This is an unpalatable evening, when the whole body is senseless, and every pore wishes to be shut. I enter my parents’ room hoping to watch a little bit of television before sleeping off the day’s exhaustion. I crave for some entertainment—maybe a raunchy comedy, maybe one of those predictable detective shows. But my father is bent upon watching Discovery Channel where they are showing an episode of the BBC documentary series titled Planet Earth. Seven minutes into the programme, my father has fallen asleep and is snoring loudly, while I am left to watch the entire show alone.
Alone. It is in the process of looking at wildlife on screen that I realise how impossible it is for us to ever really be alone. Trust a mosquito to be perched on a windowpane, or a silverfish to be lurking between the pages of books stacked on my shelf. Every sleepless night as I sit in bed and listen to the world fall into a temporary lull, there is always a soft trill emanating from insects that seem to come alive just at night. Silence is never absolute. Neither is solitude.
And yet, the facts in this documentary rattle my brain. Numbers and figures leave permanent imprints on my mind. One third of the earth’s frog species—gone. Too many pores in their naked bodies. With their entire body a single sense, do they absorb destruction through their moist and vulnerable pores?
The television that sits in this room is proof that while the number of wildlife species is dwindling, the diversity of technological gadgetry is ever expanding. All day, I drown myself in a world where on a daily basis, new species of technology attach themselves to us, inside pockets, dangling from ears, tucked firmly within our arms, underneath moving palms, pixels dancing to the swift movement of our fingertips. In our busy lives, we are constantly drawn into a network of busy people. We are caught in a web of communication where we’re in touch with people we never dare touch for real.
But I am tired of always finding myself in this cybernetic world sandwiched between hard and soft wares. Always available. Always a green dot online, on screen, in chat boxes. This is a different kind of aloneness—where I am constantly surrounded by the minds of other people. Where there is absolutely no scope for solitude. Where green is just a colour—it does not belong to nature, not even symbolically. But there was a day when all that was different.
It was a delicious evening, when the whole body was one sense, and imbibed delight through every pore. In the summer of 2008, I too experienced my own Walden, my private paradise brimming to the full with wildlife at a residential school I was teaching at in rural Andhra Pradesh. Nature was abundant and each leaf seemed to be inventing its own version of green. After spending many silent evenings with a group of students atop a hill looking out to the sunset, I felt solitude finally thicken around me. The magic of life seemed to buzz inside every cell of my being. Silence was teaching me things words can never express. And all around me, the natural world was making a big affirmative nod. Embraced in its lap, I found nature nourishing me, healing me, encouraging me. I wasn’t just growing up. It felt more like I was growing into nature.
The opportunity for solitude is abundant where nature is abundant. I had to go bang into the middle of nature to understand how well it complements my search for the inner self. So much of it has got to do with the sheer magnanimity of it. But perhaps, it is also due to how the creatures, the mountains and rivers, all the elements that constitute nature live in harmony with one another. This is not a coalescence of infinite egos like the human civilisation is. It seems like every stone, every drop of water, every grain of sand, every living species is in a meditative state, contributing to the creation of a larger whole, this universe.
In a book I cherish called Old Path White Clouds by the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddha’s search for transcendence is shown to share a great affinity with his reverence for nature. “He saw that he needed only to look deeply into a speck of dust to see the true face of the entire universe, that the speck of dust was itself the universe and if it did not exist, the universe could not exist either.” Perhaps enlightenment is merely about looking deeply, and finding, in the absence of ego, that you are also that speck of dust and that speck of dust is also you. Perhaps enlightenment is the joy of finding yourself inside the core of every being.
As the human world is continuously expanding, our earth with real life appears to be imploding. Every creature that dies an unjust death must alter the nature of the universe. Something about how precarious this diversity of life has become makes me feel like I’m participating in the biggest tragedy human civilisation has perpetrated. I can feel the weight of our sins pressing down on my conscience. Our collective karma is tainted by the genocide of entire species. And we’re bypassing it like it isn’t even happening.
We are all allowed to make our share of mistakes. For how else will we learn? But look at the cost of the mistakes we’ve cultivated a habit of making—each extinct species is gone. Somehow, we seem to fail to make that translation in our heads, that extinct means irreversibly gone. Forever gone. Every evening, the sun sets with a promise to rise the next day. Imagine the reassurance in that! But the fate of these creatures is sealed behind the sun, beyond the horizon. We are all allowed our share of mistakes, but at some point, we need to be willing to learn from them.
As I go to sleep, in the distance, I can hear the tireless croak of frogs celebrating the monsoon that feeds life into them. Two thirds of the frog species still alive, still here to share in our solitude, still here for us to attend to.
Think of how delicious an evening, when the whole human species awakens to one sense, and delivers compassion through every pore.
(From yesterday's Kathmandu Post)