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.

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.

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.