Inside looking out/Outside looking in
dentro guardando fuori / fuori guardando dentro
andar dekh rahe hain/mein baahar dekh raha tha
7 November 2020, Denver Colorado
My dear, dear Shraddha and Dinesh,
I am sitting here writing this from my very small corner of the world. The small corner of my geography- North America/United States/Colorado/Denver – and the small corner of my mind, where I have built a bright and comfortable room over the last 9 months of isolation perfect for quiet meditation and reflection on the outer world and my inner world as it has unfolded and continues to unfold. Since March 16 of this year when we were told to stay at home and stay safe, the world has turned on its axis 236 times as of this writing. Though the speed of Earth’s spin is about 1,000 miles per hour (1,600 km per hour), the day-night has carried me around in a grand circle under the glorious stars every one of those 236 days of my life, and yet I didn’t feel Earth spinning – perhaps until now. Over the last 9 months, much has happened. Global protests for racial equality, devastating fires wreaking havoc on our natural environment, and monstrous storms leaving devastation in their paths. We also have seen a pandemic literally bring a busy and rushing world to a standstill, a complete stop. The earth continued to spin, but we on it slowed down to a whisper. As a result, I have found myself evaluating the activities and experiences I engaged in before the coronavirus.
What I have discovered is that I am less distracted by things that previously held routine importance in my life, but no real meaningful importance. Like all of us, I took the time I had been blessed with each day and used it without questioning if it was well spent at the end of the day. What had I done to change my part of the world just a little bit? What had I done to ease the pain or anguish of someone’s life? Had I smiled at everyone I had contact with, or had I just moved along my day like an automaton with an agenda that was preset by thoughtless habit?
The time I have spent looking inward from the outside has revealed a vibrant yet scared, thriving yet uncertain world that sorely needs my attention again. I believe the same holds true for the world I have viewed from inside looking out. My routine has changed. I celebrate the very air I breathe on my morning walks. I feel the very ground beneath my feet yield gently to my every step. And I believe I also feel that ground move – ever so slightly – in its glorious circle around that kindly star we call our sun. I underlined something Yogananda said in his Autobiography years ago: “I am hallowed, my body touched that sod”. Yes, I am holier than ever to be an intimate part and partner with this holy ground, again.
This year has been a difficult one. I lost my mother, who lived 1800 miles (2897 kms from me) 3 days after we were told to lock down. I wasn’t bedside when she passed. I wasn’t there to say one last goodbye. Like so many, many people around the globe who lost loved ones during this pandemic, I wasn’t able to participate in a traditional funeral rite or memorial service to help me process and assimilate the permanent loss of someone who I loved so very dearly… who gave me this life I am now contemplating. With a virus raging worldwide, death, and life, had been (and continue to be) placed in sharper focus, higher relief.
As a result, or in response to that, my routines have changed. I plan my day moment by moment, except for the prescribed duties of teaching and grading (and sleeping.) I get up and take a walk when I feel like it, rather than when I can “carve out a few minutes”. I am exercising more than I have ever done. Partly to keep off the pandemic pounds, and partly because I have a greater respect for a body in which any virus would love to spend some quality time. I am cooking more and loving it. I am eating much more healthy meals and relishing the taste of my food more with every bite… generally speaking, I am far more mindful these days.
More importantly, though, I am also tending to my spiritual and emotional immunity.
I am a complete human being – a spirit/soul in a physical form. What difference would it make, ultimately, if I took good care of my body to strengthen it against a virus, and allowed my soul and spirit to weaken and lose their resilience? I am building my emotional immunity by becoming much more aware of the big and little daily things that I react to. Now, I respond to those triggers with less passion, less aggression, and allow them to pass into nothingness. I forgive more, criticize less. I accept more, denounce less. I smile more, frown less. I persevere more, complain less. I dance and sing more whether or not anyone is watching, and I constrain myself less. Where I used to see problems, I am now looking for opportunities to grow and be a better person. I now am living by the philosophy that if you can solve the problem, what is the need to worry? If you cannot solve the problem, what is the use of worrying?
Of course, in my small world of the USA, I have been deeply troubled by leadership over the last 4 years that was divisive, malignant, untruthful, and self-serving. As of today, November 7, that burden has been lifted from my heart and soul. Before today, jokes about the US president would make me laugh – nervously. Today, those jokes make me laugh heartily. What a cathartic release! When men with power make decisions that affect not just their own constituents, but those of the entire planet, it is truly and deeply troubling. Today, most of the citizens of the US and the world can breathe a little easier.
I have also been paying much closer attention and spending a large amount of my daily energy on supporting my spiritual immunity. I lovingly celebrate my unquestionable unity with the universe. This unique entity I am, from the outside looking in, is a very different being than what I see from the inside looking out. My friends and family see me, I suspect, as a friendly, funny, and feeling person. I deeply love my friends and family even more now that I can take a slow step backward out of the rush of my old routine, and recognize that they are ALL that matter in these days and those to come. At the end of every day now, I realize how rich, gifted, and blessed I am to have these people in my life. The material things don’t matter when you are on a ventilator fighting for that life you had before you got sick. I realize now that my old life was a sickness that I needed to tend to if I was going to live long and happy on this beautiful and glorious planet. That’s why my spiritual immunity is now so very important. I knew from childhood that I was completely inseparable from the universe. On a cool evening back when I was eight years old, I suddenly and starkly found myself both inside looking out and outside looking in. My sense of “self” – a unique and distinct subject separate from all the objective world “out there”- completely dissolved. I was one in mind, body, and soul with the universe. I was universe. Universe – no “I” no “other”. That spirit is alive in me again. Inside looking out, I see an arrangement of “moments” or memories in time that I choose to remember and motivate my behavior accordingly. That’s the person you know me as. The projection, the expression of those memories. But inside, I realize I am just an actor on the stage. As Krishna tells Arjuna: “They live in wisdom who see themselves in ALL and ALL in them.” I am moving back to that eternal place, that small corner of my world inside that is still “Jim,” but is also the Eternal All. As the The Lankavatara sutra observes: “Nothing is as it appears, nor is it otherwise.”
These are my greetings of love and friendship to you both from my part of the world… I look forward to yours.