Exploring Creativity, Clarity and Charity a.k.a. Writing to Santa Claus

2015-11-25-20.33.28.jpgThe stores in my city have begun decking up for Christmas. Alongside brightly lit trees, ornaments and mistletoe, Santa Claus remains a popular embodiment of Yuletide cheer. The season’s spirit of hope and goodwill is palpable and is inspiring me to write to Santa.

Expressing to an imaginary Santa is a great way to put to paper the wishes and aspirations that are percolating in my mind. Santa is a friendly and trustworthy audience who doesn’t limit my word count nor enforce literary rules. This fun activity is purely an unrestrained delivery of my raw ideas and spontaneous feelings.

I get to reconnect with the child in me to unleash my unbridled imaginative powers; displaying to myself a creative and expansive alternative to the hopes and desires that are stifled by practical constraints. Social norms and propriety have also led me to silence my revolutionary ideas and my own aversion to risk-taking has subdued much of my innovative ideals. It’s liberating to let my hidden and uncontrived voices be heard; as Jesus so wisely said ‘The truth shall set you free.’

The visual presentation of my muddled yearnings could help me clarify and prioritize my choices. Seeing my thoughts on paper can also highlight the repetitive patterns and reveal unquestioned assumptions regarding my hopes for the future.

The process of editing and rewriting the letter will help me identify the changes that I could implement to make my hopes a reality. I can better identify my perception of myself and my proclivities, and reconsider the behaviours, attitudes and beliefs that keep my dreams a mere wish.

I would also love to include the qualities of Santa in my wish list. His preference to remain an anonymous benefactor is something I admire. Contemplating on Santa attributes, I realize that consulting others on how to cheer them is far more charitable than imposing my unsolicited “gifts” on them.

Another reason why writing to Santa isn’t a futile or childish act, is the literary masterpieces created within the genre of epistolary writing. One beautiful example is the hilarious yet profound insights offered in The Screwtape Letters by C.S.Lewis. It’s a fictional satire based on a series of letters by a senior devil delivering secrets of the demonic trade to his rookie nephew. The author’s humorous style and sharp discernment reveals penetrating wisdom of the human psyche in an entertaining manner. I find this provocative book beckoning me to deeper contemplation. The unusual standpoint and exaggerated observations of the fictional demon offers heightened possibilities for radical perceptual shifts. Surely a similarly meaningful and beneficial composition is possible with letters to Santa Claus.

So I’m off to let my imagination soar and explore infinite possibilities through my message to Santa. I can include the entire globe in my dreams for a better future, for this is the magical Santa I’m engaging with. This will also help me get out of the rut of self-absorbed thinking and dwell on the bigger picture of life. After all, my personal wishes are not independent of the world circumstances and needs. It’s not only caring but wise to incorporate the wider concerns in my own personal quest for a fulfilling life.

How do you give voice to your aspirations? Do you find greater clarity by partaking in hobbies and including playtime? Do creative pursuits evoke love and goodwill in you? Ho ho ho, everyone!

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Enjoying birthdays, butterflies and endless beginnings

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With my birthday just days away, my friends are reminding me to compose a grand wish for the year ahead. Why not, birthdays are a great excuse to indulge in the fanciful; to blow out cute candles for no logical reason and pretend I am more mature for equally unfounded reasons.
But what is the significance, if any, of this special day that I am fussing about?

Growing older? By how much and how so? The traditional Chinese community regard the newborn as already being a year old. The creation of the baby is reckoned from its moment of conception. Some others take the foetal heartbeat as indicating the beginning of a life form. And most Muslims believe that the soul is breathed into the foetus only after 120 days.
The exact time of birth is seen as paramount in determining the destiny of the child by those who trust astrology. Some Asian parents even consult astrologers before timing their cesarean delivery as to assure a bright future for their baby. But does anyone know which second or even minute the baby is considered as “born”. When the mother’s contraction starts? When the baby’s head is visible? When its toe is out? When it lets out its first cry? When the umbilical cord is cut? Even expert astrologers differ in their opinion on these matters.

