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.

Advertisements
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.

Finding God

Joyful insecurity

First, the news this month. 

I traded the financial security and prestige of a corporate life for the freedom and happiness of being there for my family and myself. 

Then, the quote today.

“On this day of your life, Aekta, I believe God wants you to know…    
…that safety is not the thing you should look for in the future. Joy is what you should look for.
Security and joy may not come in the same package.
They can… but they also cannot. There is no guarantee.
If your primary concern is a guarantee of security, you may never experience the truest joys of life.
This is not a suggestion that you become reckless, but it is an invitation to at least become daring.” 
— Neale Donald Walsh
 
Yeah. God talks to me through email. How does it work for you?
Seeking God

A dog’s life

The past few days, I’ve been trying to live like Ronnie and Miyake.

Whenever there’s a little time on my hands (which is a lot now), I take a nap with my limbs sprawled out languorously. They do the same on the floor next to me.

When I get up, I take a nice deep stretch.

When there’s work to be done, I do it playfully, humming a tune — since I don’t have a tail to wag.

The rest of the time, I go about foraging for food (for thought) such as magazines and books that abound in our home, and curl up in a corner with them.

I wake up every morning with a knot of excitement in my tummy, all ready for life, with a great deal of enthusiasm even if I don’t know what I’m so enthusiastic about.

If someone wants to play, I’m game. If someone wants to hug, I’m always up for it. If someone wants me to go fetch or cook something, I’ll go do that too, with a grin.

The most difficult part is sleeping / napping with abandon, like a dog. The abdominal muscles are curled in tension much of the time out of old habits. So I’m practising surrender, like a dog. I’m learning to not worry about where the next meal will come from, to trust the universe to provide it to me, like a dog. I’m learning to not worry about the future, to not dwell in the past, to just be in the moment, like a dog.

I’m not all there yet, of course. But today I caught myself in the mirror, my hair dishevelled, my face devoid of makeup. No I’m not looking like a dog (what on earth were you thinking?). I’m merely looking much younger, and happy. 

There you go. It’s a revolutionary new anti-ageing therapy. I should patent it. 

Finding God

There is time

Suddenly, there is time.
Time to flip the papaya over so that it ripens evenly
Time to put the bedsheet in the wash and hang the clothes out to dry in an orderly way (unlike the help who always dumps one on top of another)
Time to take the dogs out after lunch and hold Miyake back from bullying joyful little children on their way back from school

There is time
Time to gaze at the tulsi plant that has decided to flourish, finally
Time to observe the clouds change mood, fickle and true
Time to play dreamcatcher to one’s own thoughts (which go from suddenly drenching you in desire to drowning you in doubt and then leaving you naked in the cold)
Time to make tea

There is time
Time to be still and allow the feelings to rise, to allow the immaterial to fall away
Time for the deep and the shallow to mingle in a wave of discordant oneness
Time to see one’s reflection in the mirror of the soul (and allow a little bit of God in)
Time to make peace with the peace

How disillusioned we are
To think there’s not enough time To do it all, to fit it all in, to meet the deadline, to catch the last bus, to see the whole world, to tick off the bucket list, to watch every sunrise, to map every mountain, to win, to love, to get, to beget, to score, to earn, to learn, to achieve, to speak, to sleep, to fulfil our mission on earth

When there is time
We realise we were too busy to notice
That we’d barely begun.

Seeking God

Three lessons

Last weekend, I found myself in not one but three different spiritual study classes. Here are selected notes:

Divinity 24/7: The first one I attended was a satsang at an amazing place in the middle of nowhere called the Temple of Inspiration. Peopled by smiling, silent, everyday folks with halos around their heads, the prayers, meditation and study lecture by an awesome doctor there left me with much peace for the whole week. A lasting lesson that stayed with me was when, after her talk about Kriya Yoga, the doctor responded to a query by the lady sitting next to me, who happened to share my name. “How do we keep our divine connection alive 24/7 despite hectic, busy lives?” my namesake asked.

The doctor replied with a question, her eyes closed: “Do you have to make any effort to be the mother of your child?”

Silence.

She continued: “You know it in every cell of your body. It is a deep and all-encompassing knowing that you are the mother of your child. In the same way, when your connection to divinity becomes a deep and all-encompassing knowing in every cell of your body, you will be connected 24/7. There will be no effort required.”

