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He lost his father while he was still in his early teens. The confusing cusp between infancy and adult life, where an unknown outside world stands in sharp contrast to a simpler inside one. I didn’t know him well then and that event passed me by without a trace. My memories of him were that he was plump, quiet and had a beautific smile.
I lost touch with him after school and we met many decades later. He had lost weight, was strikingly handsome and a book publisher. I had read a foreword by him a decade earlier in a worksite camp room on a hot sunday afternoon. A fleeting curiosity coursed through me about the journey that had brought him to those pages, though I never finished the book then. He had a peaceful aura about him now that made me look forward to the rare occasions when we would run into each other.
He was in his early 40s and still single. We made a plan to meet one evening. I took along a banker friend I knew – she was quiet and kind. There was something poetic in the idea of introducing two quiet people to each other.
We sat in the clubhouse cafeteria. The clink of cutlery and the murmur of voices swirled into a melody of restless activity. A pot of tea brewed on our table. A perfectly peaceful urban setting.
He used words sparingly and his smile was embracing. He listened attentively and spoke with fondness about our school days. As the evening progressed, time slowed down and hung like an intoxicant over our table.
I noticed something peculiar about his face. It left no trace of the strong personal identity that casts its constant flux over most faces. Every word and gesture seemed to rise from a void and return there after a brief journey to the surface. Something about that strangeness resonated with me. It had a rhythmic flow. An enduring freshness that can only be found in the mundane.
As we shook hands to part I shared how much I loved his complete lack of personality. He thanked me for the compliment. I was in the company of a pure and wordless solitude – and an old and ordinary friend.
The truth sometimes hits us on the face like a splash of cold water. But more often than not, it wanders around us like a vague odour or a fleeting memory – that slips away from between our fingers as we try to grasp it – but reappears as we disappear back into its atmospheric quality.
When we are the body that ages, we feel the fear of mortality. When we are the essence that endures, we feel the silence of eternity. An ebb and flow goes on, within our beating hearts.
At times, the same heart forgets itself – in pain, uncertainty or pointlessness. But a closed heart is an alien thing. It lies in wait to be reinvigorated by an inspiring instant – that unwinds within us like a drop of ink left to discover a standing glass of water. It took an old friend to remind me – that an extraordinary stillness dwells in the most ordinary things.
I rode back home alone. In the slow retreat of the dusk light, I felt myself decelerate. Memories lost their speed & returned into the still air around them. The lingering movements of life dissolved. The effortless ease of the heart remained.
True detachment is not from the lures of life but from the dramatic ideas of who we are. When we experience ourselves as the stillness beneath our own breath, it frees us to soulfully experience everything else.
I reached home and crawled into my bed, spent by a beautiful exhaustion. As my eyes closed, I melted away into a dark and dreamless night.
When the heart is alive, our self-conscious navigation through the currents of life cease. An instinctive and intuitive flow guides us instead. Hurtling us headlong in unexpected directions. Just like they always have. But without the friction of noise and resistance.
A few days ago I crossed security check at the international airport and walked towards the winding queues before the immigration counters. I stood still while waiting and the whole airport fell quiet and still. The images, movements and sounds all swallowed into a motionless observation. It was my first taste of happiness in an immigration queue.
(This post was also published on the site of Gautam Sachdeva, my old and ordinary friend)