“Oh, I don’t ever worry about Mira being lonely,” a friend declared at a farewell party in Manhattan, thrown to celebrate my terrifying decision to leave mainstream life for the unknown quiet of the Himalayas. “She walks down to the grocery store alone and returns with a hundred friends.”
An exaggeration? Yes, but true in essence: for I was thrust into this world with an openness towards all beings, regardless of gender, age, caste, tribe, or income. You could say I was destined for the philosophy I would espouse as an adult—of Advaita-Vedanta, which teaches, in its most simple form, that all beings emerge from One and return to One.
My quest for a home in which I could focus solely on spiritual and creative goals finally led me to put down roots in a small south Indian town. I was drawn down south from the region of the Himalayas by the cleansing fire of Arunachala, the sacred mountain millions believe to be the living embodiment of Shiva, God of Paradox and Destroyer of Illusion—who burns away our insidious attachment to ephemeral body and mind so we can experience the immortal bliss of our Self.
Given the rural Indian context, befriending every Tom, Dick and Harry (in this case, every Murugan, Uttaramma and Sendhil) is no longer possible; stricter walls of gender, education and other inexpressible cultural factors militate against a spontaneous approach to friendship. While I have come to care for many of the simple and beautiful people who live around me, I am careful about how I connect: it is easy for the innocent behavior of a cosmopolitan female to be misunderstood here, and with potentially disastrous consequences.
As a result I have come to rely on the internet for a sense of connection. And yet my cyber saga here has not been smooth. Believe it or not, it took four years of appalling service before I was blessed with hi-speed internet!
This miracle occurred about a year ago, after I published the novel that had been simmering within me for two decades. Hooking up to fast internet had become a necessity: I had let go of my Manhattan literary agent and therefore the chores of self-promotion and marketing were perched squarely on my reluctant head.
Earlier I had harbored under the pleasant delusion that if I did all the creative work, a literary agent or a mainstream publishing company would take on the hassle of marketing and promotion; in other words, I was happy to cook you a great meal provided you did the dishes. And yet, as any modern writer is likely to confirm, this satisfying equation—where an artist is free to create while others carry his/her work out into the world—is no longer in the cards for most indie authors.
A blog! my friend suggested, soon after he helped me self-publish Whip of the Wild God. That’s how authors spread the word about their work. “How do I start one?” I cried in honest bewilderment. “I’ll set it up for you,” he offered. “You just keep pouring your heart out in a blizzard of words.” So he did his bit, and I did mine, and together, we created this blog—which many of you follow today, thank you oh so very much.
You need to be active on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, indie experts advised me—these are the big ones. Ah, I thought, delighted, I already have a Facebook account, created seven years ago while I was recuperating from a near-fatal spider bite at a friend’s gorgeous home in Chandigarh. Her charming ten-year old son had insisted on opening a Facebook account for me one afternoon. Awed by his facility with this exciting cyber animal, I could not help feeling like an out-of-the-loop crone to see his fingers flying over the keyboard as he scanned the posts on his page.
Today I use social media with bravado but don’t know it well. It’s like this, I told my friend recently: I know A but not B, C, but not D, E and F…you get the point? My foundation is weak. Take Twitter, for instance—all I’m capable of seems to be re-tweeting tweets. But I’m learning, I’m learning, and in the process having fun as well as burning my fingers.
Why am I so behind the times? Well, on the eve of the millennium when many of you were diving into the magic of the internet, I had fled to Dharamsala in the Himalayan foothills to begin my inner quest—and where a single satellite served a vast ice-bound region. We wannabe Boddhisattvas paid a small fortune for an hour on the net, during which time we were lucky to get a single email through. Often I would get to the end of an important email and the server would crash. Apart from cursing wildly, there was nothing else we could do but perfect our philosophical shrugs (we were in the Himalayas, after all) and make poignant speeches about bad karma to console ourselves for the wicked loss of our money, time and efforts.
