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

Advertisements
Finding God

Finding truth in bliss

(I missed writing a post this Monday. My excuse is that I was following my bliss.)

I came across this definition of ‘a calling’ by Max Weber: a task set by God. It is something that is beyond you, above you and within you, something you cannot change even if you wanted to (and you don’t want to). Something that your heart would say if it could speak. In Hinduism, we call it dharma.

Then I came upon this quote by Christian theologian Frederick Buechner: ‘The kind of work God usually calls you to do is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.’

And this one by David Brooks: ‘You don’t ask, What do I want from life? You ask a different set of questions: What does life want from me? What are my circumstances calling me to do?’

And this one by William Damon: ‘All individuals have their own particular callings, reflecting three realities: (1) their own God-given abilities; (2) the world’s need for the services their callings provide; and (3) their enjoyment in serving society and God in their own special ways.’

It all reminded me of the ancient Hindu philosophy of Sat-Chit-Ananda, that is truth-consciousness-bliss. My truth includes my circumstances, my dharma, my soul’s purpose. My consciousness includes that special gift only humans have, that of free will, choosing their actions and taking decisions based on awareness of past and present. And my bliss is, of course, that place of ‘deep gladness’.

The point where they all meet is your destiny. What you were born to do in this life – the point where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

It’s not easy to find one’s deeper purpose in life as long as one is caught in the maya-jaal of life, the rat-race, the meaningless actions and habits, the unnecessary attachments. Sometimes, one needs a little push, a tiny trigger, to set you off on your true path. Until then you are just groping in the dark, unsure of where you are going even though a part of you knows there’s something you need to do.

That brings me to me. I’ve just walked out of my third job in five years. The reasons for them all were different but a quieter space in my heart tells me I had outgrown my lesson in each of them, and it was time to move on. (I’m just a quick learner, I guess.) And so I have begun a new phase of my life, a new journey. There has been SO MUCH grace to help me along the way, so many blessings, an environment that is ripe for inspiration, a history and a story that is the perfect starting point for my future. I am completely content and completely fearless about what is to come, because if there is one thing, okay three things, that nature has taught me, they are (1) You are protected (2) You are deeply loved (3) Everything happens for a reason.

Oh, and here’s a fourth one: There are no coincidences. They are actually signals from the universe affirming that you are on the right path. Once you start following your bliss, finding that place of deep gladness inside you, you are suddenly swamped by coincidences – yesterday I was typing out a message to my brother when he suddenly called to say hi; I was thinking of following up on an old outstanding amount when my bank account pinged a credit transaction; I was wondering if my phone plan had been updated when the inbox beeped, it was the bill, and yes, it had been updated.

And all I had to do was follow my bliss, answer my calling – in my case, writing. Yes, I have been writing a story that needs to be told, writing close to eight hours a day.

Maybe this is the point, the space where my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

Finding God

Tire puncture

The monsoon was in full form in Delhi a month ago, and the roads were covered in filthy water and slush. In my experience, and by Murphy’s law, your car is most likely to get punctured in situations when you least want it to happen – such as during heavy rainfall while stuck on flooded streets. And so, a nagging voice at the back of my mind kept telling me for days, “Get the tires checked. Get the tires checked.”

One day, after leaving work, I gave in to my intuition, and drove into a nearby petrol pump to get the tires checked, even though the car was driving fine. It turned out I had a puncture – a three-inch nail stuck in the tire, no less. It was so tightly fit and perhaps so recent that the tire hadn’t lost any air pressure yet, so I wouldn’t have known for another few kilometres. I got it fixed instantly, sending up waves of gratitude to God for saving me in the nick of time.

For the next month, I went about convinced that I lived a bonafide charmed life.

Today, then, I got a rude shock when I noticed that the same tire was totally flat again. I was alone in the local market, it was already dark, and I had to drive myself (very) slowly to the nearby petrol station. All the way, I fought with God in my head: “You gave up on me. You let me down. You didn’t warn me this time.”

I reached the petrol pump and got out of the car to let them fix it. It was a long, thick nail again. While waiting, I noticed a ‘pollution control’ kiosk there – and it was still open despite the late hour. Since I don’t use this pump often, I had never paid attention to it before. “Hmm, now that I’m here, let me check if my pollution-under-control (PUC) certificate needs renewal,” I thought, and reached out to my dashboard to check it. To my shock, it had expired in March this year and I hadn’t realised.

