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.

Seeking God

My meaty dilemma

This month, I celebrated the 14th anniversary of my turning vegetarian — a decision taken after returning from a pilgrimage. To cut a long story short, it was a voice in my head that said: ““Living out the effects of negative karma is so hard, let me not create any more negative karma knowingly.”

My atheist hubby terms this kind of talk mumbo-jumbo but trust me when I say I was clueless about religion and spirituality 14 years ago, and this voice was completely new to me. In fact, it was only after turning vegetarian that I veered towards spirituality, not the other way around. Following in my footsteps, my younger daughter too turned vegetarian when she was around 11 years old.

Two weeks ago, a mocking voice spoke up in my head just as I was falling asleep: “You say you are a vegetarian. And yet, you cook and serve animal meat every day. Hah.” My eyes flashed open; it suddenly hit me that I was, in fact, making non-veg food every day for either my family or the dogs, with my own hands, despite being a vegetarian myself. A deep dilemma set in, leaving me tossing and turning in bed.

The next day, coincidentally (or not), my colleagues brought up the subject of my turning vegetarian. And, though I usually never make a debate of my choice, I blurted out my previous night’s soul-searching moment, adding self-righteously, “Why should I cook and serve meat? Why should I take on all that negative karma on myself? Let my family cook it for themselves. And let the dogs be vegetarian too if I am to be their primary cook.” My colleague argued with me: “But they are animals, it’s not their choice. It’s yours. So why are you punishing them for it?”

That night was even more difficult than the previous. The morality of my choice confronted me and refused to budge from my vision until it was sorted. I woke up at 5 am and moaned. Hubby asked what was wrong. “I am crabby,” I said, sleepily. “I haven’t found the answer to the non-veg debate.” He coaxed me back to sleep and I drifted off.

Just as the question had come a couple of days earlier, the answer too came in a voice in the sleepy brain: “Learn to live with the consequences of your choices.” This time I woke with clarity. I knew what my path was to be.

I explained it later to my friend P: “Karma is not just about taking action but also about living with its consequences. When I had my first baby who grew to enjoy eggs and chicken, married a man who loved his fish and meat, adopted two large dogs who need a non-vegetarian diet in order to be well nourished, then I cannot wash my hands off my responsibility towards them in the name of some vague morals. I am their source of nutrition; if they eat non-vegetarian food, then I must cook and serve them that. The alternative is to watch them crave for it, or worse, grow weak, and the elder of our dogs is already arthritic. Either way, the karma is mine to live with.”

I went on: “It concerned me that I have the blood of some innocent animals on my hands in order to feed other innocent animals whom I call my own. But that is the nature of life and the law of nature. One dies to feed another. But where I stand, I cannot write off my worldly duties in favour of some other-worldly rewards. If this means I have earned some negative karma knowingly, so be it.”

It felt like I had just taken an Arjuna-esque leap into Kurukshetra, choosing murder willingly so that the order of the universe may be restored. There will be penance, perhaps, due in this life or another. But even the mother lion kills deer for her cubs to eat; even the mother bird snaps off the life of a worm for her little ones to feed on. It is in the DNA of motherhood to willingly take on the sins of mankind in order to nourish it. (Weighty words, big mama! Go get a cup of green tea for yourself.)

There’s only one change now in my self-description; I can no longer call myself a pure vegetarian. And it’s alright, as long as my child, man and dogs are strong and happy.