Saturday, November 13, 2010

Communion



Inside the altar
of my heart,
I knelt down before him.
My forehead touched his feet,
his hands gently rested
upon my bent back.
Waves of bliss rose,
mingled with tears
of pure joy.
I looked up at him
with misty eyes,
and immersed myself
in the shimmering
ocean
that sparkled within
his radiant eyes.

 © Sai Ganesh Nagpal

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Revelation

I went in search
of you,
traversed barren lands
and dense forests.
Not sure where my journey
would take me,
all I wanted
was to find you.
Weary from travel,
I stopped to ask some people
where you lived.

They told me to walk north
then climb a hill.
Your house is atop the hill,
they said.
They were so sure.

Some said you live on the other side
of the river.
Others talked of sailing across the ocean
to another land.
Far away. From here.

I sat down
on the dusty pavement
Confused. Unsure.
I was tired and hungry
so I reached for my bag
and took out my last piece of bread.

Just then a dog came running
towards me.
She wailed in pain,
her eyes pleaded
with me
for a morsel of food.

As I watched her eat
that last piece of bread,
I said a prayer for her
in your name.

I felt a surge of love.
Your love
for her.
As waves of compassion streamed
forth from my heart,
my eyes welled up with tears.

Such a love
could possibly come only
from you.
Such waves of compassion could rise
only from an ocean as large
as you.

Imagine my joy
when I realised that the ocean
is within me.
That you
are within me.

 © Sai Ganesh Nagpal

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Moksha

In the depths of silence
I heard a voice
that sounded like mine.
As I listened closely
I heard it as yours,
and then I knew
that we are
the same person.
You are in me
as much as
I am
within
you.
Duality
shed its earthly garb
and revelled
in ethereal
union.

 © Sai Ganesh Nagpal

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Redefining Brilliance

I recently attended a conference that showcased a multimedia educational program for schools and colleges. This amazing program is already running successfully in several schools in India. As more and more schools adopt it, it could be that one big thing that finally revolutionizes the way India teaches and learns in her schools.

As the event progressed, I felt like India was finally "getting it."

At long last, phrases like "different learning styles," "hands-on learning," and "making learning fun" were doing the rounds to describe educational programs that will be taught right here on Indian soil, not exported half way across the world to the highest bidder. The burden of an education system that weighs heavily on our children's shoulders as they trudge to school every morning was about to get a lot lighter. For a culture that has given undue importance to marks and ranks for decades now, where a "point one" percent can spell the difference between happiness and misery, sometimes even life and death, any approach that attempts to reduce this obsession with marks and bring the focus back onto the learning process is to be welcomed with open arms.

Just as I felt that hope for our children was right around the corner, an eager executive in the audience sprang the "I" word. "Is there any data to prove that this program will help children get into the IITs?"

Dude. The Indian Institute of Technology? Say what? We're talking school education here. We're talking English, History, Geography, Biology, Chemistry, Math, Environmental Science, Political Science. We're talking about a meaningful exposure to all kinds of knowledge, so that hopefully, children will grow up knowing that there is life outside the IITs and IIMs as well.

Back at the conference, what ensued was a tug of war between the IIT lover and those who argued that the program did not provide any such guarantee.

The "I" word. It's no great secret that India has long been obsessed with the IITs and IIMs. These are premier institutes of technology and management, respectively. Top notch, no doubt. They have always been regarded as the abode of the brilliant. Clearing their intensely competitive entrance exams is considered to be the ultimate mark of brilliance.

I only wish this country had equally prestigious institutes for the artistically inclined. Unfortunately, "brilliance" remains an adjective reserved only for the mathematically and technologically inclined.

When someone is introduced as being from an IIT or IIM, the very mention of the three letter word elicits a predictable reaction from most listeners. Enthusiastic nods, plenty of them, are accompanied by a prompt shooting up of the eyebrows. This indicates that the subject is extremely impressed. And that no further introduction would be necessary.

While I wouldn't want to read too much into the question that was asked at the conference, I must admit that I found the question quite disturbing. It seemed to view education as a means to an end. An end that is often presumed to be ideal purely for monetary reasons. Or simply for the "glory" that the achievement of such an end would bring to the family name.

I have nothing against the IITs and IIMs. In fact I think some of their graduates are making very meaningful contributions to the corporate and social sectors. However, what disturbs me is the presumption by a person that an educational program somehow gets credence purely by virtue of its ability to prepare students for a career in technology or management. And that students who cannot get into these institutes do not count as "brilliant."

I eagerly await the day when brilliance will actually be a measure of how spontaneously, how creatively, and how passionately a child is able to nurture and display their unique talent and skill. It doesn't matter what talent that is.

There is no doubt that the new program being introduced in schools is a quantum leap in the right direction! However, as we make this phenomenal shift on the outside, it needs to be accompanied by a shift in the way we think about the very purpose of education.

An education that helps children open their minds - helps them think more, observe more, analyze more, and construct more; one that gives them all the courage they need to cast away the shackles of societal burden and soar into skies of infinite possibilities; gives them the gift of a free mind; now that is an education that has fulfilled its promise.

Monday, July 19, 2010

In the Mist

Surrounded by mist,
unable to see the contours
of the road
that rushes ahead,
I stand very still
upon my rocky path.

The sound of a stream
flowing in the distance
touches my ears.
A cold breeze attempts
to stir the morning air.
The leaves of a tree
rustle.

A squirrel scuttles
across my path,
vanishing into an abyss
of cloud.
Like a dream
that has neither beginning
nor end.

Locked in
the embrace of a white canvas
upon which this moment
is painted,
I close my eyes.

In the darkness
of my mind's eye,
I see the brilliance
of a thousand suns.
Upon the glistening horizon,
a little bird
makes a leap of faith
from its nest
into golden skies.

I smile, for I know
you are here.
Enchanting this moment
with your beauty,
permeating it with the serenity
of your vision,
blessing it with the silence
of your sweet soul.

