Finding God

Naked in the street

Husband and I went for a walk today, as we always do. And I told him about how I’d shared our ‘love story’ with a fellow Buddhism practitioner in my neighbourhood, a single woman in her late 30s who is seeking love and is yet fiercely possessive of her freedom.

My candour and openness in narrating my romantic history — which is unconventional and could even be seen as scandalous by certain standards — left her deeply moved and impressed. She declared her love for me loudly even after we said goodbye and as she went down the stairs, leaving my elderly neighbour smiling curiously.

Husband wasn’t too happy to hear this, though. “Why are you always so open about everything? I like my secrets being secrets. Why must everyone know everything about me?” he complained.

“Because you’re married to someone like me,” I said.

“Chatterbox,” he grumbled.

“An open book,” I corrected.

Then I came home from our walk and got this quote in my inbox:

“The moment that you feel, just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind, and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself… that is the moment you might be starting to get it right.” ~ Neil Gaiman

Thanks for the affirmation, God.

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Seeking God

The marital hazards of visualization

My husband and I have started going for yoga classes together, and in one of the classes last week, our instructor took us through a visualization meditation process.

We were supposed to first remember a happy moment from our lives, and then later visualize our fondest desire come true.

In the first part, I remembered my loving moments with my husband — well, he was lying supine on the floor right next to me so he was obviously the first thing that came to mind.

Later, I imagined a rosy future for both of us, living in a wonderful place, writing books, earning enough to live a contented life, our children doing well in their careers.

I left the class with stars in my eyes.

In the car, I asked him excitedly: “So what did you think of when she asked you to evoke a happy memory?”

He looked thoughtfully in the distance. “I remembered this one day on the beach. As a child I had tried to swim across to a small island just off the beach, but I didn’t make it.”

My enthusiasm defused a bit. “What’s happy about that?”

He took out his phone and began going through the notifications that had been turned off during the yoga class. “I was happy because I almost made it, I’d covered a lot of distance. It was a good day.”

My mood now completely turned off, I said, “Okay fine, so what did you visualize when she asked you to imagine your biggest dream coming true?”

His gaze still on his phone, he replied: “I visualized swimming across to the island all the way.”

I gave him a piece of my mind.

“What an opportunity wasted! Why couldn’t you wish for something more worthwhile? Don’t you care for me? Here I am thinking all these wonderful thoughts of you and our future, and there you are thinking of swimming!” I shrieked in utter contempt.

He just shrugged it off, now too distracted by the jokes in his WhatsApp groups to bother about my opinion on what he should have been thinking.

Ignoring me in favour of his phone is a frustrating habit of his, but I have learnt to use his indifference as a useful tool for introspection. As he typed away, I gradually stilled my mind and looked within at what had provoked my outburst.

One word: expectation.

I expected him to think the same thoughts as me, to have the same aspirations as me, and to dream the same dreams. To be me inside his head.

It was completely laughable when I looked at it objectively like that.

I was angry because I expected him to love me in the same way I love him. I was upset because I imagined that he had squandered an opportunity to place a “worthwhile” wish before the universe – “worthwhile” by my standards, not his. I was exasperated because it appeared to me that he didn’t seem as wholly devoted to me as I am to him.

Essentially, he had nothing to do with my anger. I was angry because my expectations were not met.

I self-corrected my thoughts as I drove, and was calm by the time we reached home a few minutes later.

Then he forgot his yoga mat in the car and walked on inside, empty-handed except for the phone in his hands and on his mind, smiling at some private joke, oblivious to the world.

I checked my irritation (reminding myself once again: “expectations”), picked up both our mats from the backseat, and followed him inside.

There’s nothing wrong with dreaming about swimming.

(I made him feel very sorry about the yoga mat, nevertheless.)

Finding God

Cover girl magic

The last few months have been nothing short of a series of miracles for me. I started my own company, then launched my own women’s magazine with a full-time employee strength of one (me). Then became media partner for one of the world’s most prestigious all-women conferences. Now I’m all set to tie up with one event every 30 days, while bringing out my magazine like clockwork on the 1st of every month, writing freelance for other publications, and running a fledgling business by myself. All from the corner table in my bedroom working 16 hours a day.

And just now such a wonderful miracle happened that I thought, I MUST write this down.

I had WhatsApped a very old colleague of mine, who is now a powerful name in the media, about certain challenges I was facing, and asked him for some help. I mentioned a woman I was trying to interview for my magazine cover but hadn’t yet managed to find a contact or solid reference to approach her with. He didn’t have it either but he did give me plenty of other ideas. He said his boss was impressed with my work. All good, I thanked him and closed the chat window.

Right then, at exactly the same time, another media acquaintance, someone I haven’t even met, sent me a mail offering me an interview with the same woman! Abracadabra!!!

I did a little mad dance around my room just now.

You know, sometimes, as a bootstrapped entrepreneur, you do get a bit deflated. Just this morning, I was feeling somewhat exhausted about the effort of doing everything by myself. I felt unsupported, broke and helpless about how I was going to pull through with this crazy mission of mine.

But the idea of giving it up is unacceptable to me too. It is my entire life’s meaning in one package. This is what I have to do, what I was built to do.

And imagine, on just one such day when I felt a bit low, when I finally reached out for help from an old friend, I got this affirmation from the universe: “You’re on the right track. Don’t give up. Have faith. The resources will come.”

I’m all teary-eyed as I type this. My faith is renewed.

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.