As soon as the tire was fixed, I got the pollution checked and new certificate issued. While the boy was working on it, a voice in my head went, “And you thought I’d given up on you, huh?”

God gave me a tire puncture because I needed my PUC certificate renewed.

Abashed, I said sorry in my head for giving up on God.

On my drive home, I began to count all the other metaphorical tire punctures, slowdowns, hiccups, difficulties, problems and impossible challenges I have been facing lately, and said a silent ‘thank you’ for them all. Who knows what miracles are taking place underneath while I worry over surface details.

Finding God

Loving what’s within

It was a pleasant day in Antalya, Turkey. I was on holiday with my husband and children. The clouds gave us respite from the pinching Mediterranean summer sun. I’d had a sleepless night so all I wanted to do was lie down and doze off on the beach chair. My husband sat next to me, reading a book. My daughters were off somewhere, posing for selfies.

I napped and had dreams. I woke to the sound of women gossiping loudly in a language I couldn’t understand right next to me. In that half-awake state, I stared at the sky and then turned over and stared down at the sand. My happiness was complete.

And yet.

A realisation dawned. The more I loved my family, and the more I drew happiness from their presence in my life, the more I was setting myself up for boundless sorrow later. It doesn’t mean that I stop loving them or stop deriving happiness from their presence; it means I must stop depending on their presence and love in order to be happy.

More than ever, I realised — the only true love is that of the self. The only true companion is the self. The only true partner, lover, parent, guide, child is the self.

Let me put it another way. The self is divine, eternal, infinite, unchangeable, universal, right? The self is God. So the only true love is that of God.

No, no, we’re getting too esoteric. Let’s stay secular. Let’s just say the only true love is that of the self. If we can truly love ourselves, we need nothing else.

Let me just replace a word there. If we can truly love God, we need nothing else.

We need no declarations of love with a ring, no commitments around a sacred fire. We need no bells to clang when we enter a temple, we need no incense to carry our wishes to the heavens. We need have no fear of loss, or pain of separation. We need no stamp paper to prove our bond or a doctor to deliver us from ourselves. We need no ecstasy of ownership, no pride of achievement. We need nothing else, even death won’t do us part.

Lying there in that half-awake state, I realised, my happiness is complete. Not just because I have a beloved family and much abundance in my life. But because I found my true love. It was right here within me all along.

Finding God

Crochet contemplations

I learnt crochet in high school, and by the time I was in college, it was an addiction. Every winter, I would churn out a couple of caps for the men in my family (the women in my family didn’t wear caps, and I don’t know why. Maybe they used dupattas or scarves to cover their heads back then). Interestingly, every time I got down to making a cap for myself, winter got over and the woollens were put away.

Marriage and motherhood made me cast my crochet needle aside for 20 years. This winter I took it up again; I started with a cap for my husband and then a second one for my sweet, strong mother-in-law. It has been a deeply de-stressing activity at the end of hectic workdays. Here is what’s been going on.

Unweaving karma: I bought unrolled yarn from a wool wholesaler, so the first task was to make balls of it. Since I was doing it for the first time, I had no clue how to go about it and ended up with a pile of knots on the first evening. I nearly gave up in helplessness — it was 11 pm and I wanted to sleep but here was this big pile of wool on my mattress and my cap was nowhere near beginning. But then I decided to finish what I’d set out to do. Slowly, painfully, I unravelled one knot at a time, and had the idea that I could use the next hour to visualise myself evolving spiritually, unravelling the knots of my karma. Each knot taught me a lesson that I accepted with gratitude and humility, moving patiently further without giving up. Patiently, patiently, persevering, persevering, as if I was living out all the karmic debts of this lifetime. Until finally, I got to a point where the going became smooth, the lessons stopped and the act of winding up began, and I went faster and faster, only a hiccup here or there, and then it was all done. I had a smooth, unknotted ball of wool in my hands, and it was over.

Stilling the mind: Then, of course, the real task began. On day one, I could not sit still for more than 15 minutes. It was as difficult as meditation: the monkey mind would jump from one point to another. I was restless and fidgety, my fingers were clumsy and cold. But within days, I was able to build up to 20 then 30 minutes of continuous crochet, and then over an hour. In the process I noticed that if it was as hard as meditation, then it was just as rewarding. Every time I would put down the needle, I was at peace, still, my mind an ocean of calm. The day’s worries and anxieties were wiped clean. I began sleeping better, and I am more rested now than ever before.

