Writings

November 29, 2019

Dhruba

I feel like a small child squatting,
tucked away in the corner of this page.
How am I supposed to honor the grandeur of a guru,
accompany a song already sung?
Reducing his teachings to black and white shapes spewed across the page
resembles an oil spill more than a eulogy.
I would never rewrite Bach’s fugues
or sell Van Gogh broken crayons,
the ones from the bottom of the carton, half chewed.
Could you imagine
instead of The Starry Night,
a blurry night with chubby clouds
and a blunted sun?

How can I show you the infinite wisdom he radiated?
To try to box the sun feels like a crime.
This giant could laugh with the planets –
teasing gravity,
tossing musical phrases back and forth,
playing catch with Saturn’s rings,
joking with Pluto.

If I could play you the film rolling inside my head,
I’d invite you upstairs and show you to the best seat in the house.
There would be no intermission
(you’d just have to hold it).

Thirty-six strings awaken one thousand colors in mid-bloom.
Sweeping over the last rows,
enveloping the room,
bursting through the concrete walls,
and illuminating the city streets.
With each peg twisted and tuned,
he lured the mind into a landscape of forgotten palettes.
Every finger curled into alignment,
dancing towards Truth.

Each note intimately knowing its neighbors,
above and below,
the loud woman upstairs who cooked with too many chilis
and the nine-year-old boy below who often recited faraway tales
in the soft glow of his lamp,
when he thought no one was awake.

We sat like young boys at a ball game
eager to catch the next rogue ball,
freezing in the dark, concert halls of Bombay,
oblivious of the overly enthusiastic air-conditioning,
waiting on the edge of our dilapidated, lumpy, springy seats,
ready to receive the prizes we knew would come.

What a minuscule entrance fee
to witness this great artist draw his bow across the strings,
shaping worlds from nothing,
birthing epic tales, roaming great distances,
convincing a setting sun to rise on command.

How did we become so lucky,
stumbling upon these hidden currents,
revealing secret forces orchestrated below?
He would guide us around turbulent tides
and shifting buoyancies.
Always attuned to tempo’s inner impulse,
he felt when to let certain notes wash over him,
when to open his palm to grab one rushing by,
and when to release the day’s catch back into the abyss,
to ripen until next time.

We’d stammer out of the hall,
drunk on all the gold we’d caught,
our pockets heavy with sas and pas
and every note in between.

The water goddesses applauded,
wagging their fins in delight.
How could such a mortal converge sea into sky,
and the heavens into land abundant?

In every lesson he would welcome me home,
teach me to reach inside my glowing embers,
and carefully unfold quiet, inner knowings.
He’d let me wrap them in my hands,
turn each malleable note in between my fingers,
feel the wet earth of the womb, long ago.

He’d sit me down at his table,
serve me a sweet ginger chai,
and make me feel whole again, sip by sip.
He taught me to feed myself,
help me collect all the pieces of belonging that I must have
missed.

In his parting embrace he must have slipped a golden night’s star into my bag.
It whispered to me one evening:
Stillness lies in fullness,
and fullness rests in emptiness.
Never hurry, nothing is undone.
Timing unfolds quite differently for masters;
forget your aspiration of becoming,
and merge into your masterhood.
Yes, I replied to the star.
I am no longer a small child hovering in the corner.
I know how this page unfolds,
I see far across the horizon hugging the sky.
The soil shakes beneath my feet,
like little motors churning,
propelling me forward into tomorrow’s grace.
I carry inside of me the light of one thousand suns and the mark of you.

November 12, 2019

“On a cold night, we can see forever” (quote taken from Rae Armantrouts’ “The Thinning” 2012)

We were sitting in Barnsdall Park, on the east side of the hill, gazing up at the full moon. There were no trees blocking our view, so the moon appeared overgrown. Like that view from the fort, down the street from the Taj Mahal, where the unique combination of the window’s framing the temple, coupled with the fort’s precarious elevation, invites the Taj to appear too lush and too grand, even for a Wonder of the World.  

Winter (I say in quotations) had just blown in earlier that week. We had rummaged through our boxes of last year’s winter items, re-discovering forgotten sweaters and coats, and extra mittens for which we had hoped to find the missing halves. Mittens that would never be worn in LA of course; we had lost some skiing at Alta and others while snowshoeing up at Big Bear last Christmas. With a glance, we both agreed to toss them back into the bin to be remembered and re-forgotten the next winter. 

The naked moon sat perfectly content in the sky. It was equal parts hovering and grounded. Like the picture my nephew had made me— the white opaque circle glue-sticked onto a dark-blue construction paper, flaunting crayoned yellow stars that didn’t seem to quite twinkle because he hadn’t learned yet that yellow on blue paper equals brown. But tonight’s moon was whole and seemed to hold both of us. 

