Circle And Ripples: A Lit Fest Satsang.
Posted by Jyoti on May 6, 2020
For the past three years, I have been hosting a monthly poetry circle in my living room. Borrowing from the Awakin circle principle, we too leave the door open for whoever wants to come to listen or read poems, in all languages, with impromptu translations. It has brought many strangers into my home who have become friends, and there is a core community of regulars with others who float in and out.
As the pandemic required physical distancing, I decided to host the poetry circle online. I have been teaching online classes for over fifteen years, so this was a simple way to experiment. Experiments are another ServiceSpace value. At the online circle, many poems that were read, somehow touched upon what eac one of us were experiencing at the time. There was utter shock at our familiar world coming to a complete stand-still. There was fear, with news of death and no-cure dominating the air-space around us. There was panic, and for some, even trauma. Our lives were altered beyond our wildest imagination. Some of us had leisure to contemplate the loss while others were over-worked in the sudden changes to our care-giving or essential professional lives. We all felt we were living through epic times, unlike any we had heard of or seen in our lifetimes or those of adjacent generations.
As the poems were read and heard, some were discussed, others translated, and questions asked: 'Did you write this now?', 'This is so relevant today', 'Tell us more about the poet?' or 'It beautifully expresses exactly what I am feeling but could not put into words'. Our sense of community, that had gradually been built over the past several months, was very palpable and we were glad to be together. A couple of hours later, by the time we were ending the circle, I personally experienced the lifting of the sense of gloom and doom that was pervasive before. We commiserated with each other and acknowledged our surprise and relief that the poems read that evening were evidence that others before us had lived through 'epic' times too, and left us written gems that we could all relate to now. The circle was a reset moment. Someone asked, can we do this again next week? I agreed to host it again immediately.
By the second online poetry circle, we had a larger variety of themes that emerged organically as people read what they wanted to. As is usual, with each poem heard, and the pregnant pause of silence that often follows, others offered up poems they were reminded of, that were similar or took a different perspective on the core. It is as if we have conversations - coded as poetry - trading subtle things captured in between the words or beyond lines - in the musicality. Each poem exploring, sensing, enhancing and getting deeper into the meaning making with the acts of multiple attempts at translations or variety of reflections and some shares of personal choices made in selecting it.
The outside world was noticing how nature was reclaiming while humans sheltered in, as spring burst forth. We had some nature poems. The one that I loved brought in the voice of animals and how they see humans. It was a 16th century Sanskirt poem, offering a short commentary on the much older epic poem, the Ramayan. In the story of Ramayan, monkeys make up the army that helps win a war that was fought to rescue a kidnaped wife. At the end of the war, the monkeys go to see the rescued wife, to see who they had fought for, and on seeing her are unimpressed with her beauty. How could the husband and the kidnaper love and fight over her, when she, in their opinion, is lacking in the basics - good fur and a tail. Read with the musicality and cadence of a Sanskrit chant only heard in a temple prayer, and bringing in the monkeys' valid perspective on how they see humans, it was impossible to not laugh from the sheer delight of this gem of a poem.
By the end of this circle, I was having so much fun that I felt guilty for it. Were we being too decadent to have laughed when so much was not right for so many people? Since we were meeting online, we had folks joining us from Atlanta, St. Louis, Portland and even Singapore and India, as some had moved away from California, and others were glad to find our eclectic bunch with love for poems. Another spontaneous agreement was made to meet again the following week. I knew now that I was no longer hosting the circle, even though it was in my online classroom space, because the circle was holding me. I had something to anchor my week and look forward to until next week, regardless of the uncertainties of the larger world. Exactly as Harshida and Dinesh have described their experience of hosting Awakin circles, and I have marveled at how regularly they have kept up the practice for over 22 years, despite personal ups and downs.
By the third week, I accepted that the monthly circle was now officially a weekly circle. The last circle was around May day. Migrant workers in India were out on the roads by now. The gratitude for essential workers holding our world together was in the air. I was thinking of how the world's capital, buildings, factories, machines, roads, planes, ships were all still intact, and yet all the economies had come to grinding halt around the world, as the people had kept away. This demonstrated the power of the people as the real wealth creators, rather than the capital. Reading poems together and having the community of a dependable circle, provided the container where we were each arriving at acceptance, finding grace in nurturing and honoring each other's inner voice, as shared through the choice of poems. It helped me stay grounded and centered in what might otherwise have been really stormy times. The heart-felt connections anchored in the love of poetry, helped connect that which is beyond time and space.
The ripples of Awakin circles go too far across the globe and too deep to be visible on the day to day basis, except at the individual level where we feel it. The macro level impact of the Awakin circles is visible in the numbers, of circles hosted around the world, the people who have attended, the years that the kindness temple in Santa Clara has left it's doors open on Wednesday nights, and other impersonal but tangible signs. My poetry circle story shows how Awakin circles impact my inner life, that ripples into the way I host the poetry circle, and that in turn ripples into the way attendees hold me to complete the circle, and take ripples away too.
This week's poetry circle will be led by three of our regular attendees. Turns out that in Bengali households, the Nobel Laureate poet Rabindra Nath Tagore's birthday, today, is celebrated as a festival. They invite friends to their homes to read his work together. One of the regulars mentioned this and asked if we could celebrate together. I checked in with the other two regular attendees who are also Bengalis, and they agreed joyfully. This is how we all get to adopt it as our festival and circle theme. I am fortunate to have people who come and read poems to me, and create a literature festival in our small world willing to dig deeper. It enriches my life and practice. It is my equivalent of what for my mother and my grandmother used to be, attending 'satsang' - literally keeping good company. The ripples back to Awakin circle with a thank you to you all.