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

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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

Beloved, hated

“What so great happiness as to be beloved, and to know that we deserve to be beloved? What so great misery as to be hated, and to know that we deserve to be hated?” -Adam Smith

Isn’t it a wonder that we have been, or are, both?

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

Lessons in love (from an older person to her younger colleagues)

My team at work is aged between 24 to 30 years, and (besides me) all are single. Some of them are looking for love, others are dating and confused, and a few are dating someone their families would never approve of. So my Monday tips (a ritual we began couple of months ago) today were all about love.

For those who are still seeking the right person: 

1. If you don’t have someone in your life, work on being so happy and self-contained that you never really miss having anyone in your life. When you achieve that level of self-comfort and self-love, the universe responds with an equal partner. And in any case, by then, you really don’t care either way but you’d be happy to share your happiness with someone.

2. Those who need to do something, go out and do it come what may. This is my experience from life — for instance, those who want to lose weight just do it. Those who want to be successful in their careers just do it. So if you haven’t yet ‘done it’ and got yourself a partner, chances are, you don’t really want it. You have built certain walls inside yourself against love. Maybe you’ve been hurt or maybe you’re afraid of being hurt. Maybe you feel love is dangerous and you’re guarding yourself out of protective instinct. In any case, the answer is going back to point 1 and learning to love yourself and being whole within yourself. And then singledom is as heavenly as any other state of life.

For those who are dating but confused if they’ve found the right person yet, these are the parameters to help you decide:

1. Are you good friends? Friendship is key for a long, committed relationship. If you can’t have long meaningful conversations (and silences) with one another, then it probably isn’t a great idea.

2. Do you have physical chemistry? In a context such as India where a lot of the kids in my team will end up in arranged marriages, it’s essential to make sure there is some physical attraction with the person they’re all set to marry. You have to share the bed of this person for the rest of your life. It better be a pleasant experience. Listen to your body; it knows what is right for you.

3. Trust and respect. Those are the other most important ingredients in any long-term relationship. You should want to call the other person ‘aap‘ (respectful Hindi term for ‘you’) even if you don’t do it in real life (many young people use the more familiar ‘tum‘ for their partners). And you should be able to trust each other; if there are causes or cases of infidelity or financial mistrust, either work on them or walk away. Don’t ignore it.

For those who are in love with someone their parents don’t approve of:

1. Since India is a multi-religious, multi-caste and multi-lingual nation, it’s common to find ‘mixed’ couples these days. But there’s often a lot of back-story before they make it to ‘happily ever after’. In most cases, the biggest and only hurdle are the parents. The first thing in such a situation is to have conviction — unless YOU are 100% sure that this is the right person for you, your parents will jump to find excuses and opposition to the relationship.

2. Parents are hardwired to protect you. So unless you can prove to them that you are strong enough to take care of yourself, they’ll do anything to protect you even if it means making you miserable. So having that conviction in your love story (point 1) will not only make you more determined to go ahead and help you appreciate your partner, it will also make your parents respect you a little more.

3. For girls in such situations, it’s vital to make sure the boy is TOTALLY committed to the relationship. He should be willing to move mountains for you. After all, it’s the woman who leaves her home and moves in with the man. Unless he is going to be there for you later, you’re asking for trouble – you may have forsaken your own family by then. If he shows even the slightest hesitation, buys time or makes excuses about commitment, run a mile.

4. Success is measured by what you have to give up in order to get it. Is this man or woman worth leaving your entire family / clan behind? Is this person worth standing up to 50 people for the rest of your life or changing your religion? If you have any doubt about that, stop. Don’t move ahead. There are other ways of being in a relationship besides marriage.

Rest assured, if the boy and girl are both convinced and committed to one another, if they have clarity and courage, then I promise you, the entire universe will conspire in your favour. Love is magic and love is also for real. Believe in it.

Hari Om.

Seeking God

The mother in us

We take a lot of things for granted, and when we do, we end up undervaluing them. Our mother’s love and attention for example. We figure it’s a given that she will take time off from work and be there in audience on an important school event. We figure it’s a given that she will set aside all her other issues and focus entirely on us all through, that she will click our pictures and laugh and congratulate us and hug us and generally have nothing else on her mind but us. We are supposed to be everything to her, after all.

We so easily forget that we aren’t everything to her. That we are only one part of her life, that she has other missions and griefs and things to do and people to think of and tasks on her to-do list. We forget she is a human who has been or is going through her own set of challenges — maybe she is the mother who lost her newborn during the Partition because her breastmilk dried up amid a burning neighbourhood in Lahore, and the baby starved to death, and there was no one to cremate the tiny corpse so it had to be swaddled and set afloat on a nearby stream, and the mother never really recovered from the trauma and it became a part of the great big tub of sorrow that accompanied her on school trips with her other four children forever after that.

