Finding God

God at home

It doesn’t take much, really.

Doesn’t take much to find happiness or joy or God in everyday life.

Just caught the daughter’s eyes: she’s watching Keeping up with the Kardashians on her laptop on the sofa, and she looks up at me just as I look up from mine. My eyes are full of love, which of course she immediately announces ‘creepy’. We both laugh, and I add creepily that the blue of her blouse matches the blue of the tumbler cap lying next to her. She rolls her eyes and goes back to Kim and Khloe.

And then I recall yesterday night when we took the dogs for a walk. For the first time, Miyake (our five-year-old female golden retriever) sneaked out of the park with Kalu, the black street mutt who lives in our lane (he has been in love with her ever since we moved here). We spotted them leave through the gate and I rushed behind them, scolding her. She stopped guiltily while Kalu ran away further. Admonishing her like a wayward child, I leashed her and brought her back to the park, her eyes downcast in shame. “The girl has become naughty,” hubby and I agreed. “Badmaash.” The kids went ballistic laughing when I told them about the episode.

And then I look back a few nights ago. It was close to midnight and hubby and I were both sleepy. We usually talk a lot in the dark, or staring up at the ceiling. For a change, that night, we talked facing each other, making eye contact even when drowsy. It was delicious. We laughed and teased each other, everyday squabbles dissipating in knowing gazes. “Small pleasures are such big pleasures for you,” hubby joked tenderly the next morning when I told him I had woken up high.

And then just now, when the daughter studying Sociology shows me her textbook and points at a name: Stolypin. “How can anyone remember a name like that?” she says, adding, “Shouldn’t it be Stoly-Polly?” I laugh out loud: “Hahaha, why on earth should it be Stoly-Polly and not Stolypin???” “Duh,” she responds in her typical teen way of ending a statement with a question mark: “Because it rhymes?”

I am laughing even as I type this.

No, it really doesn’t take much to find God.

Finding God

The God in grooming

Today morning, I chanced upon an endearing sight, once again from my laundry area that overlooks the service lane behind our building. A young woman (in her late teens, and most likely the wife of a labourer working at the new construction there) had laid out a charpoy in the winter sun, right there in the open. A bonny, naked baby boy lay on her legs stretched out in front of her, mewing and squinting in the sunlight as she oiled him with thoroughness and much affection. Her other son, a four-year-old, played in the dirt with leaves and stones. As I watched with a delighted smile (I dearly love babies! That’s why videos like this make me go all ‘awwwwww’!), she rubbed the baby firmly up and down his little limbs, then turned him around and massaged his little bum as he lay contentedly on her lap. She wiped his armpits with a soft white cloth (which turned out to be his vest), cleaned his ears, and put on some kohl in his eyes to ward off the evil eye. It was a beautiful sight, speaking quietly and effectively of a mother’s love and care, no matter what the circumstance. I felt very privileged to have witnessed it.

Then, when he started whimpering, she clothed him in his vest and a warm sweater, glanced around at all the buildings to see if anyone was watching, and proceeded to breastfeed him. I left them to their privacy and went indoors, marvelling at how just the glimpse of maternal devotion had left me feeling so touched and so high.

One of my favourite de-stress activities is brushing my dogs — combing with a sharp doggie comb actually. It revs up their circulation and removes all excess hair that would have fallen off at home anyway. It’s like a massage for them, relieving all those irritating itches, and they very gladly come at my feet whenever they see me pick the comb up. As I squat or kneel on the floor, one hand around their head or chest, the other brushing up and down, I feel a deep sense of motherliness that is hard to explain. It’s been a long time since my kids were babies, and a long time since I’ve had the joy of massaging any little being, so this is the closest I get to that oxytocin high — or whatever hormone that is equated with maternity. When I get up after scrubbing them down thoroughly and giving them lots of hugs and kisses, I can feel my heart all open and my head all light. It is unlike any other emotion. I am not sure if men feel this way too with their babies and dogs, but it sure makes me eternally grateful for being a woman.

When we groom another being — especially a tiny, helpless one — they enjoy the unequivocal attention, of course, and there must be several scientifically proven benefits of massages and body care. But to me, the greatest benefit is not to the receiver but to the giver. We tap into our power of creation, into our compassion, empathy and love. We become tools of God, expressions of Life’s love for its little beings. It’s a sublime way of expressing our divinity. I just love it.

