That Instance which We Live the Life…

That moment

I have never been good at photography… I remember going to the illustrious weddings in Sri Lanka and wonder about the “nonsense” of photographers running around the bride to capture her best moment of emotion… “What’s the big deal?” I often thought, “camera will capture the moment anyway”.. That was my thinking.

It took me time to realize the true nature of the art of the photography and philosophy behind it. It is the photographer’s job to frame that instance in a timeless image to speak about the emotion on that instance.. It is a fine art framing the moment, and selecting the moment in a timeless universe of material and emotional life.. Then I realized why I never was a good photographer. I was never in the moment!

The philosophy behind that moment is not a superficial one.. It has a deep meaning. In the documentary “Yoga-the Architecture of peace”, based on the book of the same title, photographer Michael O’Neill describes this moment in a passionate way. That moment of life he tried to capture in his photography went through a philosophical journey, shifting from Hollywood celebrities to the life of Yogis in Asia..

Majority of eastern philosophies speak about that moment in time which gives us the wisdom in life.. When watching the above documentary, I understood those moments changed the life of this award-winning photographer, and through the lens of his camera, he himself became a Yogi…

Surely the mind is the most beautiful object in the whole universe.. Thousands of Yogis explored the mind to find the universe inside ourselves for thousands of years while western science trying to answer the questions by analyzing the outside world. In my opinion, one should complement another. One tradition should not undermine the another… It is time to get the benefit of both..

When, centuries after, scientists wired the meditating Yogis, , they found how brain waves change in positive ways when you concentrate on the instances inside the mind.. A mind trained to behave consciously becomes one of the precious jewels in the universe. A tuned string of a guitar becomes very much sense for a touch of a finger and plays amazing music. Such is a trained mind..

This is where the modern “positive psychology” getting it’s “modern” ideas from.. The word “mindfulness” has now come into the daily life of modern living.. Many people try to “buy” mindfulness by various practices. What many do not (including myself for some degree) understand is mindfulness is in this right moment and with us. It is not to be possessed as it is with you.

At the same time, these are exciting times in history people realizing and questioning life’s philosophies.. I feel the human energy and craving around me to search that moment in life.. For such a long time we all forgot about running the rat race of life. Let’s stop and think about the moment and live in it.

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Emptying Your Cup of Tea

 

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Experiences in life create maturity (first it is confusion, loss of direction and Oh.. yes!).. Same experiences which exhaust life open up the new paths to trot and quite new ways of looking around you… As life is a journey and not a destination, the traveler feels fatigue from time to time. Recently my life experiences pointed me towards eastern philosophies to finding a relief ( or an escape)… But the same act opened a whole new world to explore and take part… Without running away from my present life…What a life ( which belongs to the nature of it.. let alone for me or to anybody else)…

Zen… One thing about Zen is that it is mysterious… That mysterious nature arises one’s pattern of thinking in a sudden gust of adrenaline.  I have read that traditional Zen monks are travelers and they travel long and hard to visit various teachers. Student(seeker) when encounters a teacher, student ask a question and teacher gives an answer, normally bit “confusing” ( I repeat – First it’s confusion, loss of direction and oh! Yes). The confusion arises a sudden new way of thinking… That is the turning point for a student to explore a whole new world. What a philosophy…

One story goes as follows… A student visits a Zen master… Requests “ O Master.. Give me your great wisdom… I know I am educated in such and such …(Theoretical physics, Neuroscience, Business Administration.. whatever you think you are .. you name it!).

O, Master, I would like to learn your wisdom too… I am a true seeker with a never-ending thirst for knowledge…” student went on saying.

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“ Calm down my dear fellow… Let’s go and have some tea…” Zen master told this over-enthusiastic student. Master took two cups. He filed his and then started to fill the cup of the student. The student was observing. Cup gradually filled to the top and started to spill out. Master continued to pour tea even though it is spilling out as if never noticed.

“ Master stop… the cup is full and spilling! Didn’t you noticed”the student shouted…Master chuckled…“Hmm… My dear friend… Your head is like this cup. If it is full of stuff and even though you desire to gain new wisdom in life, nothing will be captured”.

I repeat again- First it’s confusion… Loss of Direction .. And then… I am trying to empty my cup… I took my baby steps….Tried few things free of charge such as taking few deep breaths in and out… In and Out .. Letting things go… How about you.. (Well none of my business.. but just curious as we are all human “beings” at this moment in our own paths). Just living the moment… No need to escape as it is not an option….The great gift of the eastern way of life… East we forgot a long time ago because our “cup is full”…

 

Moonlit Nights and Realities of Life….

