Seeking God

Blending into the wallpaper

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There but not quite there

One of the most difficult parts of being a mother and wife (as I am sure my fellow mothers, and my own mother, will agree) is the thanklessness of it all. Much like a copy editor’s job in a magazine isn’t really noticed until it doesn’t get done (been there too), being there for one’s family is something no one really notices until you stop doing it.

There’s food on the table, groceries in the fridge and washed ironed clothes in the cupboard, but it isn’t there by magic. Someone (read: mom) has taken time out of a very interesting life to look after it. But we often forget the contributions of our mothers in the busy landscapes of our lives; we take their presence and work for granted. They’re like wallpaper. There but not quite there. In sight but out of mind.

I fill myself with positive thoughts like ‘I’ve chosen this’, and don’t allow myself to use the words ‘sacrifice’ or ‘duty’. I fill my days with good people, happy work and meaningful activities. Even so, despite such efforts, there are days and phases when I can’t help slipping into frustration and depression at the ‘unfairness’ of it all. Why must I be left holding the bills and the fort and the dog leash when everyone else is out having the time of their lives?

And then I go back to working on myself, my sense of fulfillment and self-worth, counselling myself to make peace with my circumstances. But it is difficult to be a saint. I mull over Thomas Merton’s lines, “Thinking about monastic ideals is not the same as living up to them, but at any rate such thinking has an important place in a monk’s life, because you cannot begin to do anything unless you have some idea what you are trying to do.”

I know what I am trying to do — take care of others while also taking care of myself. But it’s harder than it sounds, especially when one often comes at a cost to the other.

Maybe this very struggle was prescribed to me so that I could find a solution and rise above it all. In my challenge lies my mission. I must believe it, for my own sake.

Seeking God

Fundamental darkness

Gosh, it’s been a long time since I wrote here. Surprisingly, it has also been a time that my spiritual life has been rich and vibrant, with plenty of reading, discussing and assimilating going on. But how difficult it is to apply all that knowledge!

A term that I have been wrestling with, and which comes up every day these days, is ‘fundamental darkness’. It is used in Nichiren Buddhism to represent all those fears, insecurities, and emotional demons that reside inside us and keep pulling us down whenever we try to rise above them.

To fight these demons, I pray, I work and write, I read a lot of spiritual literature, and inspire myself every day to keep my head up. I collect quotes like this one:

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And yet, day after day, morning after morning, despite everything else being so fine in my life, I wake up with a sense of insecurity and dread. On some days I feel like the brave Arjuna in the Mahabharata who demands that Krishna be by his side as he sets out on his life’s mission. On most others, though, I feel like his enemy-cousin Duryodhana, who says:

I know what is right, but I don’t have the strength to do it.
I know what is wrong, but I don’t have the will to resist it.

The spiritual journey is surely a difficult one! Most of the time, it feels like I’m taking one step forward and two steps back. The more aware I become of my mental demons, the more helpless and dejected I feel in their absolute control over me. It’s like a surgeon operating a mole on the skin, only to discover a network of malignant tumours underneath.

The best thing to do — I can say from my layman’s experience — is to just DO. There is no substitute for action taken in the right direction – whether it’s a vibrant round of chanting or a determined long session of writing at the computer or a visit to a friend who needs a shoulder to lean on. Even if I’m at a very low point inside my head, I refuse to let my demons paralyze me and hold me back from taking affirmative action, even if it’s just a little bit at a time. I must keep operating.

The best we can do is to do our best in the present moment.

Finding God

Light and shade

This morning, I was walking in our neighbourhood biodiversity park with my mother-in-law. It’s a partially man-made forest close to my house, and we go there daily. We have fallen into an interesting rhythm, she and I. So we have long moments of banter and then long silences when we dwell on our surroundings and get lost in our own thoughts. She’s a former scientist and zoology professor, and she loves observing the flora and fauna. I too love talking to trees, and relish those moments of silence when I can really connect with Mother Nature.

Today, we talked about how parts of the path had trees and shade, and other parts had no cover. My mother-in-law doesn’t like direct exposure to the sun, so when it became too sunny to handle, I comforted her saying, “There will be shade soon.” Then we were silent, as part of our usual pattern.

I noticed how the temperature dropped the moment we got to the shaded path. I noticed new leaves on some of the trees, white flowers on the tops of others. I noticed my mood getting better without the unforgiving sun beating down on me. I noticed a hundred other things, big and small. Then the shade cleared; we were in the sunlight again for another stretch.

Realisation dawned on me: “There will be shade soon.”

There are good times, and bad. But nothing lasts forever. If you are going through tough circumstances with the metaphorical sun burning you, remember and take heart: there will be shade soon.

And if you’re in the shade for now and life is going well, remember and be prepared: there will be trials and tribulations at some point. Use the relative calm to arm yourself with wisdom, courage and a network of real friends so that you can face any situation in future.

