A practical exercise in Epicureanism (or what you can learn from a sick kitten) PART 1

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Oh, this Epicurus. As a wannabe philosopher, who had just started to use the logical portion of her brain, I was rather baffled at some of Epicurus’ concepts.

His puzzling view that the greatest pleasure lies in the elimination of suffering, and all above that is a mere unwelcome excess, ran quite contrary to my intuition. Soon, however, I got to appreciate its value. Right next to it was Epicurus’ vision of death. Death should be taken lightly, and to die is not at all a misfortune. How come? Well, in a practical aspect, teaches Epicurus, to the living death means nothing. When we’re alive, it is simply not our problem, as it does not apply to us — for it applies to the dead only. So while we’re still breathing, we’re inadvertently beyond it. When eventually death indeed happens to us, we’re just gone, simple as that. No mind to process the whole thing, no heart to pound in fear. Death again does not constitute an issue, because, frankly, nothing does anymore. Thus, embraced from all sides and from within by nothingness, we’re well beyond it again.

And here, amidst the philosophical talk, a little cat appears on the stage, a small, crying ball of haplessness and pain. It can’t walk, it can’t drink water, its skin burns with the multitude of tiny flea bites. Next to the cat, stands Person A. Person A, for whatever reasons, feels morally obliged to help the cat and take all the measures to alleviate his suffering. Now let’s picture a blackboard right behind them. A chalk guided by an invisible hand writes the following data:

The goal: to deliver the cat from pain.
Additional data: death removes everything => death removes all suffering
The possible solutions:
a) go out of your way, spend time, effort, money, and love to fix the cat.
b) just kill it.

Both solutions are plausible as they both result in achieving the goal; however, (b) seems far less complex and quick, thus, apparently better. And yet, Person A chooses (a). The question is: why? The answer? I really, really do not know.

It is the time to dive deep in the ancient texts and scrutinise Epicurus: tell us, teacher, what were your reasons for clinging to life with all its pains while a remedy to all of them was all the time within your reach? Let us see.

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A new chapter

IMG_0724Little joys of life. Shy attempts to get back on the track.

This should have happened way earlier. My neglected blog has finally received some makeover and new, winter clothes. I’m still struggling to get back to regular writing, but, as it happens, indolence feels far more painful than a few failed attempts to give thoughts a shape.

So here I am: one month prior to the first anniversary of getting myself a one way ticket to Palestine, I feel somehow lost and found at the same time.

Something needs to be said, however. The one year-long inability to reclaim my voice was induced by one simple fact: I was made aware of how little I know and understand of the world we live in, of how little I can say without completely missing the point, and of how feeble my words actually are when uttered in the surrounding turmoil.

I came to the Middle East in a silly white girl’s quest for whatever’s new: experiences, meetings, stories. I found all these, that’s true — but, instead of providing me with inspiration to talk and write more, they just left me speechless, all words simply stuck in my throat. The cleverness, I liked to think defined me, was all gone and replaced with the gut-wrenching sensation of my own callowness and inaccuracy.

I would again and again find myself having absolutely nothing useful say. Eight years of studies, a degree, kilos of books read, three countries I lived in — none of these mattered that much anymore. Once again, I became a confused student, and it took me a round year to finally complete the induction session.

Somehow, from all my past experiences, only philosophy and theatre seemed to be of value. Yes, those two, with the addition of music, appear to be of the few things that make sense regardless of place. I am determined to let them continue defining my life.

So, half a year after the last meaningful piece of writing, I can’t be sure where this new blog chapter leads me; but I shall at least try.

LUNAR CREATURES — on why a non-believer observes Ramadan.

IMG_0669Ramadan lantern in the heart of Ramallah.

Tonight the moon is full — Ramadan is halfway through. We have already fasted for fifteen days, from dawn to dusk, and another fourteen are yet to come.
I’m writing “we” with a gentle sense of pride, as it’s been my dream to join the Muslim community for the Holy Month. It is something my heart truly desired; an occasion I was counting the days to, as if I were a child again, waiting for Christmas. And make no mistake: it was worth the wait for many reasons.

TRANSFORMATION
Ramadan is the time of reversal: a temporary transformation, in which we, the creatures dependant on the Sun, become for a time being the creatures of the Moon. Sleeping through a major part of the day, we thrive after the dusk, when we can finally add the ‘e’ to ’fast’, thus, turning it into ‘feast’. The paradigm of a ‘day in our life’ with its ‘wake up—live—sleep’ routine is temporarily suspended and replaced by a more intricate pattern of short naps, long-awaited meals, and treasured encounters with others.