 © Sai Ganesh Nagpal

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Joy of Flying

“Cabin crew to your stations for takeoff.”

Even after 28 years of being a loyal patron of the airline industry, the announcement for cabin crew to take their seats never fails to evoke a thrill within me. After all, the captain’s request for the crew to be seated is usually the final announcement before the aircraft’s exhilarating rush across the runway and graceful leap into the sky.

Some days ago, on a flight from Delhi to Mumbai, I thought about my fascination for flying. What is it about flying that captures my wonder so much that no matter how many times I fly, I still look forward to the next flight? I mean, it’s not like I’m new to flying or anything. My first international flight was barely a few months after I was born, and that was the first of tons more to follow, across cities and even continents.

I’ve flown so much that I recognize all the mechanical sounds and events that now seem routine during a flight. Like the wheels wrapping up after takeoff and being lowered down when the flight is cleared to land. Or the bright beam of light that comes on below the plane shortly before it makes a final descent towards the airport at night. Or the extension flaps that miraculously grow out of the wings as the plane negotiates its landing in stormy weather. Not to miss that very slight but noticeable drop in altitude accompanied by a lowering of the engine noise about forty minutes to a half hour before we’re due to land, that tells me we’ve begun our descent even before the seat belt sign is turned on and the descent is made official.

I have a feeling that if studying Math and Physics weren't pre-requisites, I might just have become a pilot!

But back to my pondering on the reason for this fascination. What is it that still makes me pine for the window seat, as a child sitting in a plane for the first time would? I’ve begun to acknowledge that flying is a deeply spiritual experience for me. And that’s why I love it so much. That’s why I would choose a flight over a train ride, any day. It’s the whole deal of flying away from the world, up into a realm where all I can see is an expanse of “nothingness.” Where the shades of blue always make me gasp with wonder, and the multitude of pink and orange hues painted across the evening sky elicit that familiar “wow” reaction from me, every single time.

As I look out the window, I'm reminded of the greatness of this Universe. Of how much there is to it, and of how small our world really is, in the larger scheme of things. Out there in the stratosphere that we're racing through at 800 kilometres an hour, I see a realm that we humans cannot occupy with our ugly buildings, and pollute with our plastic trash. Finally, a place reserved only for the Gods. Well, and for planes too! This is a realm of the Universe that is so close to us on Earth, yet, so very still. Such a contrast to the restless lives that we lead down below.

Stillness… what I attempt to experience during my meditation sessions. Now here it is, right outside my window.

As we approach Mumbai, we’re greeted by huge monsoon clouds. At first, the clouds look like isolated clumps of cotton candy and we rush in and out of them within seconds. I look into the distance, and see a cloud float past in the shape of an angel. She’s lying on her back floating through the air, gleefully playing with fluffy lion cubs who sit by her side.

I am humbled. Reminded that I am a guest in the realm of the Gods.

As I continue to look ahead, I see a dark grey cloud hurtling towards us. I turn to Saraswati who’s sitting beside me, and announce to her with a very serious face, “We’re heading for some serious clouds.” My obsession with the goings-on outside the plane window has always baffled her, ever since we were toddlers flying on late night Emirates flights from Dubai to Mumbai way back in the 80s. While I preoccupy myself with angels floating outside the window, her meditations are with her books that she voraciously reads on flights.

Our plane leaps into the “serious” cloud cover. We’re tossed around for a bit, and then “Shoom”… the cloud is gone. Just like that. There’s sunshine again. I turn to her and clarify, “Never mind, it was just a passing cloud.” As I hear myself say that, I smile. I love the little insight that I just stumbled upon. The “passing cloud” metaphor that we freely use for life’s experiences couldn’t have made more sense than it did right now.

“Crew to your stations for landing.”

The city of Mumbai beckons to us from below. As the plane descends into this great city, I am reminded that our holiday has only just begun. Yet, as I return to the bustle of Earth below, I feel like a part of the holiday has just ended – the part that took place up in the heavens.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Destiny Revealed

A raindrop
pauses at the edge of a leaf.
Perhaps it wonders
about what it would be like
to let go
of the leaf
and join the lake
that beckons to it
from below.

It glances over
the edge of the leaf
with trepidation.
Rolls back to the center
of the leaf,
cowers in fear.

A sudden clap of thunder
echoes
through the forest,
like a voice from the heavens
reminding the raindrop
of its truest
destiny.

Gently. Swiftly.
Delicately,
the raindrop releases its grip
on the leaf
and falls...
into the lake below.

A journey that began
with a rise up to the heavens
now ends with a fall
towards the earth.

The raindrop dances as it merges
with its source
in ripples of ecstasy,
celebrating the end
of its journey
towards a new heaven.

No more a drop,
it now rejoices
as a majestic lake.

 © Sai Ganesh Nagpal

Friday, May 21, 2010

News that Inspires

Of late, I've stopped reading newspapers as voraciously as I used to. I've also drastically reduced the time I spend watching the news on TV. Until a couple of months ago, 9 pm was usually the time I tuned in to an hour-long program on one of India's leading news channels. The debates were interesting, no doubt, especially when they were to do with issues that I was passionate about. However, the mindless arguing and oft-repeated cliches that the speakers would throw at each other, especially if the debate was political, made me feel like walking up to them and slapping them out of their "zombiness." 

More often that not, the news episodes would leave me either with a feeling of a lot of anger at someone or something, or a feeling of complete and utter hopelessness about the state of affairs in this country and the world at large.

Needless to say, I feel better ever since I turned off the news. Perhaps a little less "informed," but the happier for it.

On the one hand, I can see that we are living in times where there is a lot of "bad news" to report. Or are we? Haven't there always been murders and wars? Haven't there always been storms and floods? Haven't there always been mindless rulers who have unleashed mayhem on a particular region of the world for personal ambition? Any top story today has its share of historical counterparts, in some form or another. The "baser" level of human consciousness continues to express itself in this world as it has since the ages, only in different circumstances and over different things.

