Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 13, No. 3, 2014
  Current Issue  
  Back Issues  
Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Nancy Snipper
Louis René Beres
Daniel Charchuk
Lynda Renée
Nick Catalano
Farzana Hassan
Betsy L. Chunko
Samuel Burd
Andrée Lafontaine
  Music Editors
Nancy Snipper
Serge Gamache
Diane Gordon
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
  Noam Chomsky
Mark Kingwell
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
Margaret Somerville
Mona Eltahawy
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Navi Pillay
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward




The unexamined life is not worth living.



I want to live here forever. Where here is not this physical place, but the vast empty inner space in which I am now.

I’m in Pondicherry. I come to Sri Aurobindo’s Ashram to seek the Silence, inspired by this great Teacher who bade farewell to his body 64 years ago. I come here to leave behind the background noise so that I can learn to tune in to the Signal until I hear it loud and clear. I sit, think and look around. I observe and feel.

If ever there are special, protected places in the world, this is one. When I visited it for the first time it took me five minutes to think “Big deal.” and leave. But then I felt drawn back, and then back again; this is my 3rd day in Pondicherry and I must have spent here at least 7-8 hours.

I come here with my loads of thoughts, my mind as crowded as a Saturday afternoon at IKEA. Then it begins to happen, at first it comes and goes in short intervals, but then it persists. The annoying voice of the mind subsides, and everything becomes vibrant, alive: the flowers, the squirrels, the huge acacia tree, the beautiful house. The silent procession of devotees who come to pay homage, to pray at the tomb of Aurobindo and the Mother (his spiritual companion), or to meditate and listen to the silence.

Every now and then a thought emerges, but it fades away spontaneously, it doesn’t trigger the cacophony of the usual mental bullshit.

There is peace. Not much else, or rather, there is plenty more, but nothing that counts more than this peace. I just wish that I could learn to stay in this inner ‘here and now’ and take references so that I can come back to it later, elsewhere, in completely different situations.

I savour the flavour of this vacuum. What I can say for sure is that, when it happens, my breath changes. It starts with a slight gasp, then comes the need to raise my breath, to take it up to the level of the solar plexus and expand the lungs. After two or three strong inhalations, the breathing becomes light and smooth, and the mind calms down. When I get distracted, when the clown thoughts take over again, as soon as I realize it, I hear another subtle gasp and I go back there, to the silence of the heart, sitting on my throne contemplating the world. There is no ecstasy, there is nothing to carry me away, nothing particularly exciting. There's just calmness, there is strength, there is Buddha’s smile. There is the awareness that I am this, this I am. And that I and not-I are one and the same thing.

Now, this is a cliché that is repeated continuously by any amateur in spirituality, but I wonder how many really understand it because, if I may speak for myself, I've got some problems with it. Yes, I can dig that there is a plane of existence in which I and this flower pot are the same thing, but what relevance can it have in my life?

Go away, silly and useless thoughts, go away, absurd attachment of the mind to understand, name, classify.

I come back to my inner refuge. Silence. The empty inner room. Around me the flowers, the acacia tree that protects and covers the grave with its shadow, the crows. Everything is now, including myself. Nothing else is real, there cannot be anything real other than What Is. There is no god but He/She Who Is.
It is so clear.



Part I

Amma is probably the female spiritual leader with most followers ever. Being a worshipper (and according to her devotees, an incarnation) of the goddess Kali in her manifestation as the Universal Mother, she obviously has a strong appeal especially on women but also on many men who equally believe that the old stereotype of God being a Father needs to be revisited.

Her main claim to fame is her darshan (a word that could be loosely translated as blessing), which takes the form of a physical embrace that she dispenses to as many people as she physically can. Apparently she has already embraced several million people around the world, and still does it five days a week for 6-8 hours a day. So clearly there must be something special in her embrace.

To receive it, one must go to register at a counter at the edge of the main hall. They give you a token which indicates the time slot assigned to you. When I went there weren’t many people waiting (some 30-40) so the lady told me to join the queue straight away. This I did and sat at the first available chair.

The main hall could probably fit a couple of thousand people, perhaps more. There is a large stage at the front, where she sits in the middle in good view. Around her sit or stand her closest followers, plus the ordinary people who are either waiting to be embraced, or, after the embrace, have been allowed to stay for a while on stage to be close to her. The hall itself is divided in three 'bands': in the first band are the musicians and singers on a stage of their own, facing Amma (so giving their back to the audience), in the second band are the devotees who sit on the floor, and then there are rows and rows of chairs for all those who prefer to sit.

So I am in the queue, moving to the next chair up every couple of minutes or so. When I get to the security checkpoint, I leave my sack and shoes and go through the X-ray check, then proceed to the stage, where the row of chair restarts. All the while, the music and singing goes on. The assistants there direct the queue, tell you what to do when it’ll be your turn etc. They ask me which language I speak. The ones closest to her look after her, one takes the small gifts she receives (flower garlands, fruit, sweets), one adjusts her shawl, another one holds a mobile phone to which she’s talking without listening, clearly giving some instructions. She hugs one person after another, and the procession goes on and on. At first I was a bit put off by her minding her daily businesses while embracing people (what, I came all the way from Australia to get a hug and you don’t want to have a little chat with me?), but on close observation I could tell that she behaves in exactly the same way as those mothers that go shopping or whatever while holding their child in their arms. They may be discussing money and goods, but they’re not for a moment unaware of their child, and they hold it tight close. I noticed for example that occasionally the person that she was embracing, after a while, would let go of her, but then with a very loving gesture she would take their head and move it back to her chest. Eventually, when she decides it’s time to let them go, she moves her head forward and whispers something in their ear, and then with an equally loving gesture she gently moves them away.

While I was waiting for my turn, I was trying to prepare myself, to get in the right state, not sure though of what that could mean. I didn’t want to feed any expectations. I was putting up my best effort to try to stay in the moment and keep away from my mind any silly or selfish thoughts. I thought of the ever important, ultimate question that one has to face every time one is seeking a contact with the upper level: What do you want? And, confused, I found in me the presumption that she was going to look straight into my eyes and the doors to the Universe would open wide for me. Yeah right. It doesn’t work like that, my friend. She has about seven billion children, she’d embrace them all if she could, and she’s trying. She doesn’t have the time to look at them one by one, or maybe she does, but not in a direct way that would feed their ego, their silly sense of self-importance -- maybe she sees inside them, without being noticed. Or maybe it’s all just a bit of cuddling from a nice woman, and that can’t certainly harm.

So, no special treatment for me. When my time came, it was all as I had seen her do with the others: she held me to herself, and kept me with my head on her chest for a couple of minutes, while she was speaking animatedly in Malayalam, the local language. I was hanging there, enjoying the embrace and letting happen whatever was going to happen. Finally she bends her head down, whispers into my ear the same three syllables for three or four times, and then she pushes me away gently. The Universe doors did not get wide open, but I was nonetheless taken aback because, coincidence it may well be, the three syllables were almost exactly like the ones in my name, only the vowels were wrong, and not by much.. Think what you like, I’m telling the truth. Later I asked a devotee I met if Amma says the same words to all, and she said they change every time. And nobody had asked me my name since I had entered in the ashram the day before.

I moved away and went to sit on stage, a few meters from her. I was feeling absolutely normal, except for the intensity by which I was feeling normal. A while later I also realized that although I was kneeling on the floor with my legs folded all the way and my buttocks leaning heavily on my heels, I wasn’t in any discomfort let alone pain, which is something that only happened to me on the infrequent occasions when I have felt totally truly relaxed.

I call it the cat position, which is any position from the most ordinary to the weirdest that one can take and still look as relaxed as cats do.

Part II: Amman Ashram

I’m sitting in the main hall, front row, watching darshan on stage, listening to the music and chanting and writing in my notebook. There’s an Indian girl aged probably 20 sitting on the floor in lotus position, about ten meters away to my right but slightly ahead. She has a thick long plait of black hair going down her back which is as straight as the north face of the Eiger, looking totally comfortable. Anybody who has practiced meditation knows that either you are born with a back like that or if you have got it through practice you must be a serious meditator. I’ve been observing her for more than half an hour now, and as far as I can see she hasn’t batted an eyelid. She is clearly in a different space, totally absorbed in Amman, the music and in her devotion. She truly is beautiful. How I wished I could photograph her unseen, or, even better, how I wished I could draw her. In comparison even Julia Roberts looks goofy in her sari. I can totally relate to how Dante felt about Beatrice, his angel-woman. Except that while he says “li occhi non l’ardiscon di guardare” (the eyes don’t dare to look at her), I am looking at my Indian girl, avidly, intensely, because I want to treasure this moment in my memory forever.

The music is also very beautiful --- the lyrics are very poetic (the English translation is projected on a big screen), reminiscent of the Song of Songs, and the singer has one of those voices that evoke longing, love, total devotion.

I feel like I am waiting in the ante-room, I’m on the outside wanting to enter but not quite knowing the password. What is required? True, sincere devotion? If so, I am ready, but how do I make it happen? I can’t just command my heart to open. What is it that I need to surrender to, and how do I do it?

Mentally, I know it all --- emotionally, I feel as if there is a barrier. I observe, I observe, I observe. Bliss is happening in front of my eyes, and I see how beautiful it is. It grabs me, too, but it doesn’t take me away. There I stay, happy but aware that on the other side there is a joy that I can’t fathom, I can only see it in the face and posture of this girl. Even when I can briefly still my mind, I feel the peace and the power, but it’s only a mental thing, it’s just a different brain wave. The heart is only listening, it doesn’t get involved.

