Seeking God

When you’re fragile and you know it

So it has been a while since I have been having a good time — I gave up a nasty, silly job this summer and then went about reading, writing, editing, setting up websites, sleeping, eating, spending time with the family, not worrying about money, making enough money… in short, living my idea of a great life.

But then I became too comfortable. I gave up on my spiritual practice — in fact, all of them. I took up a great new job. I slunk into the cocoon of material life and began to thrive in all the pleasures it had to offer, all the colourful distractions the gurus called ‘maya’.

Last week then, God sent me a wakeup call.

My husband had been reporting a story from the heart of Naxalite country, Bastar, in the state of Chhatisgarh. I knew of course that he was going into dangerous territory but his confidence rubbed off on me and I assumed nothing could go wrong.

Two days into his trip, his phone was unreachable. I didn’t panic. It was a rural area without signals or much development, after all.

Then, about 22 hours after our last conversation, I happened to see his inbox on my computer; what struck me immediately was that he had not checked email for almost 20 hours. It was very unlike him and, suddenly, alarm bells went off in my head. I called up his senior colleague, who assured me that all was fine. They were in a no-coverage area for the night. It was okay, it was expected.

But something had snapped inside me by then. I was wracked with fear and paranoia. I broke down crying, until that voice in my head spoke to me after a long time. It said, “Where’s your faith, then? Is this how fragile you are?”

It also reminded me: “Isn’t this what life is about? One minute, everything is hunky-dory, and the next minute, everything has fallen apart. Don’t you know this already? That life is all about change? Aniccha — it is all impermanent?”

My sobs took on a jerky rhythm of abject guilt and remorse. Fear for my husband’s wellbeing was overwritten by an enormous sense of loss of religion. Where was my faith, indeed? At one point in my life, when everything around me had shattered to pieces, it was my faith that had kept burning unbeatable like an Olympic flame. And now, when everything around me was rosy and perfect, the slightest bit of bad news had sent me weeping and wailing to the gods. What had I done to myself?

I spent close to an hour crying and chanting simultaneously in front of my Gohonzon, dusty for lack of use, but as welcoming as ever. A few days later I met and hugged two important people in my life who have faced great personal loss and unimaginable grief but who did not give up on their spiritual practice. If anything, their loss had fed their faith. They inspired me.

I have now resolved to return to all things God, including this blog. (She has a dramatic way of reminding you of Her presence, doesn’t She?) And so the seeker returns.

PS: The husband was fine. We spoke the next morning and promptly had a marital argument. All’s well that end’s well. Hari Om.

Finding God

Believing is receiving

A couple of days ago, my elder daughter M, age 16, borrowed a formal churidaar-kurta ensemble from me to wear to a Diwali party with other teens. After trying it on, she busied herself with hair and makeup, until it was almost time to leave. Then, she asked me, “Where’s the dupatta? I had it just a minute ago.”

I smiled and replied, “This kurta doesn’t have a dupatta. I never got one made. I wear it just like that.”

She refused to believe me. “But I tried it on just a minute ago, it’s the same colour and it goes perfectly.” She kept rummaging in my cupboard and peeking about her room. My rational argument fell on deaf ears. She completely, irrevocably believed this kurta had a dupatta. She just hadn’t found it yet.

A Maheshwari dupatta (courtesy http://www.indianroots.com)

Suddenly, sitting on my bed, I recalled another ensemble of mine that had a dupatta in these colours. I dug it out from the corner of my cupboard, where it lay packed in plastic, the dry-cleaner’s tag still on. I interrupted her search and offered it to her: It was a perfect match. “See, I told you this kurta had a dupatta,” she said breezily as we left for her party. My explanations about where it had come from were irrelevant for her.

After dropping the kids, I was driving back alone, smiling about the whole event when a deep realization dawned on me. It didn’t matter where the dupatta eventually came from; in her reality, she simply got what she utterly believed in. There was not a trace of doubt in her heart that this kurta had a dupatta in its exact colours. And no matter how it came — no matter that someone’s memory in extracting another dupatta from the back of a cupboard had a role to play — she got what she expected and what she believed in.