Opportunity to give gratitude: Those many minutes of keeping one’s hands busy have been a wonderful opportunity to give thanks: I take Krishna’s name with each stitch as often as I can remember, before the monkey mind begins roaming again. I imagine filling the cap I am making with loads of blessings and love. These are sacred caps, like our lives are supposed to be.

Seeing better: A few days into my hobby, I noticed that I was able to see much clearer with my husband’s glasses. He has a number for reading, and his glasses made the stitches appear larger. Assuming I had also developed near-sightedness, I went down to the optical store in the neighbourhood and allowed myself to be duped into getting new expensive glasses with moderate reading power. But when I came home and used them, I realised things were pretty clear even without them; they merely enhanced the crochet stitches like a magnifying glass. I made a resolution to myself: I should not make up issues when they don’t exist. Stop creating unnecessary knots in life.

Falling down and waking up: The best time to crochet for me is on a weekend morning, sitting on top of the steps leading down to our verandah in the pleasant winter sun. The light and temperature are wonderful, and having my dogs sitting calmly next to me is soothing and cute. This Sunday, a couple of stray cats took turns sleeping at the foot of the stairs near me as well (and surprisingly, the dogs weren’t bothered). I was able to go into something of a trance out there with the animals and my wool. I spent almost two hours in vivid gratitude and peace, moving one stitch at a time, in awe at how beautiful life is. Then, suddenly, my ball of wool rolled down the steps. Absently, I reached out for it, and since my eyes were out of focus (I was using my husband’s glasses then), I lost my balance. I took a tumble down the stairs, landing (thank God) safety on my bottom, completely unhurt. The cats took off in a flash, the dogs stood up in excitement wagging their tails ready to play, the peaceful moment was gone. I laughed. God was telling me: “Keep your balance. See things clearly before reacting. Don’t be so lost, and don’t drift away; you are still bound by the laws of life.”

I am on my third cap now, this time for my daughter, and the winter is going by in a daze of peace, other-worldliness and newness. Every time I look up, I feel like I am seeing the world for the first time, a world full of wondrous things. I feel old as if I have lived a lot, and I feel like a baby who takes joy in the smallest of things, finding something to marvel in the way the wool moves through the hook, the way a cap takes shape out of nothing but a string. I am in deep gratitude for discovering crochet again.

This time I will make myself a cap.

UPDATE, 27 March 2016: I have made 22 caps this far, besides a scarf, and all my colleagues and family members have one. Nope, I still haven’t made a cap for myself.

Finding God

Momentary magic

My blog dashboard informs me it’s been two months since I last wrote. And so I am showing up. But I am also here because a moment of magic happened today and I must — must, must — share it.

It was around half an hour ago. I am home with my family, putting away the ironed clothes in my bedroom. My husband sits in the same room, checking out Facebook on his phone. My elder daughter in the next room is telling her young tuition teacher that our dogs Ronnie and Miyake are the nicest dogs she’s ever known, and it’s probably because they are much loved. In another room, my younger daughter and her best friend are singing songs (very beautifully, I must say). The TV is on in the drawing room; there’s no one there but it is a comforting sound. The dogs have gone for a walk with our housekeeper.

I sit down on the chair next to my husband, the folded clothes in my arms, my eyes wide in wonder. “Look at this moment,” I say in a reverent whisper. “Look around. Hear the sounds. Hear them talking, singing, the TV. This moment, it is just PERFECT.” I take a breath. I have goosebumps. There is nothing more perfect in the world except this very moment. Oh my dear Krishna. Thank you.

The extraordinary magic of an ordinary moment.

Someone asked me my life’s goal a few days ago, and I said, “To be of good use”. And so I am being sent people who need to hear from me. It has been a week of unexpected new connections. It has been fun. I feel like wagging my tail like the pug in the advertisement: “happy to help”.

I can never give back as much as I have got, but I can show up.

Seeking God

Catching myself

I have been caught up in the whirlwind of Maya. Passion for work and overriding attachments to my family have kept me firmly rooted in the rajas guna (ambition, material growth, desires), while a certain sloth has taken over my physical condition — s symptom of the tamas guna (immobility, darkness, pathway to stagnation). I’ve seriously missed a good dose of the sattvic guna (lightness, divinity, spirituality) in my life lately. I am out of balance.

Thankfully I had a wakeup call yesterday, a self-induced one. I had been mulling over various material preoccupations — who said what, why they said it, are they jealous, what do they mean, how dare they, they need to be put in place, and so on. I acted on impulse once, but then the trigger was repeated. Before I reacted the second time, I decided to pray and look inside me a little.

