Reading this, I was reminded of the censure that individualism generates these days, and remember shaking my head - I don't want to be the selfish individualist. However, I love the grandeur of Tagore's individualist, and want to hold on to life till the fruit is ripe. Why is one individualist position so obnoxious, and the other so sweet and desirable? On Sunday, Deepak Chopra was at the Santa Clara home of Wednesdays, and he said (quoting Rumi), "We are not a drop in the ocean, but the ocean in the drop." That metaphor helps resolve the confusion. The small individualist is a drop in the ocean, desperately trying to make a mark, from a position of increasing scarcity. The grand individualist has discovered the ocean in the drop, and cannot stop expressing/creating/giving through individuality. There is depression in the former, and joyful being in the latter. Makes all the difference.
Deepak also shared that science was discovering that not only are we connected to each other at the emotional level, but also at the phsyical level, so much so that the notion of the individual is turning out to be a myth. If that is indeed the case, then why bother living? Why work? Why create anything? It seems to me that Tagore is raining down hard on the attitude that generates such questions, pointing out a colossal misunderstanding of unity. He is urging us to discover the ocean in the drop, and then shine out, for that is the game of creation.
As many pointed out last night, Tagore's individuality is about self-awareness - knowing what is coming through us, and getting out of the way without holding on to it. When Tagore talks about freedom, he says in other places that freedom has no meaning without creation, and creation is ALWAYS the creation of limitation, be it with materials or with thoughts. A distinction draws sharp limitations on what is and what is not something. Creating limitations is not the curtailment of our freedom, but the highest expression of it. That kind of creation only happens when we are aware of being an ocean in the drop, and not a drop in the ocean.
To make all this concrete, I've been trying to write an article on the problems in medicine and other fields that use classical statistics. I sent the article out to friends, and most wrote back saying it was confusing or unclear. One even asked me if I often get questions like "What do you mean?" Something was not right. I was bored reading my own article. I finally gave up and sat down to meditate. And then - a moment of clarity. What was missing in the article was my individuality, my life. I couldn't really tell that a living being had written this. What is the sign of life? How do we know that the ocean is finally making its presence felt in the drop? It is when limitations that are products of the drop are swept away by the ocean. It is when rules are broken, not with disgust or anger, but with a transcendent joy, and a dance begins. I am totally ruining that moment of clarity trying to articulate in words what simply can't be spoken of. But the net result of that moment was that I knew how to change the article.
The article was not about methods, it was about life itself. It had to start with people that I could relate to. And to convey the hardest and most abstract idea, I had to take the help of the gods. Literally. So, I now have an article that talks about the Karthik and Ganesh, as the gods of two schools of scientific thought, one that limits knowledge-seeking to data gathering, and the other with a holistic view that incorporates beliefs.
After rewriting it, the same people who were turned off by the previous one loved reading it. The big irony here (or insight really) is that a volition to serve is not enough. The article was intended to be of service. But it wasn't serving anyone in its initial form. Only after being touched by the ocean in the drop, understanding my own individuality and how it wanted to express itself, and honoring it in the best way possible can I produce something that actually helps others.
Here is the before and after piece.
There were awesome reflections from the circle. One shared a quote, "Don’t worry about what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and do that. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive."
Pavi shared about her yoga instructor who'd put her in constraining poses and then ask her to find freedom within the constraint. On these lines, Afreen shared a touching story of losing her freedom through an injury and being on crutches, and how two people she did not know bent down to remove her shoes on Sunday at Deepak Chopra's event.
Viral pointed out that freedom was in understanding oneself and choosing without reacting. Nipun shared about how we find a great deal of selfishness in individualist cultures and tremendous peer-pressure in collectivist cultures - pointing to a need for greater awareness in the moment instead of making generalizations.
Jennifer pointed out how for her, expressing her freedom to create was not just about acting, but about deciding to be and not react. That would create a different space altogether.
Santosh shared a story about her daughter's interpretation of freedom which I hope she will share online.
Pancho hinted at a debate between Tagore and Gandhi. Tagore found Gandhi's ideas of everyone spinning the charkha distasteful. Why should painters, artists, poets, etc. be limited to one activity? Such constraints crush the soul. The poet should be free to lose himself/herself in the flight of a family of birds in the blue sky. Gandhi responded fondly, "Yes, but those are the birds that have had a hearty meal." Where does Gandhi's message of social justice fit in? Pancho raised the question on whether one can truly be free if one's brethren are not. The seeming contradiction was resolved in Pancho's next comment on the Dandi March when, Tagore asked Gandhi, "The entire nation is looking to you for action. What are you going to do?" Gandhi reportedly replied, "I don't know, but I'm praying." Praying was Gandhi's method of achieving clarity, and the fascinating thing for me to note is that Gandhi came up with a great expression of his own individuality - the salt march was an extremely creative idea, and there was great humor in every aspect of it. Gandhi wrote to the British detailing exactly what he was going to do - to make salt. They couldn't care less. And the rest is history.
We missed CFDad, who is at a 10-day retreat, serving.
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