Growing up under a broad canopy of religious and cultural ceremonials, the quest for God has been a perennial one in my life.
My first tryst with this question was in a book ‘My God Died Young’ by Sasthi Brata which I read in my adolescent years. In a period of relentless quest for personal identity, this book resonated deeply within me. I must have read and re-read it many times. Printed on poor quality paper in a cheap published edition, many words have faded away over time. It’s a pity that I am unable to locate the dog-eared copy of this book in my library.
His angst arising from a sense of alienation is beautifully encapsulated in the final passage of the book: “How does one go about building a house when the timber that holds the roof and the walls together seems so fragile…”
Sasthi Brata’s articulation of fear of “being in the world” and search for personal meaning drew me into the world of existentialism.
I started devouring books on existentialism, facilitated by the iconic Eswari Lending Library. My existential crisis found solace in the cramped bookshelves of the place. I first borrowed a battered copy of Rollo May’s ‘Existence’ and followed it up with his ‘Love & Will’ and ‘The Meaning of Existence’. His suggestion that in the long run, finding the center of strength within ourselves is the answer to many of the unanswerable questions in life, appealed to me immensely.
On many occasions, when I was cycling back home after picking up loads of books from Eswari, amidst the cool afternoon breeze in the almost empty roads of Madras, I was in harmony watching the world go by. With every push of the pedal, thoughts and ideas came floating in my mind and I would begin my search afresh from the books I had just borrowed.
One such tome, ‘The Doors of Perception’ by Aldous Huxley had a tremendous impact on me. I still vividly recall these words from the book, “The man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less sure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable mystery which it tries, forever vainly, to comprehend”
Perhaps it is this exploration through the doors of perception that was a determining factor in my choice of psychiatry. We don’t go through life painlessly and one of the most demanding and often ill understood pain is go through emotional crisis and psychological breakdown. For those in throes of it, it is an immensely agonizing and often, a lonely journey. RD Laing (another lasting influence on me!) mapped these unexplored frontiers of consciousness in many of his books. One can witness the poignancy of these struggles in the poetry of Sylvia Plath.
In my professional encounters I strive to respond to people in psychological distress with acceptance, accommodation imbued with compassion and that has been a continuing journey.
The circle of compassion keeps widening…
I feel close to God in my explorations in nature. I feel His presence in the silence of the forests. He responds to me in the chirping of birds. My hopes soar with their wings when I am overwhelmed with a sense of despondency. I see His beauty in the brilliant hues of flowers.
As I write this, there is a sudden gust of wind in the backyard. It catches the tiny bird sitting on top of a bare branch, unprepared. It sways, unperturbed, with the wind, feeling at one with it. And when the wind ebbs away, it starts singing its melodious note again.
It is life itself.
As Rembrandt commented, “Choose only one master…nature”
Flowing with the rhythms of nature is inherently a spiritual pursuit often lost amidst the frenzies of our everyday lives.
Let me conclude in the words of the enigmatic Chinese poet, Hanshan or Cloud Mountain as he is often referred to:
I’m on the trail to Cold Mountain.
Cold Mountain trail never ends.
Long clefts thick with rock and stones,
Wide streams buried in dense grass.
Slippery moss, but there’s been no rain,
Pine trees sigh, but there’s no wind.
Who can leap the world’s net,
Sit here in the white clouds with me?
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