By Arundhathi Subramaniam
There are three distinct phases of seeking in my life that I’m aware of. Phase One was about seeking without knowing it.
There was an abiding sense of dukkha – of unease, a tadap, at the core of life. But I assumed that this out-of-kilterness was part of being a writer. A ‘happy poet’ sounded like a contradiction in terms! The discontent seemed part of the package deal.
Phase Two started in March 1997. It was at this point that I turned from an unconscious seeker to a conscious one. A desperate one. It started with an unexpected death experience after a particularly relaxed vacation in Nepal. I never knew what caused it. It could have been the strange intentness with which I read Sogyal Rinpoche’s Tibetan Book of Living and Dying – or just a germ I caught from a wandering lama! But I was dying, even though I was psychologically and physically healthier than I’d been in a long while.
The experience lasted for a few terrifying days, and I emerged from it with relief. The world seemed newly-hatched, the colours in my wardrobe and roadside hoardings more vibrant than ever before, my traumas like beloved friends, and previously fraught relationships endearingly familiar. The mundane world had never seemed more precious.
That passed too. The prosaic returned to its tawdry everydayness. The demons reappeared with their seductive brand of insanity. But there was a difference. I now knew I was a seeker. And I knew I had to make my peace with death. Everything else seemed a postponement of what really counted.
In the feverish decade that followed, it felt like I was leading a double life. There was the rational daytime world of ‘busy-ness’: books, poetry conferences, travel, writing, arts management. And there was the inner world of urgency, of a frenzied omnivorous diet of mystical literature, visits to sacred sites, the impulse to connect with a satsangh of true sahridayas, and above all, with a guru I could call my own.
The masquerade was far from flawless. I’m sure the cracks were apparent to many who knew me.
I was functional, reasonably successful, even capable of being ‘nice’, but my overriding experience was one of dryness. Life was a series f stances and gestures, devoid of some vital lubricant.
Meeting Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev in May 2004 was the start of Phase Three. I sensed I’d found my guru, and the following years confirmed that. The Isha programmes I did later exasperated me at times with their rules and pieties. But I clung to the practices with ferocity, simply because they offered a sane way of being with myself.
If there’s been an intensity about my interactions with the guru, the practices opened up a more subtle process. Four years later, there’s been a significant change – not dramatic, but deeply internal. Earlier, it was about stealing time for sadhana; now the day often settles itself around the practices. In poetic terms, it’s like gradually finding one’s freedom within the grid of a fixed form, rather than creating one’s own form through free verse.
It feels like there’s more breathing space, a wider range of emotional choices, less reactivity. Relationships seem less compulsive, work-life less clogged with misplaced intensity. I work more, but spend less time on it. Some cravings – for certain interpersonal interactions, even for food – have dropped away (though the love of caffeine endures). Above all, my inner and outer worlds seem less hostile.
More recently, I’ve been experiencing the world of art differently. The cheerlessness of the past decade seems replaced with a heightened sensuous appreciation of things – whether it’s a dance or music performance, or just the saris in my cupboard. My own poetry also seems to emerge from a less toxic, quieter place inside the self.
But those are the good days. There are also the bad – when the practices are chores, when old patterns replay themselves in the head, when the buffeting seems interminable. And it’s not for nothing that I thought I’d christen my new poetry collection Deeper in Transit.
But what makes the choppy weather less menacing is the faith that there’s a navigator. He doesn’t promise a calm voyage, but he does offer direction – and sometimes, just sometimes, a remote, shadowy glimpse of a possible destination.
Arundhathi Subramaniam is a distinguished, award-winning poet and writer.
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