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Yoruba Orishas: African gods and goddess

Photographer James C. Lewis created a series of photos where he artistically depicted the African Yoruba deities – ORISHAS – venerated by the Yoruba people of Benin and Nigeria. The result is a stunning series of photographs depicting the divine and spiritual symbology and life.

 

When asked to express where his inspiration for this photo project arose from, Lewis said,

“Throughout my formal education from elementary up through college I never heard tale of African deities. A little over a month ago I began to research online to find information in regards to the gods & goddesses of Africa. To my surprise there were many, however the ones that stood out the most were the deities of Nigeria and Benin, West Africa which they referred to as Orishas.

I wanted to portray the regal beauty of each Orisha while also representing their majestic sensuality. Each iconic depiction was rendered to lend strength to our resilience as a great race of people and to show our youth that they are beautiful, bold and brilliant just they way God created them to be. […] each Orisha’s name is written in the Yoruba dialect and captures imagery of powerful men, women & children of various complexions who are all of African descent.”

 

 

 

 

Sources: All Images Property of James C. Lewis

I learn something new everyday & this is awesome 😀

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Neither am I this… nor am I that

It’s a poem, that they made into a song, it’s from an old Sufi poet named Bulleh Shah, who was born in 1680. This poem, describes men’s everlasting quest to discover his place in the world. By saying he is neither this or that, compares himself to something that transcend humanity. Identity is either created by us or created for us. The world needs a lot more understanding of others than division among us.

The greatest quest for knowledge is perhaps to understand ourselves. Without knowing oneself, one cannot know another. We are limited in our perceptions, by experience, by the extent of our empathy … since each one of us walks a path that is known only to ourselves.

Here’s my toast to this song, to the eternal quest of self-knowledge 🙂

(translation of the song is in the video but there are others on youtube with only lyric and translation but I liked the video on this one better)

Sufism: love & acceptance

 

I have always been attracted to Sufism for its openness, its loving, accepting nature but also partly because of the most celebrated Poet and Philosopher, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī. I have quoted him in my blogs and devoured his book  “Maṭnawīye Ma’nawī“.  I wish in my search, I could say that I have walked away sated, instead it’s like a thirst that refuses to be quenched. He talks about the madness and calmness of longing for one’s beloved, of doing what is right even when it’s not so clear that the path you are on is in fact ‘right’. I am mesmerized by his faith in the Lord, in the fact that our relationship with the Lord is a direct one, that if we search, we’ll find God wherever we will look. His longing, his devotion, his love comes through in his writing in such a way that it pulls you in and takes you on a journey too.

And then there’s such devotion in Sufi music and I am specially loving these two songs right now (took a while to find videos with English translation)  🙂

 

 

Being at peace: free resources for learning meditation

I love meditation 😀 I love the feeling of peace, security, acceptance and over all lightness that I experience in my meditation sessions. As an introvert, my inner world is supremely important to me, in fact so important that from time to time, I like to set dedicated hours apart to ensure that my inner house is in order.

Knowing who I am and what I am has been quite a journey. In this journey of self-discovery and learning, I have found meditation to be quite a tool for inner discovery. Most of us look outside when we want company, happiness, comfort… not quite realizing that everything that you need already resides within you. However it’s almost impossible to find your inner resources when you don’t have the best relationship with yourself.

We all have that little voice that nags us at the back of our head. Maybe a forgotten voice that belonged to a teacher who called you ‘stupid’ for failing in math or a family that thought you were too ‘naive’ or ‘angry’. All those labels that people we have forgotten, labelled us with and that subsequently became part of our personality. The voices that say that things aren’t quite how they should be, that you could always do better, etc. and you keep beating yourself up over your perceived failures. It’s a never-ending nag! Had this voice belonged to someone else, you would have probably resented their negativity and pulled away from their social circle. But since this is the voice in our head, most of us, go through life oblivious to it.

This is exactly why I love meditating. It puts me in touch with me. The me, who already has everything that she needs. The me, who is happy and blessed. The me, who knows what is right for her, in her gut, in her mind, intuitively. This is the inner me, the fat happy cat that purrs near my feet, light as a feather, happy as can be.

So given the recent onslaught of questions on finding resources on meditation, I have found quite a few sites which I love.

These Buddhist monks who have started a Peace Revolution are amazing, head over here: https://peacerevolution.net/. They have a free 42 day program to guide you through your journey 🙂

If you want something more scientific, try this site: http://marc.ucla.edu/ The UCLA MARC has an array of information, including free guided meditations.