Oh mother: The second talk I attended was at my local Buddhist group, where a group of women’s division members were talking about lessons from a book by Daisaku Ikeda. Just before I had left for this meeting, I’d mourned on the phone to my dad: “I’m so caught up in life’s daily grind, I fear I am not spending enough time on my spiritual growth.”

At this meeting, God answered me through the group’s senior, who suddenly diverted from the topic at hand to say: “As women, wives and mothers, we’re constantly running about fulfilling our various roles. We get caught in the whirlwind of daily activities and go round and round, faster and faster, till it becomes impossible to get out. But we must.”

I stared so hard at her, she intuitively looked me straight in the face and asked, “Would you like to say something?”

“Yes. That’s what I needed to hear. How do we break out of the whirlwind?” I wondered aloud.

“If the whirlwind is leading to growth, there is no problem. But most times for working moms like us, it isn’t. You need to make a special effort initially to invest in your spiritual growth. But soon you will notice that everything else becomes easier, life becomes vaster, fresh energy flows into all the different areas of your life. It is worth it,” she twinkled at me.

Through all of the following week, I noticed.

Non-violent battles: The third talk I attended was a Gita lecture at the Aurobindo Ashram. Our teacher talked about why it’s important to have our sattvic tendencies control our raajsic and taamsic tendencies. “You do not have to completely suppress your negative taamsic emotions or raajsic desires (for then they only lay low until the moment is right for them to exert themselves), but you must control them through your sattvic qualities. Sattvic values are those pertaining to peace, balance, love, compassion, harmony, santulan.”

Preoccupied with events from my life, I asked, “But if we must operate from our sattvic values alone, then how does one stand up to a bully, for example? Isn’t some kind of aggression required sometimes?”

Our teacher removed his glasses before replying, “The entire Gita is about Krishna urging Arjuna to fight a battle that goes against his peaceful tendencies. Operating from your sattvic state does not mean suffering injustice. On the contrary, you have to fight it, it is your duty, said Krishna to Arjuna. The key is to do it without attachment to the reward, to do it not out of malice but out of neutrality and non-attachment to ego. If you must fight, do not fight with your anger or pride. Fight with fearlessness, detachment.”

***

Last weekend I took three steps towards God. And God sent three thousand love notes to guide me.

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

Scrubbed clean

Dear God,

I see what You’re doing. 

I see how You’ve scrubbed away, layer by layer, years of grime and stress. How You’ve gradually helped me unlearn the frenetic lessons of the past few years. How You’ve taken me back in time to an earlier, more sordid remembrance of who I used to be, and then, when I shook in my veins with trepidation, taken me to peace and understanding beyond that…

I see how You’ve removed, day by day, the compulsions, motivations, frustrations, needs, wants, desires, ambitions, dreams, monkey thoughts, distractions, tensions, worries, doubts, fears, insecurities of what my life had become. How you’ve taken me beyond my greatest successes and my worst failures…

I see how You’ve transported me back in time, hour by hour, to a 10-year-old’s passions, when I used to read all day long, even during my meals, deriving such intense joy that I could not perceive doing anything else, EVER. How You’ve removed all certainties and fixed plans, so that I must make peace with living from day to day, the only constant being the people I love…

I see how You’ve then taken me beyond even them, so that I must love myself most of all, and be sure of only who I am, and then taken me beyond that too, so that I cannot be sure of who I am and what I want, and life seems like a fortune-cookie quote that says with an indifferent compassion, “Anything is possible”…

I see how You’re teaching me slowness and freedom and smelling the roses and the dogs, and rolling about on an undone bed in the middle of the day, and taking quiet walks long into the night, and observing my varied thoughts with detachment and awe, and honouring the demands of my body and the seasons, and feeling each feeling to its fullest, and then taking me beyond them too…

I see how You’ve scrubbed me clean and left me with an open slate of an existence, so that there’s no ‘should’ or ‘must’ any more, there is no doing, only being. How You’ve left me empty and whole so that I may in fact do nothing else but what You want me to do, and I may think of nothing else but how wondrous You are and how stunning this life is…

I see what You’re up to…

You attention-seeker, You. 

