Monday, February 11, 2013

Moving to the Earth's Beat - and One's Own

I recently finished reading a book by A. J. Chopra, called 'Moving to the Earth's Beat, the road back from eco-despair'.  It has just been published in paperback and Kindle versions.  It describes Chopra's challenging and intriguing journey that began when he realized he was depressed but couldn't exactly figure out why and what to do about it.

There may come times in one's life when, despite everything being stable and chugging along pleasantly, one feels unaccountably gloomy.  Almost always, such times of depression are accompanied by a feeling of isolation, which cut one off from a sense of perspective or purpose.  This prevents one from reaching out to the world that one cares ('used to care') about, further deepening the negativity and sense of fragmentation.  A nasty feedback loop.

A.J. Chopra discovered that his sense of gloom arose from a concern about the earth and a feeling that it was too late to prevent destruction of the natural world as we know it.  He calls it 'eco-despair'.  Being an engineer, a 'problem solver', a reader, thinker (and agnostic), he took the help of books (and a few people) to work his way, step by step out of this impasse.  The way led not to formal and classic treatments for depression, but to a change in his way of approaching life.  He decided to adopt a belief in something larger than himself, something that was consistent with his thoughts and training and something that was essentially 'good' and 'meaningful' to him.  In his life, this came in the form of viewing the world the way (certain) Native Americans do and feeling one's connectedness with the earth (a sacred being) and everything upon it.  His path was long and tenuous; one reason for writing the book (apart from allowing himself a means of self expression) was to reach out to other people who may feel this form of despair consciously or unconsciously.  The other reason is to try and make a difference (by spreading the word) about the importance of caring for the earth and fragile ecosystems that exist all over the world.

His story is steeped in analysis - of different schools of pyschology, physics, ecology, philosophy and more - a rational, step by step breakdown of thoughts and experiences.  The story is clearly written and the style of narration is engaging - one chapter leads you on to the next.  It is evident that deep thought and research has gone into the making of the book.  I perceive a few gaps though.  While each step along the path is clearly discussed, corresponding changes in Chopra's own inner state are not described in tremendous detail.  One wonders about his inner feelings (not just his thoughts) as he proceeds to align himself with his intuition - moving from his zone of safety to exploring a different way of thinking about the world, leading ultimately to his personal experience with Native American healers.  Perhaps this is because the results of his choice are illustrative enough that this belief system works for him and his changing feelings need not be dissected in exacting detail.  (His is a belief in the interconnectedness of all who inhabit this planet, of living with the rhythm of nature, of interacting directly and simply with nature and other creatures and honouring the reciprocity of gifts given and received.)  Perhaps it is also because the ultimate story is one that continues beyond him - to the state of the earth and ways to help nurture the earth and all that it sustains.

Interestingly, when I began reading this book, I was also reading a text on some of the Upanishads.  I was struck at the time between the similarity between certain thoughts reflected in this newly written American book and those found in ancient Eastern philosophy.  For this reason alone, I describe below the first five shlokas (verses) of Ishavasya Upanishad (with explanations based on Sri M's commentary and my own interpretation of these) :

Shloka 1 :

ishavasyam idam sarvam yat kincha jagatyaam jagat
tena tyaktena bhunjitha ma gridhah kasya svid dhanam

That Supreme Being pervades everything here (and now).
It pervades all that moves, and also all that does not move.
Whose wealth is all this? (Who does all this belong to?  When the essence of life is everywhere, who is deprived and who can stash it?)
Therefore, let go and rejoice!  (When the reason for one's being alive and spirited is everywhere, including within oneself, one cannot lose it - one need not feel threatened or vulnerable, neither need one fear for the loss of one's self, so one can just give up worrying about mind-created problems or requirements).

Shloka 2 :

kurvann eveha karmani jijivishet shatam samaah
evam tvayi nanyatheto asti na karma lipyate nare

If one understands (even theoretically) what has been proposed in the first shloka, then one can live, performing karmas for a hundred years.  (There is no reason to renounce the world or any of one's worldly activities).
That is the only way by which you can live a full life, performing all the karmas (tasks to be done) on this earth and yet not be affected by (not be emotionally dependent on) the results of these karmas.

Shloka 3 :

asurya nama te loka andhena tamasavrutah
tams te pretyabhigacchanti ye ke cha atma hano janah

There are some worlds which are enveloped in darkness to which those of demonic nature go.  People who are slayers of their own Self (who consciously or unconsciously deny their inner self) enter this dark world.

Shloka 4 :

anejad ekam manaso javiyo nainad deva apnuvan purvam arshat
tad dhavato nyan atyeti tishthat tasminn apo matarishva dadhati

(Attempts to explain the Supreme Being, that comprises the essence of everything and is something that cannot really be described) :
It is that which does not move.
It is one.
It is even swifter than the mind (i.e. the way to reach it is not through the mind or senses).
By itself it stands still.  It outstrips those who reach out for it.
In it, the all pervading prana (air or energy that sustains life) supports the activities of all beings.

Shloka 5 :

tad ejati tan naijati tad dure tad vadantike
tad antarasya sarvasya tad u sarvasyasya baahyatah

It moves, yet it moves not.
It is far and yet it is near.
It is within all this.
It is outside all this.
(If we think we are different and separate from our inner essence, it appears unreachable but if we understand that it is a part of our inner self or driving force, we are very close to it.  It is everywhere, whether we see it as being a part of us or see ourselves as being contained within it).

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