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We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find reality- Iris Murdoch

Sea looked calm and the moonlight was flooding the beach… Coconut palms swayed to the sea breeze and night air was becoming cool.  Fishing boats started to come one by one to the beach, silhouetted by the moonlight.  Fishermen appeared from the boats and started to put down the rolled nets bundled with fish… A paradise for a writer to put together a nice piece of writing. What lies behind this breathtaking scenery is the reality of life…

Thinking back to that amazing scenery will never lose its excitement… I remember how I planned that journey and talked in to one of my friends to travel with me…I was on a mission to investigate facts for an article about the impact of the tourism industry on the shoreline fisheries. After the settlement of civil war which went for decades, Sri Lanka was opening up it’s doors to the tourism industry in the eastern shorelines.

Indulging myself with books was a lifelong passion for me. But my hobby to investigate and write as a freelancer for local newspapers opened another perspective of looking at life… As readers, we like to travel in imaginary world’s full of fantasies…  As writers, we like to full fill the fantasies of our readers. There is nothing wrong with it.. but there’s something more to life… There’s a story behind struggling lives of common people too..

The only passion that guides me is for the truth… I look at everything from this point of view. -Che Guevara 

Both myself and my friend found ourselves in this beautiful fishing village in an eastern beach in Sri Lanka thanks to my journalism adventures …I remember that night, where I spoke with the fishermen and tasted the fish stew they made on the beach. A calm night on this beautiful beach can hide their difficulties of life. Fishermen take their life as it comes. Not many dreams for future.. not much repent for the past. Life is simple.. but a struggle for survival… A booming tourism industry will create another dimension for their routine of life.

“Not everyone realises that to write a really good piece of journalism is at least as demanding intellectually as the achievement of any scholar”-Max Weber

That adrenaline rush when you find the facts… That is the journalism I loved and that is what I liked about investigative writing… You get your say and you are your own “boss” in your piece of writing. While doing so you become the medium for someone out there who likes tell his story otherwise will never get hear… Isn’t that amazing? That is why scholars describe media as one of the pillars in society, which holds it together!

Your writing journey takes twists and turns when you dig into the fine details which lay beyond fantasies. Next day we went to see corals with a local boat operator who showed us some of the pristine undamaged corals I have ever seen. He expressed his fears when mass scale business operations come to this pristine environment and make it a nightmare for this undisturbed corals. What are will the consequences of an unplanned Eco-tourism industry?

Passion for writing and excitements of facts finding… A good set of words and some creative photos… My article became enriched with views and quotes from these coastal dwellers. Those were the stories of real owners of land and resources who spoke their hearts out… Years later hotels started to come up.. Thousands of tourists started to flood in.. Soft drink and fast food culture came with unplanned tourism industries… Litter scattered… Commercialization… Sustainability is the “cover story” of all the unplanned “developments”…

Kailash Kher, an Asian musician inspired by folk and Sufi traditions, always commented that his inspiration came from nature and common people….Some writers and artists become lucky in their lives to get that inspiration …As a journalist once I was lucky to be in that village and at that moment…lucky to see the moonlight flooding to the sea in that beautiful fishing village.. lucky to be the voice of common people of that distant village… But I am not lucky to witness those beautiful beaches become unplanned business ventures on a later day… Is that the life’s reality?

P.S.- Above post is #4 of my “Memoirs from An Accidental Journalist” blog series…

I regard myself as an Accidental Journalist. Never did it as a profession but continued it for pure passion… even though some people paid me for my hobby! These are the memoirs and some writing tips, I wanted to share with you, which I gathered from my journalistic journey in my “ on and off” career as a science and environment journalist.

Memoirs & Tips from An Accidental Journalist #3 : “Tail” of Tilapia

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A cool breeze came through the reservoir. I was slowly walking towards the fishing couple sitting in front of their little hut, mending a net. It was a small fishing community adjacent to the banks of “Rajangana” reservoir- a beautiful man-made reservoir- in north central Sri Lanka. A wooden fishing boat swayed near the water’s edge. I was out for an article about the inland fisheries.

The fisherman and his wife became bit startled to see me suddenly appearing with a notebook and a camera. “ I am from a newspaper, doing an article,” I said to them. Smiles appeared on their weathered faces and in no time we were friends. From my many encounters with rural fishermen, I can assure that they are not shy to speak their mind. Soon came a glass of hot herbal tea and we began chatting.

“Ariyadasa” the fisherman ( I still remember his name), lay the nets at night and again go to the waters to get them back during the morning. The handful of fish get caught on his net, he sells to the middlemen and comes home with the nets. Now he and his wife slowly mend the fishing nets- their most important tool of the trade.

“ Theppilli” the native word for fish “Tilapia mossambica” is the lifeblood of this fishing family. Thousands of fishermen in rural Sri Lanka make their living because of this fishery surrounding the inland reservoirs of Sri Lanka. So the story of the lives of this fishermen is the tale of Tilapia. It can not be separated. Man and the natural resource.. This is the ultimate combination throughout the human history.

