It’s said that on the darkest of nights, when for long stretches, as they walked; Lakshman could not see Ram, and grew weary. Then as his hope ebbed, to its depths, Sita would step aside on the path, to let Lakshman glimpse, his God, Ram. His faith would be renewed, at the light, of his vision, and he would walk on unafraid, even in the dark. Faith in this divine light, is woven, into our Diwali Diya’s, to welcome our true internal Ram, back home. Welcome this Diwali light into our hearts, as we have seen too much darkness and suffering, this year
Viktor Frankl drew on his own existantial experiences as a survivor of the holocaust, to originate the discipline of Logotherapy as explained in Wikipedia. “Logotherapy is a form of Psychotherapy that stresses the need to find meaning in life even in the most tragic circumstances. When “Man’s Search for Meaning” was published in 1959, Carl Rogers called it “one of the most outstanding contributions to psychological thought in the last fifty years.” He broke away from Nietzsche’s will to power and Freud’s will to pleasure by explaining that the individual’s highest calling is to find the meaning in life based on the following:
• Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones.
• Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life.
• We have freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the stand we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering.”
Frankl went on to explain that to find meaning in life we need to be careful against affluence, hedonism and materialism as that will distract from finding the purpose that will give meaning to our life. No matter how adverse the environment we face (Frankl lost his family and survived multiple death camps during the Holocaust), we must always remember “the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances”. The freedom of will is ours and we have to determine our own character and personality, no matter what the circumstances. We will be buffeted by biological, political, social, economic and other adverse situations but our will is our own and we will suffer, but we must never surrender to our circumstances.
Existential analysis and psychotherapy aside how will we bring this message alive, so that we can continue to find meaning in our life and get fulfillment from a life lived with purpose? We are the victims of our own inadequacies which are largely the result of “unfulfilled responsibility” (I could have provided better for my daughter) and we suffer from “anticipatory anxiety” (I will not be able to sleep when I go to bed). To battle anxiety from such situations Logotherapy offers “paradoxical intention”, or go to bed and intentionally try not to fall asleep (this will reduce the hyper anxiety about not being able to sleep, and the person will fall asleep in a more normal timespan).
Now I look back on my life and see the successes of all my contemporaries and also the many accomplishments of the wonderful people that I have known. #Life is valuable and we must not squander this greatest of all opportunities. What are anxieties about my lack of personal success; whether economic or social are eating away at my purpose in life and I am unable to develop myself. The depression from promises unfulfilled to my spouse, or family, or boss have taken their toll over the years; till now I am a mere hollow shell of what I once was. Drop by drop, the repeated blows of perceived failures, have hollowed out my inner strength; till now I project a weak exterior, trampled on by one and all in the passing herd. Life has become a daily look in the mirror at past failures and lost opportunities and preconceived notions of my own inadequacies for #self actualization.
Now I consign all these sorry feelings and low attitudes, to the dung heap of history. I will raise my beliefs again to the level where I will find the meaning in life, which I have long sought. Next time we meet you may find a spring in my step and a vision that rises higher. If you see a new light around me, it is my life burning in a new flame of meaning. The wick is time (my life) and the fuel is will (my attitude) and the light is knowledge (my life providing meaning to others around me). Look closely at the flame that rises; for I have decided that from now on I will become the temple lamp that lights the way, by burning itself out. In my newfound wisdom I will indulge fully in a joyful effort to improve myself and those around me. We will promote training in generosity, patience, concentration, wisdom and above all a compassion for all creatures and promote ethical living. My current flame is weak I know; but by the time I am done I #hope, it will be an inferno that will become a shining lighthouse in life’s storm, for all humanity if you join with me!
There is a thick fog that has covered the bay, as I walk into the dark early predawn hour. A distant fog horn sounds from a passing ship and I peer at the lights, that are circled by the mist and appear dim. I realize it is not my vision that is in a blur, but that the world itself has become opaque from this phenomenon of water and moisture and inverted temperature, causing me to feel disconnected and lost.
