7 Shots of Joy!

SEVEN SHOTS OF JOY{Note: I originally called this 9 Shots of Joy but condensed a couple of incidents into one, simply to make it a little faster to read.}

Like millions of others around the world, the violence of these past two weeks has broken my heart. The shootings by police and of police in the United States; the horrendous act of distilled violence on Bastille Day in Nice, France.

How can I respond?

I was born in the US, but France is also very close to my heart; not only is my B.A. in French, I studied in France for one year. While I spent three-quarters of that time in Paris, I also studied in the Loire Valley city of Tours. Whilst there, I stayed with an amazing French woman, Madame Eglantine Menget.

At that time—the late 1980’s---the city of Tours would shut down for a couple of hours at lunchtime; Madame would pick tomates, laitue, from her garden and have lunch prepared for me by the time I arrived home. We would watch the news---and oh, how she would lament the goings-on in the world. Let me make it clear---Madame was not naïve by any means; she lived in Nazi-occupied France, and, indeed, stayed in a home in the forest near Langeais to keep as far away as possible from the villainous force.

What would she think of the world now? I can’t help but wonder.

I will say this---Madame would NOT sit down and get depressed, she would pick herself up and go to work. She worked for Amnesty International until her early nineties, when she could no longer see properly.

She knew—as did my father, grandmother, and favorite professor at Wash U (who all died within six months of one another; I will write more about them in later posts.)---that the only way to defeat the darkness in the world is to make certain the darkness does not enter ourselves. And if it’s there already, we have to kick it out!

And that’s why I decided to start off a series, which I hope to include every week on my blog, called Nine Shots of Joy. Nine real things I have experienced in the past seven days which proves the irrefutable existence of joy, Q.E.D.  Look around. There’s joy and beauty and hope all around us; we just have to open our eyes, and pick it up.

Here are Nine Shots of Joy (and beauty!) I experienced this week:

1.  Sharing the majesty of meaning of the iconic statue, Shiva as Nataraja-- King of Dance-- with hundreds of spectators at an arangetram (Indian classical dance graduation) that I MC’d on July 10th. The statue represents the dance of the universe.  I talked about Nataraja---and every time I do, I experience nothing but wonder at the depth of significance of his dance. Surrounded in a circle of the fiery energy of endless creation & destruction (so apropos of our quantum universe)---he holds out his right hand, palm facing forward, in abhaya hasta. DO NOT FEAR. No matter what happens in the 24-hour cycle of news, DO NOT FEAR.  No matter what happens to you, or to your loved ones, DO NOT FEAR. Easier said than done, for sure, but abhaya hasta does not bargain. DO NOT FEAR. This mudra (hand gesture) is found throughout Hinduism and Buddhism.  There is a picture of Nataraja if you scroll down below to an earlier post.

And how amazing--no one knows who came up with this dynamic figure, which the French sculptor Rodin described, in his piece, The Dance of Shiva, "These hints of of perfection! The mist of the body! As in some divine creation, there is no trace of rebellion in this body; one senses that everything is just as it should be."

And to think there is a statue of Nataraja---which achieved perfection in the 10th-12th centuries A.D. in South India-- gracing the entrance of CERN, in Geneva....

2. One of my oldest friends and coworkers at Barnes & Noble is an African American guy, Garrett. I met him when I worked at Borders—he’d been reading Gandhi’s autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Now, many people judge retail workers as if they know nothing (have I been on the receiving end of that!), but you should never judge because you never know someone’s life story. Anyway, he is very thoughtful, well-read, and the other day mentioned to me that he had received completely disrespectful treatment from police. I was shocked---he is the nicest guy!  I asked him, “Why? Because you’re black?” He said, “I guess so.” However, he has reacted to his experiences not with violence but with deeper thought about the whole race situation in the US. (And how heartening that so many thousands and thousands of people are indeed thinking and talking about it and not simply resorting to violence.) He said he should write about his experiences---I think, absolutely so!  We both agreed we need another Martin Luther King. But until that happens, let’s work on letting non-violence flood our beings, instead of despair!! A quote I love: Hate is a failure of imagination. From Graham Greene's The Power & the Glory.