So it's not like this is the first time in history that all of this stuff is happening. It seems to me, therefore, that for the media to portray an event as though it heralds the end of all things sane is misleading, to say the least. It's the "feeling" with which the reporting leaves me that I'm talking about. If a billion people walk away from their televisions at night feeling fearful, hopeless, and let down, imagine the effect of these emotions on the world's consciousness. Quite obviously, these emotions will feed the growing fear that already clogs world consciousness.

Wherever there are floods and cyclones, there's bound to be destruction. However, alongside the gloom, there will always be plenty of stories of hope to be told as well. I have seen these stories first hand and even been a part of some of them. I have seen that the power of love is far greater then the power of fear. To see people rebuild their lives after earthquakes, to watch others risk their own lives to save complete strangers, to witness simple acts of kindness to birds and animals... these are stories that I'd rather put my attention on each day.

What you put your attention on grows. A lot of spiritual paths tell us this. The more fear I feel now, the more I'm setting myself up to feel fearful in the future. The more hope I feel in this moment, the more I'm setting myself up to feel hopeful in the future too.

Imagine starting your day with a reminder that the world is, actually, a beautiful place where good things can happen anywhere and anytime. That a miracle is just round the corner. That each human being has the power to do so much good. Imagine teaching our children that no matter who you are, or which country you come from, you are a powerful person with the ability to make a positive difference to this world.

It's not hard to find inspiration, if only we're willing to free ourselves of prejudice and make space to be inspired! As I was writing this piece, I looked down at the floor for a second and saw a little ant clumsily walking beside my chair. It nearly looked drunk, barely able to walk straight. When I looked closer, I saw that it was carrying its fallen comrade to safety. The clumsiness of its gait suddenly seemed so purposeful.

Little tales of heroism are playing out all around us. As a matter of fact, ever since I put the paper away, I can see so many.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Promise

A tear runs down her cheek
towards a memory
revisited.
She smiles
as the sun peeks out
from behind
passing clouds,
painting a shadow beside her.
Reassuring,
like his presence.
Unwavering,
like her trust. Her belief,
in his promise.

The sound of chimes
wafts across the air.
Mingles
with the
melody of her laughter,
from a memory
of him
as he knelt before her
and made her a promise
of true love.
Cherished by her for years,
revealed today
as pearls
of joyous tears
that run down her cheek.

Today laughter plays
with sorrow.
Elation flirts with anxiety.
And sunshine dances
with raindrops.

As he walks into her world
from across
a distant horizon,
a rainbow of myriad emotions
dazzles her.
He finds his way to her,
and she loses herself
in his loving embrace.

 © Sai Ganesh Nagpal

Friday, May 7, 2010

The "Charles" Effect!

They're cuddly like soft toys. And they're probably the gentlest creatures on Earth. Until they move their furry heads, it's hard to tell that they're for real. Endearing, delightful, and adorable - that's how I would describe Koala bears.

On a work visit to Australia last year, I got on a bus one Saturday morning and headed to the Ballarat Wildlife Park, which is about an hours' drive from Melbourne city. When our group of about fifteen reached the park, we were greeted by a bunch of gluttonous but adorable Kangaroos who wanted to be fed treats every step of the way. The tour guide first took us to an enclosure where Charles, the Koala bear, would be brought to meet us. Everyone waited with bated breath. When Charles finally arrived, he lit up the room in an instant. There were smiles all around, everyone was beaming. Any creature that can make so many people smile in a split second has GOT to be special!

Because Koalas are such sensitive creatures, their keepers hold them in their arms along with a branch from a eucalyptus tree - the leaves comfort the Koala and make it feel closer home. Koalas get stressed very easily, which is why it's so important for them to live in their own habitat away from human activity. Sadly, their habitat is steadily shrinking and they're finding it very hard to keep up with our world.

Charles clung on to his keeper Mike's shoulders with his front paws, like a little baby, his head mostly turned sideways. Every few seconds, he would nibble on the eucalyptus leaves... chew on them for like three seconds... and then stop chewing and stare into space. And then again... nibble nibble... chew chew... stare into space.

Charles' movements were so gentle. There was nothing harsh about him. No wonder our hearts melted the instant we saw him. I believe that creatures as gentle as Koalas, and even Dolphins, are giving our planet a lot of "love" energy. They open our hearts instantly - it's hard for a person not to feel a wave of compassion wash over them when they see a Koala.

Mike gave a short speech about Koala "bears", and how there's really no "bear" in them, so goodness knows why they came to be called bears! An interesting thing about them is that their heads are very sensitive, and we were advised to touch Charles only on his back, and not at the top of his head.

By the time Mike was two sentences into his speech, everyone in the group was vying for a picture with Charles. Cameras were being handed across the room. One by one, each of us "posed" along with Charles, standing as close to him as was possible without him getting anxious. For a split second, each beaming visitor being photographed with Charles prayed to goodness that Charles wouldn't turn his head the other way until the picture was clicked. I wasn't so lucky the first time - Charles looked away for my first picture, and then the second or third time he was kind enough to look towards the camera.  (Swapna had told me not to return to India without a picture of me with a Koala, so I pleaded with Charles and he graciously relented!)

I came out of there rejuvenated like never before. Charles had worked his magic on me. As a matter of fact, everyone in the group looked drunk on happiness. Each of us had come from a different part of the world - from Russia, Australia, India, the US, the UK, and South Korea - but that afternoon, all our smiles looked just the same.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Lesson in Love

A few days ago, Katherine Jenkins - author of a beautiful blog called Lessons from the Monk I Married - invited me to write a guest post for her blog. Katherine writes a new lesson each day on her blog. Each lesson is compassionate, pertinent, and a pointer in the direction of living life to its fullest. I wrote about an important lesson that I had learned in my life - and called it "a lesson in love."  I'd like to share it here too:

When I was about fourteen, I experienced a moment of ‘self realization,’ if I may call it that. Mom and I were on our way home. As she drove through the pretty countryside that separated Delhi and Gurgaon in those days, I looked out the car window and watched the trees whiz past. It suddenly occurred to me that everything in my life is so temporary. My relationships, my concept of myself, my belongings, my life as I know it.

