The Wonder Formula

Someone told me once that we lose the joy and wonder in things as we knew more and more about how things work. If we knew the conditions were right for a rainbow to form, or the planets will shine in the evening skies brighter than usual, we seem to expect them, and then lost the magic of it all.

I have pondered on that often – could adding a pleasurable anticipation make up for the lost serendipity? As we watch the bleak skies of the winter, we can wait and feel the weight of the buds in the spring snowflake 🌱 plants, or watch the tulips bulbs shoot up from the Earth admiring their sense of timing, can’t we?.

While, waiting for the rains to subside, we can nurse a secret longing for a rainbow – I know I do.

Aside from all else, what isn’t lovely about a World that has rainbows? Maybe on other planets, with different atmospheric makeups than our own, rainbows themselves manifest differently or not at all, but it is comforting to know the colors of the rainbow and their perfect arc will be this way on this Earth as long as the suns rays can diffract the light in the moisture laden droplets.

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One day during the Winter holidays, I got to sit in a beach. It being the rainy season, there weren’t as many people around. There were a few beach lovers, so we curled up our beach towels and all set to greet the noisy seagulls. There I sat watching the Atlantic ocean with my umbrella open, sitting on a Mickey Mouse towel with a book in hand.

It was a few minutes afterward that we discerned the rainbow forming in the sky. How marvelous and wondrous an experience to watch the rainbow go from a faint smearing of smudged colors as though making up its mind whether to come out in all its glory or not; and then watch a colorful, bright rainbow full of the conviction of Being play on the horizon. The son came running across from where he was playing, flush with excitement pointing at the rainbow -🌈 “I knew it will come now.”

Sometimes, I wonder why we cannot be like children. Even though, they know the hows and whys behind things, they still retain Shoshin: the Zen concept of wonder as in a beginner’s mind. I smiled and patted him to sit next to me and take in the rainbow 🌈 with me.

After a while, he went back to playing in the ocean waves with his sister. I sat there, nourishing my musings with whimsy. I remembered some drawings of the daughter when she was much younger. Dolphins leapt out of the seas, with a rainbow arc-ed beautifully around them. Of course, children imagine the best possible things together – there isn’t any dearth or rationing in their imaginary worlds, is there?

Because when you are imagining, you might as well imagine something worth while.” as Anne of Green Gables would say.

The dolphins may get to see rainbows, but the fish do not. But maybe their world is marvelous enough with a thousand prickling and tricks of light that the water medium presents to them.

Musing in a world of rainbows is nothing short of magical even if I do know the concept of light refracting and producing the colors of a rainbow. My heart still lifts.

I had been traveling during the past few weeks. One such time on my sojourns, I left my home amidst brown hills. The summer sun had toasted the hillsides, and I yearned for a little respite to the eyes. In the two weeks that I was out, the rains had lashed the area liberally, and when I came back, the hillsides had turned a marvelous green. The rolling hills lifted their misty veils every morning, and I felt my heart pound with the magic of it all. Yes, I knew the rains make the grass grow, but the transformation is still a miracle that my heart waits for every year.

When I watch the dew drops glisten on the spring snowflakes,
When I watch the rainbow makes up its mind and throw itself like a garland across the skies
When I watch the eight-legged marvels creations catch in the sunset
When I watch the waves lap and play with the sandpipers

I feel hope stir in the spirits
I feel decisive and conviction in Being
I feel solitude’s gift can be tangible and needs to be nurtured for its fragile state
I feel engaged with the planet and all its gifts

I recently read a book bySasha Sagan, that is full of the joy of being. Titled: For Small Creatures Such as We: Rituals for Finding Meaning in Our Unlikely World, the book immediately caught my attention and I savored its many truths and facts about our rituals and festivals – the meaning behind life’s celebrations.

“My parents taught me that the provable, tangible, verifiable things were sacred, that sometimes the most astonishing ideas are clearly profound, but when they get labeled as “facts”, we lose sight of their beauty. It doesn’t have to be this way. Science is the source of so much insight worthy of ecstatic celebration.” – Sasha Sagan

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I was also reminded of Richard Feynman’s meditations on 🌺 flowers.

Ode to a Flower – By Richard Feynman.

There is beauty in knowledge, and wonder in anticipation. We just need a formula linking the two now.

