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A Winter’s Tale

Shakespeare’s comedies and romances are known for their magical elements and fantasy locations, and The Winter’s Tale is no exception. Livermore Shakespeare Festival is producing the play at Wente Vineyards Estate Winery and Tasting Room, July 12th through July 29th. Faced with the challenge of creating a world for “Bohemia” artistic director Lisa Tromovitch and costume designer Jennifer Barker-Gatze chose a meta-theatrical approach.  Since Shakespeare’s Bohemia is not an accurate representation of the real Bohemia of the time, theater makers are afforded the opportunity to create a new world through costumes, movement, music and scenery. 

Artistic Director Lisa Tromovitch states “Shakespeare’s Bohemia is a made-up place. He sets it on a seacoast, yet Bohemia at that time was land-locked. At Shakespeare’s time, Bohemia, a part of central Europe, included a people the French called ‘gypsies’ because they believed they came from Egypt, though scholars suspect their actual place of origin was India. They spoke a different language, and gypsy life appeared carefree and romantic, perfect for one of Shakespeare’s later romances.”

During the casting and design phase, Tromovitch met Avanthika Srinivasan, an MFA Candidate at American Conservatory Theater, who was auditioning for the role of Perdita, the Princess. “Her resume listed her training and her skills in traditional Indian music. Since we needed a ‘Dance of the Shepherds and Shepherdesses’ in the part of play that takes place in Bohemia, I asked her if she’d be willing to collaborate with us and choreograph the dance, as well as provide the music through singing. Avanthika expressed a keen desire to share her Indian culture, which then inspired the costume designer, Jennifer Barker, to lean our imaginary world toward Indian culture. The clothing, the saris and tunics are so beautiful, that imagining our Bohemia as adjacent to India, and sharing culture with India was a great opportunity to feature not only the song and dance, but the costuming as well,” adds Tromovitch.

Said Srinivasan, “When Lisa approached me about collaborating on the dance in The Winter’s Tale and suggested that we use India as an inspiration for the world of Bohemia, I eagerly agreed as I saw it as an opportunity to combine my passion for theater and love for Indian music and dance. I have been learning Indian Carnatic music for the past 20 years and have given concerts in Singapore, India, and the U.S. My mom is also an Indian classical dancer and runs a dance school where she teaches both Kathak and Bharatanatyam. “

Srinivasan continued “This particular dance is called Kolattam, and it originated in Southern India where people would dance at spring harvest festivals and celebrate love, prosperity, and nature. It is also important to add that in this show, Bohemia does not actually represent India, nor are the actors pretending to be Indian, therefore putting on accents etc. The world of Bohemia, along with the costume design, is influenced by Indian culture and is simply a celebration of its heritage, but in no way tries to imitate the actual place during that time period.“

Livermore Shakes costume designer, Jennifer Barker did research within the Indian community in Stockton and conferred with the proprietors of Indian wedding stores in order to design the look that would mirror what one would see at an Indian wedding. In the wedding scene, the character of Florizell (played by William Hoeschler) appears in an authentic wedding tunic and turban, an appropriate attire for the bridegroom, regardless of his ethnicity!

As is typical for Livermore Shakespeare Festival shows, The Winter’s Tale features a diverse cast. Tromovitch states “In the theater industry in recent years, the term “color blind casting” has been replaced by “diverse casting”. We are not asking anyone to pretend their character is an ethnicity different from their own. We are creating fictional worlds in the Shakespeare plays, and the worlds we are choosing to create are ethnically diverse. Some plays treat race specifically, and those plays are cast accordingly, but the new tradition in Shakespeare is to cast diversely, and allow ourselves to experience these integrated communities.”