That’s how life is: light and shade, light and shade. You cannot predict what will happen next but you CAN control how you deal with it. Wear sunscreen.

Finding God

No more leaving

A poem by Hafiz

 

At some point

Your relationship with God

Will become like this:

 

Next time you meet Him in the forest

Or on a crowded city street

 

There won’t be any more

“Leaving.”

 

That is,

God will climb into

Your pocket.

 

You will simply just take

Yourself

Along!

 

From: ‘The Gift’

Translated by Daniel Ladinsky

Books

My ebook

100-paths-cover-file-6I’ve published my blog as an ebook on Kindle. What is the difference, you ask? Okay, so here goes.

One, the blog is in reverse chronological order, but the book is organised as a story in chronological order from 2010 – 2015, a time when I went through huge changes and challenges in my life.

Two, I’ve left out the extra stuff (books and product reviews) and the very esoteric sort of posts that would have left many new readers scratching their heads. I’ve stuck to the main story of my life so you can see it unfolding, and you can see me evolving over the years.

Three, it’s edited 🙂

Four, my purpose was really to reach to a larger audience than my blog. My daughter Isha has a lot of faith in my writing and she feels many Indian women will relate to my story and my struggles. And so, heeding her advice, I decided to make this one-time effort and upload it on Kindle.

Five, and this is somewhat personal: I have always believed that our stories are given to us for a reason. By sharing my story, I hope to ignite someone else’s journey in faith, to encourage someone else who may be going through similar struggles. There’s no point hiding it here on a private blog. The ebook is my offering to the universe – I am literally putting my life up there, and all the lessons I’ve learnt, as my tiny little contribution to womankind.

If you’ve been reading my blog since 2010, you would be familiar with most of the posts and don’t need to buy the ebook (unless you really love me or something).

If you started reading my blog after 2015, then I suggest you read the ebook first because it covers a lot of interesting stuff – my years as a single mother, my divorce, my remarriage, my travels around the world, my company shutting down, and so on – and it’s all arranged in a proper order like a memoir.

The link to buy is here. Thank you all for being there along with me in my journey.

Books

The seven laws of thought

I was unexpectedly invited to a book launch by the Tejgyan foundation today. I’ve never attended their events before, nor am I familiar with their philosophy. They greet one another with ‘Happy thoughts!’ said with a Namaste. I went through one of the little books in their The Source series, called Laws of Thought: 7 Steps of Transformation. I cannot resist sharing the ‘7 universal laws of thought’ here:

  1. Before anything is created in the physical plane, it is first created in the mental plane in the form of thought.
  2. What you focus on, increases.
  3. What you think consciously and feel passionately about will manifest.
  4. Others’ thoughts cannot affect you unless you allow them to.
  5. You can achieve your highest potential when your feelings, thoughts, actions and words are aligned.
  6. Everything is in abundance for everyone.
  7. The world is not as it appears to you; the world is how your thoughts are.

All these resonated deeply with me, and I am now reading the book with great attention. It has lots of little parables and stories and is written in a very simple way, but with profound universal truth. Do get it if you can.

And now go back and read the 7 laws again.

Seeking God

A little bit of stress

I have a theory. It struck me after a month of leading a relatively stress-free life. I noticed that while I am definitely happier and calmer than earlier – more likely to break off into song or dance when good music plays, for instance – there is a downside to the whole situation.

I react with extreme stress when put in stressful conditions that I would have taken in my stride earlier.

I have been freelancing from home. I write for a couple of magazines at my own pace, I’ve been helping out the kids with their school / college work, and being my husband’s admin and PR assistant since his new book is going to be out soon. It’s a laid-back life, and some may say I am not performing to my top capacity (quick diversion: What defines top capacity? The most amount of money we make? The more hours we fill with paid work?) but I am enjoying it. I like being the mistress of my own time, finally, when I can afford to.

But then a couple of days ago, I suddenly found myself in a stressful situation. I had two article deadlines the next day, and my younger daughter needed my help on graphics and paperwork for a school project. The other daughter had a birthday party to plan. I suddenly felt as if I was overwhelmed with a task list with everything marked URGENT in big red letters.

A few months ago, this sort of situation was a regular part of my work routine. Now, however, it completely disrupted my idyllic, lovely existence and threw my body out of gear. I broke out in acne the next day – pretty much the way I did the past many years while working full-time in an office. I was also more hyper than usual, and my sense of relief the next day after I’d pushed everything out the door was beyond comparison.

I have become unaccustomed to stress and that is not necessarily healthy. I think a little bit of stress on a daily basis is beneficial for us. And apparently, I’m not the only one who is saying this. Researchers at Berkeley came to the same conclusion. “In studies on rats, they found that significant, but brief stressful events caused stem cells in their brains to proliferate into new nerve cells that, when mature two weeks later, improved the rats’ mental performance.”