I went to the market this afternoon and bought colouring books and crayons for the boy to play with instead of stones, a rattle for the baby, and a Hindi letters book for the teen mother to practice in. When I returned, I went behind the house looking for them. But they had gone, charpoy, baby gurgles and all.

Glimpses of divinity are but fleeting, after all.

Seeking God

We got a drooling kinda love

I have been reading a lot lately, and one of the books I read extolled the virtues of meditation (not that I was difficult to convince). So I sat down the very next morning at 4.30 am to enjoy 30 minutes of silence while everyone was asleep.

Surprise, surprise. It was a cacophony in my head. Doesn’t matter how quiet the house is, I realised, when the space between the ears is noisy.

Still, I forgave myself since it was day one of meditation after a very long time, and tried again the next morning. This time, I didn’t make it past even a few minutes, so difficult was it to sit still. I became so disillusioned, in fact, that I gave up meditation completely.

Today, though, my perspective shifted.

Doggy love: When it comes to living in the moment, you gotta hand it to dogs. They probably pioneered the concept. If I leave home even for 30 seconds to go get something from the car, they jump all over me as if they’re seeing me after years. When I come out of the shower every morning, they drool all over my feet in happiness to have me back after a mighty long time, unconcerned that — hello?! — I’ve just washed myself squeaky clean. If I scold them for barking too much from the balcony at the neighbourhood strays, they put their heads down for precisely three seconds before they’re wagging their tails and expecting me to do something exciting (like tickling their ears) instead.

They’re never sad for long; they never hold grudges; they are quick to forgive and always ready to receive adoration. There’s no ego or shame or pride in their relationships. It’s just pure, unadulterated, unconditional LOVE ME RIGHT THERE BABY.

Why yoga: Then today, at my Gita class, the topic came up about Krishna extolling yoga as the path to achieving Him (or enlightenment). The teacher elaborated that one of the key lessons in the tome is: “All of life is yoga. There is no part of it that is more or less important than others. Everything that happens, all activities, all relationships, all events, can be used for yoga.”

In other words, yes, yoga is the path. But whatever path you are on is also yoga.

I considered my sweet dogs and their mindfulness meditation of being 100 per cent present in every moment of their lives. I considered my restlessness as I sat down to meditate in the silent darkness a few days ago. I looked at my cravings, my habits, my fears that drew me in directions I didn’t really want to go any more. I dwelt on the changing landscape of my desires, always wanting something more, always seeking something new, always in a state of flux.

And I thought to Krishna, “This, too, is my path, isn’t it?” All these colours, too, are what life wants to paint through me.

My dreams, at the moment, have got drool all over them. I can mourn the mess, or I can use this opportunity to turn yikes to yoga, and tickle Life’s ears back.

Love me right there baby.

Finding God

The presence of love

I’ve been working from home the past couple of weeks, managing a magazine from 2,160 km away (thank God for technology). Instead of a stuffy, airless cubicle, I now look out at an expansive manicured garden as I work from my younger one’s bedroom (and it’s grinning lush green in the rain today). Instead of fixed timings of signing in and lunch hour, I work, eat, read, write and rest at my own sweet pace. Instead of giving housekeeping or parenting orders in a frustrated voice over the phone, and then coming home to disappointment that none have been carried out, I never lose my temper at all. It’s all real-time here. I am no longer living two lives — one at the office, the other at home. Work-life is rolled into one big bundle I’d call peace.

In the mornings, everyone’s away and the new domestic help gets busy watching Hindi soaps on TV. The house is quiet. I have no one to tell me what to do, I must self-motivate. In all this new work-life routine, an unexpected relationship has taken center-stage — my two dogs have become closer to me than ever.