We sat silently draped in our thickly-stitched blanket we’d bought on our honeymoon in Peru. He had laughed when he had spotted it at the market. “Look, llamas on a llama-wool blanket— we gotta get it!” It was one of the many seemingly everyday memories we had built together. I loved to sit with them on my ride to work. I’d stare out the window and let whatever memory that wanted to pop up, float into my consciousness. I’d let the happy ones wash over me and fly me around. Sometimes I’d be holding the strand of one memory when another would arise. I loved to untangle them in my imagination, recalling all the love we shared.

But tonight, there was no desire to float into, up or away. I was enjoying our silence, the warmth of his cheek next to mine, the grandeur of the moon, and the smiles I knew we were both wearing on our hearts, underneath our winter sweaters and our double llama blanket. 

January 17, 2019

On Navigating Multiple Energies

As I sat in bed this morning, I had an unexpected revelation. I had woken up feeling heavy, and instead of feeling defeated without clear solutions, I remembered my teacher’s advice: “Sarah, you have to accept your masterhood now; you already hold all the answers”. So I consciously chose to go within. I put my tanpura app (music drone) on and what started off as aums eventually sprang into light musings — movement lightly punctuated by series of notes. 

The notes led me to certain phrases. And again I could hear my teacher’s reminder to try to hear the phrase before executing. So I listened and sang the phrases a few times, giving focus to the timings of each phrase. Once again I could hear some phrases as if they were in water: each subsequent note bringing presence into a different buoyancy, a different plane and feeling. Each phrase has its own unique timing and the key is to be the vessel which holds the space, so that each phrase is allowed to start and end wherever and whenever it likes. 

I suddenly realized that music can be the incredible means by which we experience the convergence of time and space. I feel like I touched the iceberg but at least I know it’s there. Timing we often think of as something linear, like a steady marking. Yet space and time really are connected. You cannot sing a succession of notes at any pace you wish. The space you hold dictates the timing in which it is carried out. The sound must be born of multi directions. Time may mark the notes, as if greeting them to say, “Oh, here you are”; however, space provides and at the same time is the primordial substance out of which notes are born. 

Then, I saw an image of the pisces constellation (my rising sun zodiac), which is traditionally depicted as two fish swimming in opposite directions. I raised my hands and faced them towards each other as if they were the two fish. I realized the relationship between them does not consist of their moving in opposite directions, but only appears so. In order to hold the opposing forces, we simply need to see the two fish are actually part of a greater circle; they’re essentially in orbit. Just like when we say a planet travels in retrograde, yet we know it’s a play in perception; similarly, if we step back and expand our perspective, we suddenly see the two fish were part of one current all along. 

I finally see that in order to hold the many seemingly opposing aspects of my life, I need to continuously expand enough to encompass all the energies. When I look at my life I can see it directionally: From Korea to US, to Korea, to Europe, to India, to the US, etc. But beyond geographical direction, I also see the toll the deeper journey has taken on myself – the constant inner restlessness and battle I’ve fought with myself. Like Voldemort (yes, I’m quoting Harry Potter), I’ve countlessly tried to split myself into pieces, cutting off those aspects and those experiences or people who tug at me. Even if we attempt to photoshop out the unwanted parts of ourselves and our lives, they will always be there. Instead, I am beginning to see that I am being called to awaken the courage to expand incessantly — to raise my consciousness and continue to create equilibrium. How to hold the strong with the subtle, balance the exclamation with the quiet acceptance, and merge the inner and outer… this is the life for which I’m living. 

October 4, 2017

Walking the Room

I finally realized… When Dhruba told me about the difference between someone telling you a room is 20×20 and your actual walking in the room– feeling the space by being in it, experiencing it yourself.

And I finally got it; I see it: This whole life journey is about feeling the space within myself. Me, alone, barefoot. No bells and whistles. Not my parents telling me how I should be, or a teacher, or even a self-help book on Enlightenment. The knowing within oneself can only come from the deepening within. The sinking into the rootedness of Self, while reaching the truest North.

Life is about the journey. It’s about walking the room. It’s about seeing for yourself what works and what doesn’t. We all got our karma. Some of us came into this world with a breathtaking view and marble floors, while others of us have one window, one lamp, and a mat. But the key is to follow that light, open the window, and unstick it if it’s jammed. It’s about nourishing yourself with a wholesome meal, keeping your room clean– free of cobwebs and rodents, and being mindful of neighbors who may want to sell you their latest thoughts. It’s knowing your room so intimately and lovingly that you always have a place to come home to.

