Listen. Let your voice fall truly silent, that velvet soul tones might speak. The tiredness you feel is a signal of the will rushing, when the spirit wishes to be still. There is a light in you now that has its own logic, purpose and place. You are not its creator. Learn to respect it with a serious sincerity and an easy joy. Trembling beneath your skin is the wisdom, peace and completeness you long for. But you are a little addicted to the thrill of the chase, the fierce edge of your want. Slow your steps to the pace of your heartbeat. Match the fullness of the moment with the fullness of your attention. Why do you scatter yourself like a startled flock of birds? There are better ways to move through the day. Consider the sleek coherence of the jungle cat. Unhurried even when moving her fastest. This too can be you.
Author Archives: Pavithra K. Mehta
Journal snatch, June 22nd 2021
I have forgotten how to write. And outside the finches are building a nest above a security light, trying to teach me how to remember. Straw by straw. Word by word. I have forgotten how to dance. And outside the wind is prodding the leaves, reminding them they have a duty to eat the sun. I chuckle and my toes stretch, I want to whirl into the sound of the oncoming traffic of the stars. I have forgotten how to cook. And my husband is patient, forgiving, and a very good chef. A wonderful recipe for never learning to cook again. I eat the time that is given to me, and hope one day that something will shine out of my fingertips, glow out of my eyes, pour forth from my lips like a banner of welcome. Reminding the world and everyone, everything in it, that we are all honored guests, and it is my privilege to share a certain measure of space and time with each of you at this banquet. Even though I forget this sometimes.
Yes. Sometimes my heart grows heavy as a sack of potatoes, my eyes dim like old windows, my legs drag unwillingly, I cannot find my balance, and every small thing in my way has the face of a formidable mountain. But even in such times, I know. This life of mine is blessed.
Once-upon-a-time blest. Fairies-mobbing-the-bassinet-dropping-boons-like-flowerbombs-on-my-sleeping-head blest. Blessings that will outlive this body. Blessings that will wake me at midnight, shimmering like Northern Lights, setting the shadows dancing. Blessings that will not rest even when I lose faith – blessings that work within me while I’m fast asleep– like the shoemaker’s elves. Blessings that guide the nameless work I am here to do, but that I couldn’t possibly do– not in a million years–alone.
What are you thinking of right now? he asks. Personal taste she says, and what it feels like to encounter it in other people when it’s wildly different from your own. What does it feel like? he wants to know. Well that depends, she says. Sometimes it can be unexpectedly invigorating. Like when you pull up at a light next to a vehicle emanating heavy metal- an earthquake-unto-itself that sets your car atremble. Sounds that pound their way into your bones, even your teeth are vibrating. When the light turns green and the car takes off, the silence left in its wake is both a relief and a mini-desolation. You’re still thrumming, freshly awake in your skin, full of teen spirit and ready for almost anything.
But there are also occasions where other people’s personal taste can feel blighting. Like when your next door neighbor paints his house lime green. You believe that certain colors are best reserved for one thing and one thing only. Lime green for instance, is a color best reserved for green limes. It affects your pH balance. Now every time you look out your kitchen window, your mood turns reliably acidic.
And then there are times when encountering the personal taste of others can be a source of unabashed wonder, like when someone pours hot sauce on top of their ice cream or– she catches an unusual expression on his face, and cuts herself off. What are you thinking right now? she asks. I was just thinking you’re something of an acquired taste. She smiles, of course, she says, all truly sophisticated things are– dark chocolate, coffee, kimchi. It’s a wonderful thing to live in a world where taste can be acquired. Why is that? he wants to know. Because, she says, it means if you are willing to encounter strangeness often enough, chances are you’ll never run out of things to appreciate.
This is an opportune moment, she said, and she said it so often and in so many different contexts that he doubted she was exercising any kind of discernment. Have you ever come across an inopportune moment? he wanted to ask her. But he never did. It didn’t feel like his place. Actually come to think of it, he didn’t know what his place felt like. Perhaps that was the core of the issue.
