Has it been a month already since my last missive? *Checks calendar* No, it hasn’t, but this is my newsletter and I have updates!
For anyone who's new: Hi, I'm Nanya, development economist, poet, wanderer. I write here and there, take photos, build data models for equitable policymaking. My home on the web is here (my home on the earth is a bit more everywhere). If you got this from a friend, consider signing up!
My brand new website is finally up! (Whew, it only took five years and three weeks to figure that out.) It’s still very basic, and I have to figure out how to get more stuff on it and where it should go, so your suggestions are more than welcome (please, give me suggestions!). I also did an author interview about my book and writing process last week with my fellow writer and stand-up friend Lacey Mclaughlin - check it out if you haven’t already! And my article about the farmer's protest in India was featured in Sustain the Mag, just as the world is waking up to to what's happening in India through a tweet by Rihanna.
Links and things
These last two weeks, I've been reading about the power of surrounding yourself with people you can share creative synergies with (scenius > genius, ecosystem > egosystem); how flow comes from stillness and spaciousness, not from busyness; this depressing-but-true piece on how the only way instagram will reward you is if you spend your entire life on there (and everyone else's); and this thoughtful essay on chai and migration in Dubai.
(If you’re in the mood for some learning-by-viewing, I highly recommend these videos by Aditi Mayer and Vandana Shiva on the history of farming and colonialisation, how the green revolution was not really so green (this made me cry), and how the farmers protests in India are not at all new.)
Ok, it's about to get a lot more esoteric. Put your seatbelts on and try not to hurl.
God's bellybutton and cultural mishmash
(Atheists, agnostics, dog-lovers: This is not an email for religious recruitment, keep reading!)
One of my favourite expressions in Punjabi is 'rab di dhunni', [literally: God's bellybutton]. It is used to refer to places that are absolutely in the middle of nowhere -- somewhere you've traveled so far to get to, you've probably reached God (or wherever the universe comes from).
I learnt the phrase growing up, but only internalised it on a family trip through the Black Forest in Germany, where grumpy teenage Nanya's family and friends drove for what seemed like hours through essentially what was just a 'bunch of pine trees' to get to an Alsatian village in the middle of nothing. Rows and rows of perfectly planted pine trees (trust the Germans), a thunderstorm of Bollywood proportions, a dozen identical European towns, and at the end of it all, a tiny decimal point of a village called Meisenheim with nothing around for miles except fields of wheat, one bakery and a police station. Rab di dhunni. God's bellybutton.
And God's bellybutton it was. Sun setting and rising through the stalks of wheat, horses with very happy lives running free-ish, a BnB owner who one morning laid out a 'simple' 18-course breakfast of cold cuts, fruits and fresh, dark bread, and generously shared a bottle of peach schnapps with us to celebrate the last of the summer, and the very best Black Forest cake I may ever have in my life.
If that were God's bellybutton, the thing we had traveled to the end of the universe to get to the beginning of, I could just curl up and die there, happy and very well-fed.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, I think the eternal human questions are, for a lot of us, centered on trying to align our existence with a higher purpose - a kind of discomfort that pushes us to seek answers, to interact with the world around us, to find our way in the world and also our way to The Truth, whatever it means for each of us. In our lives, often we look outside for answers, for sources of comfort, for things that bring us joy or meaning or connection. Some of us with Type 'A' tendencies hope to grow or change towards their ideal selves forever. Some of us wake up before dawn every morning in search of this light. Some of us search for it in the late, lonely hours of the night. (Some of us are just all right.)
There's no map for all this. As you reach your first goalpost in this real-life game of Catan, you may already have created a second one, because that's what growth is about. (Capitalism too, but how capitalism makes us forever-lightchasers is for another issue.) So you make your way to next known unknown, and to the next, and the next, and the next, supposedly on your way to God's bellybutton, not realising how much cosmic stardust you've already picked up on the way.
While you were trying to grow taller, you didn't realise how much you've grown richer, fatter, your own laughing Buddha.
You know where I'm getting with this: the journey is what's important, yada yada ya. What we seek outside us is within us all along. You know this in the ancient wisdom that makes up your bones.
How fitting, then, that in her guide to self-care for social justice, author Naomi Ortiz asks “¿Y dónde está tu ombligo? Where are you centred or rooted?” [Literally: Where is your bellybutton?]
I think it's beautiful that what one viewpoint considers going out of your way to reach (the eternal quest, let's say), another considers a grounding force, right there within you all along.
In other words, whenever you feel a little lost, take a deep breath, rub your own tummy, remember that you are your own Buddha and that which you seek is within you. What (literally) centres you also connects you the universe. And vice versa, too.
Where's your bellybutton? What are you in search of/growing towards? What centres you?
(Hit reply, leave a comment, share this with a friend)
Until next time!
Mark this email as 'important' or move it from your promotions folder to your inbox if you want to see it there, send me something you think I ought to include in this newsletter, and though I promise this is not going to turn into a spiritual advice column (though I can't guarantee it won't be at least a little hippie-dippie), feel free to unsubscribe if this isn't for you 🙂
For me, this past year finding that bellybutton has had a lot to do with minding the little things that make up my day. I see thess little things as small parts of an intricate spell, a spell that I must perpetually cast in order not to lose myself.