Give me the Splendid, Silent Sun

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the splendid silent sun

Image Credit: Daniel J. Splaine

GIVE me the splendid silent sun, with all his beams full-dazzling;

Give me juicy autumnal fruit, ripe and red from the orchard;

Give me a field where the unmow’d grass grows;

Give me an arbor, give me the trellis’d grape;

Give me fresh corn and wheat—give me serene-moving animals, teaching content;

Give me nights perfectly quiet, as on high plateaus west of the Mississippi, and I looking up at the stars…

Walt Whitman (1819–1892) -  Leaves of Grass

Its been a while since I last sat down to witness a glorious sunset. The opportunity never seems to arrive. However, longing for a such moment, reminded me of this poem. Reading it, I realised how much I miss those peaceful simple things, or have they now become luxuries amidst the hurly-burly of life? There are some poems that help you to close your eyes and transport yourself to a mesmerisingly tranquil place, by the sheer power of words. Its almost like therapy. This is one such poem.

Under a wishing moon

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Photograph by Martin Wait

Drop by drop, the moonlit splendour

Falls to earth in a silvery blur

North seas and southerns streams

A poet’s corner and a child’s dreams

Light up by its lustrous beams

The Opal and the Moonstone bow

To that ethereal moonrise glow

Flooding the valleys and pathways

Dazzling and dancing on waterways

A Wishing Moon is shinning through

Bidding grey clouds a secret adieu

And lying beneath its celestial view

I recall all my wishes overdue…

©2014 Lakshani Suranga

Worlds Within Pages

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F. Scott Fitzgerald quote about literature ..

With a book in my hand, I escape ‘far from the madding crowd’

To a place where someone long ago ‘wandered lonely as a cloud’

Where the murmur of a splendid stream and ‘wind in the willows’

Tell stories of ‘where the red fern grows’ and ‘emperor’s new clothes’

©2014 Lakshani Suranga

The Grand Inquisitor

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Photograph by Jim Richardson – Westminster Abbey, London

“Anyone who can appease a man’s conscience can take his freedom away from him.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Grand Inquisitor

The other day, I popped into my local library for a very specific search on Russian Literature. Browsing through, I came across The Grand Inquisitor by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Having seen this as a reference in various places, I had to take it home with me. I have not read the brilliant and monumental work that is “The Brothers Karamazov”, which is the book where you find the prose poem, The Grand Inquisitor. However, this particular part of the book is available separately due to its importance as one of the best-known passages in modern literature.

The Grand Inquisitor, the most famous section of The Brothers Karamazov is a parable told by Ivan to his brother Alyosha. The story is set in Spain, during the Spanish Inquisition. In this story, Jesus comes back to Earth, to Seville, and begins performing miracles, and people recognise him for who he is. People weep for joy, children throw flowers at his feet and a large crowd gathers outside the cathedral. And naturally, he is arrested by the Inquisitors for heresy and is sentenced to be burned to death.

The night before his execution, the Grand Inquisitor visits Jesus in his cell. Jesus doesn’t speak, but the Grand Inquisitor speaks to him at length about how the church doesn’t really need Jesus anymore and how the church is running just fine without him. He says that since Christ did not take the power, and instead gave people free will; the Church has now taken the power in his name by taking away people’s free will and replacing it with security. “We have corrected Thy work and founded it on miracle, mystery and authority”

The Grand Inquisitor reminds Christ of the three temptations by Satan that Jesus rejected. He argues that Christ should have turned stone to bread and offered mankind freedom from hunger instead of freedom of choice. The Inquisitor says that people are too weak to live by the word of God when they are hungry; they follow the ones who feed their bellies. “Feed men, and then ask of them virtue!”

The Grand Inquisitor says that most people need to see the miraculous in order to be content in their religious faith. He says that Christ should not have refused to throw himself off the pinnacle of Jerusalem to be caught by angels. If he did, he would have assured people of his divinity and they would have followed him forever without a speck of doubt.

Finally, the Inquisitor reminds Jesus of the third temptation where Jesus refused power in order to give men their free will. The Grand Inquisitor says that the Church now has regained that power Jesus rejected. “There is nothing more seductive for man than the freedom of his conscience, but there is nothing more tormenting either. And so, instead of a firm foundation for appeasing human conscience once and for all, you chose everything that was unusual, enigmatic, and indefinite, you chose everything that was beyond men’s strength,” says the Inquisitor to Jesus.