I know. Fourteen is very young to be thinking about the impermanence of my belongings. But it all came to me in a flash. I knew deep down inside that there was something far more permanent, a “constant” if you will, that was changeless. Call it God, Universe, Nature, Love. That “changeless” quality was the driving force in my life. It all made sense to me. Well, at least in that moment. Until I was shaken out of my reverie when I reached home and had to plan for school the next day.

I looked at Mom and felt the need to discuss this with her. I told her that it just occurred to me that one day she would not be here anymore. One day, I would not be here anymore. It was so important, then, to enjoy our time together as best as we could. She looked at me and smiled. It was a look of pride that told me I had just figured something out that most kids my age would probably not until they were much older. She hugged me tight. Only the Universe knew then that there was a good reason for why the insight had come to me so early on.

Five years later, tears flowed down my cheeks as I sat by her bedside, holding her hand, telling her that I loved her so very much. I was by her side as she took her last breath and passed away. As I continued to hold her hand moments after she was gone, I howled and cried and my world began to crumble around me. Somewhere in those moments of extreme grief that followed her passing on, I remembered our short conversation from all those years ago.

Today as I look back, I am grateful for each moment I spent with her in our short time that we were destined to be together as Mother and Son in this life. I would have given anything, though, to have gotten more time with her. It just wasn’t enough.

Why do we fight with our loved ones? Why do we bang doors and walk away? Why do we not talk to each other for days on end? Do we realize that time is running out? That one day, all of this will be a memory and then we’d wish we had been nicer to one another? And that ‘one day’ may be closer than we think?

It is but natural to have arguments, disagreements, and little fights over petty things. That’s what makes relationships ‘real’. But when we’re done with the fight, it’s so important to calm down, to give each other a hug, and say ‘I love you.’ My Dad and I do that these days – if we have an argument about something, within about ten minutes of the argument having ended, one of us initiates a ‘patch up’ hug. The words ‘I love you’ can melt the angriest of hearts.

If the other person doesn’t reciprocate our endeavors to reach out and patch up, what we can at least do is send them love in our hearts. Let go of any resentment and anger that we may have for them. Love them and hope that one day they will open their hearts and receive that love.

In the end, what matters… what stays… is love. Everything else whizzes past, like the trees in the countryside on a drive home.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Home

I looked up at the clear blue sky,
watched a bird spread her wings
and begin to fly.
Upwards and onwards
floating ever so gently,
upon the morning breeze.

I felt the wind
carress my face,
whispering secrets of another world
into my ears
as it glided by.

I heard the gurgling laughter
of a stream
that danced its way down
the rocks
eager to touch
the river.

I closed my eyes
and felt my heart beat
to nature's rhythm.
I smiled.
And laughed.
I danced.
And cried.

At last
I was here,
and I knew
this was home.

 © Sai Ganesh Nagpal

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Reading the Signs

Welcome to the "One World Alliance!" This message stared out at me from the welcome kit that confirmed me as a member of the American Airlines mileage program. It felt nice being referred to as a member of "one world." Never mind that I had to endure a couple of transatlantic flights and fill out a bunch of forms to be reminded that I belong to one world.

One World.

The "One World Alliance" is a group of some of the world's biggest airlines, including American Airlines and British Airways. Currently, many of these flights stand grounded at airports, unable to make the transatlantic journey due to a cloud of ash moving across Europe. Move aside One World Alliance. A volcano in Iceland has said it loud and clear - we're all members of one world. Whether we like it or not, Nature has brought the message all the way to our airports. All things are connected! What happens in one part of the world will eventually affect the other parts.

Do we ever stop and think about how connected we are as inhabitants of one planet? The volcanic ash episode is just one more glaring reminder that the "other side" of the world isn't that far away. That no one in this world can claim to function in isolation. There is, after all, a delicate system that Nature has put in place that links one life form with another. A link that ancient spiritual cultures understood and respected. We cannot fatally damage one link, and then expect life energy to continue flowing across the rest of the web, unmindful of the breakage. Because, as this recent episode has shown us yet again, we're part of a larger web called life.

The atrocities that humankind has heaped upon itself and the planet are unprecedented in the history of the world. And it doesn't look like too much has changed over the centuries. We still fight wars, only now we have deadlier weapons. We still kill each other over petty personal disputes. We still think our faith is better than the other person's faith and are willing to kill and condemn to prove our point. We have SUCH a hard time accepting people who make choices for the larger good as opposed to personal gain. We plunder the environment for material gain. We torture animals for food and sport. There are stories throughout history that tell us that such behavior has always existed. The question remains, are we okay with continuing to be the way we have always been?

While the whole global warming debate gets hotter each year, along with the summers, there is at least some token attention being paid to the need for us to get our act together before it's too late. Some say that it already is too late, that it's not possible for us to avert the doom that awaits the Earth.

However, I do believe that we can equip ourselves to deal better with the external (environmental) and internal (spiritual) changes that have already started to take place by changing the way we behave with one another and, most importantly, behave with ourselves. Do we really respect ourselves as spiritual beings who are contributing to the planet's consciousness, or do we believe we were put here basically to grab as much out of the material pie as we can for ourselves and our immediate family? Our self image determines how we percieve events happening around us, and in turn influences the way we behave with others. When we begin to act from a place of compassion, soul strength, and truth, rather than a place of "me, myself, and myself," the collective vibe of the planet will begin to rise. More and more people, corporations, and governments will be forced to make "evolutionary" choices rather than destructive ones.