This temporary separation from the Sun and the ‘earthliness’ of our existence opens up my eyes to the imponderable, the obscure, the mysterious and undiscovered, and brings me back to the spiritual paths I’ve long ago abandoned. The Moon, that undergoes its own, full transformation during the month, helps soothe the soul with its gentle light.

Version 3The dusk arrives at the Mosque of Omar in Bethlehem.

WATER
Ramadan is the time when water has a clear and perceptible taste. Taking the first sip after sixteen hours of fasting, I discover all the tiniest subtleties of its texture, temperature, and savour; and every drop is meaningful, cherished, awaited.
Each meal and drink — selected carefully and prepared with utmost diligence — becomes a memorable event, even tastier when shared with other people.

TOGETHERNESS
Ramadan is the time of a deep sense of communality. True that we feel thirst, our energy levels go down, and we’re bored sometimes — but whatever downfall we’re through, we’re not alone in this: all irksome sensations are shared by others, the awareness of which makes the effort a lot easier. Besides, hardly anything can compare to the exited, joint wait for the evening prayer call and its first words, Allahu Akbar, which mark the end of the fast.

What a contrast it is, when compared with what I’ve been used to. In Western and ‘Westernised’ (=Eastern) Europe, we’re all severely afflicted by the chronic disease of extreme individualism. While I believe self-care and mindful self-reflection are by far the best activities a human can engage in, the Westernised societies have pushed the idea of individualism to the edge, shivering at the slightest thought of synchronising ourselves with other human beings. No wonder we all suffer this unquenched, common feeling of deep loneliness.
For years I had been searching for the genuine sense of belonging and communality — and  it appears that Ramadan fills in the gap. It is the time of blending into a community, focusing attention on what is shared and mutual, and healing the wounds inflicted by the traps of extreme individualism, to which I was subjected since my childhood.

18839122_1808863069428575_8188065878974377942_n.jpgOne of the shared moments of long-awaited bliss.

Grateful for those inspiring insights, I am set to continue for the remaining fourteen days. And the next year, who knows? Eleven months under the power of the Sun and one under the rule of His godly sister, the Moon — sounds like a plan for a life of balance.

5 (quite unexpected) reasons why a millennial goes totally crazy over DEPECHE MODE.

10094903984_d70efaa1a8_bThe guys being just awesome during one of the 2013 concerts.

The fact that I go crazy for Depeche Mode has been a bit of a mystery to me. True, we all have our smaller or bigger musical obsessions; but these guys started their career way before I was born, and the tunes of the 80s were never even my thing. It’s something I should have dismissed as ‘Nah, not my generation’, but, surprisingly, their music resonates with every bit of myself. I couldn’t quite nail it until tonight, but now, after having recently gone through several CDs and live performances, I think I’ve finally grasped the reason why we, millennials, obsess over Depeche Mode. Let’s get to this, then!

1. Because of Precious. Precious is a song of a parent to a child, a confessional of a father who  has screwed something up. As Martin Gore, the author of the song, admits: For me it’s a song about my children because I’m in the middle of a divorce at the moment. And about them, what they must be going through*. And well, just think of it: there are zillions of songs about love, sex, and infatuation, but so few about the relationship between children and parents, even though the pain of being a kid of immature adults is so ubiquitous and common. Precious, however, nails the thing on the head — the lyrics are a magical, soothing spell that a suffering child needs to hear from the adults who wounded her.

5_depechemode2robwalbers2013Dave.

2. Because of Dave Gahan, his past actions, drug abuse, blackouts, and suicidal attempt. I am in constant awe of him: despite having been so close to losing it all, he managed to make it through. Among so many borderline people, he is one that chose life over death. I cannot but be grateful to him for showing me that it’s possible to rise even when everything seems lost.

3. Because of the song Home, a single from their 1997 Ultra album. I love the fact that it’s sung by none other than Martin Gore, the main songwriter and the mastermind behind so many dazzling melodies. Even though it’s Dave’s dark-chocolate baritone that became so emblematic of the band, there is still space for Martin’s dramatic, sensuous tenor to take the lead whenever deemed suitable. That’s what being a part of a TRUE TEAM is, after all: to know when to lead, but also to recognise when to step down and let another take over.

depechemode       The team on stage – it’s all about togetherness! 

4. Because of ‘sharing freelove’. Unlike some 99% artists, they don’t go on the stage just to feed their egos. Andy Fletcher once said: We don’t think we can change the world, we’re not that sort of band, but I feel we can make, with the songs, some small difference in people’s everyday lives*. I truly admire such attitude, for too often, as an audience, we’re used as a means of self-therapy for whoever’s performing. The Depeche guys, however, are here for us and always make us feel like we’re the priority. Dave even adds: I’m still as uncomfortable in that position, even after so many years. Something has been so freely given to me, so it’s kind of like a duty to go out there and be on top form, and give the best I can*.

