On the Road to Allahabad

We take a car from Varanasi to Allahabad, about an hour and a half trip. Our goal is Maharishi’s Smarek. The trip sounded easy enough; of course, we didn’t really have directions. Our driver’s English is a bit spotty but better than our Hindi, which none of us speak. We feel excited, however, and unwilling to let lack of directions get in our way. We jounce our way over cobblestones on our way out of Varanasi.

Once on the road, my attention goes back to the landscape passing our windows. The endless repetition of poverty and trash is broken periodically by green fields and lush plants. It feels like jungle could take India back over in a heartbeat. Again, I’ve noticed more than once the periodic piles of bricks stacked carefully along many roads. It appears that as one structure crumples, the bricks seem to be recycled into a wall, a home, or a shop. I wonder if it is a communal practice or individual industry.

We arrive in Allahabad where Maharishi attended the university, studying physics. Now, we search for the spot where he was cremated and his ashes offered to the rivers at the Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the underground Saraswati. We cross the Yamuna on the Shastri Bridge, negotiating for passageway with a herd of Brahman bulls also making the crossing.

Suddenly, Richard catches a glimpse of the Smarek rising on the hill and we realize we are close to our goal.

Tomorrow, the Smarek.

 

Images: Photos courtesy of Richard Furlough.

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Varanasi

Varanasi. How to capture that experience? The air is sweet and filled with dust. The traffic, like in Delhi, is wild and chaotic but, here, filled with rickshaws and cows ambling down the road among the weaving cars and motorcyles. The cows are beautiful and I want to touch each one we pass. On our way from the airport to the hotel, we pass into Old Varanasi, a place different from any other I’ve ever seen. Old Varanasi is built of alleys, not streets, and every alley is smaller than the last.

We learn that our hotel, which sits on the Ganges, cannot be reached by a street. Instead, we must thread our way through alleyways. A wheelchair has been provided. Two young men have also been provided to push the wheelchair over the ancient and often gaping cobblestones. I get out and walk when the alley becomes too rough or too steep. At one point while I am walking, everyone in the alley starts screaming at me. I stop, feeling confused, a rough force brushes me on the right, almost knocking me off my feet. A cow has scented water from a watering spout just ahead. The cow is beautiful, dark brown with short, curved horns. I call it a cow but I’m not sure.

That night we thread our way back through the alleys to an evening Aarti on the Ganges. This Aarti is a yagya performed every evening by eight pandits dedicated to Mother Ganga, the deity of the Ganges. We appear to be the only westerners. Chants rise over the Ganges in this moving and memorable event. Offered rose petals are passed among the crowd and one petal floats over and lands on my arm.

Afterwards, we thread our way back through the alleys, homeward bound to the hotel. In one alley, we stop to let a uniformed band pass, one by one, in file. The groom, resplendent in beautiful regalia, sits astride a horse. There is no sign of a bride. Single file, the wedding party barely fits in the narrow alley.

Later, Linda and I enjoy the evening, sitting on my balcony above the Ganges, enjoying the freshening breeze.

Feeling at home in an ancient and exotic culture.

Images: First image courtesy of Richard Furlough. Second image is a representational painting of an Aarti hanging in the lobby of the Zeeras Hotel.

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In Transit

Left Cedar Rapids in a thunderstorm. Choppy flight to Chicago, but events smoothed out at O’Hare. The group decided rightly that we would progress more quickly through the airport if I would use a wheelchair. I agreed and a charming man named Asif from Delhi wheeled us through security points, past all the long lines. We arrive at Air India an hour beforehand, but the flight was already boarded, so no wait there either.

We watched a variety of movies and meditated in between. Arrived in Delhi to rain–the monsoon season, everyone said, but not bad in Delhi.

Traffic in Delhi was every bit as chaotic as I had heard, but with a strange kind of order emerging from the chaos. On good advice, I let go and watched it happen. Cars veer in next to one another with complete abandon with only the honk of a horn. A moped-type truck summed it us with a tag on the back that read: HORN PLEASE!

 

First night in Delhi in a strange little hotel but I enjoyed the ceiling in my room.

Tomorrow Varanasi!

 

 

 

Images: First two images courtesy of Richard Furlough.