The Universe is sending us strong messages. It seems to me that the messages have now escalated from little ones on a personal level, to ones that shake up entire countries and cultures, often the entire planet in a matter of hours or days. 
 
The ash from a volcano has the potential to bring great corporations and military powers to their knees. How misplaced then, really, is our notion of "progress"? Isn't it time we celebrated our material and technological advances in a spirit of humility rather than with a hunger for dominion? Isn't it time we didn't consider an "advancement" an advancement unless it helps the web of life regenerate and heal itself? How can something be termed as "advanced" when it contributes to the eventual destruction of life energy?

The Universe is asking us some tough questions. Are we listening as One World?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Yearning for Divinity

I have laid out a carpet
of petals
for your tender feet to walk upon.
Each petal hand picked
from a valley of flowers
that bloom within my soul,
bathed in the
sunshine
of your divine grace.

Garlands of jasmine and marigold
adorn the majestic pillars
that line your path.
Each knot that I have tied
to join one garland
to another
reminds me of the eternal
bond between You and me,
and makes me
pine for a glimpse
of your radiant being. 

Fragrance
from sandalwood incense 
wafts across the air.
Like the scent of Vibhuti
that surrounded you
that day you placed your hands
upon my head,
in eternal
blessing.

As you walk on the petals,
should some be wet,
Know that those drops
are but tears of
joy
that flowed from my soul
as I laid the path.

The path is ready,
my Lord.
I am sitting by the petals
eagerly waiting
for you.






 © Sai Ganesh Nagpal

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Encounter with Spirit

I had walked down a certain path for very long. During my journey, I had traversed various landscapes, some were desert, some lush green forests, yet others were rolling meadows that made me want to gallop on them like a jubiliant horse. Then, one day, deep in the middle of a forest, I came to a fork in the path. I wasn't sure which way to go. I could go either ways, it would be my choice. In a state of confusion, I stopped and stared down both paths. From where I stood, they seemed fairly similar, but I knew that far ahead they would take me to very different places.

I felt a panic grow within me as I realised that for once, I had no idea which way to go. What if I went down the wrong path? What if I made the wrong choice?

As my confusion grew, I heard the sound of footsteps in the distance. My first reaction to the sound was one of fear. Who could that be? The "crunchy" sound of fallen leaves being walked upon is mysterious, especially when you can't see the person! I looked in the direction of the sound, and eventually saw a man walking towards me. He was old but radiant, wore a yellow robe, and walked with an air of confidence about him. With a flowing beard and a slender form, he resembled what I thought Christ must have looked like. As he came closer, I looked into his eyes and saw a light in them that warmed my heart instantly. I was not scared anymore. The forest around me began to glow as his presence drew near. He was not of this world. He was a man of the Spirit. A Holy One.

As he stood before me, I was stumped for words. I didn't know who he was, how he knew me, and why he had come to meet me. I bowed to him in reverence, my reflex reaction when I encounter a being who radiates the light of the Spirit. He put both his hands on my head, looked up at me with the pride of a parent who is seeing their child after a long time. I was taller than him, much taller. Yet his light was far brighter than my mortal eyes could bear. The extent of his aura was far beyond my reach. I closed my eyes.

"My child, you are here at last," he said.  I began to cry. Tears flowed down my cheeks as I sobbed for no apparent reason. Every burden, every anxiety, every disappointment I had ever faced in my life began to melt away in those tears. I cried like a baby. He wiped away some tears from my cheeks, then embraced and held me as my tears streamed down his yellow robe. With each tear shed, my heart felt lighter. Not a word was exchanged between us. Only the sounds of the forest in the background, interrupted by my steady sniffles.

As my sobs subsided, we sat down on the stones under an oak tree. "Where have you come from, and more importantly, where are you going?" he asked me, lovingly. I felt like saying, "That's exactly what I was hoping you would tell me!" But I didn't. However, the smile on his face told me he had already read my mind. "Son, it doesn't matter which path you choose. The path you choose will take you where you must go. But first, you must love the path. Then trust it. Finally, let go, and just walk it. The more you love it, the more it will bring you to where you should be. Learn to love the path. However difficult it may seem."

"But what if I spend my whole life on the wrong path?" I retorted, anxious and fearful as usual. "Right and wrong is in your head. The path is just that... a path. Your judgement says it is right or wrong. Nothing you do can be wrong, it is only a choice you have made," he explained.

He pointed towards the fork ahead. "Each of those paths ahead is very different. The one on the left takes you across scenic valleys. The sights are lovely, I must say. There are lakes, ponds, and palaces to feast your eyes on. You can be very happy if you enjoy each moment along the way."

"And what's on the other path?" I asked, eager to make my decision.

"At first, it's forest on either side, but very soon, the path ends at the edge of a cliff."

I was relieved. "Okay, so that's settled then. I'm going with the scenic valleys."

"Before you make your decision, though, I must tell you something." He pointed towards the sky and continued, "At night, I've seen angels hovering over that cliff. One night, as I looked closer, I saw an angel holding the hands of a little boy as they both glided across the night sky. The boy squealed in happiness. She was teaching him how to fly."

My eyes were wide with wonder.

"Only when you trust the path, son. Only when you trust it. When you do, happiness awaits you at the other end. It doesn't matter which one you choose."

He arose and put both his hands on my shoulders, gave me a reassuring look, and told me to continue on my journey. As I picked up my things, I felt a pang of sadness. "Will I see you again? Where do you live? How can I find you in future?," I asked him all at once.

He laughed at my questions, shook his head, and said, "Always eager to know the future. What do your people call it? Planning! Ah, yes. You like to 'plan' for the future. My child, in Spirit terms, there is no such thing as a plan. There is no future, no past. Only this moment. So how can there be a plan for a time that does not exist? We are here now. It is beautiful. I am happy to see you."

