Nothing: Part 16

I never learnt how to ride a bike.  I remember trying to learn.  I remember my Dad giving me riding lessons.  There was a brief moment when I thought I had it.  I felt free, as though I was flying, as though I had finally got the hang of it.  Right at that moment I asked my Dad to let go so I could give it a shot on my own.  When there was no response from him I realized he wasn’t around.  He had let go several minutes ago and was watching from a distance.  I had been riding on my own.  This realization and my fall were simultaneous.  I never attempted to ride again.

When I am practicing my violin, on some days I don’t think about the minutiae of playing.  On these days I trust (trust being the key word – could have used faith as well) I’ll read fluently, absorb the rhythm, tempo, the dynamics, and just play, occasionally with my eyes closed.  But then, after a lull, and as if on cue, I’m suddenly aware that it’s all going rather well.  As soon as that happens, I switch gears and try to control some aspects of my playing, pay special attention to the accents on certain notes, or the crescendo signs in the music, or I suddenly start wondering whether my sound is mezzo forte when the music requires it to be piano.  As soon as I start worrying about these tiny details I introduce a scratchiness to the tone, I start hitting wrong notes and I just find myself baffled at how everything fell apart as soon as I decided to exercise some level of conscious control.  It’s almost as if my mind got in the way.

I’ve talked about driving before.  When I drive I never think about the driving itself.  I have the larger goal of transporting myself safely from one point to another.  My safety would be hampered if I never took my eyes off the dashboard indicators or if I kept worrying about my hands being at the perfect 10-2 position on the wheel rather than having a sense of the bigger picture and the larger goal.  After all these years I’ve learnt to trust (there’s that word again) that something else controls the minutiae, that my conscious attention to these matters is not required, that the brain is dealing with this at a deeper more subtle level.

My husband has faith in a red thread around his wrist.  The red thread might give the impression of extreme religiosity or superstition.  But that’s not what I think it is.  My mom is a big believer in prayer and in having faith.  She prays for our well being and success and the red thread she then sends us renders those wishes and prayers tangible.  My husband keeps the thread on forever…until my mom sends him a new one.  I don’t think he sees the thread as a magical thing that would bring him luck, or maybe he does believe that, who knows!  I believe having it around his wrist enables him to relinquish some of the conscious control I talked about before.  It enables a shedding of worries about where the next paycheck would come from, what our future holds, the what-ifs about the next contract being more than a year away…such thoughts could stump him and paralyze him.  But once the thread is on his wrist he gets more focussed on the task of making phone calls, sending out resumes, doing all the things that will take him to the next level.

I always start my day saying a couple of Sanskrit shlokas that I don’t even truly understand.  I chant them out aloud.  It’s my own way of setting aside some baggage, telling myself to not micro-manage my life to such an extent that I am petrified, immobilized.  I relinquish some degree of conscious control when I say the words and it I am not even sure I want to understand what the words really mean, that would defeat the purpose.  Has this helped me? Perhaps.  Worrying about whether this has helped or not would also be defeating the purpose.

What I’ve come to realize is that the words: prayers, faith, beliefs in a higher power – these words are secular in their intent.  They don’t represent a belief in God, they don’t make one religious.  They are probably a very scientific and healthy means of surrender.  As an agnostic, I am inclined to see them as surrender to some part of our very complex brains; a relegation of these niggling thoughts to the part of the left brain where they belong – so that our ‘mind’ isn’t always tripping us up.

I am not eloquent enough to say all that I want to say on the subject but I like the message behind the Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

–Reinhold Niebuhr

I would be inclined to replace all the God references with “Left Brain Neurons and Synapses” (LBNS) but I would still be surrendering and relinquishing control. 

I am reminded of this very funny scene in a Ben Kingsley movie, I am forgetting the name (it’ll come back to me at midnight when I’ve relinquished control and stopped thinking about it), where he plays an assassin who has a drinking problem.  He doesn’t believe in God so his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor tells him to surrender to a higher power, anything, anyone.  His character then catches sight of the Golden Gate bridge and decides to surrender to it.


  1. Pragya,Each post in your 'Nothing' series is a gem! Helps me (the reader) get to know you better… and in a strange way, get to know myself better too!Regards,Pallavi

  2. Pragya,Each post in your 'Nothing' series is a gem! Helps me (the reader) get to know you better… and in a strange way, get to know myself better too!Regards,Pallavi

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