The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare. July 14th – July 29th, 7:30 PM.. Wente Vineyards Estate Winery & Tasting Room, 5565 Tesla Road, Livermore, CA 94550Tickets: $25-$58.  (925) 443-BARD or www.LivermoreShakes.org

 

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Force Facebook to Shut Down WhatsApp

Defects in the design of Facebook’s WhatsApp platform may have led to as many as two dozen people losing their lives in India. With its communications encrypted end-to-end, there is no way for anyone to moderate posts; so WhatsApp has become “an unfiltered platform for fake news and religious hatred,” according to a Washington Post report.

WhatsApp is not used as broadly in the U.S. as in countries such as India, where it has become the dominant mode of mobile communication. But imagine Facebook or Twitter without any filters or moderation — the Wild Wild West they were becoming during the heyday of Cambridge Analytica. Now imagine millions of people who have never been online before becoming dependent on and trusting everything they read there. That gives you a sense of what kind of damage the messaging platform can do in India and other countries.

Earlier this month, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology sent out a stern warning to WhatsApp, asking it to immediately stop the spread of “irresponsible and explosive messages filled with rumours and provocation.” The Ministry said the platform “cannot evade accountability and responsibility specially when good technological inventions are abused by some miscreants who resort to provocative messages which lead to spread of violence.”

WhatsApp’s response, according to The Wire, was to offer minor enhancements, public education campaigns, and “a new project to work with leading academic experts in India to learn more about the spread of misinformation, which will help inform additional product improvements going forward.” The platform defended its need to encrypt messages and argued that “many people (nearly 25 percent in India) are not in a group” — in other words, only 75 percent of the population is affected!

One of the minor enhancements WhatsApp offered was to put the word “Forwarded” at the top of such messages. But this gives no information about the source of the original message, and even highly educated users could be misled into thinking a source is credible when it isn’t.

WhatsApp owner Facebook is using the same tactics it used when the United Nations found it had played “a determining role” in the genocide against Rohingya refugees in Myanmar: pleading ignorance, offering sympathy and small concessions, and claiming it was unable to do anything about it.

Here is the real issue: Facebook’s business model relies on people’s dependence on its platforms for practically all of their communications and news consumption, setting itself up as their most important provider of factual information — yet it takes no responsibility for the accuracy of that information.

Facebook’s marketing strategy begins with creating an addiction to its platform using a technique that former Google ethicist Tristan Harris has been highlighting: intermittent variable rewards. Casinos use this technique to keep us pouring money into slot machines; Facebook and WhatsApp use it to keep us checking news feeds and messages.

When Facebook added news feeds to its social-media platform, its intentions were to become a primary source of information. It began by curating news stories to suit our interests and presenting them in a feed that we would see on occasion. Then it required us to go through this newsfeed in order to get to anything else. Once it had us trained to accept this, Facebook started monetizing the newsfeed by selling targeted ads to anyone who would buy them.

It was bad enough that, after its acquisition by Facebook, WhatsApp began providing the parent company with all kinds of information about its users so that Facebook could track and target them. But in order to make WhatsApp as addictive as Facebook’s social-media platform, Facebook added chat and news features to it — something it was not designed to accommodate. WhatsApp started off as a private, secure messaging platform; it wasn’t designed to be a news source or a public forum.

WhatsApp’s group-messaging feature is particularly problematic because users can remain anonymous, identified only by a mobile number. A motivated user can create or join unlimited numbers of groups and share hate-filled messages and fake news. What’s worse is that message encryption prevents law-enforcement officials and even WhatsApp itself from viewing what is being said. No consideration was given in the design of the product to the supervision and moderation necessary in public forums.

Facebook needs to be held liable for the deaths that WhatsApp has already caused and be required to take its product off the market until its design flaws are fixed. It isn’t making its defective products available only to sophisticated users who know what they have signed up for; it is targeting people who are first-time technology users, ignorant about the ways of the tech world.

Only by facing penalties and being forced to do a product recall will Facebook be motivated to correct WhatsApp’s defects. The technology industry always finds a way of solving problems when profits are at stake.

