This was originally posted on February 14, 2017
I’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.