Cut to my internet life post self-publishing Whip of the Wild God: while many supported me, one pure soul did all the work of uploading, downloading and whatnot, not to mention guiding me into sanity when I longed to hide in the metaphorical woods. But even he had no solution for my lack of high-speed internet.
Enter a bright young techie carrying a bunch of dongles into my home. By the process of elimination, he came up with one company that was able to give me what I craved—the mountain was blocking most other satellites, he said, and the mystery was solved. Et voila, for the first time in Tiru, I was linked in to a virtual world beyond my wildest dreams.
Some folks love money or machines or trees or rocks or three-eyed dragons or rainbows or whatever; I love many things but have always nursed a passion for getting to know unusual humans, especially those who have chosen to walk the inner path to the heart. This interest coupled with years of cyber-starvation has led me to gradually cultivate what I consider a mostly delightful, intelligent and loving cyber family—people of all races and both genders who have opened their minds and hearts to me via the mutual sharing of our thoughts, feelings, talents and skills over tens of thousands of miles. Many, of course, I already knew in person.
Another good reason to spread my cyber-wings is that every indie adviser suggests we writers build a solid internet base. And so I continue to blunder ahead, sharing posts I find interesting, sometimes dozens in a single day. This mania, of course, is due to being denied access for so long; sooner or later, like everything else in relative reality, this activity too is bound to fade and die.
Recently two things happened in a single day that gave me pause. First, a “friend” made some truly foul remarks on a thread concerning a quote attributed to Mother Teresa. Yes, I am aware that many criticisms were hurled at this controversial nun for not being a “saint”. I read an article this guy sent me to justify his vitriol and tended to agree with much of what was said—at least in principle. She was a nun under the direction of the powerful Vatican, I wrote back in her defense, and who knows her psychological problems? Of course she was not perfect—she was human!
The main reason I admired her, I explained further, was because she was capable of doing something that I, with all my hypersensitivities, would never have been able to handle—which is to care for those in terminal suffering and in the worst of conditions. How she cared for them is a moot point, and an area into which I did not wish to venture: Karma, as the saying goes, has all our addresses. The more I defended her right to be an imperfect human, the more furious and hostile this “friend” became. Finally I “unfriended” him—because he was clearly not interested in a dialogue but instead bent on destroying the happy vibe of the thread with increasingly vicious racist and sexist remarks. Yikes! I had no idea I was dealing with a troll. And yes, its true, as those close to me have often remarked, despite my globe-trotting, I can still be quite naive.
Second, a woman “unfriended” me—for sharing the photo of a man who had given an autistic boy a terrible beating; she claimed that shaming this man by spreading his picture on the net was not going to get him to evolve. The reason I had shared it in the first place was because another “friend” had asked that it be shared as much as possible to put an end to such incidents. Quick as I am with my fingers, and minus sufficient thought, I had obeyed. My subconscious reason must be that I hate bullies. And yet in retrospect I agree with this woman: most bullies who prey on the weak and the vulnerable have a history of being bullied themselves. No one gets better by being tarred and feathered. We grow by the showering of spiritual grace and nothing else.
All of which goes to say that while connecting on social media is seductive, it is also a multi-headed hydra that someone as impulsive as I am must handle with care. It is a magical tool of connection, quick and more or less painless, since we don’t have to deal with flesh-and-blood personalities. But it can turn on you just as easily, just like any other tool of samsara or relative reality.
I think of Milarepa, the inspiring Tibetan yogi who is depicted as having his hand to his ear in the mudra of listening. If Milarepa was around today, he might warn me to use the internet wisely—and I would listen. The inner path can be tricky and tortuous for those of us who don’t open our hearts and souls to every teacher who comes into our lives—negative and positive. Cosmos, I am listening.
Greetings to every one of you from the base of Arunachala, the hill of pure consciousness empowered to lead us back into our primal state of bliss!