It never fails to astonish me how different we all are, and yet how alike; how varied our life circumstances and challenges, and yet how similar.
Here are a few case studies of people I’ve met recently or know intimately:
1. She’s 19, earns Rs 9000 a month while studying part-time, lives with unemployed parents and a younger brother, and her parents take away her entire salary every month. Her college final exams are due in a few months and her parents don’t even spare money for the tuition. “I want to move out,” she says, with tears in her eyes, her entire body language meek and submissive, her face scarred with acne. “But my parents say it will ruin our family’s reputation.”
2. She is a well-earning entrepreneur, an only child, unmarried, age 30, and lives with her parents. She’s also in an abusive, toxic relationship that she can’t seem to get out of. She constantly uses sentences like, “He thinks I’m a slut,” in conversations. She has OCD and I cannot move the pillow on her bed without her fixing it.
3. He’s single, handsome, highly qualified, earns well but suffers from anxiety attacks. He’s sure there’s a conspiracy against him in his office. “I’ve done a lot for this company but I don’t get what I deserve,” is his refrain every year or two into a job; which is usually the point when he leaves it and moves into another job but identical situation.
4. She’s in a stressful, gratifying job and an indifferent, lonely marriage. She’s also got a glimpse of the rush of extra-marital romance but there are too many complications before she can move in that direction. She craves physical intimacy and often has mysterious aches and pains. She starts our Gmail chats with, “I love you my friend” and then proceeds into self-pity.
5. She’s 13, has deep, sad eyes, feels unloved and unwanted, and belongs to a broken but loving home. She’s torn between her love for her parents and feels guilty with every breath she takes. Her throat is constantly sore. If she was more expressive with her feelings, she’d probably say, “I need more attention and less responsibilities.” But she doesn’t say it and her loved ones unconsciously continue taking her for granted.
6. She’s a middle-aged single mum, struggling with weight issues and the terror of committing to another marriage. “I have a perception of marriage as a very negative thing and I’m sure I’ll ruin my second one as well.” Her partner of many years is sad because he yearns to come home to her every day. The guilt of ‘making him wait’ weighs on her, along with the guilt of forcing a new dad her kids didn’t ask for, and the fear of ‘time passing by’. Her hair is grey; her partner’s isn’t, though he’s older.
Yes, so all the stories are very different. And yet, years of spiritual practice have taught me these basic fundamental life principles, which I keep repeating to all the people above and myself:
1. What’s outside us is what’s inside us. Our circumstances mirror our beliefs. The chains are within us, not imposed on us by anyone else even if it seems that way. We have consciously or unconsciously CHOSEN these very circumstances by the way we think and what we constantly think about. If you don’t want your circumstances, spend time and energy focusing on what you want instead.
2. It’s never about ‘you and them’. It’s always about ‘God and you’. It may seem as if ‘hell is other people’ but in truth, the hells and heavens are within us. Those other persons, appraisals and circumstances are merely reflecting our own truths and where we stand at that point in our life. See those annoying people in your life as teachers showing you how to become a better version of yourself. What is their presence, those taunts or injustices, teaching you about yourself?
3. You cannot ‘fix’ other people and things; you can only change yourself. By changing our perspective, our world-view changes, and then our physical world changes as well. The summer heat bothering you? Imagine you’re a sun-starved Scandinavian on a visit to a tropical holiday location. Soak it up and smile in sheer joy. Your whole day will be different.
4. Life is a miracle or a burden, depending on how we see it. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong, it’s better to celebrate what’s right in our lives – no matter how little it seems. We instantly uplift our life condition and attract more good into our lives. Bad marriage, difficult parents, ungrateful kids? Thank God you even have the privilege of those relationships in the first place. How blessed you suddenly feel.
5. The body never lies. The mind and body are intricately linked. People assume the body is a separate entity from the self, and blame the bad knees or high blood pressure for all their problems. But every symptom or disease in the body is linked to a certain emotional state or belief system in our heads. To know the state of your emotional health, look at your physical health.
No, I don’t have scientific proofs for the above, I only have deep experience and self-truths to show for it. My whole life is reflective of the lessons I’ve learnt. The harder I’ve worked on my inner landscape, the more startling the changes in my outer reality. At the end of the day, it’s not about my job or my relationships, or how much I’ve helped others. It’s about how well I understand myself, how much I love myself and how deep I can go within myself. As Krishna once told me in answer to a ‘why did this happen to me?’ question, “To show you the length and breadth of your own soul.”
I’ve come to realise that that is precisely the answer to every single ‘why’ I’ve ever asked in my entire life.