And if you have an interest in Buddhism (you don’t have to in order to learn how to meditate), head over here: http://www.how-to-meditate.org/ They have an array of videos on lectures and techniques, along with the underlying principles.

So go on ahead… enjoy!

 

p.s. Other posts were I have written about meditation are:

Mind monkeys

How to increase self-confidence

The lazy persons guide to being healthy

Meditation Realizations

Meditation Retreat

 

Perspectives: Sidney vs. Paris vs. Baga

“We see things not as they are

But as we are”

 

Not sure who said that but I am pretty sure that it has been said over the centuries repeatedly by people far wiser than me. Faced with any situation – at home, in the office, in the society, in the greater world – we all look at the same situation and analyse and reach our own conclusions based on our own experience. We look at the same event but we each see a different perspective of it.

 

So while the internet flooded with hatred and finger-pointing it lacked crucial acknowledgement of the double standards in applying free speech. Charlie Hebdo fired one of its employees over anti-Semitic content in 2009. Similarly, Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten said soon after publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in 2005 that it would not publish cartoons offending Christians and Jews.

Carlos Latuff, a world-renowned Brazilian cartoonist, told Daily Sabah, “It is an everlasting discussion, because what is freedom of speech and what is hate speech? Why are some subjects protected by freedom of speech and others not? Why can we mock some issues and cannot do so with others? Should Holocaust denial, for example, be included as freedom of speech, or racial hatred? See, for example, the treatment given by the Western mainstream media to Muhammad cartoons and the Holocaust cartoons.”

These are some of Latuff’s cartoons that speak a thousand words:

 

 

My general take on reality is to try to keep an open mind about it. After all, no matter how many others are witnessing the same event, we each will have our own version of ‘truth’ or ‘reality’, defined by our differing perspectives. The difference doesn’t diminish us or our take on the situation, but it does create ripe grounds for confrontation. And in any confrontation, there are those who will peddle fear and hatred.

Compare the hostage crisis and shooting in Sydney and the way the Aussies reacted with their “# I’ll ride with you” hashtag v.s. the Paris shooting and the anti-muslim backlash that followed in Europe. Considering that since Jan 3rd Boko Haram massacred up to 2000 people in Baga & Doron Baga– which event was covered in a media blitz & given live round-the-clock coverage??

Amid round-the-clock coverage of the shootings, reprisal attacks against Muslims have been remarkably under-reported, as have other deadly attacks against civilians and suppression of free speech worldwide. Violent incidents in Nigeria and Yemen in the last week led to far more civilian deaths than in Paris (up to 2,000 in Nigeria), but they were not deemed as newsworthy.

The solidarity rally in Paris was attended by a who’s who of enemies of free speech and independent journalism. Those hoping the mainstream media would highlight this hypocrisy were disappointed.

You can read the full article here on the Aljazeera site.

Backlash continues against a religion that has 1.8 billion practitioners worldwide, just 0.4 billion less than the 2.2 billion Christians. The reaction in Europe & the West, this fight for so-called freedom, is hypocritical. From my personal perspective, the Paris shooting brought out the worst traits – it brought out the colonialist mentality, it paraded blatant intolerance for  freedom, and an eagerness to turn a blind eye on their own failings.

I am one of the 1.8 billion population worldwide who identifies Islam as their religion. I have quoted the Quran, the Bible, the Torah and I have quoted from Buddhism, Taoism and Sufism in my blog posts. In my little corner of the world, I have kept an open mind about the spirituality of all religions and their central teachings, same as the billions of others who has gone about their lives, demonstrating tolerance for difference.

Yet here we are again. An incident caused by isolated individuals. A media blitz. The world is busy putting on blinders and pointing fingers. Voices getting louder in competing over whose truth is ‘truer’. The hate-mongers & fear-mongers are out in force and 1.8 billion practitioners are being asked to stand up and declare that they are not terrorists by media moguls.

And a brilliant retort to that from J.K. Rowling and others named ‘Rupert’, here.

There are voices like Mark Steel writing “Norway’s Christians didn’t have to apologise for Anders Breivik and it’s the same for the muslims now”  but the majority on media seems to think otherwise.

Oh wait…. we were mistaken again…. according to Fox News Anchor Shannon Bream the rules are different for anyone who is not white, blond or blue-eyed.

Hypocrisy continues to reach new heights.

All is fair in love and war… or is it?