I walk on and hear the rumblings of the trucks down Queensway from the Long Beach harbor to the hinterland carrying goods to the consumers of this great land. This Queensway is a road to commerce; very similar to the Queensway of my youth which connected Connaught Place to the Viceroy’s palace on Raisina Hill, in New Delhi. They were both named after the Queen Mary and yet they are not related. The contrast in ambiance and looks cannot be starker as one was a display of colonial power and this is a utilitarian road of commerce.
As I turn to go back I feel lost in the fog, as familiar signposts are no longer visible. My mind feels the need to identify these comforting signs and I realize that our lives need similar milestones to guide our daily journey. When we lose the familiar we feel lost; and then fear and anxiety and the consequences of these which are loss of self-confidence and the feelings of inadequacies, rear their ugly head. We are the creatures of habit and anything that disturbs our comfortable cocoon makes us uneasy.
Now that I am uncomfortable and vulnerable the morning walk is not as pleasant and thoughts arise of getting back quickly to the familiar hotel room. I realize that this is the crux of our problems, as we are not ready to step out into the unfamiliar. We are not ready to give up what we have built around us, to find the path we need to travel. We cling to our egos as it defines us and do not allow the souls journey to continue, as it will lead us into the opaque and the unknown.
We have to get out of our comfort zone and become vulnerable again, to realize love and compassion. We do not initiate sex with our partner or build loving relationships with those around us due to the fear of rejection, and so it becomes a cycle of withdrawal and jilted relationships. We narrow our world into one where we are no longer free, but confined by our own fears and imaginations of inadequacy.
The fog still sits heavy on the river but now I am ready to go with its flow. I realize that until this ego is killed I cannot be free. My life was carefree and I wandered this world in wonder in my youth, and now that #hope and joy is long gone. I have allowed the fog of fear, uncertainty, unwholesomeness, anxiety become the norm, till I am no longer whole. The perfection we seek often takes us further away from the joy of discovering our own uniqueness, and the uniqueness of those around us.
The morning will come and the sun will rise and burn this fog away. Similarly we have to awake to our own imperfection and then with consciousness drive our fears away. We have to allow ourselves to become vulnerable again, as only then can we open ourselves to the compassion and joy around us. Until we can forgive ourselves and bring compassion to ourselves, we cannot spread compassion to others.
Deeply hurt I stumble into the hotel lobby and know that the healing has begun; and a new life will dawn for I am unloved, because I am unloving. I open my heart a little bit and say “Good Morning” to the surprised lady at the front desk; as she has seen my predawn wanderings before, and I used to pass her silently sulking away to my room. She gives a sleepy smile after her tiring night shift; and jokes that the city seems blurry this morning. I agree hoping that our personal fog will also lift; I can see clearly now that it is only in dying to our self, that we will be reborn to eternal life. My joy returns and spreads outwards…
With great #Hope for #Self actualization I read the first verse of the Isa upanishad:
- īśā vāsyam idaṃ sarvaṃ ¦ yat kiñca jagatyāṃ jagat |
- tena tyaktena bhuñjīthā ¦ mā gṛdhaḥ kasya sviddhanam ||
literal translation (Ralph T.H. Griffith, 1899):
- “Enveloped by the Lord must be This All — each thing that moves on earth.
- With that renounced enjoy thyself. Covet no wealth of any man.”
It is only in the darkest of nights that you can see a pinpoint of light appear like a bright star. Similarly it is in the quite of meditation that you can hear the roar of the ever expanding universe. It is when you still the heart; that you hear its pounding and the pulsation of our body, as it screams out its existence. As I walked past midnight the sounds of far highways and the activities at the nearby harbor; seemed to suddenly emerge and when you seek silence, is when you hear the most.
So waste the time and do nothing, and suddenly you will find yourself in the midst of all the action. When you still your thoughts; then more will rush in from the far corners, of consciousness. No wonder people will not meditate; as we find it too distracting, and we lose the motivation to seek realization. Consciousness is not in doing something for reward but in being present with the whole universe surrounding us. It is then that we become one with everything and compassion and love flow as everything is one with us.
Singularity in a state of consciousness is a hard state to live in, as we love duality. Us and them, mine and yours, it goes on and on and we stay confused, hurt, hateful and unfulfilled. Watch your breath and stay calm and then the powers of universal knowledge appear and we are swept away with the joy of the creator. He is not separate from us and we are him and he is us, and every single moment becomes eternal.