A key concept of physics is the law of conservation of mass. It states that matter and energy can’t be created nor destroyed. The parts of the mass can be rearranged or transformed in nature, but the total mass itself remains constant.
To elaborate, I can examine the four distinct stages in the metamorphosis of butterflies. Are the eggs, caterpillar and chrysalis separate creations from the butterfly? The caterpillar doesn’t morph into a frog, so there is a definite element of predictable continuity; but are they the butterfly? Have never seen a flying egg or larvae, so it feels safe to say no. So when exactly is a butterfly, a butterfly? Or perhaps, as expounded by physics, the butterfly was never created nor the caterpillar destroyed. Even the egg is just a continuation of elements from the parent butterflies.

I can extend this scientific concept to my birthday wish. Not knowing when I began doesn’t mean forgoing my right to birthday wishes; I might just request for a magical crown to enthrone myself a writer. But wait, am I already one since am typing up this blog entry? Or do I have to wait till I sell my first novel; hit the bestseller list; win the Pulitzer prize?
Or did I become one when I first scribbled illegible marks and squiggles? Or is it imprinted in my destiny, astrologically charted, when the doctor decided it was time to cut the cord? Or was it confirmed centuries before, by the similar DNA which had been shaping the writers in my ancestry? Maybe a writer can never be conjured nor eliminated.

Just as the leaves nourish the caterpillar so it can grow its silky cocoon, likewise am I endlessly transformed by the elements that nurture me. I wasn’t created by the mere merger of an egg and sperm. I’m a continuation of mergers, including the extra helping of birthday cake that’s going to form my cellulite of tomorrow. If my body is ceaselessly shaped through the interaction with food, water and air, then surely my mind too can be perpetually transformed by engaging with people, ideas and activities. My birthday wish is valid for I’m not a fixed set of variables.

Birthdays are a social construct that can be better enjoyed if I’m not invested in its objectivity. In traditional India, birthdays are not celebrated on the same calendar date every year. Instead they are celebrated on the day of the solar-lunar return when the moon is at the exact angle from the sun as at the time of birth. Birthdays of Indian saints and sages are commemorated based on these calculations.
This day can fall anywhere between days to weeks from our calendar birthdays.

And Muslims, Indians, Egyptians, Chinese, etc., have their own calendars different from the Gregorian one commonly used.
So if I don’t wake up on the 23rd with a big birthday grin on my face or the day is ruined by incessant thunderstorm, I can always pick another date since there is already ample discrepancy and ambiguity as to the most suitable day or hour to renew my commitment to this human experience.

Birthday rituals can invigorate my intimacy with life. As a child I was taught to start the day by visiting church to express my gratitude for life’s blessings, and to make donations to reciprocate and acknowledge that without the world I cannot be.
Birthdays remind me that I’m never a separate bundle of chromosomes. If I were an isolated entity I couldn’t have graduated from milk to cakes.

And I don’t have to justify the passing years with achievements; I’m never accomplishing anything on my own to be claiming ownership of them. Everything I am today, is the coming together of everything I am not. Both years and success are socially constructed measurements.

When and how exactly this psyche typing this words started? And when will she end; when she closes the laptop; when this blog gets deactivated; when she dies; when her grave is no longer visited? And who knows what happens after death? Could this lifetime be but a dot in an infinite line of continuation?

If physics and ancient Greek philosophy of “nothing comes from nothing” is right, we can never be destroyed because we were never created in the first place. Humanity is as mysterious as the world it lives in. These are gifts that are neither earned nor deserved. I find I can discover exciting and timely secrets when I’m prepared to view myself, others and the world as ever evolving without conclusions.

I celebrate that understanding of human uncertainties just as much as I religiously follow the tradition of birthday wishes, blowing of candles, thanksgivings, sharings and gorging on cakes with my loved ones. Celebrate this weekend if you so wish, for all days can be special depending on different calendars, calculations and customs. See you again when I am officially a year older!

Life-Giving Powers of Unconditional Care

Interplay of Art and Heartwpid-fb_img_14467302006763209.jpgRina was looking more radiant than usual and Maya couldn’t help but wonder what had changed.
A boy? Could it be?