At the same time, experience also tells me having stress ‘thrust’ on myself is doubly stressful. The ideal thing is to self-moderate your stress levels – give YOURSELF stress, so to speak. A self-regulated deadline or a strict personal target on a daily basis should perhaps do the trick. The idea is not to break out into acne but to keep the brain and body alert and ready to respond at any time.

I can’t believe that I’m actually looking to ‘amp up’ my stress levels. That’s hilarious. While a stress-free life is a good thing, too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing, I guess.

Seeking God

Difficult decisions and self-preservation

There will be times when you have to choose between yourself and the other – and that other could be a child, a spouse, a friend, a parent, anyone – and you will face the dilemma: whose life is more important, theirs or mine?

You will curse your luck and fight with your god for putting you in this fix. You will cry bitter tears and long to be removed from the consequences of your decision whatever it may be. You will wish someone else could make the decision for you, and then you will regret it when that happens.

And at different times in your life, you will choose a different ending. When you are 20 and your parents choose a stranger to be your husband, you give in even if you don’t really like him because, after all, they are your parents and you haven’t known any other centre of authority in your life so far. You choose them over yourself.

When that man threatens your life and that of your children, you choose your children and yourself over your husband and your parents, and walk out.

When you find a partner you love but your parents and children do not agree with your desires and decision to marry him, you choose him and yourself over them.

When you get a dream job but it’s a very long distance from home and your daughter and husband are at a point when they need you around, you choose your family over yourself because you don’t want to live in conflict with the personal and professional part of your life.

And so on, and so on. You make different choices at different points of your life based on what you think is the best decision at that moment. There are no right decisions. There are no right answers. We all do what we must at any given time.

Even so, I have come to the realization that all decisions are subconsciously motivated by self-preservation. We all have the innate skill of prioritization, and even when we are not aware of it, we are constantly prioritizing one thing over another based on our subconscious telling us what is best for our self-preservation at that point in time.

Sometimes, a woman may stay on in an abusive relationship because of self-preservation, and the same woman may leave – even if she has to live in penury as a single mother – for the same reason. Sometimes, choosing a parent over a husband may be self-preservation, or a spouse over a child. Sometimes, it may be the other way around. Situations may vary, but your gut always knows which way the wind blows and where your future safety and happiness are ensured.

At first, I assumed it was more animal instinct than our intuitive higher self, but now I wonder if it is both. Maybe our instincts are given to us for a reason, maybe self-preservation is not as selfish as it’s made out to be, maybe by choosing ourselves over others we are not being ‘bad’ but ‘good’, laying the path for betterment for everyone in the future.

I don’t know how this connects with larger human decisions – such as war or looting of the environment – in the name of self-preservation or ‘civilization’. But maybe that is greed versus genuine need. Even a carnivore does not attack a second prey once its belly is full. I suspect that the more we are in touch with her inner selves, our personal gods and our humanity, the better tuned we will be to the planet’s own ‘instinct’ and, simultaneously, our own higher intuitive selves.

After years of regretting some of my difficult decisions, I am now finally learning to forgive myself for acting in self-preservation. I may have chosen my own happiness over the other’s, but my happiness is important, and it was the best decision I could have made at that point in my life. Main hi aatma, main hi paratma (The soul am I, the Supreme am I). These were the necessary hills and valleys in my journey.

Finding God

Finding truth in bliss

(I missed writing a post this Monday. My excuse is that I was following my bliss.)

I came across this definition of ‘a calling’ by Max Weber: a task set by God. It is something that is beyond you, above you and within you, something you cannot change even if you wanted to (and you don’t want to). Something that your heart would say if it could speak. In Hinduism, we call it dharma.

Then I came upon this quote by Christian theologian Frederick Buechner: ‘The kind of work God usually calls you to do is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.’

And this one by David Brooks: ‘You don’t ask, What do I want from life? You ask a different set of questions: What does life want from me? What are my circumstances calling me to do?’

And this one by William Damon: ‘All individuals have their own particular callings, reflecting three realities: (1) their own God-given abilities; (2) the world’s need for the services their callings provide; and (3) their enjoyment in serving society and God in their own special ways.’

It all reminded me of the ancient Hindu philosophy of Sat-Chit-Ananda, that is truth-consciousness-bliss. My truth includes my circumstances, my dharma, my soul’s purpose. My consciousness includes that special gift only humans have, that of free will, choosing their actions and taking decisions based on awareness of past and present. And my bliss is, of course, that place of ‘deep gladness’.

