Sunday, 25 October 2015

Musings on Peace, Harmony and the Art of Spaces

The other day I was working at my desk, fully absorbed in reading a big document on my laptop, highlighting some points, trying to make sense of others, when I suddenly looked up. And this is the view I saw from the window by which my desk is placed.

A view from the window by my desk, one afternoon
It was not the first time I saw this view of my small garden in the back of the house. I see it daily, both when I am out in the garden and when I sit at my desk. But that day was a bit special.

It was special because the moment that day brought with it a sense of quiet and peace as I let that view sink in to me. There were a few small birds flying around the champa trees and the bushes nearby, making lovely sounds, calling each other, playing, resting on the thin branches, enjoying their freedom.

I sat there, in my chair, just sat there. For several minutes. Taking in the view, enjoying the sounds of the birds, the peace of it all.

I don't know what I was feeling in those moments. Perhaps it was some type of peace, a sense of harmony. Perhaps it was one of those moments when everything feels perfect, everything around you, everything within you, everything is just the way as it should be. There is no need to fuss over anything, no need to shift anything. As if there is nothing to disturb this moment, this sense of peace.

Have you ever felt that? Surely, you must have. Thank the gods for such moments, rare as they are in the noisy worlds we live in - within and without.

A few minutes later, a part of me wanted to go out in the garden and take pictures of the view. Even thought of taking the pictures of the birds who were still playing and singing. How foolish of me, I immediately said to myself. As if pictures would preserve the 'feel' of the moment for me. 

But still I couldn't not resist taking one shot on my phone, from this side of the window itself. The one you see above. 

The moment passed. Only to be followed by another moment, of a reflection. Reflection on spaces and harmony. And on art.

Today, a few days later, as I sit by the same window, trying to give voice to that reflection I see the same tree and the same bushes, though there are no birds at the moment, I try to recall to my awareness that moment of quiet and peace from the other day.

Maybe writing out this reflection on spaces and harmony will bring its own harmony. Afterall, minds are spaces too, and creating a sense of harmony in our mental spaces is an art, a very important art that we all have to learn one way or the other if we want to experience more of these moments of peace and quietude.

So I begin.

You walk into a space -- a home, a room, a garden, a temple, an ashram, a workplace or any other public place -- and you instantly, spontaneously feel a sense of all-pervading harmony, a quiet ambience, an effortless beauty. Nothing is amiss, everything is perfectly placed where it should be. Nothing is obtrusive, nothing is jarring, everything is quietly at home in its natural place.

And you walk into another space and instantly you feel that something isn't right. There is a sense of disorder, an artificiality to the whole arrangement of the space, a feel of uncomfortable ugliness despite the outward prettiness and 'designer-like' placement of objects.

What? You haven't experienced it? You must have. Think, think.

Well, I surely have. Many times.

In fact, I have experienced this sense of harmony (or disharmony) even in empty spaces. For example, a few years ago when we were looking for a house to purchase, many times we would walk into an empty house for sale and just upon entering the house I would immediately 'know' whether or not I would even consider the house any further. Spaces, even empty spaces have their auras, sort of like an energy around them.

Personally speaking, how I feel in a particular space generally figures as one of the main criteria for deciding how much time I want to spend there. This could be a richly decorated home of a relative or a humble half-demolished temple in a village I am only visiting for an afternoon. I have experienced a discomforting sense of disharmony at a five-star hotel and felt a deeply calming sense of joy at an almost decrepit building that serves as a guest house.

This feeling or perception of order or disorder, a sense of harmony or chaos, is not about the physical appearance -- the size of the space, the form, placement and outer charm and prettiness of objects or furniture in the space -- though these things may be part of it. But only a very small part. The bigger part is about what the space makes one feel inwardly.

What is it that makes one space feel harmoniously beautiful, even though it may be very simply arranged with most inexpensive objects? And what makes another space, sometimes even the most well-designed space, furnished with most expensive 'designer' furniture and object d'art, feel jarring, out of order almost?

Is it the aura of the person who lives, works, moves in the space? Or the aura of the person who looks after the space, its cleaning, upkeep, etc? Is it something about 'the way' things are arranged in the space? Or the consciousness of the space itself, the consciousness hidden in everything that is there in the space?

Or is it the state of the mind of the person walking into the space? The sense of harmony he or she brings to the space?