Maya continued to admire and speculate on her niece’s new found charm. Rina’s naturally long eyelashes beautifully accentuated the fresh sparkle in her eyes. It was almost eleven years ago that Rina had come to live with her as an orphaned five year old. This year she was away most of the time, studying in a top-ranking school in the city. ‘Nothing but the best for my girl’ Maya would often say.

Despite her lively appearance, Rina was unusually quiet throughout the drive back home. “But I need to come home. We’re just doing revisions and I could use a break before exams; and I miss you. Please?”  and Maya was already reaching for her car keys to fetch her darling niece.

Rina dropped her bag and burst out in sobs as soon as the doors were closed behind them. “I’m so afraid… I’m possessed by a ghost!” she wailed.
’Possessed? Don’t be silly.” Maya’s voice took on a high pitch which was unusual for her. “It’s true… I can prove it!” Rina trembled as her voice stuttered the words.

Maya ushered her disconsolate niece to the kitchen and  reached for two bags of  calming tea. She was starting to regret her decision to send her niece away to pursue her dreams to be an art teacher. Rina’s paintings were masterpieces that won her accolades, and the girl was eager to the share the wide range of techniques she had perfected.

”Okay now, luv, why this sudden belief in ghosts? Have you been watching horror movies?” Maya teased in a modulated tone while smiling gently. Rina gulped down her tea and hurried to narrate how she and her college mates had been volunteering at an orphanage. There she had befriended a little girl who reminisced fondly on her mother, but lamented that she only had pictures of her without a smile. The child wished she had an image of her Mum that could smile at her when she gazed at it. Rina immediately offered to work on a portrait based on the photographs, but with an added smile. The little girl replied with a hug and Rina  held her tightly as she felt a drop of tear on her bare arms.

Rina pored over the details of the photographs. She wanted to capture every little nuance of the elegant face and stature in the pictures. She immersed herself in the images whenever she found a moment during her packed days. Every time she picked up her brush, she thought fondly of the little girl and poured all her love into the project. This girl was proving to be the sister she never had.
For the next nine weeks her brush strokes took on a natural spontaneity that she had never experienced before.

“Just in time to surprise her on her birthday” she said to herself as she beamed at the stunning result of many late nights. Her eyes glistened at the thought of delighting her “sister”.

wpid-img-20151113-wa0005.jpg”Oh my God, you even added her dimples, how did you know? I never told you.” the little girl was too mesmerized with her gift to notice Rina’s rosy cheeks turning a deadly pale. Rina never thought much of her decision to add the dimples, it just suited the shape of that face and highlighted the smile. “Oh? Lucky guess?’she said, with a nervous laugh.
The little girl barely heard the reply and went on without removing her eyes from the potrait. “And look, the white flowers beside her, those were her favourite from our garden. She loved  flowers.”  Rina hugged her knees and buried her head between them.

Her friends had wondered about Rina’s sudden interest in flowers. She had begun adorning her room with cut flowers. She visited the park daily and snapped pictures of the flowers as well as the birds and butterflies that hovered around them. She studied the fine details of the beautiful creatures and the lovely blooms they visited. Consequently, her paintings mirrored her emerging passion and her grades improved with the heightened depth and care she displayed.wpid-img-20151113-wa0003.jpg

Rina showed more interest in fashion, as well. “I must be entering adulthood,” she used to joke when asked about her new hobbies. She experimented with new food and ventured to befriend more outside her usual comfort zone. She was taking on a new persona and she was loving it. “It must be the new surroundings, and I’m almost 16,” she would muse “time to experiment with more.”

But now, listening to the little girl, she was reminded of a friend’s casual joke when she was caught signing up for tennis lessons at school. “Who are you and what did you do with Rina?’ They laughed at the possibility of an alien abduction. But now she knew; she was possessed by the lady in the photographs. She was too afraid to inquire if she played tennis or liked spicy Mexican food or loved bright colours. Rina had just gotten her bangs highlighted a beautiful shade of burgundy; was it just a coincidence that one of the pictures had the lady in a smart burgundy outfit?