Maybe the mother was one of those four children who — never intimate with her own mother — also lost her father just when she needed him most, and then brought up her own daughter with the conservative urban Indian’s passionate possessiveness, outwardly disallowing the child everyday liberties but subconsciously urging her to break free from the very boundaries she was moulding her to fit into. So that the girl, like a cow’s calf, grew up fearful, gentle and completely unfit for a ruthless world but then later — when the ruthless world had backed her up into a corner of do-or-die — broke out like a roaring lioness and refused to be enslaved ever again. And the mother cried — in sorrow that her daughter was now a misfit and in joy that she was free.

Maybe the mother was that born-again lioness who then voluntarily took on the burden of mothering the whole world so that she could pass on her knowledge but ended up being unavailable to her own girl child’s several needs, so that the girl hated her own mother with all the love of a longing heart and blamed her for everything that went wrong in her own life, because mothers, after all, are supposed to have nothing else on their minds but their children. They’re not supposed to be women too.

And so the circle of life goes on, and we take our mothers for granted, while they celebrate our birth, grieve about losing us long before we lose them, think of us even when they are not thinking of us, laugh when we thrive, and cry when we hurt. And in taking them for granted, we undervalue their contribution to the heart that pumps blood through our veins, to the flesh that we inhabit, to the eyes that look back at us in the mirror.

Every day is mother’s day because the mother is us.

Finding God

When we’re in heaven

When we’re in heaven
I’ll rub almond oil on your eyes and lips
And you will massage my feet (just out of curiosity)
And we’ll look into the mirror together
And see the other’s face glow

When we’re in heaven
We’ll cuddle under enormous blankets
And your warmth will melt me (and mine will put you to sleep)
And our limbs will possess the other’s
As if they are all extensions of the same being

When we’re in heaven
I will press my lips into your sleeping cheeks
And graze the corner of your lips (your stubble will gently scorch me)
And I will fall asleep to the rhythm of your breath
And our gods will sprinkle golden dreams

Did I tell you, beloved, the gods have made us a promise?
That when we’re in heaven
Things will be exactly as they were on earth.

Finding God

Value-added moment

A scene comes to mind. A face, an unlikely location. You are the protagonist but everything else appears to be a dream. You have another home, another husband, another life. You do not recognise yourself. This cannot be you. Those are not your words, your thoughts. You aren’t like this.

You aren’t like this any more. You changed, and the scene changed too. Or maybe the scene changed and you changed along with it. Who knows what comes first, the chicken or the egg.

Sometimes, looking into the past is like looking into the future or into a parallel universe. It all appears to be a vision, a hallucination brought on by an idle mind. Then your children walk past and there’s the answer in flesh and blood — they are yours, the dream was reality once. However unbelievable it seems, it was reality once. You take heart in knowing you survived. You give thanks in knowing you are in a better place now. You make a tiny wish for the future, and send up a prayer of forgiveness and closure for the past. There is life beyond life.

—–

I was crabby a few days ago, sullen about the fact that I had to cook dinner when I’d rather be writing something. “I wish we had domestic help,” I grumbled to the kids, “I wish I could be doing something of more value than housework.”

“But what you are doing is of value, mom. Change your perspective,” the elder one cheekily said, walking away, leaving me fuming in the kitchen.

In a few moments, I was caught up by the feel of cottage cheese between my fingers, the smell of pepper in the air, the state of quiet that only cooking can bring. What is value, I mused. Is it the alert ping of the phone when a cheque is deposited in my account? Is it the accomplishment of a writing project well done? Is it a work meeting that went fabulously? Or can it be something else entirely?

Can it be the sizzle of the paneer tikka on the pan as well? The hungry, drooling face Ronnie makes as he looks on, standing just outside the kitchen since he’s not allowed in? The daughter happily filling up her plate? The empty dishes in the sink? The sense of family, and of home? The knowledge of shared history and linked destinies? The experience of being a mother, a wife, a creature of warmth, comfort and an infinite reservoir of hugs?

Could there be value there too?

Could there be value in love?

I thought of all the homemakers in the world — my own mother included, whose contribution to my life cannot be calculated in numbers or words. They don’t bring home the money but they contribute something of perhaps greater value to their homes and families. They contribute themselves.

