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Matter & Desire

This is a special book. Full disclosure, I haven’t read it fully yet. It was originally written in German, and although I think the translation is faultless, it isn’t easy to read. It feels like a poetic exploration in parts, and yet the message is unmistakably clear. Life is an eternal romance, or perhaps, it is a lot of sex and death.

“In Matter and Desire, internationally renowned biologist and philosopher Andreas Weber rewrites ecology as a tender practice of forging relationships, of yearning for connections, and of expressing these desires through our bodies. Being alive is an erotic process–constantly transforming the self through contact with others, desiring ever more life.”

The book isn’t talking about propagation of species, or survival of the fittest. (Or maybe that’s exactly what it’s talking about.) It isn’t talking about me becoming food for the ants, and the ants becoming food for soil bacteria. It’s far more mundane; it’s about our everyday interactions, and the absence of any real boundaries.

This book beautifully describes how we are constantly and continually changing (and being changed by) the other. The transformation isn’t an active or conscious choice; it is the nature of this organism. And the change occurs at the so-called boundaries, where “two become one,” as the Spice Girls sang. This is the tiny space of melding (or melting) and merging, of absorbing and being absorbed, of the little death of the individual (where a piece of “you” wears off), or of a sea change that begins at the outer edge and travels inward. That’s the sex, and that’s the death. All of Nature willingly submits to this play (except humans, maybe?) without any thought toward self-preservation, boundaries, individuality, or self.

(This dovetails nicely into ideas around boundaries and vulnerability, no? I have little to contribute to these conversations because one, I have highly “porous” boundaries AND two, I have been “vulnerable” all my life before I even knew what the term meant. Not to say that I overshare my feelings, or dump my stories on everyone around. “Vulnerable,” to me, simply means that I present myself to the world largely as I am — sans barriers. That I have little to hide, or protect.)

Time stitches all wounds with loving hands

“Untitled”

When the heart
Is cut or cracked or broken
Do not clutch it
Let the wound lie open
Let the wind
From the good old sea blow in
To bathe the wound with salt

Let a stray dog lick it
Let a bird lean in the hole and sing
A simple song like a tiny bell
And let it ring
Let it go. Let it out.
Let it all unravel.
Let it free and it can be
A path on which to travel.

— Michael Leunig

A colleague lost his young cousin in a road accident. The boy was 19. He was at a friend’s home that evening, presumably intending to spend the night there. Around 2am or so (as my colleague told me), he woke up and left the house quietly without informing anyone. He got into his car and started driving towards home. The car crashed into a tree, and he died within minutes of the accident. He was a few minutes away from home.

So near, yet so far.

Most of us figure out a way (consciously or  not) to deal with trauma. Probably it is the body’s mechanism of keeping itself alive. If we were to internalize every emotion, happy or not, that crossed our path, we would be unable to survive too long. Life would be intensely turbulent and discordant.

Distancing oneself from the actual incident helps. So I did just that, as I have been doing a lot these days.

But I couldn’t help thinking about the boy’s mother. No, I don’t think that this would be any easier on the father at all. (How could it ever be so? A father’s heart can be soft in all the right places too, just like a mother’s. My father exemplifies this for me.)

I imagined the pain she’d be living with… an open wound, like a mouth ulcer. Sometimes pain is so overwhelmingly intense that death (or unconsciousness) feels like a relief. But what if that was not a choice at all? The only alternative (not even an alternative, really – well, unless one considered suicide) is to live with this immense pain, day in and day out, every moment threatening to snuff out the very life force energy without actually doing so. It hurts so bad, my heart… It is a huge sensation, very physical and real and visceral. Oh, how do I get rid of this pain? It is killing me but just not yet. So I have to live, feeling this pain in every pore, every fiber of my being… Without being able to do a thing about it.

Words are utterly useless at this point.

But there is something that I can say, with complete sincerity and conviction, and that is: Everything changes. Not a single thing remains constant in this manifest universe. The pain that seems to sear our insides also changes. It is simply part of the process, the paradigm. Knowing the principle may provide some relief.

The passing away

I died instantly.

It is a bit difficult to describe but I will try my best to explain how it felt.

It felt like a release, no doubt but of a very different nature. Like when you’ve been struggling to get out of this real tight dress and then it comes off in one rapid movement. Something like that… My body or whatever I thought was my body felt weightless, I felt like I was a feather that floated towards the ceiling.

As I moved upward, I reflected: it felt as if I was walking with shackles on my feet all these years, that was the kind of lightness and freedom I experienced. Then I started feeling very expansive, very generous, very happy. Like I was once and for all, completely free… no obligations, no attachments, not even a body! It was like an out-of-body experience… well, that’s what it was!

Then I looked around and saw Pinch staring at me. Or what remained of me. I was lying motionless on the dark green sofa that we had purchased during Diwali. I had never realised, when I was alive, how rich it looked. The dark colors appeared gorgeous and the cushions were resplendent. Pinch looked as if he couldn’t believe his eyes. I looked at myself and for the first time acknowledged that I was not such a bad looker, after all. My skin had this strange lustre, some kind of a swan-song quality to it and my hair looked rich and silky. There was this slightly expectant smile playing on my lips and if I didn’t know better, I would have expected myself to stretch luxuriantly, yawn and open my eyes. But I DID know better. I was gone. Forever? I did not know.

I was gone and then it struck me… How much I would miss Pinch. Then it struck me that I had not visited Bombay in 2 years nearly and now I wouldn’t be visiting her for a long time. And then I realised that my parents had lost their daughter. They would mourn my loss, oh I would mourn their loss more than I could ever mourn my own loss. For I was free, truly and totally free… But the people who loved me the most in this lifetime would miss me, cry over my young life, mourn my passing… and I would cry over their loss for I still loved them. More so in death than I ever did in my 26 years of life…

The tears flowed, steadily and silently.

A piece of fiction, nothing more…Pray do not read between the lines for this is just an outpouring of words. With Gurudev in my heart, I have scant to fear…:-)