-A Writer's Reflection

The Soul Search


I stopped walking and looked over my shoulder. I didn’t see anyone. In fact, being a cold Saturday evening, not many people were out walking, and definitely no one was following me. My sixth sense had been hyperactive lately, so I wasn’t surprised by the false alarm. However, that didn’t stop my mind from absconding from the surroundings. I remembered my visit to the spy museum three years ago. Washington, DC has been the city with the most spies in the world, a fact highlighted during my visit. I took a left turn onto Pennsylvania Avenue, half recalling my wonderful experience at the spy museum and half expecting to run into a real spy with a secret motive. I smiled.

 

I have only been in the Washington, DC metro area for four months. Though I have been an avid adventurer for the past few years, laziness got better of me after I started my first job. University life and job life are extremely different. And this is not to say that I wasn’t enjoying life after school. Both were wonderful, it’s just a big transition between the two. But this day was different. The weather was cold and showing first signs of winter in the third week of December, an odd scenario for mid-Atlantic, but with global warming and climate change weathermen predicted a rather warm winter for 2016.

Georgetown Glow, an art festival, was in its last two days and I didn’t want to miss it. Taking advantage of the cold weather – I like cold – , I headed towards the metro an hour ago. Riding the metro was not completely new for me, but I wouldn’t say I was used to it either. Moving to a big city from a small town, where I used to drive everywhere had a big impact on me. Finding parking in DC was a big setback in my zeal for driving. Today, as in many cases, I decided to take public transportation as Georgetown was only a mile walk from the Foggy Bottom station.

DC added its own flavor to everyone’s personality. The identity of race, ethnicity, and background was lost in generalization. Wearing a black wool coat over a white shirt, my identity was also lost within the DC crowd, at least my physical identity. Although my appearance didn’t stand out, my behavior was still simpler and friendlier than the DC standard. Mentally I was nowhere near stressed. I was not a DC native yet. After reaching the Washington Circle from Foggy Bottom, I was greeted with a heavy breeze of cold air, intensified by each passing vehicle. I made a mental note of covering my ears and nose next time I’d walk. I brought my hands out of pockets to touch my nose and made a note of using gloves as well. While turning onto Pennsylvania Avenue, a pattern of breeze from behind alerted me that someone was following me.

After a while, my suspicion grew stronger. I had a constant feeling of being followed, but never saw anything to confirm my suspicions. I stopped, turned around, walked back on Pennsylvania Avenue. The goal in my mind was still clear: reach Georgetown Park on Wisconsin and M, the starting point of Georgetown Glow. But as I continued to walk, the feeling of being followed increased. My curiosity and fantasy were quickly shifting to panic. I started scratching my face hoping to launch a magical power and unravel the mystery of my spy.

On reaching M Street, Christmas decorations greeted my sight. The sights and sounds of the festival were entering through my eyes and ears, but not reaching my brain. I was walking faster and faster on M street, subconsciously noticing the buildings from 17th and 18th century proudly displaying their plaques that stated their historical heritage. As I got closer to Georgetown Park the crowd became thicker and lights became brighter. The street were filled with people and decorated with lighted wreaths. I felt at ease and became much more confident within the bright and busy streets. I turned onto Wisconsin Avenue and noticed an information booth to my right. Water was flowing in a canal under the bridge besides the booth. The cars were moving at the snail pace giving way to heavy pedestrian traffic.

“Hello! Are you here for Georgetown Glow?” a lady behind the counter asked me as I approached the booth. Judging by her restricted movements, I could tell she was freezing but looked happy doing her job. She was wearing a Santa hat and keeping warm by an outdoor heater.

“Yes. Is this the first spot?” I asked smiling. I had done some research and knew about five spots of Georgetown Glow. I felt safe and in no danger of a spy attack. My paranoia was in control because of my interactions with another human. Looking back, I realized I should have talked to someone when I first felt I was being followed. But I hadn’t, and being an introvert didn’t help.

“Yes. Here’s the map. It will guide you to all five exhibits,” she replied and handed me the map. “Just walk behind me through that bridge and you will see the first exhibit. Follow those people,” she pointed at another small bridge to her right behind Wisconsin Avenue Bridge.

I walked behind the information desk. Indie music was blasting through hidden speakers and continued to get louder as I walked towards the bridge. My senses were back in the present. I thought no one was following me and was just afraid of being alone. I walked a few steps and turned left with others onto the small bridge. To the left under the Wisconsin Avenue Bridge, there were two faces made of wire hanging upside down below the Wisconsin bridge. The front one was pink and the back was blue. Their reflections on the canal water showed the faces right-side up. I heard gushing of water below me.