With those words, he walked away into the forest. The crunchy sound of fallen leaves being walked upon faded away into the distance. I put my backpack on and made my choice.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Tryst with Chanting

Ever since I was little, the sounds of chants and mantras have captivated me! As a teenager, I remember seeking out audio tapes on Veda chants and listening to them over and over. Each time I heard them, I felt renewed, reconnected to the Universe. Plain and simple, I just felt happier!  

As a little boy, when I learnt to chant in Sanskrit, I knew I had found a way to feel closer to God anytime, anywhere. It was the one thing that could take me to a happier place, instantly. Talking of relative degrees of happiness at that point in my life, I would say I considered chanting a means to something more delightful than my battery operated cars that, well, I totally LOVED! My sister will vouch for my unsurpassable passion for driving my cars all over the house floor, creating traffic jams that now, 20 years later, I struggle to get OUT of each morning!

All those years ago, one evening, after driving around my stately cars, clearing the traffic jams they got themselves into, and calling in my treasured police car and ambulance just for effect, I picked up the Bhagavad Gita. I chanted some verses from it, and then couldn't put it down. For the next few evenings, I had a date with this eternal "Song of the Universe."

Fifteen years later, Dr. Tom Egenes, a Professor of Sanskrit at the Maharishi University of Management in the U.S., invited me to his class to chant for his students. What followed was many hours of blissful chanting during the years I was pursuing my Art degree at the University.

Today, six years later, my chanting of the Gita is recorded on a Website that is part of the Vedic Literature curriculum at the University. Tom shared a YouTube link with me that has a few verses on it. I'd like to share the link with you too.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8gRH02-Sy8

Chanting brings me peace, even if I don't know the literal meaning of what I'm chanting. That's the beauty of Sanskrit, a language in which merely the sound of every word exudes power, affirmation, and melody.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Excel Blues... by a Word Fan

Some months ago, while working on a training project, I received an Excel sheet from our client and was asked to add in some information to the sheet based on my recent work. It was a pretty regular sheet with columns extending indefinitely to the right so you had to scroll sideways to get to the ones that resided over in the eastern hemisphere. The trouble with me is that when I scroll to the right, I forget what was on the left. So then I scroll back to the left. But then what about that stuff over on the right? So then I scroll... never mind. You get the point. In all of that scrolling back and forth, I reach a point when I want to tear my hair out. Strand by strand. Why can't people just use Word? And why did there ever have to be such a thing as a sideways scroll?

I wonder if this happens to any of you too. When I open an Excel sheet that has more columns than I can see at one glance without scrolling all over the place, I start to freak out. I feel disconnected from all the information. Like my eyes need to be at too many places at once. The elasticity of my comprehension abilities is severely tested. So is my patience.

I like to be able to see all the columns of a table on ONE page, just like I would if they were printed in a book. Now's about the time that the Excel experts would give me a pitiful stare, with that look of "thou shalt never see the light" written all over their wide eyes. Sympathy. That's what I usually get from Excel whiz kids. And that's what I used to get from the Math geniuses in high school Math class when our teacher assumed that the speed of a train as it passed another was 'X,' and the speed of the other train that was passed was 'Y.' I, however, hearing the word 'train,' began to think of what the x and y trains might have looked like. "Were they like luxury 'palace on wheels' kind of trains? Or just regular, ordinary sleeper coaches? Ah! when will I next be on a train? We should go somewhere for a holiday."

"Sai Ganesh - can you tell us what the length of the second train is?"

Know that feeling of coming crashing down to earth? Yup. I felt it. I stood up to answer, totally blank. If I could, I would have said "I couldn't give a rat's a%$ what the length of the train is! Heck, that's not even a real train. Can we draw two trains instead? That'll make them more real for me. Please?"

I consider it God's benign grace that I scored over 80% in high school Math.

Back to the point on Excel sheets. Interestingly, I had just about made up my mind to write this post about my distaste for Excel, when I was assigned a task at work to scan through a humungous Excel sheet and gather data from it. Okay. So the Universe has a sense of humor. I laughed with, did the whole data gathering thing, and now I'm back to the post.

I've met some people who swear by Excel. They create Excel sheets at the drop of a hat. Hat drops - Excel sheet created. No seriously. Left to their devices, they would write an entire book in Excel, and make you scroll down to the depths of the netherworld to get to Chapter 6. Excel lovers. Take them to a courtroom to testify and you can begin proceedings by having them place their hand solemnly on... well... an Excel sheet. Soft or hard copy, either will do.

It's another matter that printing these things out is a feat in itself. To be attempted at the risk of glaring at a bunch of columns chopped across pages, with no header in sight. A blood bath unleashed upon what seemed like a decently constructed table on my computer screen like five seconds ago. As I stare at the printer helplessly, it spits out one last page that finally has the table header on it. Only the header.

Printers sometimes have a dark sense of humour.

When I was working on the sheet I referred to at the beginning, the one that my client sent me and asked me to add onto, I did what few would have dared to do. I converted the Excel sheet into a Word document. Beautified it too, with soothing header colors. I heaved a sigh of relief. Now I could finally READ what was in there. Thrilled with myself, much to the annoyance of my supervisor, I sent the Word document back to the client. When she reviewed it, she didn't have much to say except "It all looks great. I just can't imagine why you converted this into Word. Please put it back in Excel."

I meekly obeyed. I was fighting a lost cause.

In the corporate world, there's no escaping these nasty sheets. No matter how much you try and run away from them, they catch up with you. A lot like your sins, or bad karma.

To me, the Excel sheet is a symbol of a boxed world. Where everyone and everything has to be "formatted" and somehow "fit in." Well, perhaps that's stretching it. They're more like jails, where words are held captive. Rows and columns of prison cells. The words all screaming out to be rescued from their hell holes.

The Excel formatting experts will tell you to hit the Wrap Text button to stop the words from spilling over onto the next cell. What they really want to say is, "If 'em words try to peep out of 'em cells, wrap 'em into submission."