He goes on to say that in fact, Jesus’ return at this point is just disruptive to the overall meaning of the church, and the church’s mission in preaching Jesus has become more important than Jesus himself.

Jesus silently listens to this lengthy statement and the old Cardinal waits for him to say something, anything for that matter. Jesus simply stands up, walks up to the Grand Inquisitor, and kisses his “bloodless, aged lips”. The Grand Inquisitor shudders, but the kiss still glows in his heart. The Inquisitor does not execute Jesus after all. Instead, he sends him away, demanding he never return.

The Grand Inquisitor has become an Atheist Manifesto, sort of, however, it gives out a different message. And it doesn’t pander to a childish fantasy of who God is either. Dostoevsky was a fervent believer but his personal views are similar to the Inquisitor’s low opinion of the common herd.

It seems that the Grand Inquisitor knows of the truth himself, however, he also knows that the truth which sets us free is too demanding for us, and that it is a lie that grants us happiness. He reasons out that people desire worldly things and not some impossible ideals they are too weak to follow. They need the worldly, in order to make up their minds about the otherworldly. In fact, it is a prerequisite for belief. They want the bread of Earth first, before they can believe in bread of Heaven, and they’d rather surrender their freedom to a benevolent authority who will care for their earthly needs and relieve them of their spiritual suffering, than bear the burden of freedom and freewill. “Better that you enslave us, but feed us.”

The Grand Inquisitor is not without ambiguity. While it explores human nature and freedom, and makes some really valid statements, it doesn’t offer its closing argument to us on a platter, which is to say that Dostoevsky leaves the thinking to us.

At the end of the story, Ivan, who is an opponent of religion asks his brother Alyosha who is a firm believer whether he renounces his beliefs after hearing the story, to which Alyosha responds by giving Ivan a soft kiss on the lips, mimicking the actions of Christ in the poem. The kiss isn’t a symbol of overcoming the logic in the argument, and neither can the logic in the argument be triumphed by a kiss, but it represents how well Alyosha understands the problems of faith and doubt in a world characterized by free will. It is a gesture of love over reasoning. Through this profound and moving ambiguity at the end, Dostoevsky has his major opponent of religion, Ivan, acknowledge the power of faith, just as Dostoevsky himself, a proponent of faith, has used Ivan to acknowledge the power of doubt.

The story reflected my own beliefs about the world of religion and its institutions. I have always believed that if Jesus ever returned, he would be utterly disappointed at the way people depict him, represent him, illustrate him and celebrate him today. His ministry bears no resemblance to him anymore and he would challenge the very religious institutions who claim to speak for him. However, in order to truly appreciate this masterpiece of literature we have to respect its middle ground and its two very powerful points of view, and I hope you would too, if you get the chance to read it.

Fire and Ice – reflections on time gone by

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Photograph by Gordon Esler. A couple caught in the snow in the 17th-century Greenwich Naval College, London. To the right, shrouded in mist, is the River Thames.

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favour fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

- Robert Frost

Greetings bloggers, and readers! Hope you all had a good Christmas and a delightful New Year day. If you didn’t, then I’m sorry about that, and hopefully it will get better this year. It’s been a while and I have been experiencing a Shakespearean winter of discontent. In some ways it was the end of discontentment and in some ways, just plain ice cold discontentment. 2013 was an important year and in its final months I struggled to make sense of a lot of things that occurred in the year. But there is nothing like seeing everything in lucid reflection and being able to understand things more clearly and concisely.

I managed to learn something new everyday, or rather life taught me something everyday, almost everyday. When you add it all up at the end of a year, you realise that living and learning is the best education you will ever receive. Last year I learned a lot about loyalty in friendship – that apart from brand loyalty, not many people really know what the word ‘loyalty’ really means. It has become a strange and an unknown word, but after all it is a strange world where everyone is more or less is unknown to us. This same realisation, made me want to treasure my true loyal friends even more.

I reconnected with such an old friend who I lost touch with for several years thanks to my desire to be a recluse. And in doing so, I was reminded again of the best advice I received in life – ‘it is what it is’. Although ‘it is what it is’ is very much a straightforward statement, there are times when we refuse to believe or understand things as they really are. We sometimes look for an alternative explanation in order to make the truth taste a little less bitter. I guess we all want to believe in something that is greater and better than the stone cold truths. In the past I have paid too much attention to the nuance of human condition, I was looking for the best in every human being, hoping to find a ray of light even in the darkest places of their hearts, and suddenly hearing this phrase again, made me want to be less obsessive about trying to look for things that probably do not exist.

