Renewal at the Rubin Museum

Steve McCurry, a Man During the Indian festival of Holi, Rajasthan, India

Steve McCurry, A man during the Indian festival of Holi, Rajasthan, India

In January, at the Rubin Museum of Art in Manhattan, a group of us practiced mindfulness meditation and I spoke a little about renewal. Projected on the screen in the auditorium where we sat was an arresting image from the Hindu festival  “Holi”—part of an exhibition of photographs by Steve McCurry, best known for the photo “Afghan Girl,” which originally appeared on the cover of National Geographic magazine.

The photo captures the joy of a festival celebrating the return of spring, of goodness, of love—and of colors! Part of the festival involves playfully chasing and throwing colored powders and water on one another—an ancient version of paint ball. Other parts include a bonfire, and after the paint ball free-for-all, a time of cleaning up and dressing up and visiting friends and relatives, paying or forgiving debts, starting anew. Not unlike our New Year’s Eve celebration.

The festival re-enacts the ancient myth of the demon princess Holika, whose death on a pyre allows good to triumph. Again and again in Vedic India, ritual fires are enacted and from the flames new life is born. Described throughout Parabola’s 1988 issue, “Repetition and Renewal,” this return to an ancient myth, this re-enactment of primal truth, happened in every culture, and continues to happen. The repetition of something very old gives rise to something new.

Every time we sit down to meditate, we enact our own ritual of renewal. We sit down with the Buddha under the Bodhi tree, breaking away from the rush of ordinary time to return to a primal truth. Every time we pull our attention from the private world of own thought and return to the present time sensation of being in a body, we discover new life.

As the man in the photo conveys, in order to find a life that feels more colorful and good and real, we must allow ourselves to fall back. We must let go of the old known world of our thoughts and attachments and go a little wild. In the quietly adventurous act of sitting down and being still, we enter the beautiful new world of the present moment.

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