When Mallika was seven months old she fell out of her mother’s sari-cradle by the side of the wet green fields where paddy was being sown. She fell into the little stream that sang its way through the fields all the way to- no one was quite sure where- for they were simple, content folk in that village. Simple, content- and not particularly adventurous (which mind you is no crime).
Mallika fell into the stream, and no one noticed. Not her mother whose strong brown arms worked so hard in the fields growing rice to feed her seven growing children at home. And not the other ladies bent over the wet earth in their bright saris looking like so many nodding poppies from afar.
Mallika fell into the stream, and the coolness of the water surprised her not a little, but she did not cry out. At seven months she was very philosophical, much more philosophical than her six older siblings, who it must be admitted, were sweet enough (when they weren’t quarreling,) but rather dull. Surprised by the sudden coolness of the water, Mallika reached out and caught hold of the strong stalk of a white lotus blooming beside her. The lotus took this as a signal and obediently pulled up its roots and set sail.
And so it happened that Mallika followed the singing stream all the way to– no one is still quite sure where- in a white lotus on a sparkling spring morning while the women planted paddy in bright saris looking like so many gay poppies from afar. [For those of you who are inclined to worry about How Things Will Turn Out – rest assured they turn out well. Nobody’s heart breaks in this story. And everyone finds their happy ending. And beginning.]
On the banks of the stream a few hours away there lived an unhappy flute-player. He was unhappy for no particular reason, it was just a habit he had fallen into as a boy and had somehow never managed to find the energy required to break it. But he played the flute like a dream come true and the music he played chased unhappiness out of every listening heart but his own. So beautiful was the sound that even the stream would break journey to listen while he played on her banks.
It so happened as she passed by his home bearing the white lotus and the child, the flute player raised his flute to his lips and released a magical combination of notes. The stream instantly slowed her soft steps and as the music continued to enchant the air and all around she came to a complete stop. The bewitching notes set free by the flute-maker wandered joyfully into the heart of the child, who had fallen asleep. And now she woke to their sound and a special sort of peace. As she blinked away the dreams crowding in her eyes, the flute-maker came into focus, and the thought came to her then that she had never heard anyone play quite as wonderfully nor had she seen anyone look quite as unhappy as this unknown flute-player playing his flute with such skilled fingers and such sad face on the banks of the still and listening stream.
When he finally lifted his lips from his flute the stream had so lost herself in the music that she had forgotten where it was she was on her way to, and as she sat still trying to recollect her destination, Mallika took the opportunity to speak to the unhappy flute-maker.
“Your music,” she said, “Is as beautiful as the sky is high. Now I am only seven months old and do not have much experience in these things but it seems to me that I have nowhere ever heard music quite as lovely, and it makes me wonder where on earth you learned to play so.”
“I do not know,” said the flute-maker sadly. “That is fair enough,” said Mallika, wrinkling her brow ever so slightly, “There are many things I do not know, and I think maybe that is what makes each day so interesting. But tell me, what are you thinking of when you play your flute?” There was a pause and this time it was the flute-maker’s brow that creased. And then:
“When I play my flute,” said the flute-maker softly, “I am not thinking.”
And there was another brief interval of silence. “Maybe,” said Mallika, “and remember I am only seven months old so I could be wrong, but maybe, the music you play is inside of you. And that is why you do not know where you learnt it. You do not know because it is not something you learned like a lesson in a schoolbook, it is something inside you that finds its way into your flute and out into the world.” “Maybe,” said the flute-maker looking sad but interested. “And,” continued Mallika, “Because the music you play is so beautiful, enchanted, so joyous and rare, there must be something inside of you which is all of those things.” For a split second the flute-maker forgot to look sad and looked startled instead. “Do you really think so?” he asked before quickly putting on his sad face again. “Yes,” said Mallika, “That is what I think. But what do you think?” “I think- said the flute-player, and hesitated slightly before continuing, “I think that even though you are only seven months old you may be right.”