For Small Creatures Such as We ( Sasha Sagan )

As I set out the kanu leaves in the backyard on a bitingly cold morning , the rain drops from the trees above dripped onto my back. When one refers to shivers down the spine, I suppose that is a literal enough description. I charged back into the warmth of the kitchen multiple times as I drew out the squiggly lines with rice flour – quick kolams to appease whom or what I did not know. I am not one for following rituals every much, but some how I like this one.

Kanu Pongal – Celebrated during Makara Sankranthi

Rains are lashing the Earth, and I am grateful. Last week, we celebrated the Indian version of Thanksgiving, Makara Sankranthi – the beautiful festival thanking Mother Earth for providing us with plentiful food, a nourishing environment, and so much more.

Kanu is typically celebrated by having the daughters in the family set the morning kanu for two reasons: (1) our forbears supposedly come and eat the offerings as crows, (2) the girls pray for the well-being of their brothers, who then give them gifts for their prayers and wishes.

In our feminist household of course, we have long since modified the ritual. It isn’t just the women who set out the kanu for the brothers – we all set the kanu and pray for our siblings’ well-being. We celebrate not just gratitude to Mother Earth for feeding our rather populous brood of humanity with her harvests, but also for the gift of sibling love in this large world.

Coincidentally, I picked up the book, For Small Creatures Such as We, By Sasha Sagan. (The daughter of Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan). After all, her father’s Cosmos book and her parents’ TV show, Cosmos, still has me ringing with the Joy of Existence every time I dip my feet into the “shores of the cosmic ocean“.

Sasha Sagan’s book does not disappoint. She says, and I quote:
Beneath the specifics of all our beliefs, sacred texts, origin stories, and dogmas, we humans have been celebrating the same two things since the dawn of time: astronomy and biology.

I sat there savoring that sentence for its simple truth, and elegant choice of words. Festivals and rituals are our ways of making sense of ourselves with respect to the larger cosmos – and her book marvelously outlined rituals and festivals in various parts of the world in different cultures and religions.

Discerning the sentiments behind the rituals is a particularly savory task, partly because I have a healthy skepticism about the Gods, and oscillate between being a secular agnostic and a believer. For those who are Secular in outlook, Sasha Sagan’s book is a marvelous read. It encourages us to come up with our own models for celebrating life in this cosmos.

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That cold morning as I set out the kanu, I wondered, not for the first time, why we set out cooked rice pongal for the crows. Is it to acknowledge our evolution as mankind to be where we are? Using fire to cook, was probably the single biggest leap in our journey, followed by becoming agriculturists from the hunter/gatherer mode. How different would everything have been if these two had not happened?

I especially thought of the brilliant poem she had referenced in the book by Vietnamese Zen Master, Thích Nhất Hạnh :
In this plate of food,
I see clearly
the presence of the entire universe
supporting my existence.

I also read a poem by Mary Oliver on Rice in the book. Blue Iris, and together with the books For Small Creatures Such as We, and Cosmos, it makes for a marvelous way to start the decade.

Rice – A Poem by Mary Oliver

It grew in the black mud.
It grew under the tiger’s orange paws.
Its stems thicker than candles, and as straight.
Its leaves like the feathers of egrets, but green.
The grains cresting, wanting to burst.
Oh, blood of the tiger.

I don’t want you to just sit at the table.
I don’t want you just to eat, and be content.
I want you to walk into the fields
Where the water is shining, and the rice has risen.
I want you to stand there, far from the white tablecloth.
I want you to fill your hands with mud, like a blessing.

As more and more of us move towards urban hubs for living, the less we realize all that happens to make food available for us to consume. How many of us have seen rice plants, or coffee plants or pepper vines – actually even if we have, how many of us consciously think of the journey from farm to table in its cooked form?

It is truly an enterprise of staggering proportions to realize how much has to happen for smooth functioning of Society, and it is lovely to read a book that is so full of joie-de-vivre

I like the concept of  thanking Mother Earth for her bountiful gifts to life (Did I mention this already?). When it starts off with fierce winds ripping branches from your backyard trees, followed by glimpses of sunlight illuminating the clouds during the sunrise, followed by mild rain, and then seeing a glorious double rainbow; what is not there to feel thankful about?

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Books: