Interior Journeys

No, this is not about a 10 day trek through red-tinged villages in Chattisgarh or anything like that. So if you are looking for pain & suffering of that kind, here is your cue to jump ship.

I am talking different Interiors – the mind, soul & spirit kind.

Over the last month or so I have been reading a curious mix of books, which now in retrospect all have the same theme of Inner Awareness.

The first book is Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.The author gets into Ultra running, the extreme form of running where marathons are what you do for warm-ups. Covering 10s or even 100s of kilometres, this form of very long distance running pushes human endeavour to the limit and has created its own heroes and fables (‘body artists playing with the palette of human endurance’). The centrepiece of the book is the story of the Tarahumara, a tribe of Indians living in an extermely inhospitable part of Mexico and their amazing capability to run very long distances. The story gets particularly intriguing when McDougall tries to deconstruct the mind/spirit/soul context that drives such feats of human endurance. And comes to surprising conclusion that the ability to do ultra running is less about the physical and more about the metaphysical. As one of the runners says, It has to do with the ability( & sometimes the need) to become a better person than just physical capacity. While it all does sound very touchy-feely, Mcdougal is deeply persuasive in his argument as he recounts the experiences of Ultrarunning’s greatest.

The next book is Dr V S Ramachandran’s The Tell-Tale Brain. Dr Ramachandran is one of the world’s foremost brain-geeks. As a Professor of Neuroscience, Dr Ramachandran is interested in dissecting the very physical but controlling organ we all have in some measure – the Brain. Dr Ramachandran’s approach is to look for patients with peculiar manifestations of neurological illnesses and using these oddities to explore how the human brain really works. Fascinating stuff. Early on in the book, the author comes to the extraordinary conclusion that human perception is not an unalloyed recognition of things as they are (ie. reality) but massively influenced by the Brain’s underlying assumption of what should be. In short, what one of modern science’s great exponents is telling us is that all ‘scientific’ evidence points to the accuracy of one of the most enduring metaphysical truisms of all time : Perception is Reality and not the other way.

Which brings to me the last book. The Hindus, An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger. Ms Doniger is an American with a PhD in Sanskrit from Harvard and another PhD in Indian Studies from Oxford. The book tries to explore one of the oldest human cultures through an alternative prism. As can be expected with an enterprise of such nature, this leads to massive disagreements all around and the fact that she had egg thrown at her at a conference reinforces her ability to discomfit. But that is not quite what I got out of the book. What the book shows is that from the very early stages of their evolution, the people now called Hindus seemed to have focused deeply inward to find rules and paradigms that explain stuff around us. And insofar as we can see from evidence that has survived, succeeded in large measure. Modern science is an artifact of empricism which is just a fancy word for Observation. And keen observation over millennia of the human being’s inner workings is undoubtedly what Ms Doniger brings to light as one of the defining characteristics of her subjects.

The world of the inside is at least as interesting as the physical world around us. However, what is truly intriguing is how interconnected they seem to really be.

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