When you live a moment in time then you have gained eternity itself, as everything is connected. Now is the moment that awareness rises and duality falls away. I seek so I find. Having found then one only has to live with it; as what we gain is not the treasures of possession, but the joy of renunciation. As the Isa Upanishad said and Mahatam Gandhi pointed out “Renounce and enjoy” should be our only mantra for life.
So I will seek the solace of my bed again in this passing night as the body is weary and the mind is restless. I pen these thoughts with an effort for life is fleeting and there is much to say. I am; so the universe exists, and when I sleep the dreams will come again. The past lives on in us and we are attached to the karma of our past; just like the child who smiles in its sleep, remembering the times when it was happy. On awaking it cries; for life demands survival, and all that comes with it.
Thus we cry on as life is suffering; and all we seek, we will never find. I give you eternal life and what will you do with it. Will you continue to look for what you do not have, or will you learn to enjoy all that you already have. It is a conundrum and who is happy and who is unhappy, is only known to the wise. I take a breath and allow consciousness to slip away and yet the mind clings to this maya of appearances, and I cannot sleep. Then I drift into a dream and all is real again.
In the predawn hours the clouds were slowly emerging from under the night’s cloak over the Pacific Ocean. I watched a pair of Pelicans do their synchronized skimming; just above the waters of the Los Angeles River, as they looked for their school of fish. They swam upriver and disappeared and then soon returned still executing that tantalizing close flight to the water with the occasional dive to catch their prey. They were intent on their morning catch, in what is largely an unknown ditch across the city; and finally turns into a bay where the old Queen Mary is docked, as a tourist attraction and hotel in Long Beach.
The palms were lining the Marina as the light got brighter and the distant hills came into view. The sun was still not up as I walked, and the morning awaited its appearance. There seemed to be a hush of expectation from the new day as the night had brought passing showers to parched southern California.
The palms and flowers planted looked greener and brighter and a few drops remained in some places adding to the expectation of hope of better things to come. A few fitness enthusiasts were around passing me on their bicycles or just jogging along the scenic pathways; bordering the river, and the landscaped gardens. I watched the light going off, in the city of lights; as the dawn approached. I knew that in this city of dreams and #hope, the dreams of millions fade into the night, as they awake to a new day.
I find a dock and as I sit looking at the bay, I just can’t get Otis Redding’s words out of my head, “Looks like nothing’s gonna change
Everything still remains the same
I can’t do what ten people tell me to do
So I guess I’ll remain the same, listen”
Reflecting with the endless waves of the ocean; I find that my body is growing weaker, from a lack of workouts and exercise. My mind is not as sharp; from a lack of stimulus and also the aging process, which is destroying billions of synapses and cells in the brain. My heart is growing weaker from its inability to love and express affection, whether it is physical or emotional. My habits are not conducive to a better life and the smoking is burning my lungs, throat and body up slowly but steadily. My soul is starving as I do not allow the universe to bring its healing power to me, but remain confined in my narrow world of sin and suffering. My life is wasting away on this bay and nobody is here to show the path, of where to go.
Then I allow the mind to become still in the ancient meditation taught by the Buddha, as I close my eyes and look inwards and allow compassion to spread outwards. A gentle ocean breeze tickles my skin and the sounds of the sea gulls encroaches the peace. I sit still and let the past fade and the future recede and the present is all there is. Thoughts and feelings arise and I let them come and go and stay unattached. I enter the darkness of my consciousness and drift on the ocean of eternity.
Suddenly the darkness is thrust asunder by a light that seems to arise from the deepest darkness of the time before creation. My eyelids turn orange and my eyes are no longer under my control. They burst open and I see a straight line of bright light leading from where I sit across the ocean to the mountain peak across the bay. A single ray from the rising sun peaking over the valley has appeared for me, and only we know each other in a primordial dance of life. Another day has begun and #hope and life are etrnally reborn; I rise to live another day, with the past and my personal pains forgotten.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
~ ‘Ulysses’ by Tennyson
Little Henry stood by the doorman at the curb, under the gargoyles peering down at him from the entrance of their granite prewar building. He pulled at Vera’s skirt, “Why do we have to move from here? I like it here and all my friends are here.”