Vivek Wadhwa is a Distinguished Fellow at Harvard Law School and Carnegie Mellon’s School of Engineering at Silicon Valley. This piece is partly derived from his new book, “Your Happiness Was Hacked: Why Tech Is Winning the Battle to Control Your Brain — and How to Fight Back”. This has been reprinted with his permission.

 

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University Hall, University of Redlands, Redlands CA
Jul 20, 2018
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Mississauga Celebration Square, Mississauga ON
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Yogasanas (Hatha Yoga)
Masonic Center, Folsom California

Our Broken Legal Immigration System

My name is Sri Ponnada – and I’m a software engineer at Microsoft. At Microsoft I work on products that empower people around the world to maximize how they use technology and to accomplish more each day.

Today I am going to tell you a story about how someone with proper documentation has to leave the country they were brought to as a child – the country where they grew up, where they went to public schools, where they graduated from a public state university, and where they led multiple volunteer projects to promote STEM education and projects to help their communities and cities – because of the green card backlog.

I am that someone, and in 6 months, I am going to be forced out of my home – the United States – because I aged out of a broken immigration while my mom has been waiting almost a decade in the employment based green card system to actually receive the green card she was promised for her service as a physician in an underserved area in Iowa.

I want to tell you a little bit about my journey in the United States.

I moved to USA from Jamaica when I was 14, with my brother Sam, who was 10 at the time, because my mom started her Internal Medicine residency in New York. She was doing Cardiology research at Mayo Clinic in 2008, and fell in love with the Midwest. She told us that when she finished her residency, we will absolutely be moving to the Midwest!

So, after I finished high school, my mom got a job as a physician in a small town in Iowa that desperately needed doctors. My family realized how important that was and believe everyone – no matter where they lived should have easy access to health care – so we moved to Iowa together and I enrolled at the University of Iowa, despite being accepted into other universities.

I was super excited and immediately got involved with my new community. I was writing articles for my college paper – the Daily Iowan, and I’d spend my weekends tutoring students in Computer Science and volunteering at the public library to teach kids how to code for free. I was also a volunteer at the Women’s Resource and Action Center; I helped revamp and served as President of our Women in Informatics and Computer Science club and advocated with many companies that previously didn’t recruit in Iowa to start considering Iowa students for jobs in the tech industry; I also served as News Director at University of Iowa’s campus radio station KRUI 89.7 FM, where I created tons of programming to bring art, culture, and awareness to our community. And given all my involvements, I was even elected by my student body to represent them in our student government as a student Senator.

But while I was doing all this stuff, I was still struggling with major anxiety and depression because I was scared about whether or not me and my family would get our green cards.
My mom’s work as a doctor in an underserved community in Iowa guaranteed her a National Interest Waiver in the green card process, but the fact that she was born in India meant she still had to wait in the backlog for decades. Normally USCIS sees National Interest Waiver cases like hers in 6 months to a year, so we thought we’d be okay but because of the decades long wait times, we found out that once I turned 21, I could no longer stay here as her dependent.

My mom is still waiting for her green card today, and since I’m now an adult, I won’t be able to get my green card when the rest of my family does. Sam, my brother, is a junior at University of Iowa right now doing Math and Physics, but he’s going to lose his status in a couple of years, unless Congress does something.

This backlog has affected me since high school. If my mother had been able to get her green card, I could’ve been paid for the work I did as a Teaching Assistant at University of Iowa (which I had to battle my university to let me do it for free). I could’ve joined the Army and had the honor of serving my country, but instead, I was turned away when I tried to enlist just because I didn’t have a green card.

So, when I was 20 years old, I graduated early with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Computer Science (with numerous awards for my academic excellence and community service) and landed my job as a Software Engineer at Microsoft. Even though my day job is “software engineer” I am extremely involved in the community with various nonprofits that promote STEM education for kids – specifically for young girls. I am working on open source projects that I’m trying to partner with City of Seattle on and have been trying to get on a project with Accelerator YMCA to revamp their social services site to make it easier for people to access information about things like veteran services, programs for kids at risk of going to juvenile detention. I have also helped to start a local chapter of the global non-profit Technovation Challenge in Washington which is all about getting girls into STEM fields and I work with senior leadership at Microsoft to improve our recruiting practices and to be more inclusive.