“Not everyone,” said Mallika seriously, “has found a way of playing what is inside of them as beautifully as you have, you do know that do you not?” “Ye-es,” said the flute-player and the sadness was beginning to slip away from his face the way night makes room for dawn. “You have a wonderful gift,” said Mallika. “I like gifts,” said the flute-maker and he almost smiled, “If I had known I had a gift then I would not have been so unhappy all these years,” and for a moment his face grew sad and shadowed again just thinking of all the unhappy days he had spent on the banks of this stream not knowing he had a wonderful gift. “Yes,” said Mallika, “That is unfortunate but it does not matter. Now you do know, and that is what matters– see?” Upon hearing that last word uttered, the stream who had forgotten where she had been headed remembered in a joyous rush her destination.
As she made ready to start her journey again, the flute-maker asked one last question, “Would you mind telling me,” he asked shyly, “what gifts are for?” “Why that’s easy,” said Mallika laughing, “Gifts are for giving,” “In that case,” said the flute-maker, “I think I shall wander the world and travel far and wide, to give my gift to as many people as I can.” “Yes,” said Mallika, “That sounds like a good plan,” But do not forget to come home again once in awhile. Because the stream will miss you and so will the birds in the trees and the dragonflies in the reeds. So do not forget to come back because it is here you found your gift and coming here will remind you of what it is for if you are ever in danger of forgetting.” “I will not forget,” said the flute-maker, and he smiled for the first time in as far back as he could remember, a smile like sunburst on mountain peak.
He wanted to say something more to the little girl in the white lotus; he wanted to tell her that she too had a wonderful gift, a gift that– but the white lotus was already bobbing away. So he lifted his hand in farewell, and she waved back smiling widely. And he knew then that it didn’t matter whether he told her about her gift or not. He stood there watching the little white lotus until it was a mere speck in the distance and when the mere speck had disappeared, he picked up his flute and began to play as he walked, until he too was a mere speck in the distance that looked like this–
A small and metaphorical hole in your sleeve steals your attention. Leaves little for all the threads that are still brilliantly holding the rest of your life together. This would not be an issue if your attention to the hole conducted itself usefully, if it located the nearest needle and thread and set to work repairing the rent. Instead your attention sees fit to play the role of a professional mourner, one of those women called in to village homes when someone has recently passed. The expert keener will beat her breast, and wail loudly, enacting a theater of grief, pitched to bring complex emotions to the surface, designed to sanction the scream stirring within the numb and newly shattered heart– to scream in its place, that pent-up pain might feel a slight release. This can be holy work. But what your attention forgets is that in the villages, after a respectable period of lusty lamenting, the professional mourner dries her tears. She straightens her sari, enjoys a steaming cup of coffee and a hot meal. She returns to the rest of her life with vigor and interest in all its still working parts. The gaping hole of loss is still part of her fabric but no longer its centerpiece. But you my friend permit every small tear to snare you entirely and with no clear end. You lament far too long– and over far too little! You think this is a form of dedication, but really it is just petty and unprofessional. Don’t be so incessantly seduced by every tiny imperfection in your life. Don’t sit and stare at the ripped places, like a person who will not leave the graveyard, even after the spirits have moved on and are dancing elsewhere.
To meander is a natural form of movement, uncontrived, unhurried. Rivers and roving butterflies are adept at meandering. And we were too, once upon a time– before we developed a preference for traveling in straight lines, perhaps because of Euclid, who told us a straight line is the shortest distance between two points (for the record he was not entirely right about this.) Regardless of length, a bend in the road will always be revelatory. A straight path seldom holds any surprises. In other words efficiency and epiphany do not typically travel together. This is largely because efficiency deems as irrelevant, so much that is important. For instance, the most efficient way to travel from point A to point B will take into account toll booths, traffic patterns and the time of day. Whether or not the wayside California buckeye tree is currently in bloom will be deemed irrelevant. This is wildly ironic because stumbling upon a California buckeye tree in full bloom can transport you in an instant, but only if you aren’t trying to get somewhere. Efficiency is always trying to get somewhere. This is why it does not gallivant, daydream, linger, or lounge. Unlike Walt Whitman, efficiency has never been known to ‘lean and loafe’ at its ease observing a spear of summer grass– or a California buckeye tree in bloom. No. Efficiency is ever-preoccupied in getting you from here to there. For it to work you must be firmly tethered to space-time, not lifting veils, traversing realms and hitchhiking with eternity (things liable to happen when meandering or being Whitmanesque.)
