Foot Prints in the Sand


“Why has thought become so enormously important in our lives?” he asked us looking searchingly at the audience of more than three hundred people.  We had come to the end of the Talk and I was exhausted.  We had been sitting for over an hour listening to the way ideas had bounced from one speaker to another.  People had offered their opinions, others had countered, justified, parried and undermined opinions and we had come full circle.  Each of us was stuck in the same frame of mind listening from behind a screen of assumptions. Yes the world was in a mess.  We all agreed on that but that was all.  That was the simplest part, but what could we do about it?  We could … talk about it, we said and so we did.  But that was all.  He had let us take the lead on several occasions.  Soon it was evident that there was no consensus.  There was religious bias, political bias, East/West bias and Guru Worship all put together to provide a platform from which to survey the problem of thought. 

After talking for an hour, we were frustrated.  It was getting us nowhere and we were wasting time.  I sulked.  We were a little bit more aware of who was affiliated with whom in a manner of speaking.  But that came as no surprise. It was nothing new.  It was evident from how people interacted with one another. I breathed in deeply as I straightened up aware that I had slumped into the floor.  Not only did my head feel heavy but also the floor was uncomfortable to sit on for long periods of time without movement.  There were too many bodies sitting close to me and too little space to move.  When Krishnamurti made as if to rise and step down from the low platform, a few of us stood up with him.  I longed to run to the mango grove in the distance, maybe hang out under the great big Banyan Tree for a while.  But my head was teaming with ideas and I could not tolerate the feel of being alone with my thoughts. 

I ran home the usual way instead, past the Post Office, Laundry Yard with the washing stones in the distance and the tranquil sight of the Bullock sheds.  Along the way the Tamarind trees stood tall and unconcerned by the fractious noise inside my head.  They seemed to challenge the din inside with their massive sublime presence.  So tall, so supreme, oh to be a tree, I thought with genuine envy.  Trees didn’t have to think.  They didn’t have to watch thought like meThey could just be, stretching out their limbs into the vast expanse of the sky and simply breathe in the air.  My heart was racing as I ran up the steady incline towards home.  Watching thought was like jumping on the treadmill of the past.  No matter how furiously you treaded on the incline, you stepped on the same well-worn assumptions.  I had tested it out gingerly at first, when he first asked us to watch it, but now it appeared that I could not step off the treadmill anymore.  It was a most awful feeling. I had been watching the buildup of confusion, wondering about why it took over my attention with such speed and such intensity.  Of itself, it could lead nowhere.  It was just an intense preoccupation. 

But what could we do about it I wondered.  I wanted to be like the trees, massive, grounded and free to breathe the air without a concern in my head.  And what did he mean by “thought is limited” I wondered.  I could think endlessly, limitlessly. I bristled with rage.  This was no joke.  There was no joy in it.  I had tried to find the limits and all I had come across was an endless capacity to expand my thinking.  No matter how boring and futile the enterprise, I could go on thinking.  That was the cold hard, tedious fact.  The sum of it all and there was no way I could see how it could be any different.  Looking back, looking back it seemed to sweep the scenario of the past, elaborating, expanding, revisiting the things I had known to be true.  It seemed to go round in circles, aimlessly meandering over well trodden ground that disappeared vaguely into the distance.  I disliked the feeling of isolation and enclosure it brought to mind.  It was stiflingly predictable.  Feeling rather bleak, I came to a halt.  I had run out of puff.  My head was bursting in anguish.

In the distance I could see my ‘Amma’ sweeping the yard in front of our house.  As she cleared the yard of sand and leaves, she left her footprints over the beaten earth.   As I approached, I looked at her familiar footprints with affection.  I had often tried to jump on them as a child.  Her face looked old and resigned; she was very preoccupied, barely noticing that I was walking by.  Her husband had died shortly after their children were born.  Her daughter and son did not come to visit me anymore instead they worked in their field near the village.  Being a widow, she was glad to work outside her home to supplement their income and help feed her family.  No matter how hard I thought about life, I could not bring about any sense of order.  Life was so unfair.  Anguishing over it did not solve anything, I thought.  It did the same circuits no matter how long I took to figure things out.  It did not bring about any change.  As I walked past her, I tiptoed aside so as not to disturb her reverie.

I am a very old woman

I sweep the sands to clear the way

leaving my footsteps behind me.

See how these footprints leave their mark

over the brush-strokes of my broom?

Sometimes I think, looking back,

 the path and I seem to move as one.

Had I seen that all those years ago,

that the path and I are in-deed one,

I would not have sought to be elsewhere.

I would not have lived then in despair.

It was the nature of thought I realized to be so preoccupied and to inevitably encounter frustration.  As the words streamed into my mind, this constant hearkening to the past gradually came into view.  There was no reprieve from it.  That was all, so why did we engage in this endless pursuit for something more?  It was an impossible task, a forlorn endeavor.  That was all there was to it, so why was the mind so restless still, so caught in the pursuit of something more?

As she came to the end of the path, Amma straightened up from the mechanical movement of the task and set aside the broom with a deep sigh.  Catching sight of me she smiled.  I hesitated and the chaos in my mind subsided.  Looking into her gentle, humble eyes, I stepped onto her foot prints one by one.  We laughed hearkening back to the times when her children and I raced after her jostling for her foot prints. 

Meanwhile the insight into the movement of thought settled into my mind and remained embedded for evermore.  In this insight there was also a hint of the nature of despair after watching thought and exploring it for a period of five years. I was ten years old at the time.  I had already discovered a lot about the world that was incomprehensible in the context of reason or thought.  There seemed to be no point in wringing my hands over it.

After that insight as the years flew by we began to explore the landscape of reason and the nature of ourselves, hesitantly, timidly at first and then with growing self-assurance as we entered our teens.  Because we engaged in the inquiry and reflected on our own thoughts in this manner, with time and practice I began to realize that it brought the self clearly into view.  Gradually painstakingly through discourse, this inquiry brought the whole movement of reasoning in perspective, so we could work with it, explore it, engage in it and discover the means by which thought spread its influence through our minds, fashioned our relationships with our peers and colored our views of the world at large.  I soon discovered that the nature of the movement of thought explained a lot more about life than the content of consciousness alone.

Geetha Waters

Feedback: geethawaters@gmail.com

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