Everything I’ve learned, I learned in America. My family is here, my friends are here, my life is here. I think of myself as an American and contribute not only to my communities but also to the greater American economy, and I hope you see me as an American, too.

I have had great opportunities in this country so far, but I still face the same anxiety I’ve had since childhood about my visa status. Even though I have lived here practically my whole life and work at Microsoft, I had to apply for a H1B visa – which is a LOTTERY – just to be able to stay in the country because there is no way for kids like me to stay here with our parents who become lawful permanent residents through the green card process. I haven’t been selected for a H1B in the lottery – so when my STEM OPT expires next February, I’ll have to leave my family, my friends, and my home in the United States – the only country I’ve known since I became a teenager. Where should I go? Jamaica – where I came from? Or to India where I was born but haven’t lived in since I was 3 years old?

Just imagine the situation I’m in. I came here with proper documentation on a dependent children’s visa. Due to the huge green card backlog for individuals from India, I lost my dependent visa status at the age of 21 as I was no longer a minor. I converted to a F-1 visa just so I could finish my college education and graduate, and got a job at one of the world’s best companies – Microsoft. Yet, I still have to self-deport when my student visa expires because I wasn’t lucky enough to get a visa to stay in the country even though Microsoft hired me for a permanent job, not a temporary contract.

Congress needs to pass legislation fast. Nothing exists to protect the status of kids like me and my brother, who were legally brought here by our parents.

That makes no sense to me. And I hope it doesn’t make sense to you either.

Please reform the employment based green card category. And more importantly, please think about kids of high skilled immigrants who are aging out due to a decades-old law which never predicted this critical scenario of kids aging out of the system. Please help us. We need your support.

This article was first published on Facebook.

Summer Meditations on Delusion

Summer is when time slows and there are comings and goings, family reunions, outings and long days. It seems that the days are longer, and there is more time, to read, and to just be.

This might be a delusion, but for one, I was able to make some headway in my summer reading: Why Buddhism is True, (WBIT) (2017) by Robert Wright. And I was able to watch a hindi play by Naatak called Rashomon, based on Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s “In the Grove.” And listen to a lecture by Joshua Pollock at the Commonwealth Club called The Heartfulness Way: Heart-Based Meditations for Spiritual Transformation. The connections between these surprised me.

Rashomon, the 1950 Akira Kurosawa classic film, had been about multiple, contradictory and self-serving perspectives of a single event. This film had been a bit difficult to watch, with Toshiro Mifune as a bandit who raped a woman and murdered her husband. The adaptation of the Japanese play by theater group Naatak, directed by Savitha Samu, was similarly disturbing in its unflinching depiction of sexual violence. The wife, played by Ekta Brahmakshatriya in the play, was given a far more assertive persona than the simpering Machiko Kyo, the filmic counterpart of 70 years ago. The salience of this story over more than half a century is interesting, and not just from the perspective of the contemporary moment of #metoo.

 

Rashomon: a play by Naatak.

And that brings me to Robert Wright, and his book WBIT. This exceedingly well researched and thoughtful book is full of references from Buddhist texts, evolutionary psychology, neuroscience research as well as the personal meditative experiences of the author. Our capacity for self-delusion, or at least the inaccuracy of our senses seems to provide a rational within Buddhism for the Rashomon effect.

Wright’s book was very helpful in understanding common Buddhist concepts such as of ‘emptiness’ and ‘not-self,’ of identifying the difference between Buddhist and Hindu conceptions of the self, as well as the variants within Buddhism such as Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism. The book can help you understand the hedonic treadmill, the nature of dukka (sorrow), and the irresistible allure of a powdered donut. The antidote?

We’ve heard it before. Meditate. Repeat. 

