Mindful of the Bond We Share in these Trying Times by Vibha Shetiya

vibpicI’m sitting in my parents’ balcony in Pune, India, on a quiet morning. Well, this being a bustling Indian city of six million, it can’t really be quiet. As I sit with cup of tea in hand, I try and meditate – I’ve been practicing mindful meditation of late, and so, rather than block out the noises, I embrace the various sounds that make up this Monday morning.

I count the variety – sparrows gently chirping away while a noisy crow tries to outdo them in a contest he easily wins, a street hawker starting his day (and ours) on a rather cacophonous note, the sweeper from the neighbouring complex pouring his heart and soul into cleaning the grounds that will need re-sweeping in an hour or two, the put-putting rickshaw carrying squawking kids to the school down the alley, chirping chipmonks that temporarily develop wings as they fly from branch to branch in a cheerful chase, the honking car warning of its over-the-limit speed (reaffirming the fact there are two things we Indians especially love: honking for no reason, and breaking traffic rules), my mother’s footsteps as she peers out to see what I’m doing by myself…nine in all.

In the past I would have tried hard to block these out, straining to keep my mind on my breathing, worrying I’ll never find a quiet enough spot to help me master (hah!) the art of meditation. But today, I am grateful. Grateful that I am a part of a larger picture. And as I scan my body from head to toe, feeling the tension most in my shoulders while the cold mosaic tiles below keep me momentarily grounded to the fullness of living, I remind myself that I am just a speck in this montage called life.

There are many things about myself I need to work on: I am an inveterate worrier. Moreover, I tend to live either in the past or the future, obsessing over mistakes I made twenty years ago, or worrying about something that may or may not happen (over things that are unlikely to ever happen, statistically speaking). As a perfectionist, I have tended to prefer shying away from doing things rather than do them with imperfection. I don’t know how much I have missed out on learning something new because of this attitude.

Well, perhaps I do, which is why I am making a conscious effort to let go; let go of perfection, of fear of the unknown, even the known, of people. And mindful mornings like these help me realize I am not the center of the universe. As I see the gigantic tree outside my room in my parents’ home swaying gently in the breeze, a few of its aging yellow leaves dancing their way to the ground, I think of my shortcomings – I will always have flaws, and hopefully I will continue to work on them, shedding them with my own little dance of triumph, while the tree of life grows taller and stronger, before the cycle begins all over again.

Monday Morning Mindfulness also taught me another important lesson. It is a paradox of sorts: while on one hand it is helping me realize I am but a tiny, insignificant part of the universe, it has also conveyed the idea that I have a part to play in a world in which we are all connected.

I came to America seventeen years ago. While I did not have to battle religious intolerance or political strife in my home country, America offered me a haven in the form of a neutral space wherein I could be myself, away from grievances and politics of a different kind; it gave me the chance to re-discover myself, as a person and as a woman. That is what America is to me – a place where you can start over, get a new lease of life. Like for countless others, for me too, America symbolizes Hope. Yet, here we are, at a time when hundreds of innocent people are being turned away at airports, and families being torn apart; when people who have called America their home for decades are living in fear because of a regime that seems to have turned its back on its foundational history. This is not the America I know, or came to.

I understand the despair, the sheer horror of watching the news or reading the headlines which seem to get bleaker by the minute, and just wanting to bury yourself in a hole to escape the madness that seems to be taking over – here in India as well as in the United States. I have often contemplated living in a squeaky clean bubble myself, and indeed there have been moments in the past when I have. But I am beginning to realize more than ever that in the web of interconnectedness that is the world, I cannot remain a mere bystander.

I cannot simply sigh and be depressed over the persecution of religious minorities, over atrocities against women, people of colour, gays and lesbians, while waiting for someone else to clean up the mess. It is time for us to reassert that bond we all share as human beings. We need – more than ever – to come together and say: Enough! We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters. We will not abandon them in the face of threats and hardship. We will not tire of protesting no matter how many gag orders we get. It is time to say: we will not turn our backs on basic human rights.

What you choose to do and how, is up to you, but please, let us take a pledge to not remain silent witnesses as the world is being torn apart. Let us be mindful that we are all in this together, that we are part of larger Monday mornings, of Tuesday afternoons. That what affects you today, could came back to haunt me tomorrow.

Vibha Shetiya was born in India and raised in Zambia before moving back to India as a teenager. She has been living in the US since 1999. She has degrees in journalism and religion and a Ph.D in Asian Cultures and Languages. Vibha moved to Albuquerque in 2014 from Austin where she completed her dissertation on feminist versions of the “Ramayana,” an ancient Hindu epic. She teaches at the University of New Mexico.