The doorman, in his well-ironed, starched, gray uniform, finally waved down a yellow cab. With his white-gloved hands, he opened the door for Henry and Vera to get in. Doffing his hat at Vera, he whispered, “Have a good day, Miss Lights.” He bowed and closed the door once she had settled in.
Vera instructed the cab driver, “Carter Hotel in Times Square, 250 West 43rd Street.” She noticed Henry staring out of the other window, fascinated by a dog walker taking six dogs out for a walk to Central Park.
She looked at her watch. She was running a little late, as it had taken her some time to settle Loretta with the baby-sitter and get Henry ready. He had insisted on coming with her. She looked out and watched the stately buildings of the Upper West Side and the fancy stores and restaurants go past as they headed downtown.
Vera was meeting one of her old friends from the theater district who had been a producer, and was one of the investors in the recently built Carter Hotel. She planned to move into two rooms of the hotel permanently. The current apartment was costing her too much money and she knew she had to do something, as her savings were dwindling every year.
The producer was offering her a ten-year lease at a ridiculously low rate as he had made a lot of money when he had invested in one of her past performances.
The doorman’s words clicked in the cab driver’s mind and he suddenly recognized Vera’s beautiful face. “Wow!” The cab driver said, looking at her in the rearview mirror, “Ms. Vera Lights, the famous Broadway Star! My wife is a huge fan and has seen most of your performances. Wait till I tell the missus who I gave a ride to today!”
Vera gave him a small smile. She was used to being a celebrity and evoking strange responses in complete strangers.
They finally pulled up to the façade of the hotel and the cab driver refused to take money for the fare saying, “The missus will kill me if I charge her heroine, Vera Lights, for a ride. Please, this trip is on me and it is an honor to have you ride with me.”
The doorman of the hotel held the door open of the cab as Vera and Henry stepped out; and then he guided them into the lobby. Vera and Henry walked in for the first time in their lives through the doors of the hotel which was about to become their Times Square residence.
The journey of Veronica Jones, a farm girl from rural upstate New York State, into a Broadway star by the name of Vera Lights, started at a regional theater in Albany.
Veronica’s parents were tenant farmers and she was an only child. She was a healthy young girl with a glowing complexion and had inherited her mother’s good looks.
Her school was part of a theater competition, organized by a philanthropic organization set up by some of New York City’s old families, for the promotion of the theatrical arts. Her natural talents as a singer, dancer and stage performer were recognized as she stood out amongst the other performers in the competition. When the director of a touring company of playwrights and performers from New York City expressed an interest in her joining their company, her father had objected strongly.
It was her mother who encouraged her. She did not want Veronica to have the hard life of a farmer that she herself, as an ex-city girl from Brooklyn had endured when she married her love and moved to the farm in upstate New York. Her dreams of moving back to the city had never materialized and she had resigned herself to her fate. She had worried about the mortgage and how to bring up Veronica so that she would have a more equitable chance in this world. She did not want her daughter to suffer the same fate and persuaded her husband to let her go and explore the world and make a new life.
It was the Director who coached and refined Veronica’s skills. She had worked with the larger troupe and learnt many of her early lessons in the theater, as they performed across the state and city. The travelling and the performances made Veronica very busy and she immersed herself into the acts and the plays. As is often true in smaller companies, she learnt multiple parts, and her natural talent was improved by countless hours of practice and rehearsals.,.
Her big break came when she was selected for her young fresh farm looks to play the part of Abbie in an off-Broadway revival of Desire under the Elms from the famous playwright, Eugene O’Neil. It was also at this time that the director changed her name to Vera Lights to make it more glamorous and appropriate for a star.
The play was a huge success and the young Vera played the tortured role of the young wife of the old farmer and his two grown sons in a lonely farmhouse to perfection. To the city dwellers the vistas of farm living were stark and made the characters appear larger than life.
A young critic at the New York Herald by the name of Jake Alexander was especially enthusiastic about her performance and gave her great reviews. “A new star has been born and Vera’s performance brings alive the desolate life of O’Neil’s young heroine in a natural talent that is so fresh and yet so ageless. This revival is a must see as the young Miss Lights brings alive a role that many other major stars have struggled to portray. Her final scenes will be scorched into the audience’s memories and no one can come away unmoved by her enactment of her character’s moral struggles and lonely despair.”