For most of our lives, whether we know it or not, we are shepherded along by unconscious habits of efficiency and selective attention. This is why passing a California buckeye tree in full bloom without noticing it is shockingly easy to do. Like entirely missing the gorilla-suited personage in the Invisible Gorilla Experiment. While I am eminently okay with not catching sight of people in gorilla suits who wander into my field of vision, I very do not want to miss the sprawling California buckeye tree in late spring, waving its bright five-fingered leaves like so many small hands, covered in fanciful, fragrant wands– each an inflorescence up to eight inches long, studded with scores of tiny white flowers, that burst out of faint pink buds, freckled with delicate gold-tipped anthers, sweetly scented as white grape juice, intriguing from a distance, dazzling up close. Nor do I want to miss it in summer, when it preemptively drops its leaves in anticipation of thirst, a model of voluntary simplicity, or in fall when its large, leathery, pear-shaped pods hang from leafless branches, splitting open to reveal a lacquered seed that bears a striking resemblance to the eye of a buck. And I certainly would be loath to miss it in winter, when its silvery bark is laid bare, and the impressive mind map of its branches rises into view, like a floating labyrinth, a lovely skeleton, a slumbering legend.
Now I am finally undoing the unconscious conventions that control my attention, that push me towards chronic productivity. I am reclaiming my peripheral vision, my wandering soul, my capacity for wonder. I am realizing that what I thought were the footnotes of my life are actually where the fruitful stories are being told. The text in the middle of the page almost entirely misses the plot.
I am learning to love, like Thoreau, ‘a broad margin to my life.’ Priming myself for the buckeye, and all the beauty that lies just beside-the-point, just around the bend in the road.
It isn’t time for poetry yet. There will be time when the time comes, but it isn’t yet now. It is approaching but not quite nigh. When it comes you will know it by the look on its face. It will nod to you and you will be dragged along by the force of a glance. You will be ridden on roughshod and this will not be a problem but a privilege. You know this feeling because it has been felt inside before. You have locked the doors and shuttered the windows. But you often forget the backdoor, and one window is somehow always left open. Like a loophole. You know in your heart of hearts that there will never be a way to secure yourself from this demanding goodness. This force that eats you alive and spits out the bones. You are demolished, devoured, destroyed again and again by this arrival. It does not leave much behind – leaves you nothing you can boast of except your own disappearance. And it is not easy to boast when you are no longer here or anywhere any more. This is why you still believe in locks and entry codes, in screens and window curtains. You like being here, being you, being limited in time and space. It can be uncomfortable to inhabit infinite possibilities when you have grown accustomed to the snugness of the straitjacket. This is why you try and keep yourself invisible. But you are ostrich-like in this way– head in the sand and all the rest of you oddly positioned above it. Your absurdity inadvertently draws attention, the way a honeycomb inadvertently attracts bears through its sweetness. Both very quickly yield deliciously sticky situations.
I never know when it will happen. It isn’t like voting day or the harvest festival or the full moon. It is unpredictable. Like poetry, or Mary Poppins, or painting with watercolors. All I know is, on certain days a certain kind of witchery is in play. Enchantment settles into the pith of the world, and everything I look at spills cause for wonder.
On such days, the purple of a purple cabbage leaf pulls me into a daze of admiration. Such bold concentration of color in a cruciferous vegetable! The garlic bulb rests on the kitchen counter, poised and shapely as the dome of the Taj. Steamed beets dye the tips of my fingers red. Flames dance on the stovetop, steam rises like a fragrant prophesy over an open pot. Preparing lunch is a festive ritual.