It was enough cue for me to do some expecting and believing of my own. So I spoke aloud a couple of statements three times, and then to seal the deal, turned the volume of the radio really high. It was Adele belting out the original version of Skyfall. And to her stupendous vocals, I added the refrain: “So be it, so be it, so be it.” It was all very dramatic and goose-bump-inducing.

This Diwali, I wish my readers and everyone else in the world the fulfilment of their most impossible dreams, the attainment of the most complete joy, and the power to create their own destinies. Happy receiving!

Finding God

Beginner’s luck

Yesterday I spent the better half of the morning at the passport office, in line to get my daughter’s passport renewed.

Having been through my own passport renewal process late last year, I was familiar with the long wait and had taken along a book — my new copy of the ‘Mother’ Mirra Alfassa’s life, which I had bought only the day previously from the Aurobindo Ashram in Delhi.

I’ve always wanted to visit the Ashram but of course there was never enough time in everyday life for such frivolities. Being jobless woke me up to the craving for a guru, and gave me the luxury of being able to drive to wherever I wanted in the middle of the day. Since I couldn’t drive to Auroville in Pondicherry (my soul’s calling), I drove to the next best thing — Pondicherry in Delhi.

Besides jotting down the timings of the various discources and lectures, which I plan to regularly attend starting with today’s class on the Gita, I also bought a few books to acquaint myself with the Aurobindo philosophy.

So anyway, after we got past the first couple of stages of passport-processing, my daughter and I had a long wait for stage three. Uncomfortable in the crowded, stuffy waiting room, we walked back downstairs to the main hall and found good seats. I dug this book out from my bag, she busied herself on her iPhone.

After about two hours, we went back upstairs, and were surprised to see our number flashing next to the stage four counter. “That’s funny,” I said to my daughter, “don’t we need to go through the verification stage? They’ve sent us straight to ‘granting’.”

At the final counter, the lady officer initially mulled over my custody papers, but her colleague from two cubicles away called out insistently to her, “Let’s go! Come fast!” In her hurry, she shrugged and signed off our application without much more ado. As we proceeded to the exit, the reason for her rush became evident as the security guard announced: “All officials will now leave for lunch. Applicants are requested to wait 40 minutes.”

The poor applicant just after us was left holding her papers woefully in her hand.

I shot a look of surprise at my daughter: “My God! How lucky we were! Not only did we miss one stage entirely, we also just got out in the nick of time. We saved more than an hour of waiting.”

In the next breath, I added instinctively: “It’s the Mother’s protection! Just having her book in my bag and reading it halfway gave us this kind of beginner’s benefit!” My daughter rolled her eyes and smiled indulgently.

As we walked down the stairs and out the exit, I continued marvelling in an awed voice, and resolved to continue on my new path in faith. I confess I have dabbled in many, gone up a little or a long distance on various spiritual journeys. This may be just another one of my experiments, or this may be something more lasting. Whatever it is, it will leave me changed and for the better.

I believe in miracles. The big ones are usually evident only in retrospect, and the little ones are a guaranteed indication of being on the right track. All recent experiences — the good and bad — have led me to exactly this point. Who knows where this path will lead?

Seeking God

An invitation to anew

Sometimes in tragedy we find our life’s purpose. The eye sheds a tear to find its focus. – Robert Brault

Each turret, each tower, each little window on the sandcastle had been laid with precious love and care; each stroke of definition had a mother’s firm, devoted touch. Higher and higher it grew, taller than she’d ever expected, until she could see the distant sun tucked cosy into its watery nest as she stood astride her palace of fame. A sweet wind blew about her face, her lips turned up in a contended smile that only genuine hard work and a sense of achievement can bestow.

Of course the wind knocked out the sails of her proud ship right then, and she found herself knee-high in sand, her castle in ruins about her, her days of toil with nothing to show except a broken flag lying upturned like an insult.

How she cried then, how she bawled. “I want my castle back!” she wailed to the unforgiving wind, “Give it back to me!” She scrambled about digging with her hands, laying pile upon pile of dry, fickle sand that ran through her fingers shamelessly. Hot and sweaty with an uncertain, unfocused toil, she lashed about in all directions. Her troops had vanished; her stores were depleted; her army of support had melted into the ocean.

