clarity and grace.
I really like Guru's famous poem:
My physical death
Is not the end of my life-
I am an eternal journey.
I like the innate humility in that statement. Sri Chinmoy is not saying that he is the only way, or journey. Far from it! But he is `a' way. He is an eternal open door to people who want to have experiences of their own divinity. I never thought I was `worthy' or capable of genuine spiritual experience. But the Master changed that, and expanded my outlook on life tremendously.
Thank you, dear friends, for everything you do to keep me hopeful, awake and vibrant.
- Dear Priyadarshan and Kamalakanta, my dear friends,
Your encouragement and kindness have inspired me tremendously through the years. Thank you so much for your enthusiastic support.