Vapas Bharat Mein -Back in India.
It was inevitable and it's happened and I'm back; back with the dust and the gold, the cracks and the masala, the ancient arts and the excessive selfies. Back navigating the chaos and reflecting on the teachings that it brings.
The first thing people always say about India is that you either love it or hate it. This is because there's a density of life here that is unparalleled in the West; everything is closer and louder, faster or slower, brighter and darker too. The contrasts are significant, a broad spectrum of activity and existence and you cannot help but be part of it. With so many people living next to and on top of each other it seems that life itself is amplified and accelerated. Everywhere you turn there is high potential for human interaction and sooner or later something is going to have an impact. An impact that can create a strong impression on the mind.
And that lasting impression could be good or bad, extremely beautiful or completely frustrating -it could go to either extreme. The strong opinions that are generated here are just an amplification of what the mind is already doing -judging things in duality, in opposites, positives and negatives. The mind functions in this way because we live a polarity planet, a world where everything has its counterbalance and things are always defined in reference to their opposite. Darkness is the absence of light, goodness only exists because evil does too.
The truth is that every moment contains this duality and both sides of the coin are always present -the mind will naturally attach to one side and we end up seeing either the problem or the solution. The world that we experience is a function of how the mind operates; always moving between either a positive or negative state. When we find ourselves caught up in a new and captivating current that is moving faster than we're used to, it is easy for the pendulum of the mind to swing higher on the highs and lower on the lows. It becomes an intensive emotional cycle that is utterly exhausting, leaving the nervous system fried and creating a lot of internal stress.
The thing to remember though is that we get to decide whether we engage with those cycles. We can choose to rise above the duality and above the stress. We don’t have to let the situation be in charge.
Quite simply, this is the work of the yogi; to remain unaffected by the conditions. It comes from having a strong sense of self, a sense of who you are underneath the surface. Because when you have that deep knowing, then all the surface stuff is just the surface stuff... you can see the situation for what it is and maintain your grace. You know who you are in relation to the situation; that you are not bound by the experience but that you are the observer of the experience. You can choose to be neutral, unaffected by the fluctuating waves of good or bad; you remain clear among the chaos and the duality drops away. And choosing to be an observer in a country as lively as this then starts to become quite fun.
As a way to put this into practice and stay alert and present, I find that street photography works pretty well. The nature of the artform is that you never know where the subject is going to come from, so you’re constantly alert and aware of your surroundings… as an observer, as a witness. The mind drops away from operating as positive or negative and moves into a neutral state, simply watching the situation and remaining open and ready for any opportunity. It is not possible to be attached to the drama if you are constantly watching for the inspiration.
Of course, using photography as a technique still creates some bias in the mind -you are judging scenes according to your visual preferences and will always end up favoring certain shots. But as a first step toward clarity and freedom from the turmoil that can consume us, I find it works pretty well. Use your art as a meditation and a way to access the benefits of the teachings. Practice being in the witness state by literally operating as a witness -and if you get to create some art at the same time, well then, it’s a win-win in my book.