Wright argues that Western Buddhism, as the author refers to the more secular version practiced by many Americans, has been sanitized of the more supernatural and disgusting aspects. Rarely, Wright points out, are we encouraged to meditate on the blood, pus, and feces as traditional Buddhism suggests. “What is presented today as a ancient meditative tradition is actually a selective rendering… in some cases carefully manicured.” Wright points out that not all those who identify as Western Buddhists accept reincarnation, for instance. Yet, this secular or science-based perspective comes at a cost, he claims. “Science brought about the disenchantment of the world, draining it of magic.”

A good story needs a villain. In traditional Buddhism, there are hungry ghosts, and the dastardly Mara, the nemesis of the Buddha, perpetually trying to tempt the Buddha by sending beautiful maidens to disturb his meditation. Wright settles on natural selection as the villain; why we have such trouble resisting tribal thinking or a powdered donut. Our intense emotions that have been hardwired into us by evolution, are, in fact, delusions.

“These feelings — anxiety, despair, hatred, greed — … have elements of delusion, elements you’d be better off without. And if you think you would be better off, imagine how the whole world would be. After all, feelings like despair and hatred and greed can foster wars and atrocities. So if what I’m saying is true — if the basic sources of human suffering and human cruelty are indeed in large part the product of delusion — there is value in exposing this delusion to the light.”

Besides a delightful analysis of why the Matrix (1999) is the ultimate Dharma film, Wright raises some provocative questions. Does meditation make you happier? Inasmuch as you realize that your feelings are unreliable guides to your wellbeing, and are fueled by (that enemy!) natural selection, and because meditation affords clarity of vision, the answer is yes. Can meditation cause you to love your children less? Perhaps meditators can love them with less attachment, and love orphans and other people’s children more, he offers. Are all meditators good people? Apparently not. When meditation is twinned with dharma, a number of moral and ethical precepts, a clarity of vision allows for more moral outcomes. But meditators are fallible, and bad behavior can coexist with meditation, as recent accusations of misconduct at Shambhala International attest. (#metoo).

While Wright refers to a retreat at an insight meditation retreat, Joshua Pollock follows the path of Raja Yoga, as laid down by Swami Vivekananda. In his talk, he refers to mindfulness meditation as being not about controlling the thoughts, but gently observing them. His discussion of pranahuti, yogic transmission during meditation and reference to direct experience rather than knowledge were especially interesting. You can hear Joshua Pollock’s lecture online.

Wright makes a compelling argument that the world is moving towards a single brain, and that tribalism, with its variants of identification with religion, nation or ideology, is the threat that could eradicate sentient beings from this planet. The entire world would be better served if people would meditate, see our interconnectedness more clearly, and save ourselves from our delusions such as our individual specialness. Oh, and let go of the notion that fulfilling our desires will make us happy.

Feeling rebellious? Go against natural selection.

“Buddhism’s diagnosis of the human predicament is fundamentally correct, and… its prescription is deeply valid and urgently important,” claims Wright. 

Meditate on that.

Geetika Pathania Jain is the Culture and Media Editor at India Currents. (Or at least she is under that delusion.)

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From the Land of the Mindful

How The Yoga-Ayurveda Combine Helped Me

My Early Brush With Yoga

My mother was a Yoga teacher, an alumnus of a Yoga school where yoga was taught in a comprehensive manner: breathing, diet, attitudinal training, etc, accompanied the asanas, and when done sincerely, and over a period of time, yielded results of better living and good health. So, as a family we did practise Yoga, and my sibling and I even became demonstrators for my mother’s classes at Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan and other places. But needless to say, very reluctantly.

Though we knew the benefits, as we saw her students get relief in countless cases of illness – asthma, back pains, high blood pressure, upper respiratory disorders, obesity – and also stress. In fact, there was actually a case of a young schoolboy, who had lost his voice owing to what my mother figured could be excessive body-building efforts; within few months of her yogic care, he actually got back his voice.