But today I say, let 'em words out of 'em cages, for God's sakes! Let them reclaim their space and take up as many lines as they want. Let them roam free on plain backgrounds and feel the exhileration of flowing over and beyond, onto the next page. Woohoo! see them go. Atta word. You were born to rejoice in Word, however did you stray into Excel?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Longing

A voice echoed
across the valley of silence.
Wafted
over the lush green trees.

Climbed
the steep mountain slopes
along with the delicate beams
of the rising sun
that began their ascent
at the start of a new day.
Searching.
Calling.
Longing.

For him.

Her voice echoed
across the valley of silence.
Melodious. Like the sounds
of the gushing stream that
she splashed across.
Barefooted.
Weary. Tired.
From the journey she began
so long ago.

Yet her eyes gleamed
with the brilliance
of a hope
that only a lover would know of.

She knew he had walked among
these trees.
Knelt down and drunk
from the waters that now
bathed her feet.
He had quenched his thirst
yet his heart
pined.

For her.

He had looked across the lake
at the tresses of the willow tree.
Like her hair
that cascaded down her shoulders.
Intoxicated with the memory of her fragrance
as she surrounded herself
by his embrace,
his heart had skipped a beat
and filled a moment
with silence.

Silence.
That could only be broken
by the sound of
her voice.

 © Sai Ganesh Nagpal

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Do the Happy Dance!

Yesterday, I stopped to look at some flowers - little purple ones with white streaks on the petals. The white streaks made the flowers look like they were "smiling." There were tiny bees buzzing all around - not the regular honeybees, but smaller ones. I have no idea what they're called. One of them seemed happier than the others. She would sit on a petal, then fly up and do a "happy dance," as I like to call it, which involved her flapping her tiny wings at top speed and flitting from side to side, all the while hovering at one spot in the air. When she was done with her little jig, she would sit on the petal again. I'm sure there's some sort of scientific jargon that explains this behavior. However, "happy dance" works for me.

During those brief moments of looking nature in the eye, I was immediately drawn into the moment. For a few seconds, nothing else mattered - my anxieties, ambitions, concerns, thoughts, hopes, memories - ceased to exist. Life was just plain beautiful. And I didn't need to go to a forest, or a nature park to feel that way. A bunch of flowers outside the house did the trick. All I had to do was look.

When was the last time you did the happy dance? When was the last time you smiled like the purple flowers?

"Come on Sai! Get real." That's what they tell me when I talk about being happy just for the sake of being happy. Work. Career. Deadlines. Bonuses. Home loans. Big Car. Bigger Car. With goals as big as these, who wants to bother with purple flowers? Society tells us that we're "well settled," now that we have all these things, or at least that our eyes betray the hunger to someday have them at any cost. Even if it means sleepless nights and endless cups of coffee. Even if it means more trips to the doctor. Even if it means a painful marriage because one person is never around.

Society says we're well settled. I say we're well and truly lost.

We've learned to "manage" all kinds of situations and people at work. These days, everyone's being groomed to become a "manager." Countless career paths ultimately find their confluence in the ocean of "management". There's more categories of management out there than there are flavors of icecream. A visit to "Linked-In" will tell you that. But along with managing billion dollar companies, maybe it's time we paid a little more attention to "managing" ourselves. Even in the busiest of schedules, a manager takes out time to chat with her team members, to listen to what they have to say. How many times do we take out time to listen to our hearts for a bit? To be conscious of the spirit within us that guides, loves, and adores us?

As I emerge from my reverie with the flowers, I ask myself - is this how nature intended our lives to be? Chaotic, discontented, and restless? I don't think so. Perhaps Darwin did. Nature, however, intended us to live in balance. In harmony with ourselves and those around us.

At least that's what the purple flowers told me yesterday. So did the dancing bee. And I must say, I couldn't agree more!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Passing on the Joy!

It’s award time again, and… borrowing McDonalds' line for a second here… I’m loving it :-)! Marcella presented Waves Upon the Shore with the “Hanging out the Wash” award. She honors the spirit of writers who put their deepest thoughts out there for all the world to see, even though it makes them vulnerable. Thank you, Marcella, for this honor, and thank you for sharing your insightful stories at Belly Up to This Moment – they’re so honest and real, and often refreshingly hilarious!

Today, I will pass on the joy.

But first - take a few moments to observe the flame of a burning candle, or the flame of a diya (traditional lamp shown in the picture below). There’s a quality of stillness about the flame that calms you down instantly. It’s no wonder that observing the flame of a diya is how some meditation techniques start out. The glow of the flame is gentle, compassionate. Nothing about the flame is harsh, loud, or ruthless, even though the fire in the flame has the potential to rage and destroy. It chooses, however, to glow instead. Creates an “ambience” that allows us to connect with our finer emotions, be they spiritual or romantic! After all, a candle light dinner wouldn’t be what it is without a steady flame to lend its glow!

I liken this quality of the flame to the quality that many writers inspire with their writing. There are so many amazing writers, artists, and musicians out there – all of them lighting diyas with their stories, songs, and artwork. I’ve been blessed to be associated with many such individuals, a number of them very recently in the blogosphere.

So today I’d like to present the “Writer of Light” award to the following blogs. These blogs are ones that I frequent, and to me, each one of them, in its own unique way, is like a glowing diya

Saraswati’s By the Waterfall – true to its name, here’s a place to refresh and recharge. Her writings are delightful, powerful, and heartfelt. [Plus she’s my sister, and in my humble opinion, the bestest sister in the whole world ;-)]

Neha’s Tea Leaves ‘n’ Honey – Health food for the soul! Help yourself to some soul stirring concoctions, aesthetically served! :-) Beautiful pieces, simple yet so profound.

Katherine’s Lessons from the Monk I Married – Inspirational, insightful, and admirable! As if the fact that she writes a blog each day wasn’t awesome enough, it’s what she writes and how she writes it that makes it even more special! Her lessons are universally relevant. Like the steady flame, forever burning.