This semester at the university, I had a course “Gender & Development” and for the term paper, my group of 4 and I decided to do our paper on “LGBTQI & Development”.  The paper itself was interesting to put together but far more interesting was what I learnt along the way of secondary research.

As a die-hard romantic, somewhere deep down, I truly believe in all the Disney portrayal of love and relationships. This despite the fact that I also laugh at how dysfunctional those relationship would be in real life.

Now imagine my surprise, despair and distress at having to immerse myself in the difficulties of same-sex love, relationships and the screwed up institutional bias against the same. If ‘everything is fair in love and war’, then what’s wrong with this love?

Who says that only a man and a woman can be in love with each other? Who decides who your heart will fall for? Which logic dictates how you get to conduct your love affair?

Love for me is a very intimate affair between two people, the state, the law, the society, has no business butting their nose in there. As long as it doesn’t harm anyone else, why should anyone else have a say in it?

I understand parents loving their children and wanting the best for them. But I don’t understand it when parents & families kick out their kids because they are LGBTQI or when society/family pressures drive these people to take their own lives.

This doctor in the UK chose to take his own life, despite the fact that he was in a relationship for 13 years & was professionally successful. His mother told him to seek treatment to cure being ‘gay’ and I guess the pressure got to the point where it didn’t make any sense to keep fighting his family. So he ended it. Whose loss was that? Given the choice, would his family really choose to have him dead, rather than being gay?

While the doctor’s family is muslim, this gay teenager who committed suicide had devout christian family, who performed an exorcism on him to cure him of his ‘gayness’. Below is quoted from his suicide note:

‘My pain is not caused because I am gay. My pain was caused by how I was treated because I am gay.’

‘To my friends you gave me life and love, never think this was your fault…To Lady Gaga, you have been a fearless relentless proud LGBT advocate…’

These cases are far too common, in fact, the opposite is rare. To be able to come out to your family, to be accepted for who you are, to be celebrated for the person that you are, instead of being persecuted is rare. So rare in fact that the news below became quite a sensation.

Best birth announcement ever!

The world is screwed up, society is screwed up. We need more lovers and less war. Love and relationship are not guaranteed happiness for heterosexual couples. I cannot even begin to imagine how much more difficult it must be for homosexual people. So why can’t we all just take a chill pill and relax and be supportive … after all … All is fair in love & war.. right?

At some point in time, during our presentation to the class, I may or may not have, cheekily stated that while my first reaction to being ‘bi’ or ‘gay’ would be ‘yayy… more fish in the sea for me’… this wasn’t in any way meant to discount the anguish & distressing experience of thousands of people who had to ‘come out’ to their family or the society around them. However, if you are reading this and if you belong to the LGBTQI community, I want you to know the following:

YOU are beautiful exactly as you are

YOU are enough for yourself

No one and I really mean no one, no religion, society, family, is worth more than YOUR life

God doesn’t care.. he wants YOU to be a good person inside, in your actions, in your intentions.. I doubt that there’s any loving God who will denounce you based on your sexuality. He created us. If we were not what he wanted, you wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t have free will. Period.

So if I may… “live long and prosper” … and leave the naysayers in the dust where they belong.  Enjoy the holidays, kiss the person you are in love with and love truly and deeply.

What if the world turned on it’s head?

What if the world turned on its head and you woke up one day to a society like this.

What would change for you?

as a man…

as a woman…

as a human being…

Wise men say before you judge someone, walk a mile in their shoe. Yet we specialize in jumping …. to conclusions, to forcing others to live up to what we expect from them, what society expects, what religion expects, tribal laws, family laws/customs or whatever else we can drum up…… ever stop to wonder what they expect from themselves?

Have you ever asked someone what they want for themselves and REALLY listened?

This is not an invitation to debate, it IS an invitation to stop and think. Take a moment, take a breath and reflect.

Of convictions and contentment

I met Frankie today. A very interesting Austrian woman who happens to be here for a little more than a week on jury duty for an International Film Festival that is taking place here in Dhaka. We went for a long walk around Old Dhaka today and had some rather interesting discussion. Frankie and I have been born world apart, in the same year, in completely different societies. Our upbringing and lives have been in that sense rather different too. Yet we connected on so many different levels and had such animated conversations that none of us wanted it to end. At one point during our conversation though, she said something that made me stop and ask her to repeat herself again, just so that I really understood what she was saying.

Here’s what she said: “You are full of convictions and yet at the same time you are also brimming with contentment”. 

I kid you not, I did a double take when she said it. I was sure that I heard it wrong, which is why I asked her to repeat herself again.