5. And finally, because all these major and minor threads turn the Depeche Mode trio into amazing father figures. No laugh, please, I’m damn serious. Born in the 60s — just as our parents — they are the figures that my wounded, millennial generation hardly had a chance to encounter in our family lives. Through their lyrics, story, and attitude, the Depeche guys embody what our own fathers should have been but never were: self-reflecting grown-ups, capable of handling their own, internal demons, caring and mindful about those around them. In short, the Depeche legend gifts us with at least a tiny glimpse of what healthy parental love feels like.

R depeche mode 231012The three amazing men together.

Of course, my initial list of reasons to love Depeche Mode was far longer. I decided to narrow it down to five just for the sake of clarity, but I could easily go on. Started with Dave’s 2003 solo album Paper Monsters and continuing until today with various degrees of intensity, my love for Depeche Mode is probably here to stay. I just cannot wait for the upcoming tour!


* All quotations come from the documentaries released on the Touring the Angel: Live in Milan DVD, 2006. 

Who failed at CALAIS? The final days of the Jungle.

14581513_10154586419596774_1811516344979682166_nThe Jungle now. Photo taken from UK volunteers’ FB group.

This will be an irregular post. And an emotional one. But as someone who has Calais at heart and as an ex-short-term volunteer, I cannot and won’t keep it all just to myself.

The Jungle is burning. France’s largest refugee camp on the coast of the English Channel is being evicted by the authorities. Well, we all knew the Jungle could not (and should not) last for eternity. People cannot live in outrageous, undignified conditions indeterminately. And I keep hearing of the atrocities being recently committed in the camp. They scare me. They cannot continue. I took the authorities’ decision to dismantle Jungle with a glimpse of hope — but as I’m reading now about how it’s being done, I cannot but worry.

Children’s sleeping under the bridge, because their shelter got destroyed without the authorities securing an alternative place for them to go. People who survived war and terror forced to watch once again how their belongings are being destroyed. False news proclaiming success in official journals, while hundreds of people are still left on the spot without even a tent to hide from the rain.

Europe could have earned those people’s gratitude. Europe could have turned them into her true friends. Europe could have shown heart.
Instead, Europe has revealed how base it can be. Europe decided to level the good with the bad and treat everyone like they’re criminals, whether they deserved it or not. Europe chose to gave everyone the equal treatment consisting of tear gas, beatings, hate speech, and wilful ignorance. Europe has turned the men that could have loved her into enemies.

How come? Well, you cannot treat a man like a dog and expect him to remain sweet and respectful. You cannot throw tear gas cans in people’s faces and hope they’ll just shake it off. You cannot have children live in filthy tents for months and trust they would grow up to be healthy, composed adults.
I, a young woman and a fresh uni graduate understand these banal, psychological facts. What is, then, so complex about them that the mighty, accomplished politicians from the both sides of the Channel cannot comprehend?

But now a word about the volunteers. They’re the only people who passed the test in being human. Yes, they’re going through tough time now, worried, unsure what would now happen to the people they cared about. I know one thing, however: they are the ones at whom future generations will look with respect.
Do you think they failed? Do you even know what they were in the Jungle for? Maybe to sort out the lives of the people in the camp once and for all? Of course not: they never had the legal authority to do so. Were they there to do some anarchist stuff and rebel against the government, as some journalists wanted to portray them? No, they never had the time to even think about it, for they were too occupied with their daily tasks.

I do remember a sentence, however, inscribed on a warehouse wall. I don’t recall how it went exactly, but it was something like this: ‘We’re here to make hell a little bit easier’.

And they made it. Day by day, night by night, month by month. The volunteers of Calais were the ones to bring a glimpse of dignity to a hell on earth. They were the ones who took care of the unaccompanied children. They were the ones to make sure people wouldn’t starve or freeze to death. They were the ones to defend Europe’s honour. Not with mythical weapons and grandiose words — but with patient presence and kindness.

Please note I am NOT speaking here of myself. I speak of the volunteers who gave up their everyday lives and stayed in Calais for months — just because they could not bear others suffering. They are the people I will always look up to. They are the heroes. They are the “salt of the Earth”. They are the few sparks of light in the darkness of hatred and bigotry. I cannot but be grateful that I was given the chance to meet them.

I do blame Europe for not hearing their voices. I blame the politicians for ignoring their knowledge and experience. For not asking their opinion and advice — the only one that would be constructive and worthy of listening.

It’s the people in ‘proper suits’ who failed at Calais. Even if the biased news will proclaim their victory, the future will see their heartlessness and cruelty clearly. No one won this battle. The volunteers, however, can leave the battlefield with honour — while the European politicians will leave it in disgrace.