2013 was also a year when I revisited my childhood past and some of the happiest times of my life. This revisit helped me rekindle not only friendships but also the excitement for the things I was passionate about. They were like dying embers and I think I saved them from turning into ashes and traces of a more sensible me.

However, 2013 was not the year I hoped to have closure with my emotional engagements. It wasn’t the year where I resolved my emotional issues, and according to professionals of the tradition, they are still unresolved. I doubt they ever will be otherwise, but I’m hoping that I will want to do less with those issues and occupy myself in the things that made me happy prior to losing myself in the tempest and turmoil.

The past taught me a lot about human nature and how rapidly and unexpectedly people change, how they go from being a friend to being an enemy in a heartbeat. However, last year, I got the opportunity to see that not every human is alike and there is still hope for those of us who champion humane qualities among humans.

In summing up the good and the bad, the pleasant and unpleasant experiences, I wanted to sound wiser, however, I gave that job to the rightly deserving Robert Frost. His words at the beginning reminded me of a post I wrote last year called “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain.” In conclusion, the lessons I learned this year about human nature, friendship, love and self are far too important to merely leave aside as typicality of life, and the greatest mistake I can commit is to allow them to be forgotten.

A walk in November rain

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Photograph by Balazs Kovacs

“Some people feel the rain, others just get wet.”
― Roger Miller, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley

It rained yesterday, and I walked in it. No umbrella, no raincoat, no hoodie, no hurry. With every drop of rain that fell on to my skin I felt an icy sensation of gloom, joy, freedom and peace – yes, all that at once; my mind took a masterclass of mixed emotions soon after I was born. Also, rain has an ethereal power to make you a little bit pensive, a little bit melancholy, a little bit carefree, and a little bit merry. It was one of the funniest men that ever lived who gave rise to one of the saddest quotes about rain: “I always like walking in the rain, so no one can see me crying.” I used to do that you know…just like Charlie Chaplin, but I wasn’t crying yesterday. I felt a little gloomy because the falling rain splashed on to me the stinging memories of the yesteryear, but then I was happy because the road led me on invitingly, casting away my fears. I felt free because I left behind the pain I once felt when walking in the rain, and I felt peaceful because the November rain that covered me was inexplicably beautiful

I felt the rain as if it was trying to comfort me; I felt it like it was singing to me. Maybe it was all the tears I cried since three Novembers ago, now falling down to soothe me. The chilly air didn’t bother me; they say a frozen heart cannot feel colder; maybe that’s what’s happened to my heart finally. I didn’t care that I was getting wet, instead, letting the rain fall on to me almost tranquilised me. “Will people think that I’m out of my mind if they see me?” It did occur to me, but I didn’t care. We should all walk in the rain once in a while, just to feel it. There isn’t a madness in it, but there is sincerity in it. Letting people know that you are choosing to feel the rain isn’t the same as the helpless alternative of getting wet in it. And so, it should be included in cultural ethos.

The thing about rain is, if you watch it for long enough, it can call out to your deepest memories to rouse and wistful thoughts to flutter. The thing about walking in the rain is, if you take it all in, those deepest memories and wistful thoughts will wash over you with a strange palpable feeling. No matter how synonymous sunshine is with happiness, rain can make you feel equally better. Whether it falls in a soft drizzle or in heavy sheets, it has a magical element that can come to our rescue at various times. “No clouds in the sky” is great, but if there are clouds in the sky, I hope they fall away as calming rain, comforting us in our bad times and reminding us of the bitter-sweet taste of life in our good times. At the end of the walk, I felt like, for a short time, I lived another life – a life where walking through the rain is a rite of passage, to be a little bit wiser when you are a little bit older.

You survived the fall, now what?

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“Sometimes you wake up. Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly.”
― Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 6: Fables and Reflections

I absolutely adore Neil Gaiman (as some of you may have already noticed), and his remarkable creation, Sandman. Today, I searched for this quote for some reason and looking at it, I realised how much I relate to it. It is a quote that speaks a fascinating underlying truth, a reality far greater than it seems.