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Following the Master’ Steps

The word Master ranges in meaning from perfecting to controlling  to owning. One could perfect a skill, control a situation, or, in the past, even own people (oh, the karma there!). In India, the word Master suggests a deeper level of perfecting, owning, and controlling–when those abilities are directed inward. A Master develops his (or her) own inner Being, the Self, coming to know that deep level of silence at  the source of all creation. A rare few are able to know this experience so fully that they are able to lead others to this experience. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi  was such a Master.

I marvel that I was born during a time that Maharishi was alive and teaching on earth. He came out of India and taught the world how to transcend in a natural, systematic way, and, I believe, changed human destiny. Somehow I am lucky enough to be among those who have learned and benefitted from Maharishi’s technologies of consciousness.

I feel doubly lucky that both my parents learned to meditate. They started, not because I convinced them to, but because of changes they saw in me. Late in his life, my father once told me that he never knew he was stressed until he started meditating. I was startled by his comment. Anyone who knew my father, knew that he was stressed. but the profound implications of what he had said hit me later: To realize that he had been stressed meant that he had now experienced life free enough of stress to fully see the contrast. What a gift he had received. What a gift we all received. I go to India in gratitude.

 

 

 

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Preparing for India

When I first made the decision to go to India, I immediately began making lists in my head of what I needed to take with me. First on my list was a notebook to jot down my impressions (I need to express myself or I start to founder). Second on the list was my new camera, which I hadn’t really learned to use yet (my love of visual expression equals my love of verbal expression), so I’ve been playing with the camera and getting better with it.

The lists stayed in my head for a while before I made any more purchases. In retrospect, not a very practical approach but it does reveal the way I plan most events in my life. The delay in my shopping was due in part to seeing to my passport and visa. My, how that cost has gone up since last I traveled off the continent! This step also made me aware of my age when I saw how many passports I had in my passport file folder. Nevertheless, I now have passport in hand, and I would share the photo with you, but I think only people I don’t know at all should have to look at that picture (my entire head is drooping!).

Shopping included a new rolling backpack, which I love, and then an endless list of small items that everyone kept telling me I would need in India. I think I’m finally done with shopping. Packing is next and with this step, the anticipation begins. I feel the reality of the trip. It’s taking shape in my mind. I’m going to India!

Note: Sebastian, by the way is not going to India with me :-(.

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Off to India–Land of Veda

I leave for India in two weeks, my first trip there. I can hardly believe it. The Taj Mahal. The Ganges. Rishikesh. The Cave of Vasistha. Maybe the exotic step wells or a passing elephant. The Monsoon season. The crowds, the cobras, the dust, the . . . Oops, going off track. Back to land of Veda.

After meditating for most of my adult life, I do feel a connection to India even though I’ve never been. I somehow expect to feels at home, despite any challenges of heat or crowds, of dust or rain. I want to enter the temples and feel the silence. I want to step in the Ganges and feel the connection to all rivers. I want to relax into a culture that is both exotic and familiar to me.

So, passport and visa in hand, I anticipate that the next two weeks will fly by, and soon my friends and I will be boarding Air India. Hmmm . . did I mention the 15-hour flight? Oh, forYogic Flying perfected!

I’ll be blogging about my experiences throughout my trip, so check back in and see what’s happening. I’m trying out a new camera so hopefully the images alone will be worth your stopping by. I’ll try to announce each post on Facebook. If you’re not on Facebook, just check back each week. Namaste.

Image of Rishikesh on the Ganges: Creative Commons liscense 

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

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What’s Your Point?

What is your point? 

Rude as it sounds, the question “What’s your point?” reminds writers that communication always has a purpose. We don’t write merely to put words on paper. We want to express a thought, an idea, an opinion, a feeling, even an irony, and we want someone else to understand what we’re saying. For example, the point that an image makes (whether visual or textual) must be clearly constructed. The potential irony of the two signs to the left is clear from their juxtaposition. Most handicapped persons are not going to be riding skateboards.

Reflective Writing:

Even reflective writing, which is more internal or inner-directed and often wandering, comes down to a point or maybe even several points. The mind prefers order, so even in free-write mode, a writer is brought around to the point that is driving the reflection.