“That’s the second exhibit, not the first one,” I jumped and turned around to see a white man in his mid-fifties. He was distinctly different from black coats walking by, still no one noticed him. He didn’t look like an American man. He had square face and he was wearing a white shirt with light blue lines. The first thing I registered was his ability to be without a coat in 30 degrees weather. I also took note of his accent. I could not hear the water anymore, indie music filled my ears.

Without a second thought the words burst out of my mouth, “Were you following me?”

He smiled, “Not really. But yes, I was walking behind you.”

I was relieved and frustrated. If he talked to me earlier, I wouldn’t have been so paranoid all night and could have enjoyed my walk a lot more.

“How did I not notice you?” I asked with puzzled face. I looked behind, I walked back, but I didn’t see anyone like him.

“Well, I don’t know. Anyways I’m Yuri Agapov,” he stretched out his arm for a handshake. It seemed like he was avoiding my question, but I shook his hand anyway. “And you are?” he asked. I realized I was being rude but I was still processing the sudden friendliness of my stalker. Nonetheless I smiled and said, “I’m Rohan.”

“Ah, Rohan. Let’s walk to the first exhibit.” Yuri said as he took a step to his right towards the other end of the bridge. I stood my ground. He was really imposing on my night. I planned to visit these exhibits on my own. If Yuri was really a spy, then I was being played with. Yuri turned back to me, “Don’t worry I’m not a spy. I’m just a normal guy like you.”

“Can you read my mind?” I asked puzzled.

“I don’t know. Let’s just enjoy the exhibit. Shall we?” He pointed towards the end of the bridge where people were standing and facing the canal. Yuri’s confidence had a certain effect on me. I followed him. We turned right at the end of the bridge towards a small viewing area. Across the canal on the wall was a projection. The music was loud and I discovered a hidden speaker in a corner of rather small viewing area.

“Let’s go over there, away from the music, so we can talk. I know you have many questions,” said Yuri pointing at the back of a tree behind the crowd watching the first exhibit. The projection showed a caricature of a small boy sitting at a desk. He dropped his head on the desk. Small boys started sprouting out of his head. I liked the concept of showing ideas coming out of brain. From the corner of my eyes I saw Yuri slowly walking towards the tree and expecting me to join. I followed him again. My subconscious mind was attracted towards Yuri’s oddness. My curiosity was taking over logic and caution.

“Let’s sit here,” Yuri said after walking behind the tree.

“But we won’t be able to see the projection. I wanted to take some pictures,” I said in protest.

“I know, but the music is soft here, so we can talk. I will answer your questions and then we can go back to the exhibits.” I couldn’t resist his kind smile. I sat down beside him.

“Where do you live Yuri?” I asked with intention of taking over the conversation.

“I live in Russia,” he replied.

“Yes, but where do you live here, I mean? I assumed you were from Russia because of your name,” I said.

“Nowhere. I live in Russia, in a town called Samara,” he said.

“Did you come directly from Russia to these exhibits?” I asked with a little sarcastic tone. Only a nutcase would travel to DC from Russia to see some art exhibit.

“Yes, you’re correct. In fact, I come here every day, but today is the first time I’m talking to someone,” he said. Now I was baffled but he had my complete attention. I was trying to understand this whacko.

“What? You travel from Russia every day to see this exhibit? Wow. Do you own a supersonic jet or something?” I asked with more sarcasm. Part of me thought he was making fun of me. “Wait. Are you talking to me today to make fun of me?” I stood up agitated.

“I assure you Rohan. I’m not making fun of you and am talking to you with sincere compassion. I think we should walk. Hear me out and decide for yourself if I’m making fun of you or not,” he said while looking directly at me with his blue eyes. This eye contact had a hypnotic effect and I again succumbed to his request.

“What do you think of this art exhibits?”  He asked. We walked onto the bridge.

“The faces are kind of cool, but the projection is a waste of effort,” I said expressing my honest opinion. And I found the film to be nothing but ordinary.

“That’s because you’re here to appreciate, not understand. They are all here to find something to appreciate or to falsely show their appreciation to influence other people. No one is interested in understanding the artistic expression,” said Yuri.

“I don’t understand.” I said. I found his statements to be offensive, but I remained calm. We turned right after the bridge and headed towards the information booth on Wisconsin Avenue.

“Art is a form of expression. I thought you would understand that more than the average person in America,” he said. “Here let’s go down.” Yuri said pointing at a set of stairs going down to the canal, just behind the information booth.

“But the map says…” I started. I hadn’t noticed the stairs when I arrived, so I was pointing at the map to follow the suggested route.

“I know the map says otherwise, but this route is shorter and quieter,” Yuri said as he climbed down the stairs. He didn’t point or wait for me. He was confident now that I would follow him. He wasn’t wrong.