I can only go on observing and writing, writing and observing. Happy and grateful to be alive, and for all these gifts that Life is bestowing on me with full hands. It suddenly occurs to me that really to ask for more is almost blasphemous. That all I am being asked for is to rejoice for all that I receive and praise the Creation. I pause for a second to look around. From the bottom of my heart, thank you musicians, thank you singer, thank you Indian girl, thank you Amma, thank you Mother God.



I'm visiting the museum of the Royal Palace of Thanjavur, and in particular I am admiring the royal collection of statues in one of the courtyards. There are several rows of them, with more or less all the Hindu deities represented, even a few statues of Buddha. At the end, the last one, the very last one and separated from the others, is a statue of Amma, the goddess of fertility. I pause to take a look at it, and, not sure why, I feel drawn in, as my initial cursory glance (I was at the 50th statue, more or less) becomes a more and more attentive gaze. It isn’t the most beautiful statue I've seen, but it’s got something. She’s very graceful, elegant, and I can’t help going back repeatedly to the perfect rotundity of her breasts.

Satisfied, I take two steps away, but then change my mind and go back to her. I am alone, not a soul in sight. I cannot resist the urge to touch her, initially just to feel the stone, which has a very pleasant touch, then, a bit for fun and a bit for pleasure, I start to run delicately my hands along her body. Of course I cannot resist the urge to wrap them around her breasts.

If there were people around I wouldn’t certainly do it. If I was there with some friends, I fear that I’d give in to the obscene need of rubbishing this magical moment with a Beavis & Butthead style chuckle. The bronze statue of Juliet in Juliet's House in Verona comes to mind --- she has one very shiny and one very black tit, only because the first one is bare and all young male visitors feel obliged to be photographed while fondling her. No, it’s definitely not the same thing for me, certainly not this time.

I seize the moment -- who knows when I'll have again a similar chance.
I pause to admire her. It’s not just her perfect proportions and shape, it is also the tactile feel of the stone that is incredibly sensual. I put my hands around her waist, and hold her as you would a lover. I put my hand against hers, shaped in the mudra that wards off evil, and touch the tips of her fingers, then rest my hands on her cheeks, gently. I feel an irresistible attraction, but it is not, or at least not only, of a sexual nature. I sense that there's more. I rest the palm of my hand on her forehead, and stay there, listening.

Out of nowhere comes the soft question: "What do you want?"

Even before the brain kicks in (and it’s just as well or else who knows what crap it would have said ), in an instant, from very deep below, a request arises: "I would like to
know if it is a sin for a man to wish to join with a Goddess?" In these very words.

Wow! And where is this coming from? I startle myself. Sexual abstinence? Fetishistic perversion? Wait, this should be carefully looked into -- I sit close by and take the time to examine myself. No, this is not the dirty impulse of a sexually repressed man. There is something else that I should try to focus on.

What is this thing that I've felt for a moment, this perfect marriage within me between divinity and sexuality, beauty and desire? And what is this new impulse that starts from the guts but rather than pulling me down to the gross pleasures of the flesh urges me up, and makes me desire the physical communion with the divine?

I check my emotions: I am perceiving a dimension of sexual desire that is not lust, it is worship of the union, it is the pursuit of the contact point between the physical and the mystical. I recall the “Ecstasy of St. Teresa” by Bernini, and wonder what must have gone through his mind while he was micro-polishing her face lines to make it the best ever portrayal of a female orgasm. I recall that famous Modigliani painting of a woman lying on the bed dressed only in her supernatural sensuality. School memories emerge of Petrarch’s passion for his Laura: “ . . . uno spirto celeste, un vivo sole fu quel ch'io vidi . . . ” (a celestial spirit, a living sun was what I saw).

It does not end here -- as I take my leave of her, and touch her softly for the last time, I hear her answer: "No, if he desires her with a pure heart."

I think of Anchises who very few remember who he was other than, at most, that he was the father of Aeneas, he of Aeneid's fame, but no one reflects on the fact that he had been one flesh with none other than Venus, the goddess of Beauty. So who was this Anchises? And how did he manage to seduce Venus? I should try to find out more about him. Maybe I could learn how he got to have a pure heart.

But nobody can take away from me the thought that for a few minutes, maybe only for a moment, just a brief fleeting moment, I have had access to something similar to what he must have felt.


If I had to sum up India in three words, based on what I have experienced in the last two months, I would say, dirty, harsh and wonderful. Dirty because if one denies it, one would deny the evidence, and if one says that it is a minor issue compared to everything else it’s because they just want to see what they like. And I'll say no more on this. That it is harsh one can feel it in the heat, in the deafening noises, smog, foul smell, spicy food, diarrhea, one can see it in people sleeping in the street amidst the traffic, in women carrying huge loads on their heads, in men who plow fields with a wooden plow pulled by two oxen, in the continuous encounters with the lame and the beggars. To name just a few places and situations.