A silly little gull watched her madness with its head tilted to the side.

“If you know it’s so temporary, so fragile, why are you building it up again?” it suddenly asked as she sat on her knees, her hands blushing with impotence.

She stopped and became still. The silly bird had touched a chord of truth in her. “Because I cannot do anything else,” she replied, with a sigh. “I must create. I must do my karma. Krishna says action is necessary, inaction is impossible.”

“But what’s the point of creating sandcastles that the wind or the sea can wash away at any time?” the silly bird asked.

She had no answer. She did not know how to do anything else. She looked about at the vast empty expanse of the beach and the sea, and suddenly felt very disoriented and directionless. She broke up in tears again. “I am lost,” she sobbed.

“Don’t be silly,” the silly bird said. “You are right there.”

Her crying came to a halt with hurtful hiccups. A giant eraser had just wiped clean the slate of her existence, inviting her to draw something new again, to be something new. What would she make, who would she be? Wasn’t it worthless making sandcastles again?

“But anything I make on the sand will be wiped clean the next morning,” she wondered aloud. “And I cannot draw on the sea or the sky.”

“Then draw on yourself,” the silly gull said with a yawn. “At least you’ll always be there where you are.” And it flew away nonchalantly.

It was a call to a journey, the clanging of a bell she couldn’t afford to miss, she realised. The Mother calling her to a pilgrimage. Not one across the sea or the land or the sky. But one into herself, into the vast universe of her soul. Into the silence of her true spirit.

What would she find this time?

Seeking God

Naked

One of the folktales about Krishna relates an incident when the teenage god, wont to flirt with the young women (gopis) in his village, hides amongst the trees when they’re bathing. Naughty as ever, he snatches up all their clothes and runs away to a corner. When they’re done with their bath, they look around for their clothes and realise what he’s done. They plead with him to return their clothes, but he just sits there grinning wickedly, his eyes dancing in merriment. Finally, he challenges them to come and collect their clothes from him one by one, their arms up above their heads so that he can watch them walk towards him, dripping wet in nakedness and vulnerability. He returns their clothes, one bashful woman at a time.

When I first heard this story in my youth, I was chagrined at the blatant sexism and sexual harassment evident in the epic parable. I was shocked that Krishna, my favourite god, could do this to any woman. I hated him for it.

Many years later, after some episode in my life that I’ve now forgotten, I finally understood what this story meant. Since Krishna was not just any man but the Supreme Being Himself, the gopis were not being harassed, they were being blessed. They were being taught the art of surrender, and the divine gift inherent in vulnerability. They were forced to strip themselves of not just their clothes but their ego and their sense of ‘I’, the identity we all create for ourselves. The bathing was symbolic, of course. In Krishna’s merry all-knowing gaze, they were cleansed of their self-delusion and self-importance. In his benevolent smile, they became immortal, their imperfections converted to perfection in the eyes of God, their beauty sealed for eternity.

Nakedness and surrender come together in this ancient story. When we are stripped of all labels and trappings, we can either grapple to recover some clothes and sense of assumed dignity, avoiding humiliation. Or we can surrender and liberate ourselves. In our innocent nakedness, we free ourselves of shame.

Suddenly, I find myself without labels, without the trappings of fame and fortune. In one fell swoop, a major role in my life has been rendered void. Like the gopis in the water, I initially cry and mourn and beg Krishna for cover. Then I see Him sitting there, atop the hill of my salvation, grinning like an imp, beckoning me to walk over in all my naked glory. “You can either cower there in the water forever,” He challenges, “or you can surrender to me, washed of all illusions and delusions of self, and allow me to save you.”

“This is just a game for You,” I say, angrily. “You will do as your whim, how do I trust You? How do I know what further harassment awaits?”

He lays back, His head behind his head, crosses His feet and blows bubbles in the air. “Do you have a choice?”

I grit my teeth in frustration. “I do not,” I call out. “I am forced to trust You.”

He rolls over on one arm, and grins wider. “So who’s blessed now?”

It is time, I realise. Gingerly, I rise above and take a step – in faith and in surrender.