Despite all this exposure, we children dreaded Yoga-time in the evening, and as soon as we got a chance, we dropped it out of our routine.

Couple Of Decades Later…

On Diwali day of 2005, I found myself checking the word `leukaemia’ in an online dictionary: the dreaded word had made its way into my blood report, and I was sure it couldn’t be what I thought it was.

But it was. My boys were then five years and six months old, respectively. Bone marrow transplant, the known permanent cure was not an option for various reasons. Thankfully, there was a breakthrough chemotherapy drug – though how long it could prolong life was not known. However, one had to take it daily, life-long, and endure all its attendant side effects – also daily.

Thus began my debilitating journey with cancer and the promise of life sustained by chemotherapy – at the age of 33, and with one little boy and a toddler in tow.

My Real Tryst With Yoga

Chemotherapy was prolonging my life, but it came with very heavy quality-of-life costs. Plus, the drug was new and no one knew how long it would offer remission. There were also instances of people turning resistant to it. I desperately searched and tried all kinds of alternative therapies for support. One by one, I read about and tried them all out – You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay; past-life regression; affirmations, healing stones, nutrition therapy. Though begun with gusto, none of them really seemed to be helping really.

My mother was gone by then, so that refuge was not available to me. But my father knew an elderly gentleman, Dr Sivananda Murty – an embodiment of compassion and wisdom. It started with taking homeopathic medicines from him for symptomatic relief; his concern and his soothing words inspired confidence and trust – and the fact that he had a radiant face, was extremely energetic, as also aware, sharp, knowledgeable and a terrific sense of humour. Later, I got to know he was a practising yogi, of quite some stature.

Yogic-Ayurvedic Lifestyle

Though there was no imposing schedule I had to follow, I knew a few changes would need to be made.

Diet, of course, was to be nutritious, though light and I cut out the heavy and toxic. Here, I cannot stress enough the importance of a wholesome diet, and according to ayurvedic principles of eating according to season and time of the day. I would go so far as to say that the current trend of veganism could lead to serious imbalances later in life, both in body and mind. Food cannot be broken down into nutrients alone; it is the totality of the food that contributes to our being.

Asanas, again, according to body type, morning and evening walks, to soak in sunlight and the early morning oxygen. I was taught pranayama or breathing exercises, not too vigorous.

Gradually, I was able to accommodate meditation – different kinds of meditation, for different purposes, and at different times of the day. Mantras helped me to invoke the Sun’s healing energy, some general chants to keep calm and feel connected with the higher power. I realised the power of herbs – in providing stamina, in helping digestion and elimination of toxins.

What I realised is that many of these things were Ayurveda in practice, which is nothing but a sister science of Yoga. Or perhaps, Ayurveda forms the base for Yoga; either way, they work hand in hand and reinforce each other. Herbs, mantra, foods, colours, stones and many more things are all part of Ayurveda. Later, I found good resources in the works of Vedacharya David Frawley, Dr Robert Svoboda and Vasant Lad.

The biggest revelation was music. I had always been passionate about music and thought I knew about its “healing effects”. But here was a different suggestion: I was told to listen to classical ragas of Hindustani music at the appropriate time (each raga has a time that it has to be sung in). And though initially it was pleasing only to my ears, I realised that it was impacting me at a deep level: there were episodes of relief in severe neurological issues caused by the chemo drug, which the doctors had neither been able to identify nor cure. As I discovered later, classical music and its time-theory is part of Ayurveda, and that the ragas’ notes penetrate deep into the spinal cord, creating healing effects.

The best part about the entire experience was that I did not have to give up anything or change anything in my life – my likes, my preferences in food, people, dressing, recreation, entertainment, sense of humour. Some changes occurred on their own: for instance, I realised that honey taken three times a day had tremendously aided my digestion by helping eliminate toxins, and given me strength. In their turn, the toxins that left also left me bereft of the craving for such foods that would harm me.