Finding God

The presence of love

I’ve been working from home the past couple of weeks, managing a magazine from 2,160 km away (thank God for technology). Instead of a stuffy, airless cubicle, I now look out at an expansive manicured garden as I work from my younger one’s bedroom (and it’s grinning lush green in the rain today). Instead of fixed timings of signing in and lunch hour, I work, eat, read, write and rest at my own sweet pace. Instead of giving housekeeping or parenting orders in a frustrated voice over the phone, and then coming home to disappointment that none have been carried out, I never lose my temper at all. It’s all real-time here. I am no longer living two lives — one at the office, the other at home. Work-life is rolled into one big bundle I’d call peace.

In the mornings, everyone’s away and the new domestic help gets busy watching Hindi soaps on TV. The house is quiet. I have no one to tell me what to do, I must self-motivate. In all this new work-life routine, an unexpected relationship has taken center-stage — my two dogs have become closer to me than ever.

They sit on both sides of my mat when I do yoga, until I shoo them away — and then they come back and sit a few inches further in compromise. They sleep at my feet when I work in the bedroom, and move with me when I shift to the dining table. I cannot scrape my chair for hurting them, or move my feet about too much; I must stir gently, carefully. Even if they are snoring away, they immediately sense when I tiptoe out of the room to take a shower, and are sitting outside the bathroom door when I come out squeaky clean. At lunchtime, they are my face-gazers, especially Ronnie who is always up for a bite. When I lie down on the sofa to read a book, they align themselves alongside, tilting up their chins so that I can stroke them before they settle back down to sleep. Never do their eyes leave me.

I am not more loving than I was before. I hug them and cuddle them about the same. I scold and cajole and tease them just as I used to. But my sheer presence has endeared them to me (and me to them) in a way that absence can only aspire to. Something’s new. They have become addicted to me, my love. They cannot resist sticking close if I am around. And as the days go by, I am becoming addicted too.

It’s not just the dogs, of course. I am suddenly closer to the kids after years of being an office-going mom. I am suddenly the wife-waiting-back-home after years of being a busy girlfriend. There’s a whole lot of equations being altered, a whole lot of priorities shifting across space and time zones, new kinds of love addictions going on. I am glad I have the silence and ease to absorb it all, to allow it to grow on me instead of being forced into it.

Things change, and they change you. And then you change things because you can’t imagine it being any other way. Then one day, you work for a few hours on the computer and then look down at your feet and see two content big goofy dogs sleeping there with their paws spread out in front, and you realise that no matter how much you do or achieve or transform or desire, it’s really always about just one thing.

Love.

Everything else is either just an expression of it, or a distraction.

Finding God

Dil ki kahaani

Today this song from the old film The Great Gambler was playing on the radio on my way home from work:

Do lavson ki yeh dil ki kahaani / Ya hai mohobbat, ya hai jawani
(The story of this heart has only two words / Either it’s [romantic] love or it’s [lusty] youth)

I love this song, and I couldn’t help humming along with Asha Bhonsle despite the hubby chatting away on the phone with a colleague and the driver probably laughing silently at me.

But songwriter Anand Bakshi was wrong. The story of this heart isn’t made up of just love and youth.

It’s also made up of hope, of watching dreams blow gently up like soap balloons from baby mouths, floating about with a tint of rainbow colour, lighting up all the faces around them.

It’s also made up of heartbreak, of watching those bubbles burst with a ping in your ear and a bang in your being.

It’s made up of tenderness, of recognising your newborn’s eyes when you hold her for the first time, of being amazed at how suddenly she stops crying the moment she recognises you back.

It’s made up of agony, of the sore, raw wound of your dignity and identity being ground into the earth.

It’s made up of joy, of rosy sunsets and promising sunrises, of the sound of birds and the  unexpected word of praise.

It’s made up of both regret and enthusiasm, of looking back with ‘what ifs’ said with a sigh and looking forward with the same, said with a smile.

It’s made up of pain, of hurting someone you love and finding that it leaves an even bigger hole in you.

It’s made up of hate, of moments of venom and vengefulness, and then understanding that hate is not the absence of love but the rejection of it.

It’s also made up of growing older, and realising that you wouldn’t go back to jawani for anything, for time is the most benevolent healer, giver and teacher of them all.

It’s made up of little moments — the early-morning coffee, the late-night walk, the cuddle with a teenage angel, the meaningful look that silences all squables — that make every day a story, that make every story a song, that make every song immortal.

The story of this heart isn’t made of two words; it’s made up of One.

And every song is an ode, every road leads to the same place, every space is full of God.