Author: Vibha Shetiya

Vibha Shetiya was born in India and raised in Zambia before moving back to India as a teenager. She has been living in the US since 1999. Vibha has degrees in journalism and religion and a Ph.D in Asian Cultures and Languages. She is an instructor at the Universities of Pittsburgh and New Mexico.

23 thoughts on “Mindful of the Bond We Share in these Trying Times by Vibha Shetiya”

  1. Every afternoon, after I’ve edited as much bad writing by (mostly) nice people, I do the same kind of mindfulness meditation. Long Beach is the fourth or fifth largest city in California, and some parts of it are very noisy. My neighborhood tends to be quiet, but there are still plenty of things to be aware of. So I spend half an hour or so in the afternoon being mindful. Except I call it “reading with my eyes closed.” That’s because I usually have a book in my lap. And at least one purring cat nearby. Thanks for writing about your mindfulness meditation. And you’re right: we do need to come together.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Vibha, are you living in India now, or visiting? Thank you for sharing your meditation process. I too find that opening myself and accepting what annoys me (like noise or cold) is good practice for mindfulness. With worrying, I tend to remember the times I overcame adversity in the past, assure myself I can do it again, and then let it go.


    1. I was just visiting, Barbara. Am back now – just got in last night. Thank you for your advice on dealing with worrying!


  3. It gives me so much comfort to read about turning to meditation and mindfulness to see what comes up in terms of presence-making, peace, and also activism. I feel, as you seem to indicated, too that meditation is a form of activism, or it is motivated by it and then flows from it. Reading your wonderful post also gives me a feeling of warmth and solidarity. I’m really glad that you have shared this, your intimate, not-so-quiet, quiet moments. I especially smiled when you described your mom coming to see what you are doing by yourself. Ha. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LaChelle, I never realized until recently that meditation and mindfulness did not necessarily mean withdrawing from the world. As you rightly state, these can also be a form of activism, from which action flows. Thank you for succinctly putting that in words.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Vibha — In the West, at least, meditation almost always connotes withdrawing from the world. But the reason for that is that the meditations that are most practiced stem from (male) monastic traditions, where the person DID literally withdraw from the world. I was excited to find tantric meditation 3 – 4 years ago. My teacher Lorin Roche rightly (I think) distinguishes as a “householder practice,” meant for those of us who continue to live in the world, with all its relationships, responsibilities, distractions, etc.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks Vibha. I love the rickshaw carrying squawking kids to the school down the alley, chirping chipmonks, honking cars for no reason, and a mother’s footsteps. What a beautiful montage that is, both in sight and sound. A mother’s footsteps also reminds me of the great goddess watching over the scene and interacting with it. On my own spiritual path, the way of the great mother is Tao, both in purposefulness and in mystery.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love the idea of the great goddess watching over me through my mum’s footsteps. I never thought of it that way! Thank you, Sarah.


  5. Vibha, Your experience of smallness yet connected to the larger whole has been for me one of the most important lessons in life. It has given me both humility (not the patriarchal kind, but what I consider a realistic kind) as well as a groundedness in the vastness of universe. Embedded in Nature or Life, I feel both bigger and smaller than when I assume I’m standing alone on my own two feet. I feel smaller, because my problems – and even the problems of my species – seem to pale in comparison with the vastness of the entire natural world to which I’m connected. But I feel bigger, because I know that I am a part of that vast community of life, a part of the Goddess.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Nancy, that is what I was trying to convey too – how I feel small as part of the universe, but at the same time, it connects me to the world, making me realize I too have a role to play in this connection. Thank you.


  6. Your description of listening and breathing with the sounds around you is beautiful. As I read your words I can really hear each of the sounds you describe. Thank you! It reminds me too of the practice of Deep Listening as developed by composer Pauline Oliveros. She defines it as “listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what one is doing.” Interestingy, she developed this approach to both listening and musical performance out of her Zen Buddhist practices. From my own experiences of Deep Listening, I find it a powerful way to align with both the sounds around me, even when I want to shut them out, and also in creating stronger relationships with others and with nature. Thank you for your post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Wendalyn, for sharing your experiences and for pointing out to Pauline Oliveros – I am going to look her up!


  7. This post really spoke to me because I’ve always “failed” at traditional meditation, except for walking meditation in the woods. That’s not possible here, but I think that I could try this type of meditation, and it might even help my insomnia. Thank you.


    1. I too have insomnia, Robin. While I’m not sure if this would help with it (for years I’ve stuck to white noise), it might be a promising method – perhaps I should try it too! Thank you.


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