3. Two people I’ve been thinking about this week:  My favorite professor at Washington University, Dr. Kevin Herbert, Professor of Classics, died in February 2015. He flew over Japan in a B29 bomber during WWII. I asked him, is the world any more violent now, or crazier now, than it was during WWII?” Without hesitation he said, “No. We just hear about everything instantaneously now.” I asked another gentleman I met at an Indian dance workshop--a Korean War vet-- the same thing, and he answered, “The world doesn’t change. It’s exactly the same.” While I wish with all my heart for a less violent (indeed nonviolent!) world, I find it…reassuring to hear that.  My professor also told me, "You can't let go of your ideals. Because they're you."

4. Barnes & Noble experiences!  I worked at Barnes & Noble the day of the massacre in Nice. Before the news broke, so many people seemed so down---I often wonder, if there is a greater energy people tap into, that can be dark or hopeful? Because there are days when everyone is down. Anyway, the sweetest young Brazilian man broke the energy with his smile. I could tell he was Brazilian because of his accent---and I told him about one of my best friends who happens to be from Rio. I told him that she has always said, “There are so many problems in Brazil, but we go to the beach, dance, forget about it for a while.” He smiled, and said, “Yes people in Brazil are very cheerful.”  Incredible how a smile broke through the darkness!

Another day this week, a customer at Barnes & Noble told me, “I’m a night nurse. I’m studying for a critical care exam, it’s really hard. I could spend all day—literally all day—right here in this bookstore.” Her eyes said it all—the magic of a bookstore!  Many people, old and young, have told me that.  Hope for bookstores!

Another customer told me, “I still buy books and I have a pile sitting at home unread. But you know books never get bad. (I’ve never heard anyone put it that way.)  It’s just nice to know they are there. There’s a time for a book.”

 I can't leave BN without mentioning my coworker Carole--she is a wonder at wielding laughter as a weapon--of enlightenment! The other day a man told her that she didn’t know how to do her job!  (My God, how so many customers love throwing their weight over retail workers. Why is this? A chance for them to experience power? That must be it.) Anyway, Carole never gets mad. She's polite and kind to their face, and later, just bursts out laughing! At how small-minded some people can be. She doesn't let petty behavior get her down---she laughs, thereby releasing their toxic energy, and poof!  The negativity's gone.  Laughter’s just awesome. What's nirvana? Nir--out, and vana--blown. Blow it out, and it's gone. Don't carry it with you.

5. Fireflies. They bejewel the night with their heartbeats of light. After you see one, you never know where another one (or indeed the same one!) will appear.

The moon and stars.  In these past few days the night sky has taken my breath away. Is it any wonder, that Indian myths say Krishna dances in a grove, underneath the moonlight…when you see trees sway gently in night-breezes, how can you not believe, that a god has passed by?

6.  Color! Saris! I’ve gone to a few dance programs this week, and one of my greatest joys is to drink in the colors, patterns, materials, of the Indian clothes women wear. Who would think of teal lavender gold, lace silk and beads, all on one sari? The splendor of Indian textiles (and its inherent elegance) is stunning.  As if the clothing says, I’m going to turn this lackadaisical day into legend.  {By the way I feel a sari delivers automatic majesty, to anyone.}

7. July 11th is the 2-year anniversary of my grandma’s death. I was super-close to her. I had an extraordinary incident happen soon after she died---which is in a poem on my website, entitled The Big Gray Blur. Anyway, the morning of the 11th this past week I was in the kitchen, and just told my mom, “Today is the 2-year anniversary of Grandma’s death.” At that moment, a pulse of light flashed just above my head. My instantaneous reaction was to think the power has gone out. But it hadn’t. Just amazing. There is so much more to this universe than we can imagine…I’ve certainly experienced incredible things after the passing of my dad, grandma, and professor. More on that later….

I’ve read many books by many physicists, and know that while the truth is out there, it’s also in us.

We're energetic creations of space, quantum fluctuation, and light, ever so much light.

I wonder what episodes of joy I’ll write about next week?

Below is a little commentary on this piece, with sage advice from my dad, grandma, and professor...