As summer uncertainly loiters around spring, I’m already angst-ridden with the severity of it. Even in its nascent stage, summertide is intense. It unsettles me and my ‘pitta’ constitution goes into aggravated mode. So most often than not, this is the time I experience problems. And the paradox is: this is when I judiciously grow. There’s a futility to knowledge made redundant by unremembered experiences. It’s mortifying the way I recover from a folly, bounce around for a while and gloriously falter again. I veer dangerously off course, little realizing how arduous it can get. And then the restoration begins. Like primeval Italian frescos, the crumbling and the restoring becomes a process year in and year out. Therein lay the beauty of esoteric discoveries that I crave.
One recent evening as I brooded by the window, a sweet and distant memory came back to me. It was a clear night. We were sitting on a log after dinner and a moon-drenched Sheryll was pointing out constellations to me. She chattered on and on, while I leaned onto her bony shoulders just staring in awe. At some point, we zoned out. Everything then receded in the background and all that remained was the magnificent stillness of the heavens. That was the kind of consuming stillness imminent now. I could sense a significant revelation lurking around the corner.
As is wont to happen with me, the reminders started pouring in through memories, books, conversations and movies. I’ve watched ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ at least twice before and read the book as well, but this time around it seemed different. It is strange how every time you watch a movie again (or re-read a book), it throws things at you that weren’t there before. The movie or book hasn’t changed, it’s you and your perspective that has. There is a scene in the movie, where the adorable Balinese healer, Ketut Liyer sums up happiness and balance for Liz: “People in Bali understand: in order to be happy you must always know where you are. Every moment. Right here is perfect balance; right at meeting of Heaven and Earth. Not too much God, not too much selfish; otherwise, life too crazy. You lose balance, you lose power. In morning you do meditation from India, serious, very serious. In day, you enjoy Bali. Then, in afternoon, come see me. An off day you do new meditation, very simple: sit in silence and smile. (….) Smile with face, smile with mind, even smile in liver.” I loved the part about meditating with a smile. Smiling with your liver, no less! As I eased myself into calming my mind, the heat dissipated and the equilibrium gradually seemed to return.
I covet a slow, disentangled life. Savoring moments so when the journey draws to a close, I have no regrets. Growing up, even in a miniscule two-room house, I managed to cut myself off from the rest of the family on evenings that demanded quietude. Dad had gifted me a cassette player with small red speakers and a Jim Reeves 36 Love Songs collection. I would dim the lights and lose myself in the music. Those were the evenings that sustained me. If not for them, I probably would never have known myself. It’s what the Italians call Il dolce far niente. The sweetness of doing nothing. Or rather as I see it, the sweetness of wallowing in exquisite, quiet moments. Life might not be so simple all the time. It’s hard to participate peripherally, looking in from the fringes like an outsider. Life demands participation. It keeps throwing up surprises and challenges. It unsettles us. But if we practice Il dolce far niente from time to time, the days can get wonderfully ambrosial.
Busyness is good, until the point it turns into an ailment. “Beware the barrenness of a busy life”, said Socrates. That’s how I see it too. Life feels full and gratifying when there are unconstrained moments scattered about like fallen flowers on a spring day. After four long months of being confined because of my ankle fracture, when I finally felt well enough to resume my walks, I had made up my mind about one thing. That I will never ‘hurry’ anymore. Now as I walk the trail at a leisurely pace, I observe nature. How nothing seems hurried. Nothing has a hyped up goal. Where busyness doesn’t equal status. No lists to tick off while feeling important. Yet everything evolves the way it’s meant to. Quintessentially, it’s all about just ‘being’. In his book, ‘Busy: How to thrive in a world of too much’, Tony Crabbe puts it thus: “Unless we regain the ability to notice, to savor, we will be sucked ever more into unrewarding and unsustainable busyness.” The question is: Do we want a simple, coherent life or an opulent, frenetic one?
I love another quote from the aforementioned movie: ‘There’s a wonderful, old Italian joke about a poor man who goes to church every day and prays before the statue of a great saint, begging, “Dear saint-please, please, please…give me the grace to win the lottery.” This lament goes on for months. Finally the exasperated statue comes to life, looks down at the begging man and says in weary disgust, “My son-please, please, please…buy a ticket.” The lottery here could be interpreted differently. Like if a genie grants you three wishes, what will you ask for? The materialistic ones will ask for, well, material things; while the sagacious will go for peace, joy and health or something to that effect. Because in the end, aren’t those the things that everything we do boil down to?
I like to tread on life from the outside in. As a kid, I was a good student. Studies were fairly important, but there were other parts, the frills that adorned life, that couldn’t be compromised on. I always had some covert mission going on. In middle school, I kept a diary with detailed descriptions of my most inane thoughts. In high school, the fascination turned to writing derelict poems that no one ever read. In college, the creative expression spilt forth through slapdash paintings. And so on and so forth. All these things never led anywhere, but they defined me in those moments. In my 40s, I’m still that girl, and the edges are what make up my whole. When I first read ‘The Secret’, I understood how things work. What I wanted in my life is what I needed to surround myself with. It was as simple as that.
As I write these lines perched on my favorite bench in the park, the sun is slowly dipping into the horizon and the ground around me is littered with little yellow flowers. In the subtle outlines of the evening, I find peace, quiet and healing. This is what my heart aches for. This is the gist of my aesthetic journey. This is what ‘Il dolce far niente’ means to me.