The Reader:

When we bring the reader into the picture (and the reader is always hovering over our shoulder), then we must hone our point to be sure that our readers gets it and does not mistake it for some other. Ultimately, interpretation always belongs to the reader, so the writer’s job is to shape the interpretation of the text in the direction that he or she wants it to go.

Clarity:

Clarity here is the key. Churchill’s message is hard to mistake. We can offer varying interpretations. We can talk about whether we agree with his statement or not, but ultimately, the point that he is making is clear: Stand up for what you believe.

Get to the Point:

So, use your free-writing to get the ideas flowing and then analyze what you have written to be certain your main idea or point is clear. Move the clutter from around it. Make the point early on. Don’t confuse  your reader about what you’re trying to say. Get to the point.

Image courtesy of Bill Graeser at https://plus.google.com/photos/107550539024161977376/albums?banner=pwa

 

 

Posted in 2012, Reflective Writing, Uncategorized, Writing Advice, Writing Tips | Tagged , , , , , | 220 Comments

Voice and Vantage Point

Voice. Developing one’s voice is critical for writers if each of us wishes to standout as unique in a galaxy of other writers. But voice is an aspect of writing that is formed from many different elements—tone, style, and vantage point, to name a few. Vantage point is, arguably, the most impactful as it also helps shape tone and style.

Vantage Point: What do we mean by vantage point? Vantage point is the position from which a writer is observing, noticing, and commenting on something outside of him- or herself (or on something from within). For example, in the photograph of the blue jay sitting on the fence in front of the blue post, we recognize a number of vantage points. The photographer has one vantage point, the bluejay another. The bird flying into the scene has yet another. The viewer of the photograph has still  another vantage point, similar to the photographer’s, yet uniquely the viewer’s own. The voice that would emerge from each vantage point could produce a decidedly different expression of  perspective on the scene.

Locus of Consciousness: Several words are often used interchangeably for what we are discussing—vantage point, perspective, and approach—yet each implies a certain locus of consciousness from which the observation is being made, and should expression emerge, that particular locus of consciousness would be reflected in whatever was expressed.

Grammatical Voice: We categorize voice grammatically as first person, second person, or third person, and learn the appropriate pronouns in school. Each of those pronouns reflects the perspective or vantage point from which the expression or comment is emerging. Pronouns being vague can cause us to forget that each one is reflecting a locus of consciousness.

Rishi, Devata, and Chhandas: In the Science of Consciousness SM, we define that locus of consciousness in terms of  the Rishi—the knower or observer. What we are observing is the Chhandas value—in this case, the blue jay, perhaps the fence post, the known. What is connecting the observer and the observed or the Rishi and the Chhandas is the Devata value—the process of knowing or observing. The three taken together create the wholeness that emerges—the Samhita of Rishi, Devata, and Chhandas.

Consciousness: These terms remind us that consciousness is underlying and generating everything we express and write. Voice is an expression of consciousness. Our voice is our own individual mode of expression, shaped by our nervous system and the position we take in relation to what we are observing.

Developing our own personal voice in our writing is a way of celebrating our own unique connection with the consciousness underlying and generating all of creation. So, go for it. Find you voice. Celebrate who you are.

Image Credit:

Photograph of blue jay (cardinal) courtesy of Bill Graeser

https://plus.google.com/photos/107550539024161977376/albums/5802297713208787777?banner=pwa

Correction from

Mary Ellen Araas-Wright 8:13pm Nov 8
Dear Dara: I enjoyed your recent blog article … so very beautifully connected to the Vedic knowledge of MMY. Just wanted to let you know that the bird, although very blue in the picture, is actually a female cardinal … we see a lot of them up here in MN at our bird feeder and bath. I think she’s looks so blue due to either the blue of the fence post or perhaps the picture tones were adjusted for more blue to come out. The red bird in the background is most likely her male mate … they are never very far apart when flying about together. Love, Mary Ellen

 

Posted in 2012, Consciousness, Reflective Writing, Uncategorized, Writing Advice, Writing Tips | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 267 Comments

Tightening Your Prose

Hemingway’s Influence

Writing tight prose need not make our writing dry and strangulated. Ernest Hemingway, known for his tight, concise prose style,  influenced most twentieth century writers. The crispness of Hemingway’s style demonstrated that the overly elaborated style of the nineteenth century was simply unnecessary and often obscured the underlying richness of thought.