My convictions that she was referring to was about my views on religion, life, goals, my child and what I want and don’t want for him & me etc. My contentment apparently stems from the fact that I can very easily declare that I love my life. That its easy to see that the work I do is something that I love very deeply.

This is not a gloating post.

Tomorrow will mark the 2nd year anniversary of the day I almost ended my life. I was in a deep dark tunnel that had no end, stuck in a life I felt powerless to change. Simply put – I hated my life and could not find the answer to the question, “why should I take another breath? or live for another day”. I didn’t have an answer. So I decided to take matters into my own hands. I planned for posterity (that would be the type-A personality in me). I planned my will, bequeathed what I own to the people I care for as carefully as I planned out exactly how I was going to end it.

I will tell you what saved me that day – these quotes from the Bible and the Quran and my best friend.

Frankie asked me this today and I had to think for a moment before I answered – am I religious? I think not, I think I am spiritual. I believe in something greather than us, a grand designer, creator of the cosmos if you will. I do believe in humanity.

I have been incredibly fortunate or lucky to see quite a few miracles in my life. At the same time I have also seen the worst face of human beings. It’s like the highs are real Himalaya kind of high, while the lows have been the pits of hell. That in itself would be enough to either rattle someone to their very core, or get them diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Turns out I don’t have that. Trust me, I did analyze myself and get a second opinion. (yes I am talking about mental health issues here, if you are not comfortable, this is not the blog for you).  What I do have is incurable, inexplicable – optimism and faith.

When I had forsaken the religion that was being shoved down my throat, I decided to find out for myself what religion meant. I went everywhere I could think of – churches, temples, gurudwara, synagogue. I read up on philosophy, debated religion with people who were open minded enough and knowledgeable enough to have an intelligent discussion. Let me tell you this – the ten commandments hold true no matter what religion you follow, or which God you worship. The name may change but the devotion felt is the same and at very core of it lies humanity. This gave birth to my conviction on religion – to each his own, his own action, karma, life and choices.

So back to two years ago, I was stuck in a dead end life that was not what I wanted or needed but couldn’t figure out how to get out of. See the trick there? I couldn’t see the how, the silver lining, the end of the tunnel. That’s were faith, optimism and my best friend kicked my ass in. I had to let go of the need to control the how and shift my attention to the why.

Ok, so I was not happy – why? what do I need to change about my life to be happy? What can I no longer tolerate in my life? What do I actively want to manifest in my life? What would change my life to the point where I do not feel the need to question the why of my life.

The more I have let go of the ‘how’ and concentrated on the ‘why’, the more I have achieved and the happier I have been.

It’s really been as simple and as difficult as that.

When my motivation to undertake something is not at the core of my being, my passion, my time is wasted. When it is, my time is invested. A simple example – people have told me for years that I should do my Masters. I couldn’t see the reason as to ‘why’ I should do it. The reasons that people usually gave to the ‘why’ was not for me. I don’t need that certificate or the salary bump that may come from it. Both of these reasons are arbitrary and while they may be true for most people, I already made more money than most people my age and I have worked my ass off to get where I am, so that didn’t really apply to me. However, last year, when I got bitten by the bug to know more, when development aid ignited my passion, I finally conceded that I do now want to do a Masters on Development Studies.

The problem with my life, as with most women and men’s, was that I was living a life that is prescribed by someone else – our family, society, expectations. The invisible iron chains that bind us down into making choices that has nothing to do with our individuality. It doesn’t stop to take note of the machines that we become, the dreams that we kill, or the aspirations that we suffocate to death. It takes no note of the zombies we become, like actors on a stage, in a play that they do not desire to be part of but cannot leave either.

This journey of becoming an individual is not an easy one. Neither is it for the faint hearted. If you crave love, attentions, affection and confirmations, then this is not the road for you to take. You will not get accolades for your efforts. Neither will you be cheered on your journey. The road to transformation is a long and lonely road – because no one else will see the destination that you are trying to reach. When you reach your destination, you might be the only one at the mountain top. Others might congratulate you for scaling another peak, for another success. But it will be your own blood and sweat that you will shed on this lonely journey.

Then again, in your travels, you might find a kindered spirit in someone else. Recognize yourself in someone else. You might even stop in your path to lend a helping hand. If you are suffering from depression, if you can’t see the end of the tunnel – the psalm 23.4, really helps. It will remind you that you are not alone. And when you get tired of fighting for what you believe in, your dreams, your goals – the Surah Al-Kafiroon, really helps. It will shore your belief that just because others can’t see things from the same perspective as you, it does not invalidate your dreams. You have every right to be YOU, while they have a right to be themselves.