See to it the fire is always lit, the stove working, and the water clean. And once you know your home inside and out, you can slowly invite others in. Make extra tea. And they will flock to your doorstep thirsty for Truth. And you may come and go as you please, as long as you remember your key. You will always have a home; you will always have a space to be.

September 9, 2017

Reflections

As I sit here listening to an old recording of Brahms’ Violin Sonata in G, I feel so blessed to be able to hear and play music. The inner voices of the piano/ pianist bring out his beautiful lines and colours. Indian classical music also has harmony, but it’s understated like a watercolor painting. Here’s a gesture that carries inside it its essence. As I played through the sonata again after many years, I heard it differently from before. A rag did I hear? Suchsubtle turns between his chromatics– colours I had overlooked before… Now they seem to ignite other worlds in me, hidden from most.

Just as a rag is alive, so a Western mode can be. Maybe not equally so, but the great Western masters could also hear, access, and live in these other realms. Balance is utterly important– between the the voices, choosing which amount to come out and declare, Here it is, or Here I am!, how to be clear but not boastful… How to hold the Truth of many worlds is a blessing with great responsibility. How to realize and release all that is within us, to recognize the Truth of the sun which never sets…

July 11, 2017

Tribute to Dhruba Ghosh:
October 27, 1957 – July 10, 2017

Thank you dearest guruji, friend, colleague, and grand soul for teaching me.

From the moment I met him, I felt the pull of Greatness and the loving touch of a master. I knew I had to move across the globe to study under him. He always welcomed me with an open heart and taught me to dive deep into my soul, into the grids of ragas and soar high above storms like the eagle. He said he wasn’t humble; this apparent humbleness was a natural result—when master and student or two friends sit at sunset and watch the sun set beyond the event horizon, both can share in that moment; both know they are part of that experience. The illusion of the “other” dissolves.

Little did I know that when he cooked me a farewell meal for my last lesson before my current trip to the US, he would be the one to depart. Had I known it would be the last time with him, I would have fallen to the ground to bow to such a great spiritual master. He would have of course laughed with a belly full of mutton and given me more chai.

In the last few months I met him almost every day; I felt I was finally in a groove and making giant leaps. On a different dimension I must have known the tides would turn. He always said “the timing of masters” is different from the world’s. The urge to deepen my studies with him these last months helped give me so many tools in concentrated forms, to navigate music and to navigate myself. He always talked about rags as grids- each as a city map, he once said. One must know the streets inside and out so that one knows which to walk down, which to avoid, which to meander through, and which ones look as though they belong to the city but actually belong to the neighboring city. It was on last Saturday, on Guru Purnima coincidentally, that I had the realization that Dhrubaji was helping me fill in my own grid, the grid of the Self. And I now see, too that he shared so many of his own grids with me. He taught me to see signs everywhere. He showed me the life force that literally lies in the sarangi and the violin themselves, that there is life and energy everywhere, and to recognize the “real time“ of the moment. He said to always sit on the event horizon, and to not live from memory, as memory is in the past and dead.

He showed me how to go into the core of the sound— “the flute sound” he would say. How to swim underwater and feel the buoyancy of musical grids. The last rag we worked on was Shree. He described it as a giant boulder balanced on a pebble (the Re on the Sa (or the Re on the Do)). I loved to feel that weight of Re, which he described as the last seen point of the sun before it disappears behind the horizon. Dhrubaji has finally merged into the Sa. Words cannot describe the immense power and magnetic effect he had/has on me.

About three days before his passing I had a dream where I was a swirl like in a galaxy and my centre was shifting. Then literally the night before his passing, before I went to sleep I asked the Universe for a clear sign as what to do about moving forward with my Indian life/musical explorations and goals. I awoke to the news that this incredibly moving, intelligent, musical and loving soul had moved onto his next dimension. In the last year and a half I was so blessed to study with him, he incessantly reminded me to “accept your masterhood” and to balance my student role with being a master. Every aspect of his teaching pointed to me becoming my own reference point, to lose the idea of the guru and to accept my Self now. He has given me countless seeds of musical mastery and pure magic. He told me the flower between the boulders doesn’t bloom in hope that someone walks by; it blooms for itself. Thank you, Dhruba, for showing me how to go inside— inside the notes and inside myself, to tap into the Clarity that comes from knowing Source. May you blissfully enjoy yourself, in the infinite ocean of the Cosmos and the nothingness that is also the fullness. I see you in the birds and the squirrels, your playful and gentle nature living on. I know we have met before and I know we will meet again. All my love and gratitude…