To survive the fall and fly is what we all hope for when the fall is inevitable, to die in the fall and escape suffering is the alternative option, but there’s a third instance, when neither happens; you survive the fall but you lie there broken. Your mighty soul torn apart, your thoughtful mind messed up, yet your heart still beating. Your courage shattered, strength faltered, limbs numb, yet your heart still beating. Then the bruises start to bleed each time you remember the fall, and the scars start to hurt in a Harry Potter kind of way. You wish you didn’t survive or that you got to fly, but instead…..you are a scattered mess. I can understand the need for “all the kings horses and all the kings men” to come together to put broken beings together. It doesn’t matter how several hundred hooves can help put together a broken egg, you just want to be complete once again somehow, just like you were before.

But as Humpty Dumpty or his rescue army would have told you, once something is broken, its original shape is lost forever. No matter how well you try to fix it, how strong of a super glue you have or other sophisticated fixing material, it will never be the same; in the same way, once broken, we too will never be the same again. Signs of brokenness will show, evolve and ultimately will become a part of us. That’s the thing about the fall that doesn’t kill you – the survival will leave a mark. You will carry it on for the rest of your life; but it will be the reminder, the compass, the navigator, the escort, the chaperone, the mentor and the counselor. It becomes your northern star, guiding you away from cliff edges and roof tops, and it becomes the commander of your emotions, warning you, reprimanding you, urging you to move forward, retreat and surrender.

To me, being broken was being in the hinterland between the valley of death and the sky of hope. I spent a long time lying in the same position, wishing I had died and wishing I had taken flight. Sometimes your bones need not break, to feel crippled. I felt like I no longer could see, hear, feel or move, yet somehow I had to. There was no army in the world that could put me back together; I had to do it on my own. There are some missing pieces I still can’t find; maybe it is for my own good.

So you survive the fall, barely. You are broken but stitched up; not nicely too because you had to do it on your own. Then what? I realised that it was then my life really began. I got to see every part of me clearly when I was reassembling myself. I had to learn to move again, see again and hear again. Why did I need to learn to see and hear? I too thought that those things just are and just happened, but unless you learn, you will never see and hear the important things, truthful things, the valuable things, the things that you are meant to know. Don’t wait until “there comes a time when the blind man takes your hand and says: don’t you see?”

I realised that it was my fear of falling, which broke me badly. I was afraid I would be let go of and I was afraid to let go. Should I think that it was a mistake to have climbed in the first place? But like Gaiman says in Sandman: “it is sometimes a mistake to climb, it is always a mistake never even to make the attempt.” People disappoint you all the time but you get a say in who gets to do so. Sometimes I feel like a rag doll shredded to pieces and stitched back up. I feel like I have a stitched up soul, soldered strength and wooden courage, but amazingly I’m proud of my rag doll self. You survive the fall for a reason and we get to choose whether we make it a good one or a bad one. Pain demands to be felt and we have no choice but feel it, but it is our choice to make it either suffering or freedom – freedom from the shackles that bind us to the fear of losing, the fear of falling and the fear of breaking. And if you choose freedom, neither death nor flight will really matter. You wake up!

Flamboyant autumn

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autumn walk

Falling leaves are scattering over the memories blue,

Charging winds are ushering in the feelings new

A purple dusk is settling in with amethyst hue

The scarlet fields are veiled in mist and amber dew

Flamboyant autumn, it is here once more

With its blazing glory and crimson shades at war

Laden with fruits bright, the sweet smells disperse

Over the meadows and through the forest they traverse

The nights get longer and days get shorter

The air grows colder and the year grows older

When the afterglow fades away gently

A solemn hush spreads around slowly

A warm fire crackles and dances lively

And a distant fiddler plays his fiddle softly

©2013 Lakshani Suranga

Peter Higgs and us – a modern morality tale

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Peter Higgs 2013 - lakshani suranga wp

Peter Higgs won this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics for “the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.” He shares the prize with Francois Englert of Belgium.

The announcement of the Nobel Prize in Physics was delayed by an hour as members of the Nobel Prize Committee in Stockholm tried in vain to contact the retired theoretical physicist Peter Higgs. Professor Higgs had not been told he had won the Nobel Prize when it was announced on Tuesday morning. He heard the news from a former neighbour on his return from lunch in Edinburgh. She pulled up in her car to congratulate him.