They sit on both sides of my mat when I do yoga, until I shoo them away — and then they come back and sit a few inches further in compromise. They sleep at my feet when I work in the bedroom, and move with me when I shift to the dining table. I cannot scrape my chair for hurting them, or move my feet about too much; I must stir gently, carefully. Even if they are snoring away, they immediately sense when I tiptoe out of the room to take a shower, and are sitting outside the bathroom door when I come out squeaky clean. At lunchtime, they are my face-gazers, especially Ronnie who is always up for a bite. When I lie down on the sofa to read a book, they align themselves alongside, tilting up their chins so that I can stroke them before they settle back down to sleep. Never do their eyes leave me.

I am not more loving than I was before. I hug them and cuddle them about the same. I scold and cajole and tease them just as I used to. But my sheer presence has endeared them to me (and me to them) in a way that absence can only aspire to. Something’s new. They have become addicted to me, my love. They cannot resist sticking close if I am around. And as the days go by, I am becoming addicted too.

It’s not just the dogs, of course. I am suddenly closer to the kids after years of being an office-going mom. I am suddenly the wife-waiting-back-home after years of being a busy girlfriend. There’s a whole lot of equations being altered, a whole lot of priorities shifting across space and time zones, new kinds of love addictions going on. I am glad I have the silence and ease to absorb it all, to allow it to grow on me instead of being forced into it.

Things change, and they change you. And then you change things because you can’t imagine it being any other way. Then one day, you work for a few hours on the computer and then look down at your feet and see two content big goofy dogs sleeping there with their paws spread out in front, and you realise that no matter how much you do or achieve or transform or desire, it’s really always about just one thing.

Love.

Everything else is either just an expression of it, or a distraction.

Finding God

Within barking distance

We live in an apartment complex with 10 buildings, each seven storeys high. As can be expected, there are plenty of families with dogs, but it is not something I ever paid attention to earlier. I’d stop to pet a dog or two but I never really noticed how many of them were around.

All that changed of course once we adopted these two dogs. We’ve seen new dimensions about our colony, its people and its dogs in the process of taking our own for a walk around the peripery of the compound. Ronnie, the elder one, has a love-hate relationship with all the other dogs in the complex (he either loves them and whines and pulls to go cuddle them, or he hates them and barks and pulls to go fight them). So going out for a walk with him invariably means being hyper-aware of any oncoming pet — whether canine or feline — since he is going to bark, tug and pull in the direction of the other creature, either way. Naturally, we’ve had to develop sharp eyes and ears when we go out with him.

In this process, I noticed something quite interesting lately — when one dog barks, all others within our colony begin barking from all their flats and corners, like a raucous symphony. They can’t see each other, I don’t know if they are communicating something, but I do know that every time my Ronnie growls, woos or calls out to a passing dog, there is a response from all the other canines of our complex. Surprisingly, street dogs just outside do not participate, nor do the dogs in the neighbouring building complex though they’re just feet away. It’s as if they recognize barks as one of their own, or not.

Similarly, if another dog barks while Ronnie is snoozing away at home, he suddenly springs up from his slumber and responds energetically with his loudest bark. Miyake, who does not bark at other dogs while on her walks, will also do so when in the safety of her own home — making her presence felt from the balcony or an open window.

We are all interconnected — no man or woman or dog is an island. We are affected by what happens to others around us; we in turn affect others with our actions and choices. Every time my dogs start up in response to the neighbourhood barking choir, I am reminded of this fact. The humans of my residential complex may play down their human connection with each other — turn our eyes away when we walk past each other, look at the elevator panel instead of each other when in it together, ignore the sounds in other homes — but we are intrinsically connected whether we like it or not.

No, of course, I’m not just talking about the people in my colony. The connection extends to those in my district, city, country, world. It extends across time, across generations and centuries. We have the same DNA, after all.

And why stop at humans? We’re connected to our dogs, the shrubs they pee on, the grass we walk on, the trees that purify our air, the air that envelops the earth. We’re connected to all the animals, plants, living beings, atoms across time, across space, across imaginations. By virtue of being alive, we’re part of an eco-system that has taken millions of years to evolve. We are part of that evolution, of that intent of the cosmos to live — to live to its fullest. We’re connected to God.

We can’t shut off all the gadgets, the books, the mindsets, and pretend we are isolated or alone. We’re all connected. Ties may be invisible but they exist.

Bow wow.

