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

God at home

She was turning into her own mother. Every day, chore by chore, her life began to resemble her mother’s at the same age.

Brought up in the deserts of Dubai before the dunes of sand were processed into towers of glass, she’d watched her mother slave it out in the home, scrubbing dishes, vacuuming the carpets, doing the beds, baking goodies for the kids, smiling brightly at the weekend soirees with other Indians, taking comfort in a short, stolen cup of tea or a single bowl of rice tucked away from everyone else, sacrificing, always sacrificing, putting everyone else’s needs above her own, despite the back pain, despite the ache that must have lingered in her heart, the loss of her dreams.

As a know-it-all adult, she often listened to her mother say, “I do not regret being a housewife. I like being home and being there for the people in my life. My family was my career and I am proud of my contribution to their lives,” and assumed these were her mother’s rationalizations for a life that had been thrust on her, justification for her lack of ambition. Sheryl Sandberg would not have approved.

Then, after all those defiant years, her own world inverted on its head. She was home, with no domestic help, no office to go to, and a demanding family made up of six living beings, two of whom were desperately ill. Life became an unending cycle of dishes, laundry, cooking, cleaning, ensuring supplies, waking early morning to feed the dogs, walking them by herself late at night, dishes, laundry, cooking, cleaning…

There was the occasional outburst, a once-in-a-while snapping of patience. But on the whole, her mind teetered on the edge of the irritability precipice, aware of how easily it could topple over into negativity, holding on to the firmer land of awareness as if it was her saviour. The word ‘sacrifice’ loomed menacingly; it became the Kurukshetra of an internal Mahabharat she fought with herself every moment. She did not like the word; it had all the trappings of a victimized existence. She would not succumb.

In a weak moment, though, she slipped into the garb of victimhood, of ‘sacrifice’. Her mother was wrong. Who valued her work? Who would remember her labours in the home? Who cared if she wiped the kitchen counter clean? This was not a career; this was a dead end. There was no value in this. She’d rather be reading a book; writing on her blog; reporting a new, exciting trend; interviewing someone famous; running a magazine.

Then, suddenly, lying in bed one night just before sleep took over, she spoke out loud to the husband: “The dogs don’t know how much effort it is for me to wake up each morning, cook their food, feed them and wash their dishes. They don’t know; it is not their nature to know. They will eat if I feed them, but they will not thank me for it; they will go hungry if I don’t, but they will not blame me for it. They will pee in the park if I take them out; they will pee in the home if I don’t. They are in a state of acceptance, of doing what they have to. There is no sense of right or wrong, of responsibility or obligation. That is all only in human heads.”

And then it hit her. “I am not making this effort because they want me to. I am doing it because I want to. I don’t want hungry, unhealthy dogs. I don’t want dog poop in the home. They do what they must. I do what I must.”

The realization shed a new light on everything else — the family, the housework, the chores, the labour — turning the word sacrifice into a shameful shadow of itself. It wasn’t even about choice, or making a career out of being a homemaker, or any of those glamorous debates. It was simply about doing what she must. In sunlight, we wear sunglasses. At night, we turn on the lights. When it rains, we look about for an umbrella. Circumstances change and we adapt. There is nothing to sacrifice, nothing to choose, there’s no option but to do what we must.

After her soul’s light had thus been switched on, she sneezed. And suddenly, she had an urge to give gratitude for all her failings and problems. Her allergies, she suspected, ensured she was slightly more immune to the viral fevers going around, and was available for being everyone’s primary caregiver. Her work-from-home position ensured she didn’t have to be torn between office and family. Her childhood watching a hard-working mother ensured she was able to rough it out with the same stoicism. The hours of manual labour ensured she had enough time to introspect about life; about questions of identity and choice; about the pull and push of love and family. Everything had its part. Nothing was random, superfluous, a quirk of chance.

Her mother’s assertions came back to her, and this time she was less quick to judge. We play our parts, our cards. When life deals us a home, we run it; when destiny decrees us a passion, we follow it. Sometimes, we have the luxury of making a choice but, mostly, our choices are already made for us. Our happiness lies in our acceptance of who we are; our freedom lies in going with the flow.

She could already see God in the dishes. It didn’t feel like a chore any more.

Seeking God

The struggling vine

Like a storm in a tea cup, I am currently caught up in an internal tornado that those around me are perhaps oblivious of. The ghosts of the past have been raked up and, like flying cars and planks in a real-life cyclone, are flying dangerously about, threatening to knock me out in old karmic patterns. 

A few days ago, I told my best friend P that I feel very guilty about my role in my kids’ lives — my choices are difficult for them but they must grin and bear it because of their love for me. I feel I have let them down in a way, I have been unable to give them an eventless childhood, a good old-fashioned upbringing with a loving set of parents. I have been unable to make them the protagonists of their own childhood. My choices have been so momentous for them that, despite my best intentions, I cannot help but being the key player in the course of their lives.

P said something that completely changed my perception of things: “A struggling vine makes the best grapes.” I went silent for a bit when she said this. I googled it — does the best wine come from stressed grapes? And the answer was yes. It is apparently an old trick in the winery business.

While I mulled over this natural phenomenon, I got this Goethe quote in my inbox the very same instant:

“One should not wish anyone disagreeable conditions of life; but for him who is involved in them by chance, they are touchstones of characters and of the most decisive value to man.”

Instantly, I had my answer. I must not grudge my children their messed-up childhood. In the larger scheme of things, all this is only enriching the beauty of their souls. Problems, challenges, situations come and go. For the eternal soul, however, these are necessary in a way that they allow it to express itself to its fullest potential, to bloom and flower in ways that may have otherwise remained dormant. I would know. The most intense spiritual growth has come in the time of the most intense grief and torment for me.

And so, as the storm continues to brew in the little tea cup of my heart, I remind myself of this personal truth yet again: From revolution will come evolution. I must be strong while allowing myself to change. Happy endings are about mindful journeys, after all.