Gratitude

Walk of Gratitude

427199_10151249525300578_1412222256_nThere is a large park close to my home. It’s perimeter is 3.5km long and many people walk or run its length to keep fit. I haven’t had an exercise regimen since my late teens which was almost two decades ago. So I’ve decided to walk the 3.5km a few times per week and hopefully build up to running.

There was a national holiday in my country this week so I was at the park that day by 7:00am. It was cool and overcast on account of a passing tropical wave so the morning dew was hanging around just a little longer than usual. The air was crisp and clean. I inhaled deeply as I started out and out of habit, began mentally listing the things I wanted to get done that day: article review, emails to clients, clean bathroom, edit poems etc. I passed by a father and his young son and smiled to overhear him gently explaining why stretching is always better to do before exercising. It made me happy to think of the memories they were both making, and that I got a chance to witness their exchange.

So of course that got me thinking about all the things I was witnessing on my walk: the “good morning” greetings from fellow walkers and runners; the coconut vendors getting their carts ready for customers; the small flock of protective blackbirds chasing a model airplane that was flying too close to their nests; the architect sitting in his car with paper and ink, drawing inspiration from the row of palatial, Victorian-era mansions that line the western side of the park; the confused chirp of a Big-Eyed Grieve who’s lengthy earthworm was stolen by an opportunistic Kiskadee; the rising sun, finding a way to peep through the clouds and rapidly warm up the right side of my face. It was a beautiful feeling. I decided right then and there that every time I walk the park, instead of creating a To-Do list in my mind, I would spend that time listing all the things I was grateful for:

The fresh air; my health; being able to whatsapp chat with my Mum (who is 2637km away) because she finally got a smartphone; my new job which allows me two extra hours on mornings to walk, or paint or write; my new job which surrounds me with art, creativity and real human connections; my ability to pay my bills even if things are tight for now; the extra dollars in my pocket to buy detergent, body soap, bread, sausages, potato chips and fruits for the homeless guy who asked me if I had any soap in my car that he could use to wash his clothes, and the smile he gave me when I asked his name.

I am grateful for my life.

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Phoenix From The Ashes

Shadow.Ash.Spirit.Flame. - Gabriel García Márquez

Last November I finally told my Dad about my decision to give up alcohol. He’d never really known about my binge drinking or about everything that had happened because of it, mostly because we were not really close for most of my adult life and did not see each other that often. There were a couple of times when in desperate need for peace I asked him to take me to see healers or guides but I never really told him why and he did not ask. So, last November I explained to him that February 2nd, 2016 would be the anniversary of a life-altering decision I made in 2014. I asked him if he would have a thanksgiving hawan (prayer) for me. He said yes, simply and quietly.

Two weeks before Christmas Dad fell sick with pneumonia. It was really bad and on the fourth day the doctor told him there was nothing more he could do. Now, my father is very stubborn and may have decided to fight his illness just to prove the doctor wrong. For whatever reason, he pulled through and even though extremely weakened and still on oxygen and drips twice per week, he was up on Christmas Day, enough to have a few pieces of fruit on the family lunch table. As the days in January rolled by I had decided that I would not burden him with having the hawan for me, so when he called a week ago to ask if I would still like to have it, I was surprised and very moved. I asked him if he was sure he was up to the task and he said that he believed it would be good for him too. It would be a thanksgiving for both of us.

A hawan is a sacred purifying ritual, in which a sacrificial fire is built in a kund, and specific ingredients are burned according to Ayurvedic tradition. These fire ceremonies are performed for all types of occasions: to let go of patterns and obstacles in our lives, for healing, purification of the environment and ourselves, to pray for success with a particular venture, or to express gratitude. Before we began my father welcomed our guests and started to explain why we had gathered together. But the only words he managed to get out were “my daughter” before he was overwhelmed with emotion. I think it moved him that I’d struggled and ‘come home’, perhaps proving him wrong in believing that he failed as a father by never providing a “home” for his daughters to return to. I spoke up and explained that I’d made a choice two years ago which turned my life around and that I felt it best to honour what I’d been given. With my second chance and Dad’s health, our ceremony was a thanksgiving for my life and for his.

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Having not been brought up in the Hindu faith, even though my father is Hindu, I don’t remember much from my childhood in terms of the significance of the ingredients used and of the meaning of the mantras (prayers in Sanskrit) but my stepsister sat right next to me and guided me along.

The mango tree is a symbol of love, prosperity and fertility, and on Sunday it provided the kindling for our fire. Ghee (purified butter) was used to feed the fire and signified light being brought into our lives. Several little blocks of camphor was burned throughout the ritual. Camphor represents the negative qualities in us and when camphor burns, it leaves no trace. Guggul is a resin formed from the sap of the guggul tree, and has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for over two thousand years. It too, shrinks and removes negative energies. Sweet rice was added to the kund too as rice is symbolic of wealth and success.

Samagri is a mixture of spices and each item of the samagri is significant. Ashoka, considered to be sacred tree, is also a herb that fights disease. Loban (frankincense) creates positive energies, creating a seal locking out the inflow of negative. Harmal seeds crackle on being heated, acting like grenades and explosives in the energy field, and drive away the negative astral energies in the environment. Specific Sanskrit mantras were chanted and sung too and these, together with the offerings to the fire create purifying vibrations that are beneficial to all present.

As the fire burned, the fragrant aromas triggered happy childhood memories of running through bamboo arches with deyas full of light, of delicious food and lots of family.

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Can you see the Phoenix? 🙂

I stared at the flames as they danced in the kund, charring the mango wood black then white. Dad spooned ghee over the ingredients yet to burn and pushed the camphor into unlit corners to ignite. There was forgiveness in those flames and hope in the heat I felt on my face. It is said that the smoke that rises from the kund contains a powerful healing energy, and as it rises to the heavens it purifies the atmosphere, both physically and subtly, encouraging peace.

For the last mantras (the ones I am the most fond of because they resonate with me, reminding me of a forgotten time) we rose to our feet. As the others sang I was very quiet, focused on the kund and what was left of the fire. I felt all my mistakes and my shame, guilt and remorse about them, reduced to black ash. I felt a surge of gratitude for all I have learned, for the courage and strength I was given, for all the new blogging friends I’ve made and the relationships with loved ones I was given the chance to deepen. I looked across at my father and he smiled at me. I am so thankful for this second chance. Late morning breezes began to blow, stirring the coconut and fruit trees in our garden into action. I felt love and reassurances all around me, from family, friends, the sky and sunshine, from myself.  Through tears I watched as the wind swirled, picking up the ash and carrying away everything I no longer needed.

“Happy New Year Phoenix, Year 3 is going to be even better.”

Love and light to you all, Phoenix