Covid, Pandemic, Lockdown, Deaths, Masks sanitization, fear with a Do not tag are the seven words I have been hearing and yes LISTENING TO with all my senses since 2020. So, first of all, whether we like it or not we LISTEN – which happens all the time without asking our permission.
We have to remind ourselves that our thoughts keep reverberating around the same words 24/7. Prior to 2020 my waking thoughts would have been “What do I do today in Storytelling?” or “Should I apply for my visa today to travel to Norway? Or what would be the climate now in Ludhiana? “Should we reorganize the way we work and our modules for storytelling?” So it took me a while to realise that as I was normally driving through the city in heavy traffic, I was suddenly asked to put my brakes at the signal and our visitor Inspector Corona comes up to my car and announces “ You may have to wait at this signal indefinitely, madam !!! ”Switching off my engine watching the road, I noticed other cars frozen too. So, the first thing I did was to start conversing with myself. I began to listen to music and paid attention to the instrument and the voice. Then I thought let me talk to someone. Let me DO this and DO that. DOING- we are so conditioned by this word.” SLOWLY REALITY DAWNED AND THE FIRST TIME I BEGAN TO BE MYSELF. It took a lot of agitation, anxiety for the future, and all the questions of What when How and What is the Pandemic all about churn itself within me before I began to realize I am no longer driving and I need to just sit still. I looked around the hole I was in for the first time in years. March 2020. I went back on time slowly bit by bit. I was born on October 24th, 1956. 1960’s -My early years I recall was growing up in a one-room flat in Mumbai at Sion. There was just the big large Murphy Radio at home and the only means of any communication other than talking to each other was LISTENING TO THE RADIO. All of us would sit close to listen to music, news, or songs. We spoke to each other a lot, disagreed, agreed, learned, and ate together. The most predominant thought then was PLAYING. Walking some distance and attending music and dance classes, eating Shrikhand and Puri praying at a Hanuman temple and friends and friends and friends. Hide and seek, Mud or land, catching cook, chain cook statue, 7 tiles, lagori and only remembrance was the games we played and the festivals we celebrated together in the building. Of READING SKILLS were infused in me by my parents and teachers when I was just 6 I remembered the first gift I got was a book called “Harold Hare’s Garden party “ for standing first in my class. So, during the Pandemic the first thing I completely indulged in was Reading. I read the book called ‘Cave in the Snow’ a biography about a Woman Tenzin Palmo who meditated in a cave for 13 long years in a mountain behind the Tayul Gompa Monastery in Himachal Pradesh- The Himalayas. Tayul Gompa, written in Tibetan, translates to Ta-Yul means chosen place. It is one of the oldest Drukpa (RedSo, hat sect) monasteries in Lahaul. Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, English born Diane Perry, spent twelve years in a Himalayan cave. I have always wondered if there were women who had meditated like men for it was also a wish that I perhaps would have wanted to do if I was not storytelling. She was just 33. She was 13,200 feet above sea level. “ Here perched like an eagle on the top of the World, she would have the absolute silence that she yearned for. The silence that was so necessary to her inner search, for she knew like all meditators, that it was only in the depth of silence that the voice of the Absolute could be heard. She would see no one. No one would see her.” Is there such a thing as a calling? How do you find and recognize your teacher? Is a cave necessary? Can a woman reach enlightenment in one lifetime? Can a woman reach enlightenment at all? These are the brave questions she must have asked herself during her twelve years of solitary retreat. She traveled to Dalhousie and lived in this cave for 13 long years. The cave was tucked under an over-hanging ledge high in the mountains, with a stippled roof so low one had to stoop to enter and a slanting back wall. Beyond the ledge was an almost vertical drop into the Lahoul valley. With friends from Lahoul, Tenzin Palmo bricked up the front of the cave, scooped out the floor, and built a window and door into the front wall and a stone wall around the perimeter of the cave. The total interior measured six feet by six feet. Outside, in the summer, she planted flowers and vegetables. In winter the cave was her isolation booth. More than once she almost suffocated during blizzards, and one year, when her food supply failed to arrive, she nearly starved to death. Her years in the cave was rich and exciting. “Bliss is the fuel of retreat,” she explains. Tenzin Palmo’s words are for all of us. Endurance was one thing, however, comfort another. The Pleasure of a hot bath, a fluffy towel, scented soap, a soft bed, crisp sheets, an easy chair, a clean lavatory –she had none of it. The desire for physical ease was said, by men, to be one of the biggest obstacles to women gaining ENLIGHTENMENT. How could they the woman withstand the rigors of isolated places necessary for spiritual progress, they argued when by nature they want to curl up like a cat in front of a warm fire”?
Well, traveling alone and staying in places during my storytelling journeys taught me a lot. Most of the places were for the first time and places that were culturally socially new to me. It wasn’t easy coiling up in a room alone in the corner of a vast forest in Norway and Copenhagen with no one around for miles and miles. I froze despite the fireplace and I had to bite my teeth throughout the night as I was not used to the bitter cold seasons. I could well relate to Tenzin Palmo and realized how fortunate I was to have a place a roof, food, during the Pandemic time. In fact, I thank God for every waking moment to have given me the opportunity to discover my own SELF. More next time….