Until recently Prof Higgs has not owned a mobile phone, and he was on holiday without it. He also does not own a television and only recently bought a laptop, and has admitted he struggles to use it. For someone who helped unleash the first great scientific discovery of the 21st century, Peter Higgs is a remarkably low-tech man. He did his most celebrated work in the 60s, and he didn’t even have a pocked calculator, let alone a desktop computer. He came up with his theory using nothing grander than fountain pens, pencils and paper.

He has always been a reclusive genius and you may say that it is not unreasonable for a grandfather in his eighties to shy away from spotlight even more now. However, the morality tale is not associated with his age or how many grandchildren he has. Instead his story puts us in the spotlight.

There is a social consensus in the world that we are interminably tied to our mobile phones. ‘If it rings you must answer’ is almost becoming a rule of thumb, literally. Looking at your phone every 5 seconds is not considered a mania but normal. The constant need to know whats happening everywhere and anywhere in the world has become more important than resting your thumbs and eyes. I read that among the new words in popular culture that were added to the Oxford Dictionaries Online, FOMO is one of them. I had to look it up obviously. It means fear of missing out: anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website. I genuinely thought ODO was making things up; unfortunately, I was wrong. So, there’s a fear now, of not knowing what is going on every minute of the day. Why do we have to know? Unless of course you are working for the CNN, and wants to transmit unconfirmed news before they even happen.

People are constantly busy reacting to news, gossip, speculations, conspiracy theories, Facebook updates and Tweets. Very few are proactive or just sitting down without staring at a 4 inch screen. It seems as if we only know how to react. I mean, there are actual YouTube videos of people reacting to everything in the world, and videos of people reacting to other people reacting. Does anyone look out of a window or take time to ponder without Googling? In order to be a good scientist, a writer, an artist or a musician who contributes great things to the world, one needs to be proactive. Neither Einstein, nor Peter Higgs had mobile phones, the internet or a computer; neither did Socrates or Plato, but they did change the world. They contributed original thoughts which were innovative, imaginative and ingenious. They did this by the power of thought and logical reasoning rather than avoiding FOMO. Whether it is the 21st century or the 5th century, cognitive thinking, creative imagination and independent musing are timelessly important.

Although Googling maybe a convenient way of learning, what you might find in a library may just be better. Like Neil Gaiman points out: “Google can bring you back 100000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one.” Never underestimate what a combination of silence, books and helpful cataloging can achieve.

We complain that there are no original thinkers in the world today. We are recycling ideas, remaking every movie and unreimagining every TV series plot. How do people think freely when they are industriously looking out for the next text message and next email? And even if they did think freely, how would they recognise their own thoughts when they are too busy reading the instant thoughts of others?

I’m not saying that we should all move to the Scottish highlands, although that would be great, and then again it won’t be if everyone moved there. I’m saying that the story of Peter Higgs should make us wonder about ourselves. If one of us was nominated for a Nobel Prize or let alone any prize, it is fair to say that most of us would be constantly checking our phones for updates. It is also fair to say that even if we were not nominated or even remotely considered for any title whatsoever, we would still be checking our phones relentlessly. It is the thing we normally do. What is worse is that there are teenagers who are incapable of having a conversation without being glued to their phones. I’m aware that it is the escape mechanism through which they seek emotional support from peers when they have to deal with the daunting and terrible task of talking to their parents – I was once a teenager with a phone. But it doesn’t help anyone in the long run.

Sometimes being a recluse is good. We must all make time to be one. Ignorance is bliss too; we don’t have to always know everything that is happening everywhere.  It is OK not to answer your phone every time it rings, it is not an obligation. And if you don’t have a TV, trust me you are not missing out on much excitement.

Moonlit haze

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The moonlight floods the dark sky

An owl, a bat and a nighthawk fly

Songs of the brook and dancing leaves

Summon the one who nimbly weaves;

Our dreams, one by one in sheaves

Drops of dew in silvery glow

Drape the woods with a glimmering show

The blue, the green and ebony of the night

Now meld into a perfect sight

The world around me soundly sleeps

Holding close the secrets it keeps

The tears, the joy and the painful days

Now blurred in the moonlit haze

Awake in the memory’s twirling maze

I travel its endless alleyways

Waiting for sleep to cover me

With a shroud of restful glee

The flow of water in the misty creek

Nor the words the nightingales speak

Beckon sleep to my weary soul

That wonders in a wormhole,

Mapping the stars to where you are

And falling apart on a collapsing star

©2013 Lakshani Suranga

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