Marcella’s Belly Up to This Moment – Shows you how this moment, right now, is where the lessons are at. So relish the moment, live it to the fullest, and as she says, Belly Up to it :-).

Jacqui’s Uplift Antidote – If upliftment from the everyday din is what you seek, here is your solace. When you start reading what she has to say, it’s impossible to stop! Delightful.

Tony Anders’ Artisan of the Human Spirit – Tony's writings are inspiring, thought-provoking, and heartfelt. He shares profound messages through everyday experiences. There's something here for everyone!

AngelGuided Mentoring by Angel Guided – words of wisdom and light, her messages are truly empowering.

The writers at Writers Rising – If only “light” levels could be measured, this community of spirited and talented writers would top the charts. Before you venture in, keep your sunglasses handy. :-) Not just one, but many diya flames in there.

Marty's Coffee with Marty – Simple, honest, and heartfelt experiences – so refreshing! The perfect read with your cup of coffee.

Beth Chapman’s Hope’s Breath – Here is your ray of hope when you’re feeling low! Beth offers a beautiful perspective on life, with a generous helping of wisdom.


To each of you, thank you for lighting the path with your diyas. Keep following your bliss!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Adorned

Look at the dewdrop
that rests upon
a leaf,
adorning it with a sparkle
on a cold winter's morning.

As the leaf sways
in the light breeze,
the dewdrop dances
and twirls
its way down
to the leaf below.

Breaking into ten dewdrops,
now a chain of pearls
on the leaf below.

A gust of wind blows
and the pearls
are tossed away
to a budding leaf that emerges
from a strong stem
as it grows.
Hopes. Believes,
in a day of sunshine.

Now greeted with a necklace
of pearls,
a glorious welcome
into this world.

No leaf is too small,
none too weak
nor a tad too yellow
to be the bearer of nature's jewels.
Each one precious enough
to be adorned
by a sparkling dewdrop,
on a cold winter's morning.

© Sai Ganesh Nagpal

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Happiness, the Hope way!

Hope. That's what Swapna and I named her. She's an adorable dog adopted by the people of Heritage City (a beautiful township in Gurgaon, India).

Here's how Hope introduced herself to us. It was late evening and I was getting into my car to go home. Swapna was standing right by the car. As I was about to close the door, we heard a rustle of leaves from the general direction of the bushes ahead of us. Not knowing what to expect, we stopped and stared at the bushes. Rustle.

Rustle Rustle.

Out from the bushes jumped... a very happy dog! She bounded towards us. As if we were long lost friends and this was our promised reunion. Her tail wagged so vigorously that she had trouble keeping her balance. She was grinning away to glory, exuding pure unadulterated happiness.

She looked up at us, beaming. She's muddy brown with a black muzzle, and has droopy eyes that steal your heart away instantly.

We knelt down and began to fuss over her. How she loved it, every second of our undivided attention. We asked her where she was from, and with a decisive thump of the tail she almost seemed to say "How does it matter, silly, where I came from? I'm here now! That's what counts. Now go on, scratch my furry neck!" As I scratched her neck, she closed her eyes in bliss and began to lift her head up, towards the heavens. Every few seconds, she would return from her trance to give my hand a couple of licks. Then, it was back to the heavens again. 

As Swapna and I patted her, she began to sit down ever so slowly and then, "shwick.." her fur rubbed against the concrete road as she turned turtle. Time for a tummy rub! Hope just loves tummy rubs. They make her so so happy; take her to a heaven much higher than the seventh.

After nearly fifteen minutes of pure happiness, I realised it was getting late and I had to leave. So I stood up.

Hope looked towards Swapna, hoping that at least she would have a heart and continue. After a final pat, though, Swapna stood up too and told her that this would be all for today. Hope refused to believe this. For a few moments she just stared into space. In belly-up mode. Dazed. Probably hallucinating that her tummy was still being rubbed. When she realised that we actually meant business, she gave me that look that said "You wouldn't really do this to an adorable thing like me now would you?" She was still belly-up.

"Yes sweetheart. I need to go home!" With those words to her, I reluctantly got in the car. And guess what she did. She went and plonked herself right behind the car so I couldn't reverse out! No one's going anywhere, said she. We tried to coax her into moving away. Pleaded with her too. But no. She wasn't about to let the party end. After quite a while and another tummy rub, she finally relented, with an "Ok fine, but just this once!"

I think that's perhaps one of the reasons why we called her Hope. Eternally hopeful that the good times will go on.

That was more than a year ago. Even now, when she spots us from a distance, she comes running towards us like she did that first day. The same smile, the same vigorous tail wag, the same enthusiasm. The good times continue.

Have you ever stopped to hear the sound that dogs' paws make when they run on a hard surface?

"chik chik chik chik chik chik..."

That's what it sounds like when she comes running towards us. Each time from a different direction.

Hope's capacity to love can put any philanthrophic human to shame. Unconditional love. That's what she gives us and that's what she makes us give her. When we go for walks in the evening, she always walks ten steps ahead of us, clearing the road ahead for us. Like the pilot car in a VIP convoy. Her definition of clearing the way also includes chasing away any cats that had the audacity to so much as contemplate crossing our path. As she marches ahead, charting our path, she has this unassuming air about her. Like she's just doing her own thing, isn't really with us or anything. Every ten seconds, though, she steals a quick glance back, just to make sure we're there. Sometimes, in her excitement to chase away audacious cats, she goes too far ahead and takes a turn away from the road. We continue walking, though.

 "chik chik chik chik chik chik..."

She comes bounding back. Racing ahead of us to continue her "pilot car" run.

She's such a happy dog. I love how she surrounds herself with people who love her, and people who are able to accept her love in return. There's always the odd person out there who shoos her off, or scares her away. But that doesn't get her down. She sticks with the ones who make her tail wag. And the ones who give her tummy rubs!

Don't we all have a lesson or two to learn from Hope. Hope. Now that would be a good one to start with.