We climbed down and reached a small walkway parallel to Canal. Yuri turned left towards the wired faces exhibit. I followed him. The reflections were not visible from down here, making the faces less impressive. “You see Rohan, perspective. From here, these faces are not as cool,” said Yuri.

“Yes, I agree. Why did you say that I should understand more than the average person? What should I understand?” I was not going to let him change the subject this time.

“An Indian guy walking to an exhibit like this on his own is very rare, may be you have an element of American individualism. Generally Indians are very social and they don’t go to events alone,” he said. He was correct. In fact, I have been criticized at times about my comfort of being alone. “You’re thinking in the right direction. Like Russians, Indians believe in being rather than doing, as Americans do.” I was puzzled.

“Wait, what?” I asked.

“Here, in America what you SHOW matters, while in our countries what you ARE matters. That is why India has a rich history of self-discovery. This history drew me towards India a decade ago. I went to India for the first time to seek self-realization.” Yuri said.

“I see.” I said with a little detachment in my voice.

“I see these ideas are not appealing to you,” Yuri said. We walked past the wired faces below the Wisconsin Avenue Bridge.

“Well, I never paid attention to these things,” I said. I was busy carving my professional niche that I never paid attention to self-discovery. Yuri was looking at me. “But now that you say that, I do feel stuck in my life, personally not professionally.”

“Precisely what I felt. That’s why I went to India.” He said with a sparkle in his eyes.

“So you went to India and you discovered the secrets of self-realization!” I said.

“You don’t know India as much as I do.” He said.

“Really?”I replied. Someone was preaching to me about my own culture.

“Yes. I read a lot about the control of soul and spirit. I’m sure you heard it all your life. However, you have no idea how it’s practiced,” said Yuri.

“Fair enough. I don’t. You tell me, if you know,” I said in response. I never paid attention to soul searching. That had been some ancient crap I didn’t need to know.

“Exactly. This attitude is the reason of downfall,” said Yuri.

I was alarmed and impressed. “Can you really read my mind?” I asked.

“Yes, I can now.” Yuri replied.

“What is that supposed to mean?” I asked.

“Hear my story out and you will understand. Where was I?” he asked himself. We were still walking on the sides of canal at a snail pace. “Yes, souls. Contrary to common acceptance, a human is a soul, according to ancient Indian scripture. The body is just a cover. When people believe a human is body, they indulge in doing. When people believe a human is soul, they excel in being. I didn’t know all this at the time. I was duped again and again by fake religious leaders and yogis.”

“That’s why we stay away from all that. You should’ve asked some regular Indian,” I said.

“That’s today’s world. Blame others for your lack of effort.” Yuri said. I was on the verge of lashing out. He kept reading my mind. “Don’t be angry. What I’m saying is the same thing said in Geeta by Shri Krishna. Focus on your effort, not the result.” This took me by surprise. He was right.

“Now you see it. My focus was to find my inner soul, not to prove who’s right or wrong. After almost two years, I learned the lesson of my life. Self-realization is to be achieved by myself and not by someone else. I can’t search my soul in someone’s doctrine or practice. I had to discover a Yogi within myself,” said Yuri. Now we were climbing a slope onto Thomas Jefferson Street. Yuri stopped walking. “Let me finish my story and then we walk. The fourth exhibit is just across the street.” I nodded. I was engrossed in his story and wanted to hear more.

“I meditated enough and was able to find a path to my inner soul before I was kicked out of India due to visa issues. Visas and boundaries, a gift of the modern world.” He said.

“That’s it. That’s the story!” I was surprised to hear such an abrupt ending.

“I don’t know what you were expecting. I’m not writing a fiction, I’m just telling my experience.” Yuri said. I smiled and nodded. I realized I was treating Yuri as an exhibit as well. He continued, “I went back to Russia, but I didn’t stop meditating. I kept searching inside my soul and finally I broke the shackles off my body.” He paused in conclusion of his story. “That’s it and here I am. Let’s walk.”

We started walking towards the street. I didn’t know how to react to this anti-climactic ending, so I asked, “So how does it feel to be a soul but not body?” I had no idea what I was saying. We crossed the Thomas Jefferson Street and went inside a small alleyway parallel to other side of the canal, but at street level.

“The same as you’re feeling, my friend. No difference. The only difference is I’m at peace now, compared to my past,” Yuri said smiling. We walked in the alley to reach the exhibit. “This is the fourth exhibit. We skipped the third if you go by the map. This is called Intrascapes.”

“You kept saying these exhibits are not to appreciate but to understand, but there’s nothing to understand here. This one looks like a bunch of light sabers on a platform. Where is the creativity?” I asked.

“Ah the Star Wars reference. I would say these are lighted artificial blades of grass. In reality, however, these are acrylic sticks. The color changes you see in them are not programmed. They simply are reactions of our movements and wind. Now do you see the creativity?” Yuri asked.