It is perhaps every thing. And more.

It takes an artist to make a space harmoniously beautiful.
If you ask me, I believe that all those who produce something artistic are artists! A word depends upon the way it is used, upon what one puts into it. One may put into it all that one wants. For instance, in Japan there are gardeners who spend their time correcting the forms of trees so that in the landscape they make a beautiful picture. By all kinds of trimmings, props, etc. they adjust the forms of trees. They give them special forms so that each form may be just what is needed in the landscape. A tree is planted in a garden at the spot where it is needed and moreover, it is given the form that’s required for it to go well with the whole set-up. And they succeed in doing wonderful things. You have but to take a photograph of the garden, it is a real picture, it is so good. Well, I certainly call the man an artist. One may call him a gardener but he is an artist....
All those who have a sure and developed sense of harmony in all its forms, and the harmony of all the forms among themselves, are necessarily artists, whatever may be the type of their production. (The Mother, CWM, Vol 8, p. 324)
It perhaps takes an artist to 'know' a space. To feel a space. To experience the harmony.

But what is this sense of harmony? Can it only be felt? Can we grow in our sense of harmony? Of perceiving? Of creating harmony? In our spaces, outer and inner?

Maybe in some other moment of grace, sitting by the window in front of the garden view, when my mind is in a state of harmony I shall be blessed with an insight into some of these questions.

Linking with ABC Wednesday, P: P is for Peace.

Monday, 19 October 2015

When Art Opens toward Ananda

A new post in the series - Satyam Shivam Sundaram
A series featuring inspiring words from various sources, words that speak of timeless truths, words that remind me of the deeper and hidden truth behind surface events and phenomena, words that shine light when all seems dark, words that are just what I need - for this moment and for all times to come.

I recently had the opportunity to witness some of the great marvels of Indian sculpture and temple architecture in southern Karnataka. The world-renowned temples of Belur, Halebidu and several other small towns and villages on what is famously called as the Hoysala trail showcase some of the masterpieces of the magnificent scultpural heritage of India.

One could write plenty of words to describe what the experience of being in the presence of such splendid works of art is like. Or one may simply say nothing. Today I am inclined to choose the second option.

But the other day as I was trying to re-live, for myself, some of those moments of standing in a silent awe when faced with the marvelous and intricate beauties of these ancient temples, I recalled some words I had read some years ago.

I recalled the words on Beauty and Ananda by Nolini Kanta Gupta, a great yogi-scholar, a poet and one of the foremost disciples of Sri Aurobindo from his revolutionary days. These are words which remind us that great art, perhaps all art, is not merely about creative expression or aesthetic satisfaction.

Great art has the potential to open the mind and heart to the Truth. To the Knowledge, knowing which all else may be known.

Great art can be an opening to the Delight. Delight in and of the Truth, Beauty, Knowledge, Power, Love. Delight in and of the Divine.

Both for the true artist and the true rasik.

At Hoysaleswara temple, Halebidu
Photo by Suhas Mehra


Truth is Beauty's substance -- it is Beauty self-governed.
Beauty is Delight perfectly articulate.
Love is Beauty enjoying itself.
Knowledge is the light that Beauty emanates.
Power is the fascination that Beauty exerts.
All Art is the re-creation of Truth in Beauty.
Rhythm is the gait of Truth dynamic with Delight.
The Truth of a thing is its native substance, the being in its absolute self-law. Satyam is that which is of Sat.
Beauty is delight organised.
Poetry is the soul's delight seeking perfect expression in speech.
Speech is self-expression. It is the organ of self-consciousness. The nature of the speech shows the nature of the self-consciousness. The degree of perfection in utterance measures also the extent to which one is conscious of oneself.
Beauty is the soul's delight perfectly articulate and organised.
Where the soul does not speak out, where the rhythm of the spirit does not manifest, there comes in ugliness.
Things are ugly when they are not true to themselves, not sincere, not self-expressive.
In a sense, natural and beautiful are the same, the perverse commensurate with the ugly.
Beauty is not merely balance, symmetry, measure, a regular disposition of features. A form, an embodiment, need not be pretty to be beautiful.
Mere formal beauty is a power, but a surface power; there is a deeper unity of rhythm in the embodiment that is beautiful by its transparent soul-expression.
Art is the incarnation of Truth in Beauty, The Divine the truest Truth and the Beauty most beautiful, The incarnation of the Divine the supreme Art.
An art with the Divine left out is like a trunk without the head: It is built with the lower members and not with the higher members of Beauty; Skill it may possess but not greatness; it may please the senses, but cannot enrapture the soul.
The very nature of Art is rhythm and harmony.
The Divine is integral harmony and perfect rhythm.
The element of divine harmony and rhythm is the measure of the beautiful in Art. Even so it is with the art of life.
All things are beautiful, for the All-beautiful is in every thing.
The domain of Art encompasses the entire creation.
The Divine is present everywhere, but in essence.
In the manifestation there is a varying and developing degree of the Presence.
The Brahman is there equally in the saint and the sinner, in the knowledge and in the ignorance, -- it is the static Brahman.
But the saint and the knowledge manifest and embody the dynamic Brahman.
The stress of Life is to reveal and incarnate more and more of the dynamic Divine, the creative Ananda of consciousness in its self-nature.
The progress of art too consists in recording this march of the soul in its ever-growing consciousness and ever-deepening Ananda towards a higher incarnation of the Divine.