Grace. I was able to check my impulse. I was able to see that I had been getting caught up in the whirlwind of Maya. I was able to see that it was never about ‘me versus them‘ but about ‘me versus God‘. I was getting caught up in my material roles in this life, I was beginning to take them super-seriously. I was under the illusion that I ‘owned’ them — my job, my family, my loves.

But truth is, I don’t. They are all on loan, all gifts of nature, fleeting, temporal, here-one-day-gone-the-next. The more I identify with them, the more I am trapped. (*takes a deep breath, and releases it with a ‘let go’*)

I love this life, this family, this work, these people. And because I love them, I must learn to detach myself from them, else the love will turn into possessiveness and poison.

It is easy to forgive and put behind those you once hated. It is nearly impossible to detach yourself from your most prized loves. One man did it and he was called the Buddha.

Oh well. One can aspire to aspiration.

Seeking God

The men in the elevator

Every time I travel, some kind of annoyance begins to build up. It is almost always directed at rude men, who push past me in the security line, in the bus to the airplane, in the aisle to the seat. “Forget chivalry,” I mutter to myself, “these men do not even display the basic courtesy of allowing someone in front of them to go first; they must beat her to it.” I curse them in my heart, but I never, EVER, look them in the eye. All the lurid stories of my workdays at my tall office tower with six elevators in the most populated commercial district of Delhi come to mind. Once, 15 people got into a lift with a capacity of 13. The alarm went off. A few female voices floated to me standing outside, “Please get off, somebody.” No one budged. Finally, five women came out, unwilling to be squeezed in with 10 men, who then went on up, womanless and no doubt proud of having stood their ground.

Then another old incident comes awake, of walking in through the metal detectors and having three or four large men jostling into the few inches in front of me — to do what? Save 10 seconds? — and I could not help but admire two younger, spunkier women who completely avoided the queue with a ‘Fuck this’, slipped past the detector and landed up straight at the bag check lady, while I still stood there, waiting for all the men to be done.

Those memories clawed at me when, in a crowded shuttle bus at the airport, none of the men stopped to let me exit my seat until one did — and he was over 70 years old. I insisted he go first, and he did, and a young man behind him quickly went on as well, just in case I had the wrong idea that I could (finally) leave.

Like acidic bubbles, the annoyance burned my chest from within, my anger against my own species threatened to eat me up inside.

—–

Thankfully for me, every time I travel, a great silence also builds up within me. Cut away temporarily from the noise and schedule of my daily life, my heart zooms in to its own eternal home like a compass falling in line with north. In this stillness, I become aware of my thoughts, and I wonder at them.

So today, after a great bout of venting my frustration about my countrymen to my colleagues, I was able to also notice my own irritation with clinical objectivity. ‘Why,’ I thought to myself, ‘must this bother me so? What lesson lies in this for me? Why all this negative emotion? What needs fixing in my soul?’

Pat in reply, a couple of hours later (God is getting better at this, good job, muah), I got this post by Seth Godin:

Empathy doesn’t involve feeling sorry for someone. It is our honest answer to the question, “why did they do what they did?”

The useful answer is rarely, “because they’re stupid.” Or even, “because they’re evil.” In fact, most of the time, people with similar information, similar beliefs and similar apparent choices will choose similar actions. So if you want to know why someone does what they do, start with what they know, what they believe and where they came from.

Dismissing actions we don’t admire merely because we don’t care enough to have empathy is rarely going to help us make the change we seek. It doesn’t help us understand, and it creates a gulf that drives us apart.

I start with what they know (they know that livelihood is everything for them; without their daily bread, their worlds will crash; nothing must come in the way); what they believe (they believe that to make a living, one has to fight several battles to just get to the starting line); and where they come from (a place of lack, shortage, insecurity, fear and repression).

Yes, I feel slightly closer to understanding them. Yes, I believe I will eventually forgive them for their inconsideration and myself for my lack of empathy. Yes, I will be the change that I seek.

Maybe, just maybe, I will finally look them in the eye and wish the men in my elevator a happy Independence Day.

Seeking God

Wisdom tooth

Every now and then, you’ll find that God imposes a full stop in the running sentence you call life. It follows no grammatical norm — it can pop up at any time, even the most inconvenient times. It’s often to do with health, or sometimes a death in the family, or losing a job.