 

3 things you’ll learn in BOMBAY (whether you want it or not).

Version 2Monsoon rain caught me at the Gateway of India – a famed, triumphal arc built a century ago to welcome arrival of the king of England.

The drops of monsoon rain on your skin feel so soothing and warm. Thank goodness, for you really need it after a clash with the harsh reality! Here are the three (rather upsetting) things Mumbai will teach you as you take your alone afternoon stroll:

1) How to be assertive. You knew that before, of course; but here you’ll push your assertiveness to the extreme. You’ll learn how to say ‘No’ to mothers and fathers with babies in their hands, to refuse the sickly and the elderly, to brush off the vendors without even noticing what they’re selling. ‘No’ will become the word you use more often than ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank you’. You’ll get so used to saying it that you’ll start refusing even the things that you’d actually quite like: that small piece of cloth, that cup of chai, that little figurine. All those colourful things, wanted and unwanted, will diffuse in your newly reinforced sense of self-defence.

Version 2Night — the street trade continues.

2) Your patience has limits. If you pride yourself on your empathy and compassion — worry not, Bombay streets will show you the reverse side of your personality. Your answers will be short, sharp, angry — not quite what you were used to hear coming from your mouth. Perhaps another tone of voice and choice of words would be possible, but you won’t be patient enough to try: too many people demand too much of you at the same time.

Version 2Contrary to myself — this one seemed patient.

3) You cannot fix everything momentarily. You’ll learn to accept the fact that you can do nothing to help those little kids sleeping on the pavement. Not that you don’t want to — you simply don’t know how to. Offering them money or gifts would just perpetuate their miserable, beggarly state — and the means of constructive help are beyond your reach. Hence, you’ll eventually learn to pass them by on the street without batting an eye.

screen-shot-2016-09-07-at-21-17-17Mumbai streets — sometimes sadness, sometimes joy. One never knows which one of the two lurks behind the corner! (On the photo: a celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi festival).

Some places are difficult. And Mumbai may be the most difficult place I’ve seen so far in my lifetime. Even if I’d want to bring some good to the table, something as simple as a moment of kind attention — for now, I just don’t know how to do it in a way that’s safe for myself.
Perhaps figuring the answer to this will be my next, great, self-appointed task.

 

The journey underground — Adalaj stepwell // Things to do in Ahmedabad, vol. 2

Version 2The tunnel of light. Unavoidably reminding me of Hieronymus Bosch’s painting.

If the chaotic symphony of engines and honking wore you out and you feel the need to reconnect with yourself in silence — do find a rickshaw or a van and go north. You can start your journey with a quick visit to Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat, a town that looks more like a forest than the government headquarters. That’s exactly how it was designed — to be evergreen.
While in Gandhinagar, do ignore Akshardham. It might be a famed temple with large grounds and impressive commercial photos on the internet — but it lacks this pure and genuine spirit that other shrines have in abundance.

Instead, tell your driver to take you to Adalaj, a small and rather dusty village nearby. As you arrive there, you won’t see anything special at first. But look beneath the surface: for this journey leads underground. And trust me, you will love every bit of it. Welcome to Adalaj Ni Vav — one of most precious landmarks of Gujarat.

Version 2The Labyrinth.
One of the finest examples of Indo-Islamic architecture of fifteenth century.

Stepwells, an architectural concept emblematic to Western India, are constructions designed to gather and store monsoon water. They are masterpieces of art in their own right — as you descend the steps in order to reach the surface of the pond, the whole spectacle of shadows and light unfolds before your eyes. All intricacies of architectural sculpture — a marriage between Indian and Islamic styles — emerge gently from the shade, inviting you to go deeper and deeper into the corridor.

The pond lies down below, surrounded by five levels of octagonal colonnade. Stand there, look up — and you cannot but feel like you entered one of the paintings of Bosch and now you’re standing between the worlds of the living and the dead.

But don’t let the metaphysics of the place overwhelm you. There’s some light-hearted fun awaiting, too! Return to the top of the staircase and enter a tiny room with a grandiose window. Look out of it: what a queenly sensation! If you want an amazing photo — that’s the place for it. Also, here you can examine all the ancient carvings more closely. They are afflicted by the flow of time, that’s true — but their geometrical beauty and perfectly balanced symmetry remain untouched. Everything has its right place; every proportion has been thoughtfully calculated.

Version 2The fancy window.

It won’t take you long to see all of it — before one hour passes, you will be refreshed and recharged, ready to go back to Ahmedabad. There is some undeniable, healing magic to places like Adalaj — keep that sensation with you as you’re entering the noisy, but cheerful cloud of the city chaos again!

Version 2The spectacle of chiaroscuro!