Outside in the garden, a small mourning dove sits in the sleek glove of her skin, how perfect she is! The passionfruit vine is dappled with the frilly faces of its flowers, the small green plums are reddening on their branches. The brilliant blue cornflowers tumble over each other in heaps of glory, and a conspiracy of ravens takes over our cypress tree. How have I never noticed before — that their blistering voices are raked with beauty?
The hillside paths are riddled with white yarrow, wild blue flax, triplet lilies, orange monkey flowers, delicate pink fairy lanterns — on most days they are easy to miss, but today I am captured. Brought to my knees, again and again by the delicate lasso of their presence.
On such days I discover that beauty is transgressive. It invades everything. Even telemarketers and traffic jams are purveyors of holiness. So are burnt pots, clogged drains, dark roads and discomfiting moments. On such days disorder cannot daunt me, nor uncertainty. A rigorous gladness takes me by surprise, renders me uncommonly hospitable. On such days my heart refuses nothing.
And anything is possible.
A journal entry written only a matter of months ago, but I don’t remember writing it, written as it was on the doorsill of sleep, in that silver sliver between waking life and slumber, in a winter of heightened uncertainty. I feel myself in a different place now, but recognize in my body, the truthfulness of what this stretch of the road felt like. Am grateful for its imprint.
What do I want to say to myself in this silent time of the night when bird song has stilled and night time cars roll by? I am not sure where I have been, or where I am going. My memories are slipping away and I haven’t the heart to chase after them. I am in a state of suspension, hanging, unsure whether to begin dreaming and doing again. It is an odd state to be in because usually I am impatient, full of hope and fury, but right now I am quiet and ready to stretch like a cat in the sun. I want to spend time outside and on the ground. Nothing feels urgent except living inside my body. Feeling the feeling of being inside this skin and looking out through these eyes, hearing with these ears. Everything I touch is touched by these fingers that I know so well– and yet also, not at all. This is the curiosity of these days. I am filled with very quiet quests. I am satisfied with the small scope of my life. I do not want to think about what-ifs. No grand plans, no reaching for the stars. I am happy to look out the window at the reflection of the full moon in the distant water.
I feel far away from much of the world. My words falter when I try to voice what’s in my heart — my heart falters too. I am unsure, not so steady in my gaze. Not so certain of what I am feeling. I am more certain of what I do not feel. I do not feel social, I do not feel brimful of goodwill, or very friendly. I am not thrilling the way I used to, at the beauty and sincerity of other lives. I feel like I am on a narrow street and I am curiously satisfied with its width and the limits of what is on offer. I am not interested in broader promenades. Other people can mingle and make merry. Right now I feel content to be in this perfect paradoxical solitude of two, on the night walk of my husband’s long healing. I know this time will pass and that my heart will open to the greater world again. I am not in a hurry for that to happen, I want it to arrive in its own time, in its own readiness.
I do not want to belong to any big groups no matter how congenial they are. I do not want to match my thoughts or my feelings to others. I want to be as I am and allowed to unfold in my own way, without the spur of guilt or the tug of inspiration. Let me not be buffeted by other people’s energies. I have moved that way for so long and now I’d rather not move at all than move in the old way. It isn’t resentment or regret that makes me feel this way — it’s an inkling of rapture — the rapture that’s eluded me all this while because I’ve been listening to someone else’s song instead of my own. I may not be very musically gifted but that is beside the point. Better my own humble beat, and raggedy tune than someone else’s grand orchestra twirling me endlessly around.
Why has it taken me so long to value my inner sovereignty? I do not say this with total disregard for other people’s influence. I love the ways in which we are capable of mobilizing one another but right now I do not particularly want to be put in motion. It is alright to sit this one out. The dance floor will not miss me. I am sure I will slip back in at some point, but for now I want to take my own turns — follow deep interior impulses and not be beholden to anyone else. There is something luxurious about this renunciation. It makes me feel more myself than I have felt in awhile.
I do not have an image of myself to maintain and there is a freedom in that. There is no need for me to try and convince either of us that I am service-hearted, compassionate, deeply empathic or any kind of good. I can be who I am. Full of one thing and then another, unapologetic in my contradictions– and joyfully curious– about what comes next.