For instance, you’ll be in the middle of a busy work project and are slated to travel the next day but you’ll suddenly get laryngitis and can’t speak, and have to cancel the whole thing. Or you’re all set for a cousin’s wedding and then the groom’s father passes away, and it’s all called off for a year. Or you’re expecting a promotion and, instead, your company shuts down and you don’t have a Plan B.

These enforced full stops, however inconvenient they are at the time, are always huge blessings in retrospect. They force you to pause, listen, learn and reflect. They teach you to be still, humble, receptive. They take you deep within yourself so that when you surface to the hustle-bustle of the material world once again, you are cleansed, quieter in your heart, and more accepting.

I’m going through a full stop right now — the emergence of a wisdom tooth and its accompanying gum and throat infection. It has effectively put an end to both input (of food) and output (of words). I’ve realized that both are karma – food connects us to all other forms of life and the more we consume, the more we owe; and our words are as potent as our actions and thoughts when it comes to creating karma. I was forced to stop creating karma and to listen with my heart.

It reminded me of another lesson I had learnt 15 years ago on the top of a mountain, on a pilgrimage, when a realization had struck me: “It is very difficult to pay for one’s negative karma. Let me not create any more of it.” I had turned vegetarian then.

This week, the lesson took on a more refined, subtler nuance.

1. Let me not create negative karma not just by deeds but also by my thoughts and words.
2. Let me not consume more than I need.
3. Let me not speak unless it is kind, true and necessary.
4. Let me be still more often on a daily basis — so that God doesn’t have to resort to these drastic full stops to alert me.
5. Let me aim for a lighter state of being — lesser input, lesser output.

The pain will ebb. I hope the lesson stays.

Finding God

Birthday wish

One of my colleagues J asked me why I don’t write posts the way I used to on my blog — with anecdotes from my personal life, with all its trials and joys. I told her I don’t have the urge to do that anymore but for old times’ sake, I decided to write one today.

I turned 41 yesterday. It was my day off from work, and I spent the first half of it wrapping up pending woodwork at my present apartment. (We’re going to move in a few days and I didn’t want to leave behind loose hinges and broken door locks.) It was pretty intense — there were four workmen around the house, my husband was fast asleep on the sofa, the kids were busy messing up the kitchen, the phone kept ringing as my loved ones called to wish me, the computer made pouty faces urging me to sit and do some work, and the doorbell was at its incessant best as delivery boys or the landlord dropped in. My office sent me a cake and flowers. I got several birthday wishes on Facebook.

By afternoon, there was a lull as the activity died down. The family kept asking what I wanted to do with the rest of the day. I couldn’t think of a single thing. So we just hung around and ordered Subway (but I still ate leftovers because no one else wanted them) and we watched some TV and I talked a whole lot on the phone — one call after another, and another, and another. Then another colleague sent a Whatsapp joke: “What did the Buddhist say to the man behind the Subway counter? Make me one with everything.” I loved it. I think it was the most wonderful birthday present EVER.

Before I slept at night, I decided to make my day REALLY special, so I turned off the lights and as the husband snored away (yes, he seems to sleep a lot on the weekends), I talked to God. And my day flashed before my eyes as my whole body beamed up waves of gratitude.

I thanked God for the carpentry work — I was able to tie out the loose ends before ending one phase of life. I prayed to die with such utter completion, like my aunt, whose house burned down and she learnt to give up material attachments a few months before her death. She passed away painlessly, laughing, playing a game of cards with her daughter and full-time help. We die as we live.

I thanked God for my family and for their presence on my big day, for the sense of love, meaning and belonging. I thanked God for all the other abundances in my life, the homes, the jobs, the relationships, the friendships, the phone calls, the cake and flowers, the opportunities, the blessings, the magic, the furniture, the clothes, the angels, the sheer miracle of being alive.

Intensely moved, I cried my heart out with pure gratitude for nearly an hour, thanking the universe for the supreme privilege of having me, for every single step of the journey that has brought me here, for all the little and big lessons I needed to learn before I could appreciate my gifts. I begged forgiveness for grudging my sorrows and begrudging my challenges. All of my existence made perfect sense — from the moment of my conception to the moment I sat down to pray my birthday prayer. It was God’s plan for my life and it was just…. perfect.

Tears running down my face, I began repeating over and over again, “Make me one with everything. Make me one with everything. Make me one with everything.”

It was an intimate moment that I wouldn’t have shared had not J brought it up. But now I guess she knows why I no longer share so much of my life out in public. There’s so much happening within.

Often, dear J, at the end of each day, I feel one with everything. And then there is no need for words. Except maybe one.

Om.