Vera’s career went on from there to new heights as she became a recognized star. She won new roles and became a regular feature in the leading theatrical circles of New York. She was wooed by many young men and married one of the young and handsome men after a whirlwind courtship.
Elliot, her new husband, and Vera, settled down in New York City where she bought an apartment with her income from her new stardom. They became a fixture in many of the city’s gatherings of young stars and old money as they hobnobbed with the rich and famous. Her life seemed perfect and she was living out all her dreams and all of Broadway and New York City seemed to adore her and put her on a pedestal of stardom.
She received another break when she was selected to play Stella in the Broadway production of A Streetcar named Desire, one of the most eagerly anticipated productions of that year.
Vera’s story is closely tied to the environment of midtown Manhattan and the history of the city’s decline and rise. There are references to actual events and persona during this period from the 80’s to present day for completeness and are in no way intended to represent their views or lives.
Midtown’s deterioration, the shutdown of some of the famous theaters of the area and its decline into a crime prone area, is tied into the lives of Vera and her children.
The neighborhood had become seedier and was soon known as the armpit of New York. Crime had soared to 2,300 felonies in 1984 or six assaults a day.
The Light family’s struggle is the story of the people of this great city who persevered against all odds, and especially of single mothers, trying to raise their children in a hostile world.
I refer to Herb Sturz of NJ who had taken up the cause of NYC revival and especially of Times Square with a passion and dedication unrivaled by other skeptics and doomsayers in the city.
In 1979, Sturz became deputy mayor of NYC, defining his job when he said, “We want to bring fantasy back to Times Square and replace the grim reality,” as reported by Sam Roberts in ‘A Kind of Genius: Herb Sturz and Society’s toughest problems.’ He enlisted the help of Rebecca Robertson, an experienced city planner, and involved other leading community activists to reinvent the Great White Way.
Douglas Durst and his landlord family, along with others with large holdings in the area, initially fought any government intervention, considering it wasteful. Eventually, Durst started to realize that Sturz was serious in his efforts and went on to build the 4, Times Square building on his holdings, with a major investment and boost for the area.
It was the first green 48 stories tall skyscraper. It houses NASDAQ with the largest LED screen (seven stories) and solar panels on the roof and taller floors. Gigantic fuel cells warm water for the building and Natural-gas chillers cool it, saving electricity. The air is cooled using special shafts and conduits to enhance filtering.
Also, plans were made to build a glass and steel tower at what became the prestigious new address of One Times Square in a revived midtown.
Cora Cahan, a theater impresario, revived the New Victory for Children plays, as it was her lifetime passion to revive family fun in midtown. As part of the city’s revival they reached out to many major corporations for support and Ford Motor restored the Lyric and Apollo theaters back to their former glory.
Disney renewed the most famous of Broadway theaters, the New Amsterdam, for live plays, based on their popular movies. Modern Broadway was born and over 20 million tourists a year made Times Square the greatest tourist destination in the US.
The theatrical revival led to 39 Broadway houses with 7.5 million theatergoers, making it the best live entertainment in the world. With the improved infrastructure over 200,000 commuters a day passed through Times Square, making its seedy past a faint memory.
From her rise to the heights of society, we come upon Vera at a time when her world is collapsing around her, at a time when the Great White Way has crumbled. Slowly, the theaters have closed and, as the producers move on to less risky investments, the work has disappeared.
After a series of unsuccessful short marriages with agents and leading men of her times, she has two children, Henry and Loretta.
. The one shoulder she can lean on is that of her friend, Jake Alexander, who is also Loretta’s godfather. He has known Vera from her younger, vibrant days as a star. Jake is the theater critic of the New York Herald and goes on to become a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and editor of the New York Times.
Vera, sick of touring the regional towns for negligible pay, comes back to live in her Upper West Side rented apartment in New York City. And then moves on to Hotel Carter.
Will the new world that aims to reinvent the Great White Way, with the revival of NYC and especially of Times Square, allow Vera and her family to bring alive their hopes and dreams from the depths of despair? This is the very essence of this tale.