Finding God

The enthusiasm angels

This afternoon, I met one of my aunts after a long time over lunch. Her personality is such that it fills the room. While describing her later to my partner, my mom used the word ‘enthusiastic’: “She is such an enthusiastic soul. We all ate the same vada, but she’s going to go about telling 200 people what a wonderful vada it was. We all go to the same holidays, but she can’t stop describing how beautiful and heavenly it is, while the rest of us may have found it boring. For her, everything is amazing and awesome.”

This aunt of mine is 78 years old, and has had three heart surgeries. She’s also lived a rough life, and been through more than her share of loss and pain. But, as my mom put it, her joie de vivre has remained intact despite all her sorrows. On the drive back from my parents’ home, I told my partner, “I hope I am able to be like her when I’m her age. She really lives it up.” If life is a celebration, then despite all her ailments, this aunt of mine really is living it up — honouring every moment, praising every bite she eats to the skies, greedy for new experiences, fawning over every piece of jewellery she comes across (and buys), demanding her piece of the earth and the sky. You can’t help but smile around her.

This evening, while taking the dogs for a walk, we also took them on a short car drive around the building’s parking lot since I had some work. It then struck me how enthusiastic these two dogs were about just about everything — new walking route? Okay (tails wagging)! Get into a car? Okay sure thing (tails wagging)! Wait in the car while mama fiddles with some luggage in the back? Okay (curious face but tails wagging)! Sit in the backseat while she drives around the building? Okay (wobbling from side to side but tails wagging)! Mama has stopped the car? Okay (poking their faces into the driver’s seat in love, tails wagging)! Jump out now? Okey dokey (tails wagging)! Another impromptu walk around the block? Yay (lords of their domain, tails wagging)! The entire 20-minute experience was one of excitement and enthusiasm for the most mundane of things — mundane for me, an adventure for them.

I could not help but smile. Their happiness was contagious.

I thought of lunch with my aunt and I thought of the drive with the dogs when I got back home later in the evening. Together they demonstrated to me the value of celebrating the commonplace, seeing the God in everyday occurences, savouring the divine in the simple plate of vada, the drive around the block. Theirs is a simple, heartfelt, benevolent world. If I look through their eyes, I’d never run out of material all my life — they’d find not just 100 but a 100 million paths to God in the city.

‘Enthusiasm’ has a Greek root, meaning ‘the God inside’. Finding God then is as simple as being enthusiastic — about all the little moments, every moment of our lives.

Seeking God

Lessons in forgiving

A week ago, I woke up with a load of things on my mind. The previous evening, Ronnie, one of our newly adopted dogs who is generally hyper-active, bit me when I took him for a walk. He was excited to see another dog come close by and I think he craves socialising with other canines (besides Miyaki, our other dog). When I restrained him, he turned around and bit me. Though I knew it was just animal instinct, I held on to a kind of resentment well into the night, resentment not just about the sole bite but about all the trouble he puts me through on a daily basis.

The same evening, I’d come home to a broken-down bathroom, dust all over the furniture, and muddy footprints across the house. There had been a blocked pipe and I’d asked our contractor to fix it. Without telling me what kind of work was involved, or how long, he went ahead and broke the whole bathroom down while I was at office. Then when I returned late at night, he told me it would take 10 more days to complete it. I was horrified. My elder kid’s exams were going on, and the last thing she needed was loud hammering and workmen coming in and out all day. In addition, I was expecting guests as soon as her exams ended five days later, and I definitely needed a decent-looking home. Thirdly, we only have two bathrooms. With one out of service, there were bound to be fights early morning with both girls rushing to get ready for school in the sole bathroom left. It was terrible timing and I was furious to have been taken for a fool.

And so I woke up that next morning with burning resentment and suppressed fury.

Somewhere along the way, though, a thought occurred: Let go and forgive. I heeded it. I forgave Ronnie and the contractor for messing up my life, repeating Jesus’s words: They know not what they do. Instantly, a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I was able to then look at and understand what the real issue was: At the core, I was nervous and tense about other goings-on in my life. The dog bite and the wrecked bathroom were merely the universe’s reflections of my inner life state. I have control issues, and boy was God hitting me right where it hurts: Leaving me with no control.

But by forgiving, I was also allowing God back into my life and saying, “Okay then, I have no control. I hereby surrender to what You decide for me.” Acceptance washed over me and I drank it up with gratitude.