When I’m at the end of my life, the bank account will end with me. The newspaper articles I write will float, forgotten, in cyberspace. The kids will forget these moments, the dogs will move on to doggy heaven and forget all of us. But I will smile, for I will know I lived life the way Life wanted me to, I loved no holds barred, I dared to dream, and I made paneer tikka when my daughter asked me for it.

Big things create value, no doubt. It’s the little things that are invaluable.

Seeking God

On happiness duty

“It’s your duty to be happy,” I coaxed my best friend after she shared that she’d tried to commit suicide, the last resort and cry for attention in a doomed marriage. (Thankfully, the thought of her baby kept her from going all the way.)

That’s been a refrain for me in the past many years: “We owe it to ourselves, to our world and to our God to be happy. Only when we’re happy can we make others happy.”

All that.

But as I typed out this message yet another time on Whatsapp to her, my own life flashed before my eyes. It hit me that, yes, happiness is our duty, but, oh, how difficult it is to be happy, how limited it is, and how little it lasts.

We think we’ll be happy when we have lots of money. But once we have lots of money we realise rich people are people too, with their own sets of unhappinesses, insecurities and existential holes.

We think we’ll be happy when we win adulation and approval. But that is just a shadow we’re perpetually chasing, further away, forever out of reach, following us only when we turn away in indifference.

We think we’ll be happy when we are beautiful, when we can look at ourselves with pride. But beauty is a mirage that changes shape – what is pretty one day is ugly the next – so we’re constantly running, in the malls, on the treadmill, seeking to pin down a cloud that cannot be pinned. It is in its nature to change.

We think we’ll be happy when we get married, but marriage is a dance with a mirror; we only receive the expression we make, we only swirl in the direction we move ourselves, we only reap what we sow into our own souls, whether it is disdain, disappointment, disrespect or devotion.

We think we’ll be happy when we have children; when our children hit all the right benchmarks; when they outdo us in achievements; when their children bring us name and fame. But we soon learn that in dreaming for them, we belittle their own destinies; in our expectations of them, we stifle them; and in pushing them to accomplish social benchmarks, we erase all the divinity they bring into our lives. So who are the parents – them or us?

We think we’ll be happy when we give to others, when we share pieces of ourselves with those with less. But each act of altruism only reminds us of our own selfishness in giving, in our addiction to the sense of worth that giving gives us.

We think we’ll be happy when we land on the shores of success; when we get that plum assignment or that perfect job. But when it happens we realise we’re still hollow, there’s still something we crave, and no matter how far we’ll go in our careers, we’ll always be a dazzling step away from the Bill Gateses of our dreams. Because our dreams only show us what is written in black and white in the newspaper, not what is written in the subtlest letters on our hearts.

We think we’ll be happy when we have perfect relationships, when our families are smiling, when our friends are peachy, when our colleagues are kind, and when the neighbours don’t mind our dogs any more. But, in a flash, words spark a flame and there’s a fire in your chest, and you see the foolhardiness of having your peace dependent on such a volatile, unreliable optical illusion. Can you tie a bow on a rainbow?

Then we think we can maybe change our very definition of happiness, and learn to revel in all that we reviled before. So when we fight with our teen, we rejoice we have a child in the first place. When our nail paint chips off, we marvel we have fingers in the first place. When our computer mouse goes missing at work, we give thanks we have an office to come to, we have a fancy computer to work on, we have resources to produce new mouses (mice?) when we need it.

And yet, those gratitudes too are short-lived. The more you study happiness, the more you recognise that it vanishes the moment the next thing comes along and so we have to ‘practice’ happiness over and over again.

But all that cannot be said on Whatsapp to a woman wrecked on the rocky shores of a crumbling marriage.

Yes, it’s our duty to be happy. And yes, the definition of happiness changes every day. And yes, you’ll always be chasing an elusive, fleeting and fickle lover. It’s great to have but it’s difficult to hold. So perhaps we have to just let happiness go where it must and turn our attention to something else worth doing, receiving and living.

Love.

The other day, I was stepping into my car, smiling at a stray dog that went by, and it struck me: “Love is the most authentic glimpse we have of God.” Those big or brief moments of pure, straightforward love and sense of oneness with the other or the universe are hints to what heaven must feel like. Love gives meaning and beauty to existence; it outlives us. As Aristotle wrote, “Remember that time slurs over everything, lets all deeds fade, blurs all writings and kills all memories. Exempt are only those which dig into the hearts of men by love.”

So, from today, I shall change my preacher’s refrain, “It’s our duty to be happy,” and turn it into: “How much have we loved?” Because, my jaan, happiness comes and goes. But love? Of all the things precious to man and God, it is love that goes on.

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.