The point where they all meet is your destiny. What you were born to do in this life – the point where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

It’s not easy to find one’s deeper purpose in life as long as one is caught in the maya-jaal of life, the rat-race, the meaningless actions and habits, the unnecessary attachments. Sometimes, one needs a little push, a tiny trigger, to set you off on your true path. Until then you are just groping in the dark, unsure of where you are going even though a part of you knows there’s something you need to do.

That brings me to me. I’ve just walked out of my third job in five years. The reasons for them all were different but a quieter space in my heart tells me I had outgrown my lesson in each of them, and it was time to move on. (I’m just a quick learner, I guess.) And so I have begun a new phase of my life, a new journey. There has been SO MUCH grace to help me along the way, so many blessings, an environment that is ripe for inspiration, a history and a story that is the perfect starting point for my future. I am completely content and completely fearless about what is to come, because if there is one thing, okay three things, that nature has taught me, they are (1) You are protected (2) You are deeply loved (3) Everything happens for a reason.

Oh, and here’s a fourth one: There are no coincidences. They are actually signals from the universe affirming that you are on the right path. Once you start following your bliss, finding that place of deep gladness inside you, you are suddenly swamped by coincidences – yesterday I was typing out a message to my brother when he suddenly called to say hi; I was thinking of following up on an old outstanding amount when my bank account pinged a credit transaction; I was wondering if my phone plan had been updated when the inbox beeped, it was the bill, and yes, it had been updated.

And all I had to do was follow my bliss, answer my calling – in my case, writing. Yes, I have been writing a story that needs to be told, writing close to eight hours a day.

Maybe this is the point, the space where my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

Finding God

Monday tips: Starting off with imperfection

I’ve quit my job, and what I am going to miss most is the opportunity to be a mentor (not just a boss). I have cherished my ‘Monday tips’ sessions with the boys and girls at my office, and they’ve made me promise to write them down if not speak them out every week. So here’s my first of the lot, my Monday tips to my former team across the Internet, instead of real life.

  1. A good plan implemented today is better than a perfect plan implemented tomorrow. – George Patton

A dear friend of mine was sharing her ideas for scaling up her enterprise, which is just a year old but has been getting great feedback from her clients. She was worried about the amateur quality of the videos and photos she has clicked, and the lack of a professional marketer to handle her social media. She said she needed lakhs of rupees to achieve that level of perfection before she could begin to scale up.

I shared this quote with her, and told her: “If you wait for perfection, you will wait forever.” Besides, I said, there’s nothing wrong with being a little imperfect in today’s fluid economy. The vendor who can give you a human touch is increasingly a rarity at a time when everything you read on your timeline appears hyped, polished, fake. Our imperfections are our strengths. Your non-Photoshopped promos will be far more appealing to genuine clients, and you don’t want the other kind anyway. Start with whatever resources you have – your internet-savvy kids, your knowledge, your skills, your friends – and just do it. The best time to begin anything is today. (Which is why even though I haven’t put much thought into how I want to structure these Monday tips, I decided to just go ahead and post whatever I had today, instead of waiting till next week.)

  1. You build a new body every eleven months. Change your body by changing your thoughts and keeping them changed. – Dr Joseph Murphy in ‘The Power of Your Subconscious Mind’

Our bodies are the matter of our minds. Ancient wisdom and modern science tell us that we become what we constantly think about. In this book, the author says our body is made up of lots of individual cells, which reproduce by passing on the knowledge, so to speak. The genetic material that is passed on includes our ‘habitual thinking patterns’. So we have a great opportunity at any given time to look, feel and become whatever we want by literally brainwashing ourselves that we are already there. Keep saying ‘I am happy and complete’ and you will be so. Keep saying ‘I am useless and sad’ and you will be so too.

And it’s not just psychological states of mind. You can even change your body with consistent thought patterns; everything moves in the direction of the intention. Some physical changes can take longer than others, but they will happen if you are firm about it, if you believe that it is true. Haven’t we heard stories of people who were healed overnight by a saint’s miracle? What is that all about? It’s about the direction of the intention, the strength of the belief and the consistent, new thought pattern. It’s not that I cannot become slim in real life – I just haven’t thought myself into it yet!

  1. Everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end. – character in the film ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’

John Lennon said something similar, and we also have a variation of this quote in Hindi. It’s a universal belief – that life is meant to have a happy ending, and if things aren’t looking so hot, don’t worry, a twist in the tale is around the corner and things will brighten up soon. I know we’ve all been through a lot lately and life seems to be upside down for most of us. But remember, ‘this too shall pass’. What does the heart-monitor look like when a person is alive? The graph jumps up and down. That’s life – it’s meant to go up and down, that is the beauty of it. Don’t expect every day to be consistent, for everything to look the same. The only time the monitor of our lives will be a straight line is when we’re dead!

Keep the faith and repeat this quote to yourself daily; things will begin to look up. I promise.

Picture abhi baaki hai, mere dost.