Now the Science of Tilapia mossambica… This fish is a favorite culture fish in the third world. The fish is a fast breeder and easy to culture in waterbodies. Ancient kings in Sri Lanka had made those reservoirs to facilitate the agriculture. It was to these reservoirs scientist have introduced this fish species to boost fish production. Ariyadasa, our poor fisherman, who everyday struggled for mare survival told me his story that day.. End of his story I questioned both science and politics…

Sri Lanka is a resource-rich tropical island blessed with abundant waterways. Thousands of years, in mighty kings’ era, this had been a country of a strong subsistence economy depended on agriculture.  There was no western science during those days. Traditional technologies used, which went very well with the life and nature. The struggle of science and politics, unfortunately, couldn’t get rid of poverty of this beautiful country in this space age!

Though science introduced Tilapia to this reservoir (which is not a native fish) to boost fish production, no strong policies were there to sustain the industry and elevate poverty of these fishermen! Measuring from head to tail of Tilapia and analyzing gut contents science can come to conclusions. A politician can release the fingerlings(small fish) of Tilapia to a reservoir, during an election campaign.  In countries like Sri Lanka, policies and government backing changes with changing governments. So the “Tale of Tilapia” became a fairy tale!

Science is not a magic bullet. It needs good handling… A good political backing.. Honest administration.. (Uncorrupted governments.. etc) ..Generations of scientist tried to introduce the technology to third world developing nations. When can science ease the poverty of the people like traditional fishermen on a small island in the Indian ocean? Are we practicing the right science or we are after an illusion? Do we know enough about head or tail of Tilapia mossambica! This was the tale of Tilapia, which I wrote to a science magazine back then.

I regard myself as an Accidental Journalist. Never did it as a profession but continued it for pure passion… even though some people paid me for my hobby! These are the memoirs and some writing tips, I wanted to share with you, which I gathered from my journalistic journey in my “ on and off” career as a science and environment journalist.

 

Saga of Silence,Colour of Blankness and Writer’s Solitude

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I remember the river bed.. one can climb down to the edge of the river and gaze at the slowly flowing water for hours. I do not remember the reason I climbed down and sit there on the edge of the water where no one was present. It was the river, riverbed and the silence. The silence.. that was what I was looking for. This was years back. But I still remember the silence. The silence which spoke to me… My soul was searching somebody to speak to… Yes, the silence spoke to me…

Growing up near the sea in a beautiful island was a privilege we took for granted.. Where people spend thousands in foreign currency to come and be on the same place we grew up and neglected every day. But I remember those moments, where you can see the blue ocean taking up the blankness of the sky… What I gazed at was the blankness. The blankness of nothing… Yet there is everything in blankness, everything you dream of…

I often wonder how the poets get their inspiration and novelists get their creativity. How artists put their emotions to take a form of life on a blank canvas. Yes, the blankness of nothing can create everything. Silence speaks to you thousand words. When you read a novel and admire the art, you can see the silence come into words. The blankness creating the various forms in the life’s canvas.

I remember a moment when my father took me to his village when I was small. I remember the tiny cottage up in a small hill, surrounded by fruit trees and fragrant flowers. I was lying in a straw mat at the night and listening to elders talking in a slow pace. Yes, the pace was slow… It mingled with the darkness and the small oil lamp spreading a balmy light. The right pace of life to retire into the luxury of good night’s sleep, where the five-star comfort of the world’s best hotel would not offer.

I think every one of us searches a moment of solitude in our lives… That moment gives us our own space in-universe. Today’s life is full of chaos and responsibilities… Gone are the days you have a moment to listen to the silence. Gone are the days to gaze at the blankness. Finally, I end up in a developed country where most people on that island I grew up, would be dreaming to live in.. Finally, I am walking in one of the big cities in the world, regarded as one of the best places to live.

Suddenly in one moment, I craved for the silence in my solitary riverbed. Suddenly I wanted to gaze at the blankness of the sky and sea… Suddenly I wanted to sleep soundly cradled in carefree darkness, listening to elders speaking quietly… That pace of life you feel the inner security and mind is free… Those moments of solitude you get connected to the universe

This is why suddenly I decided to become a writer…

(P.S.- The tropical island which I grew up is Sri Lanka, surrounded by sea, never short of flowing rivers and riverbeds full of fragrant flowers. Distant villages where the time still stands still. The pace of life is calm and quiet. I feel the craving for those moments and places while living and working in big cities in Australia.. Above prose penned by me in a very short time, during that brief time I re-lived the moments and spaces of my childhood. Do you agree writing is a process to heal? Don’t you think writers search solitude in life by re-living those moments?)