Then, after one has observed and experienced all this and much more, if he can stay open, if he can maintain the embrace attitude, one can meet a world so beautiful that it can make thoughts stop, a prerogative which, according to St. Theresa, is God's alone. But I say that even the world can do it, if only one keeps his eyes and heart well open.

You see a scene that in itself is nice but nothing spectacular, like a mountain, or a beach with the waves, children playing, a dark temple, a chilled lemon juice . . . but be it because you are seeing it with shocked eyes, or be it because India has a special energy, for a few moments everything inside stops, and you remain there dazed, speechless, wishing only that the moment is prolonged as much as possible, and that when it goes away, when the band resumes the march, something stays inside, a seed, a hook, a handle that would allow you one day or the other to go back there, while you are, I don’t know, in the office, at the supermarket, at the pub with friends, or best of all when a big anger attack is about to start. If you can do that in my opinion you will discover what it really means to be alive.

I started the journey with the desire to seek the Void -- not quite a goal, but more than an abstract wish.

Now at first glance India is not exactly the first place you would think of to look for the void. Yet I think it is, because the amount of impressions that one receives continuously is so big that after not long you must give up and try to float above it. Like when you watch TV for too long and at one point you see the utter emptiness of it. Not by chance, here there are so many enlightened people, and so many who have gone out of their minds. In one way or another the container bursts. Not that this was what I wanted to happen to me, but the matching of India and Void can not have been a random one -- something inside me must have put two and two together.

What I found is too early to tell -- certainly I feel that India has brought to my surface something from very deep inside. It gave me the clear feeling, indeed the certainty, that there are forces at work within me which I did not even suspect the existence of, and that control me a lot more than my four confused ideas, my education, my culture, my good or bad experiences, my habits, obsessions, passions and dislikes. They're in a place that the mind can not reach, and the heart feels but does not recognize. They are visceral forces that neither yoga nor meditation, nor shrinks nor any shortcut technique can really put under control. And of which I continually see the effects, in myself as well as in so many people I meet -- we wear a spiritual cocoon which holds only as long as everything is fine, but it shatters into a thousand pieces as soon as the ego feels challenged, demonstrating that the awareness that we believe we have achieved and which we often exhibit as a trophy to friends has not even scratched the demons that live in the depths of our soul.

And now that I know of their existence, I can also see clearly that if there is a way to tame them, it is only through the long painful work required to peel off one by one the layers of the onion that we are and bare ourselves, finally seeing the pompous nullity that we are, and becoming fully aware that we truly are just puppets. It is only from there, from that vast scary Void there, that the work of reconstruction can start, with humility and patience.

Or so I feel.



Email (optional)
Author or Title = shared webhosting, dedicated servers, development/consulting, no down time/top security, exceptional prices = shared webhosting, dedicated servers, development/consulting, no down time/top security, exceptional prices
Film Ratings at Arts & Opinion - Montreal
Montreal Jazz Festival
2013 Longueuil Percussion Festival: 450 463-2692
Lynda Renée: Chroniques Québécois - Blog
2013 Montreal Francofolies Music Festival with Lynda Renée
Roberto Romei Rotondo Blog (UP YOURS)
Arion Baroque Orchestra Montreal
Bougie Hall Orchestera Montreal
Montreal Guitar Show July 2-4th (Sylvain Luc etc.). border=
Montreal World Film Festival
2013 Festival Nouveau Cinema de Montreal, Oct. 09-20st, (514) 844-2172
CINEMANIA (Montreal) - festival de films francophone 7-17th novembre, Cinema Imperial info@514-878-0082
April 25th to May 4th: Montreal
2012 Festival Montreal en Lumiere
IMAGE + NATION film festival Nov. 22 - Dec. 2nd (Montreal)
Nuit d'Afrique: July 9th - July 21st
2012 Montreal International Documentary Festival Nov. 7th - 18th
2008 FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL (Montreal) North America's Premier Genre Festival July 3-21
Listing + Ratings of films from festivals, art houses, indie
2008 Jazz en Rafale Festival (Montreal) - Mar. 27th - April 5th -- Tél. 514-490-9613 ext-101
© Roberto Romei Rotondo
Festivalissimo Film Festival - Montreal: May 18th - June 5th (514 737-3033
CD Dignity by John Lavery available by e-mail: - 10$ + 3$ shipping.
Armand Vaillancourt: sculptor
Canadian Tire Repair Scam [2211 boul Roland-Therrien, Longueuil] = documents-proofs
Valid HTML 4.01!
Privacy Statement Contact Info
Copyright 2002 Robert J. Lewis