I was impressed, “That is cool. I would have never realized it, if I wasn’t told.”

“Because, you are here to appreciate and not to understand. In today’s stressed world, no one wants to use their mind to discover the message an artist is expressing,” said Yuri. Expressing my doubts only proved his point. We walked out of the alleyway and I followed Yuri. I knew he was leading me to another exhibit. We were walking towards K Street.

“Yuri, it’s been fascinating to hear your story and a little embarrassing that you know more about my culture than I do. However, you weren’t honest about everything. I still don’t know where you live. You can’t travel everyday from Russia,” I said.

“Honestly, Rohan. I live in Russia,” said Yuri looking at me. And in his eyes he was telling the truth, or he was an excellent liar.

“Come on. Do you have a secret jet or something? Even if you do, it’s not practical,” I said.

We turned into an office building behind another Georgetown Glow information booth at the junction of K and Thomas Jefferson. Yuri was silent until we reached the courtyard. A light projection on a section of building was the art exhibit.

Yuri said finally, “Rohan, I’m disappointed. You are still looking to appreciate and not understand. You didn’t understand anything from my journey.” He was looking at me. Frustration was visible in my eyes. “Don’t get frustrated. Let me explain.” Nothing changed in my head. “I’m a yogi now. For me, a human is soul, not body. My soul doesn’t need an airplane to travel. Souls don’t understand any boundaries or physical limits.”

I was baffled. “Are you a ghost?” I asked. I wasn’t afraid, but I wanted answers.

“If by ghost, you mean dead. Then no I’m not,” he said. “I’m simply my soul. My body is comfortably resting in my bedroom in Russia.”

My mouth fell open in shock. “Does that mean you are travelling outside your body?” I asked wide-eyed. I have heard about out-of-body experiences in ancient times.

“In a way, yes.” I stared at him. He continued, “I control my soul. Every soul wanders out of its body, that’s what dreaming is. When you dream, your soul is on a journey but you can’t control it. When you reach self-realization, you control your soul. You can go on any journey with just your soul.”

“Wow. I can see the soul now. I feel empowered,” I said. I half joked without meaning it, but I didn’t know how to respond. It was too much to believe.

“Look around. Wave at someone,” Yuri said. I waved at a couple standing to the left of me. No response. I freaked out. I jumped and screamed. “What’s going on?” I asked.

Yuri smiled. “Calm down. You’re not dead either. Your soul is interacting with mine. Your body is safe behind that tree where we sat.” My head exploded. I was having an out of body experience. I was celebrating, panicking, freaking out, curious and many other emotions all at the same time. The only words that came out of me were, “How do I get back to my body?”

“Ah, easy, just concentrate, close your eyes and open them. It’s time for me to go back as well. Don’t forget to go to the third art exhibit we missed. After all, you were here for them,” Yuri said.

“What about you? Don’t you want to visit the third exhibit?” I asked.

“I have been visiting it every day and can always come back tomorrow. I think I’ve spent enough time here. I will go now. Close your eyes and wake up,” Yuri said smiling. I stared at him. “You’ve trusted me for past hour. Trust me for one more second. Close your eyes and take control of your body.” I closed my eyes tight. I didn’t open them for what felt like a very long time. The Indie music started blasting in my ears. I slowly opened my eyes and found myself sitting behind the tree. I looked around to find that no one had noticed a guy sleeping behind the tree. I stood up, turned around and went towards the bridge. Nothing had changed. People in black coats were coming and going, stopping to look at the film or wired faces, showing fake appreciation, explaining their admiration to others. I finally understood Yuri’s point of people appreciating but not understanding.

I didn’t have to look at the map. I knew my feet were dragging me in the right directions. I walked on the bridge, turned right, walked past the information booth, and across Wisconsin Avenue. I turned right again and kept walking. My mind was racing and continuing to analyze my experiences from past hour. I reached the compound of a church on the left and entered it. A lady at the information desk greeted me. I smiled and walked past her. A blue tunnel was erected in the middle of the compound. Inside the tunnel, one wall had streaks of lights, while the other was perforated and translucent. A few people were walking inside the tunnel, while others were trying to take pictures of the lights.

Instead of walking inside the tunnel, I walked outside along the translucent wall. I understood the artist’s expression. Lights weren’t the purpose of this art. The effect created by people walking inside the tunnel was. Shadows were the real art, not the lights. One had to rely on other person to understand this art. Looking simply at the lights, one could only appreciate the weird arrangement, without understanding the effect. I too would have been taking pictures of exhibits without understanding anything, if not for Yuri. Life, like an art, is to be understood for its soul, not to be expressed by your body or appreciated by others.

Copy-editor: Marisa Strothenke
The Soul Search The Soul Search Reviewed by Mihir on 6:14:00 PM Rating: 5

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