Contentment? Yes please, I will take a double helping of that 🙂

Luck and Success – by chance?

Let me clarify this first – I do not believe in LUCK but I do believe in HARD WORK.

And I believe that when we want something, really really want something, the universe aligns itself to give us what we want.

If you believe in God, then you probably also believe in some corner of your heart or in the back of your mind, that God will provide. Whether it’s in the Bible or the Quran or any of the other holy books, I believe that God has clearly and repeatedly mentioned that you cannot stop at believing, you must toil to get what you want.

God definitely provides, He’s given me things that I didn’t ask for but definitely needed. He didn’t give me courage, He gave me circumstances that I had to rise above. That took courage that already exists in all of us.

Our wants and needs are two different things and our frustration stems from our confusion of the two. What you need and what you want – are not the same things. You need a place to live, what you want, maybe a mansion. Both fulfill the same basic need and function, yet, if you had asked for a mansion, you will be frustrated with living in an apartment. There in lies the difference in attitude, between being frustrated or grateful.

We chose to be either lucky or unlucky. Grateful or ungrateful.

We can blame others for all the things that have gone wrong in our life or we can stop playing the victim of circumstances, of birth etc, and take responsibility for our own actions.

You are only as lucky as you think you are. You are only as successful as you think you are.

To constantly compare yourself to others. To have to find excuses to justify your failures, whether to others or yourself, is to give over the reign of your life to someone else. It is no longer your own life that you live by your own choice, when you do that.

As the year draws to an end, the internet will be flooded with articles on how to make better resolutions, or how to stick to your resolutions and make your dreams come true. Another year ending seems to bring about all these in people. Yet I cannot help but ask, why didn’t you ask yourself these questions every day? You had 365 days when you could have done so. Why did you wait for a year to end to look back and realize that you have wasted yet another year? That you are no closer to your dreams, your aspirations, your very own definition of success?

Luck, is when you decide that you are lucky anyway. Luck is when you realize that while you have an apartment, someone else is sleeping on the streets tonight. Luck is when you decide that you can afford to finance another child’s education beside your own. Luck is when you know in your bones that empathy is priceless and decide to cultivate it on a daily basis. Luck is when you realize that love is not the selfish gratification of your own needs but the fulfillment of the need of another being. Luck is holding the reigns of your life in your own hands and the innate knowledge that your potentials are unlimited and only you have the key to unlock them.

And in that sense, as yet another ‘successful’ year draws to an end, I wish you ‘luck’ and may you keep finding and giving the best of yourself 🙂

You want heaven? practice this!

To those on my FB list, who keep posting about how you MUST copy and re-post that you love God, or say Allahu Akbar when an atheist blogger is killed, or any such religious extreme messages…. copy and paste this… not on your FB status, but in your heart and mind. The greatest Jihad is that which you engage in within yourself.

Next time you are feeling malicious, DON’T. Next time you want to treat someone else as less than human or less than you because they have a different religion, race, etc… DON’T. Next time you want to break a heart, flirt a little, kiss a lot… DON’T. Next time you are tempted to raise your voice on your parents because they just don’t understand, DON’T. Next time you forget to give someone or something (yes even animals count) less than your best… DON’T.

THAT would be you practicing religion, any religion, the way they were meant to be practiced. Religion was sent to make people better human beings. It was not meant to divide. Lets not forget that if you are muslim and a follower of the prophet, then by his own teaching, you are required to respect and love the other prophets who brought the word of God – Jesus, Moses & Abraham. You are required to love them and respect them and their followers too.

In the Judgement day, you will be judged on your actions, not your uttered words or FB status. You will be judged on the way you treated others, even in your thoughts. You want heaven? Make sure that you are creating a little piece of heaven right here in this earth with your words and actions, for your parents, your family, your friends, your neighbours, your community. Your existence should make other people’s life better, it should benefit and bring peace, are you doing that?????

No doubt we all know that pride and hatred are sins. Yet how many of our youngsters are led astray by people advocating exactly that? pride in their religion and hatred towards those following other paths.

It is not religion that makes a man. It is the character of the person that makes him/her a better human being. It is the continuous practice of sympathy, empathy, love, respect, honor, responsibility, tolerance for difference, patience etc. that makes the character of a human being. Work on your own character first before you point a finger at others.

 

 

There I think I can safely get off my soap box now 😀

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