~ Collected Works of Nolini Kanta Gupta, Vol. 2, pp. 357-359

To see the previous post in the series Satyam Shivam Sundaram, click here.
To see all the posts in the series, click here.

Linking with ABCWednesday, O: O is for Opening

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Storytime 3: The Story Within, The Shakti Within

A special post for Navratri

Photo by Manoop Chandran
I am going through a strange -- but strange in a good sense -- phase where I don't really feel the need to write. And yet there is this new post, after almost-a-month, you may ask? Well, read on and you will see that it is not really a post with too many of my words.

No, it is not about writer's block. One could always think of thousand different things to write about, if one must write. But I choose not to. There are recent travels to write about, there is plenty of fun and interesting socio-political tidbit to comment upon, but I would rather not. And then there is always some mundane life woes to complain about, etc etc. But rant is not what I do on this space.

I am actually feeling quite content not writing. I am happy not having to mentalise (for written expression) some of my recent observations and experiences that rest somewhere deep within, happily in their silence.

And I am happy today simply listening to a story, being retold. I invite you all to listen to the story, with me. Come.

A Story and a Song
(From: A Flowering Tree and Other Oral Tales from India, by A. K. Ramanujan)

A housewife knew a story. She also knew a song. But she kept them to herself, never told anyone the story or sang the song.
Imprisoned within her, the story and the song were feeling choked. They wanted release, wanted to run away. One day, when she was sleeping with her mouth open, the story escaped, fell out of her, took the shape of a pair of shoes and sat outside the house. The song also escaped, took the shape of something like a man's coat, and hung on a peg.
The woman's husband came home, looked at the coat and shoes, and asked her, “Who is visiting?”
“No one,” she said.
“But whose coat and shoes are these?”
“I don't know,” she replied.
He wasn't satisfied with her answer. He was suspicious. Their conversation was unpleasant. The unpleasantness led to a quarrel. The husband flew into a rage, picked up his blanket, and went to the Monkey God's temple to sleep.
The woman didn't understand what was happening. She lay down alone that night. She asked the same question over and over: “Whose coat and shoes are these?” Baffled and unhappy, she put out the lamp and went to sleep.
All the lamp flames of the town, once they were put out, used to come to the Monkey God's temple and spend the night there, gossiping. On this night, all the lamps of all the houses were represented there—all except one, which came late.
The others asked the latecomer, “Why are you so late tonight?”
“At our house, the couple quarreled late into the night,” said the flame.
“Why did they quarrel?”
“When the husband wasn't home, a pair of shoes came onto the verandah, and a man's coat somehow got onto a peg. The husband asked her whose they were. The wife said she didn't know. So they quarreled.”
“Where did the coat and shoes come from?”
“The lady of our house knows a story and a song. She never tells the story, and has never sung the song to anyone. The story and the song got suffocated inside; so they got out and have turned into a coat and a pair of shoes. They took revenge. The woman doesn't even know.”
The husband, lying under his blanket in the temple, heard the lamp's explanation. His suspicions were cleared. When he went home, it was dawn. He asked his wife about her story and her song. But she had forgotten both of them. “What story, what song?” she said.

To read last year's Navratri special story, click here

To read other Storytime posts on the blog, click here and here.