Memoirs and Tips from An Accidental Journalist #2 : Story of A Dying Prawn

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I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions. –James A. Michener( an American author)

I remember my first piece of investigative writing to a newspaper. Having brainwashed by a science degree (less equipped with common sense), I was trying to put together a story about the vanishing prawn industry in Sri Lanka as a result of a viral disease.. The “X” virus effects the prawns and “Y” number of farms are closing..

“ Who wants to read this sh*t scientists boast about?” looking at my jargon, one of the old hands of journalism expressed his concerns., . “Dig what people have to say first”.. It took time for me to comprehend his concerns..  We write to the public… A writer who does not understand the reader, simply will not get a readership.

After all, Einstein is a human being.. Stephen Hawking’s life story attracts us to his thinking about the universe.. We all have experiences and emotions. We relate to them and not normally attracted to the abstract facts in the first place… unless you are some kind of a nerd. It is easy to attract to the facts with a background life story with emotions.

One week after, my conversation with my “ mentor”  I was traveling in a coastal route with him- of course listening to his remarks about women in his life- to meet some prawn farmers. There came the stories of their life.. Of their miseries and vanishing bank accounts.. True that scientists are pointing to a virus and accusing it …Despite the comments from  Environmentalists “ serves them right”.. What about the true impact to the life of this farmers..

I see journalists garnish their articles with literature and storytelling in good pieces of journalism. Journalism is not merely fiction. It’s a core of facts coated with fiction- after all chocolate coated biscuits are more edible… If you can establish that human connection you are a successful journalist. The story becomes vibrant and living. Story breathes the life.. that capture your audience.

When prawn farming industry went downhill in Sri Lanka within a year or so because of a viral disease called “ white spot disease”, the truth came out with feelings. Once regarded as a lucrative business for small and large-scale investors, became an investors nightmare. The viral disease spread through farms because of the unplanned, environmentally in-correct farming practices. It was too late when people realized harming environment will create your own downfall..

I understood that telling the life story of these farmers will convey the message more emotionally about what happened to this industry. I named my article as “An unplanned industry- a suicidal mission” (of course I wrote in my native language). A blend of science, emotions and true facts mixed with fiction. A story I remember as one of my first attempts to establish my self as a budding journalist. A story of a dying prawn and emotional expressions of a writer.

I regard myself as an Accidental Journalist. Never did it as a profession but continued it for pure passion. . even though some people paid me for my hobby! These are the memoirs and some writing tips, I wanted to share with you, which I gathered from my journalistic journey in my “ on and off” career as a science and environment journalist.

Memoirs & Tips From an Accidental Journalist #1: Let The Passion Lead You

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It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.
– Ernest Hemingway

I believe myself as an Accidental Journalist. My first article published on a back page of a  science magazine in 1997 in my native language in Sri Lanka. (Apart from my family and few friends nobody ever noticed it!) To keep the memory I have kept this piece until today. After several attempts to put together 50 words in a journalistic way, finally, one editor had given the green light for that!  What kept me writing ever since was the passion and excitement.

One day, over 20 years back,  I met a stranger “ accidentally” in front of a library, who was a university student doing some freelancing for a science magazine. To pass the time we were chatting.. Hey.. why can’t I be a writer like you? I went with him to meet his editor that day itself and poured out my passion for writing in front of his desk. A few weeks later, my first article appeared on the back page of that magazine, as the editor got nothing else to fill a small space!

And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
– William Shakespeare (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

Shakespeare whom I struggle to understand still ( as I have no structured literary training, rather I peruse it with curiosity), has said: “Lunatics, lovers, and poets all are ruled by their overactive imaginations”.  According to him, sometimes poets do not see the reality because of that. Taking away the reader from reality to capture the attention is one tactic writer put together with imagination.

My “on and off” writing journey passed through encounters with scientists ( as I was mostly a “ science journalist” ) who spoke too much boring technical stuff that nobody wants to hear. My passion for writing and my imagination gave those science stories their form and kept the editors accepting my jargon.

As writing is a craft as well as an art, one has to learn on their way as a writer. Most of the crafty things of writing have to learn on the way. Well, it’s none of your readers business that you had to learn the fine craft of writing on your writing journey, as Ernest Hemingway said. Let the passion lead you to try new things and you will learn the rules naturally.

If the storytelling is your passion, let that lead you on its way. Good storytellers do it with a passion. Their passion will come into life in their stories. That passion glue the readers to the pages of their books.  Look what one of the popular authors in the history of storytelling  had to tell:

I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell an interesting story entertainingly.
– Edgar Rice Burroughs

So why don’t we- you and me- tell our story? Let passion ignite the desire.. Let us be lunatics and lovers of words and make a form out of nothing like true poets as Shakespeare has put it.