Maya listened without interrupting as Rina tried to equate her  radical enthusiasm for life to a ghostly hijack. Though Rina’s artistic nature meant that she had an eye for detail, she had never really cared for life’s intricacies.
Most of her paintings were based on her own visualization and fantasies. She was a creative soul with an aptitude for vivid imaginations. It was her comfort, to entertain herself to sleep when her nights were empty with the void left by her parents’ demise.

Maya realized Rina was starting to reach out to the world that she had tried to protect her from. Maya gave her an abundance of love but failed to provide an outlet for the girl’s own loving heart. Her niece was the epitome of benevolence and needed to channel that bounty. The little brown kitten they had found, that would have been perfect. “No, luv, am afraid it might trigger your asthma, but we will find it a good home.” And Maya always refused her niece’s offer to assist her. She was too busy trying hard to fill her dead sister’s shoes to see the giving nature of her niece that was pleading to be liberated and expressed.

Rina’s little orphan friend had freed the shackles that had restrained her caring disposition. The child not only gave purpose for Rina’s art, but her heart as well.
”You are not possessed,” Maya announced with a big smile, and pulling her niece close she continued slowly and softly “you were asleep; and now, you are alive again.”

Nurturing the Illusive Fire of Life

In a few days, my Hindu and Sikh friends will be celebrating Diwali (aka the Festival of Lights). It’s greeted with both familiar and unusual observances in countries across continents. Even within India, with its diverse regions and subcultures, it comes with an assortment of legends, significations and customs.

wpid-lighy.jpgOne common highlight of Diwali is the assembly of lighted earthen lamps at the homes adorned for the occasion. Arranged in clusters or creative patterns, these resplendent flames seem to depict the warm hospitality and the elaborate spread of delicacies served.

Fire is a salient feature in many religions and cultures. From the blazing sword guarding the Garden of Eden, to the torch of passion heralding the Olympics; it has captured the imagination of devotees, poets, philosophers, artists, etc.
And Charles Darwin in his book Descent of Man, considered fire as “probably the greatest [discovery], excepting language, ever made by man.”

What then, is this multifaceted and awe-inspiring thing called fire? One refreshing suggestion that I like is offered by the Middle Way school of Buddhism. This philosophy analyses the object of its inquiry, and after meticulous investigations, concludes that there is in fact, no freestanding and self-sufficient existence to the said object. Any claim of independent possibilities is illusory.

To contemplate this proposition, I’m recalling my Scouting days. Campfires need fuel, heat, friction and oxygen. It entails a process of arranging dry wood, preparing the tinder, starting the fire and gentle prodding with a kindling stick. The logs and lighters, on their own, do not make the flame. Fire is also not present in the fuel that feeds it nor in the air that allows it. The kid tending to the fire and sheltering it from winds, is not it. And yet without all these ingredients there is no campfire.

Having so examined its nature, I have enough evidence to conclude that fire does not exist by itself. It can’t create, nor maintain, its own actuality. And as with fire, so too the inner spark that lights our being, This guiding flame is no different in its vulnerability towards  external influences. The concept of an inherent force within is seen to be an illusory idea.
There can’t be intrinsically gloomy or bright souls; both are mere constructs of the various inputs from life. Hence, there is the possibility for appropriate means to initiate the awakening of our inner fires; might include an ideology, love, religion, story or even an uplifting song.

Fire stops burning when its requirements are no longer present. Accordingly, there is the need for unceasing openness to propitious elements that can enliven our zeal. These igniting factors vary, for each of us is kindled by different blends of causes and conditions. By exploring our interests and seeking new challenges, we further facilitate its growth.

Stormy times needn’t completely dampen our fire; but if strong gusts of misfortune blow it away, we are better-off when prepared to rebuild from scratch. Regrets and disappointments are cinders that are best discarded to make room for innovative sparks to be discovered.
Diluted passions or weak initiatives may not suffice; but at least we can take heart that these are not our fixed truths. Every heart can revive its light and create fulfilling serendipities; may this assurance facilitate our ardent measures.

The little Diwali lamp urges me to be brightly lit and share the effulgence. My wish for all is continued brilliance and greater inspiration in everything encountered.
Happy Diwali, everyone!!