I suspect the other positive impressions I was taking in had a role to play too – music, the right food in the right order, eaten at the right time – they had effected subtle changes in my psyche, and that had also a role to play in my unhealthy cravings disappearing. Perhaps, the connection back with nature and its cycles was helping.

The explanation for all this, I found recently in David Frawley’s book Ayurveda and the Mind. I understood that we have three vital essences that are responsible for our vitality, clarity and endurance – they are called prana (life force), tejas (inner radiance) and ojas (primal vigour).

All these three have psychological and emotional functions to perform: prana helps the mind respond to the challenges of life; tejas enables the mind to judge correctly; ojas gives patience and endurance that gives psychological stability.

Again, on an emotional level, prana maintains emotional harmony and creativity; tejas gives courage and vigour to help accomplish extraordinary actions, and ojas provides peace, calm and contentment.

It is obvious that all these three are desirable for a peaceful, meaningful existence. And how are they built up? These are built up in two ways: a) from the essence of nutrients we take in from food, heat and air, and b) by the impressions we take in through the senses.

Thus, the right food and impressions ingested – in accordance with ayurvedic principles, would help impact the psyche and mind and, bolstered by the effects of Yoga, would create and restore health. Viola!

My own experience was that, over time, and I don’t know how and when it happened, I had adopted things that I had no idea existed, and often didn’t even believe in. Just incremental changes – so gradual that they went unnoticed – that worked on each other and added up. As toxins left, strength at both the physical and subtle levels was built, and that further gave me strength to let go of other toxins. Some of my worst phobias went too – as did my acid reflux, and my hypothyroidism, my eczema.

Cutting a long story short, it’s now 13 years since I began considering alternative ways of living. The chemo continues, but it is a small fraction of the original prescription. I have gone back to working, and pursuing other interests. There’s no denying that I am a work in progress – we all are – but if it is nothing short of a miracle that I am where I stand today.

Just a small clarification is in order here. We hear about different forms of Yoga today – power Yoga, hot Yoga, Kundalini Yoga and others. While these surely have their purpose, it needs to be clarified that while dealing with serious life issues, what comes handy is the comprehensive Yoga, which deals with all aspects of existence – body, life breath, psyche, the consciousness.

Bhakti Yoga

What I now realise is, that without really thinking about it, a good number of steps of the eight-fold path of Yoga laid out by Patanjali were scaled. At one time, they had seemed so daunting and non-negotiable!

I didn’t have to change anything, or exclude any materialistic activity or eschew its fruits. All that was needed was to mentally dedicate everything to the higher truth. The rest was left to the higher power.

There is a verse in the Bhagawad Gita which translates to:

Whatever you do, whatever you eat, what you sacrifice, what you give, whatever austerity you engage yourself in, offer it to me.

(Yatkaroshi vadasnasi vajjuhoshi dadaasiyat, Yattapasyasi kaunteya tatkurushva madarpanam)

For a near-atheist, it was an unimaginable thing to do, but I had no choice, and so I did. Krishna was my chosen one – the powerful but fun, multifaceted, enigmatic god. It’s not a coincidence that he is, as I realised later – Yogeshwara.

Over the years, I also realised that our Indian deities and idols were only a means to an end. Just as an example: Mahalakshmi, the supreme mother is the Aadishakti, the original energy. What is the harm in connecting with that energy, with tools like mantras, meditation and appropriate worship? Many such benefits are available to all, at specific energised places all over India.

The Last Word

Religions, with their prescriptions of activity, are a way of life with each section of humanity. However, they widely differ in content from each other, and to the extent that they are based on the assertions of a few and vertically divide society irreconcilably, they become selfish, and a kind of materialism.

The Gita seeks to make every man a Yogi. Ultimately, the state of being unaffected by the results of action, and therefore, the ability to sail smoothly on the waves of the vicissitudes of life – is Yoga. It first benefits the individual and then permeates his surroundings.

 

An Empathic Hero’s Journey

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