Learning to tighten our prose style can seem problematic, however, for developing writers. Where do we start? What is it we are tightening? The simplest answer is that often we are tightening the sentence itself. Five simple techniques can help us look at our sentences in a new way and recognize how to tighten our style.

Rules for Tightening Our Prose Style

1. Always omit unnecessary words, a journalistic revision tool that says: Never use two words where one will do. A simple exercise is to take any page you’ve written and omit 100 words from the page without changing meaning or context.

2. Learn to avoid empty or space-filler language, what I call empty place-holders in a sentence. A common example of this problem are all those sentences that begin with “There is . . .” or “There are . . . ,,” sentence openers common to academic writing where assertions and definitions are regular elements of writing. Grammatically correct, the this construction delays the subject or topic of the sentence. The reader is halfway into the sentence before stumbling over what it is about. Instead, get to the point right away.

3. Replace vague and empty language. Start by replacing weak verbs with strong verbs, but also watch out for unnecessary qualifiers like “very,” “really,” “absolutely,” and other empty or unnecessary qualifiers.

4. The ability to recast a sentence, allows a writer to use the above skills and even or to unpack a sentence with too many ideas in it. Some times adding words, i.e., another sentence, can actually tighten up the prose by clarifying the expression of the ideas.

5. Making more specific word choices often tightens the prose. Many indefinite words, such as pronouns like it or this create a feeling of density or vagueness. Again, choices, such as pronouns are not grammatically incorrect but such words don’t offer concrete information. A good exercise is to replace all vague, nonspecific words or phrases with concrete, specific word choices.

So, the old rule still stands: If in doubt, leave it, but also learn to avoid, replace, recast, and specify wherever you can, so your prose is clear and tight.

Images:

Hemingway Stamp. (HTML Code):© Konstantin32 | Dreamstime.com

 

 

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The Hidden Structure of Writing

The word structure can evoke images of a linear arrangement of ideas, even a certain logical rigidity. Structure, however, can also be flowing and organic. The mind creates its own connections and provides its own logic if we allow our thoughts to flow and are sensitive to the relationships that emerge. Reflective writing allows us time to recognize, explore, and play with structure inour writing.

Images of doors and windows depict commonplace structures in our daily experience. They frame openings that allow entrance and egress.  We open doors and enter or leave our homes. We open other doors and enter or leave our classrooms Sunlight and breezes enter our windows (and maybe rain if we left the window open!), all within a framed structure. What our minds choose to do with such structural images, however, can follow different paths. As an image, a window frame or a door frame is linear and rigid. Such frames enclose. They serve a clear function. They appear as an expected orderly arrangement.

Door frames and window frames also have their own organic logic as well. They can be openings to the unknown, to the hidden. While providing entrance and egress, they lure us both in and out. Symbolically, they can offer us passageways to other dimensions, other avenues of being. Our reflections on an image or a concept create their own connections, and the structure of those connections allows meaning to emerge for the reader.

In a symposium in April 2012 on Maharishi Vedic Science: Illuminating the Cutting Edge of Modern Science, Maharaja emphasized the connection between logic, structure, and the human physiology. He said, We express our words. We express our thinking, our feelings. We see our world. We see our society through the microscope of our instrument [the human physiology], which has a certain quality and has a certain shape.” He went on to say, “The self is structured according to the structure of the body.”1  Structure is innate. We come by it naturally–truly, a gift from Mother Nature.

So, play with structure. Don’t always see it outlined with roman numerals and letters. Let shape emerge in your writing, recognize it, benefit from it, and explore further.

References:

1 Nader, Tony. “Comment on Dr. Terrance Fairchild’s address on “Transcendental Consciousness and Literary Theory.” Consciousness is Primary: Illuminating the Leading Edge of Knowledge. Fairfield, IA: MUM Press (In press).

Images:

“Molecular Thoughts.” Thinkstock Item # 137062187 @ http://www.thinkstockphotos.com/

“Turquoise Door.” Bill Graeser. Retreived from https://plus.google.com/photos/107550539024161977376/albums/5764086496454335073?banner=pwa

 

 

 

 

 

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