Everything worked out eventually, as it always does. I know I came full circle because, yesterday night, I unwittingly give thanks for both. After taking the dogs for a late-night walk and jog, I spontaneously told my partner: “I must thank these dogs for one thing: Because of them, I have started running for the first time in my life, and I quite enjoy it. If it hadn’t been for them, I’d have never known this pleasure.”

Then, while taking bath in the newly renovated loo, I realised it was now roomier than before, the geyser works better due to spiffier piping, and the new commode is lower than the previous one, which is more suitable for a shortie like me. “Thanks, I guess,” I smiled reluctantly at God.

Cheeky as ever, God responded with a foggy chill on a day I wasn’t wearing woollen inners. I am sure I’ll see the positive side of it – just as soon as I learn to forgive the sky.

Finding God

A tale of two doggies

This Sunday I was on a secret mission — secret only because my parents would disown me if they found out (yes, you may think, ‘why does this grown woman with her own kids need to worry about what her parents think or say’, but I do care and their angry voices boom in my head and I shake with fear every time the phone rings because I’m afraid they’ve found out). They hate animals in the home with an inexplicable intensity. My kids and I, on the other hand, have craved for a dog for years, ever since we had to give up our six-month puppy when I left my ex-husband’s home (since my parents wouldn’t have allowed it in their house), and before I could find it a new home, my ex gave it away to his driver — and we don’t know what happened after that. There was always deep guilt and regret in our hearts about Wingo, and I had a desire to adopt an abandoned dog, preferably a grown one, preferably from a good family with nice manners. Maybe a friendly pure breed. No compulsions, of course, I told the Universe.

On Sunday then, my kids, partner and I went to a dog shelter in Vasant Vihar. We’d been there once before, at the recommendation of a vet in my area, whose number I got off Justdial. The last time we went, there were a few stray puppies there, and while my younger one got attached to one of them, I could not bring myself to accept the responsibility, nor did I feel any connection with it. This time, however, it had been a gap of a month and I was feeling more mentally prepared. We saw a few dogs, no puppies this time, but since they were all jumping around and barking in excitement, we didn’t really spend time with any of them in particular. We came home and pondered.

I called up the shelter owner and asked her about the dogs we’d seen, especially a golden retriever and another labrador. “Why would anyone give away such lovely, healthy breeds?” I asked. She said they belonged to her sister, who had died a week ago. The husband and family didn’t like dogs, so they’d turned five beautiful dogs out of the house. She’d had to rescue them from the streets. Three of them had found homes and these two were left. The boy, Ronnie, was almost five. The girl, Miyake, was three and a half years old. (Her twin Issey had already been adopted.)

We decided to go back in the evening. This time, we spent an hour with them, trying to decide which one to take. I cuddled both of them, found a connection with both and was totally flummoxed. The kids were divided: The elder one liked Ronnie the lab, who was playful, dominating and demanding (like her). The younger one liked Miyake, soft and feminine, loyal and sentimental (like her). I saw my two kids in both of them. I couldn’t choose.

To cut a long story short, we took both. They arrived at our place the next day with their beds, leashes and dog food. I was busy at work but my mind was nervous about what was going on at home. I also reached home very late and then it was time for bed, so I didn’t get time to bond much, but I made up by skipping yoga and spending a lot of time cuddling them this morning.

They’re really cute — very well-trained, polite and never do something without your command. We’d never have been able to train them so well on our own. They make me laugh — wagging their tails and bringing their ball to me at 6.15 in the morning, one long stretch and they’re ready to play! I sensed they’d be hungry, so I made egg and toast for them, which they gobbled up in half a minute (with no judgments about my cooking, thank you). A few minutes later, my partner took them for a walk, their tails wagging madly, their eyes lit up with excitement.

Right now as I type this, Miyake is lying at my feet and Ronnie is asleep in his bed, tired from the energetic long walk. Her face is so very soft against my ankle. I can’t help wondering at God’s benevolence — I got exactly what I wished for, and then double. It’s going to be a lot of work but we’re all in this together and I know we’ll be fine.

Now if only I can keep this a secret till the end of time…