Seeking God

A time of challenges

Last Tuesday, P, an ex-colleague of mine and a single mother, found out through conclusive tests that her two-year-old son was autistic. She had suspected it for a while, she said. He didn’t look her in the eye and he was too quiet. But she had hoped against hope and kept her fingers crossed all those months. Until the test reports came back positive and she was devastated.

His occupational therapy will take a huge toll on her both financially and personally; she is required to be there in the mornings for a month, and then she has to put him in a special school which will cost her three times his current school fees, so far being paid by her ex-husband. Her ex also pays their rent. She began to worry about how she’d manage to work and go to his therapy. And where would the extra money come from? P’s dad is no more, her mother is dependent on her too.

Then on Friday, God dealt her a double whammy. Her company announced closure of operations. On one hand, she was relieved; she could go to her son’s therapy every morning. On the other, a chill went up her spine. Where would she find the money for all of these increased expenses? Who would hire her for half a day’s work? Were there any jobs left in the market with so many competition groups shutting down?

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Another close friend confided her own emotional dilemma. Her husband of 18 years had cheated on her for several years; he’d had a long-term affair with one of their common friends. My friend and her husband began living separately a couple of years ago, but don’t want to get divorced because of the kids. She’s living in a state of limbo — unable to forgive him and allow him back into her life; nor let go and start a new one.

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I read somewhere that even if every human being’s problems were to be thrown into a huge pile in the middle of a field and we were given a free choice on whose life we wanted, we’d still pick back our own. There is not a single human being — no matter how rosy their life may look — who doesn’t have his or her own share of suffering and pain. You sometimes think, “Oh but if I had the life of the richest / most powerful / most beautiful / most intelligent person in the world, I’d have lesser problems, or I’d be able to deal with these better.” But truth is, everyone has their own battles of the soul. Even the richest man has his moments of spiritual poverty; even the most beautiful woman has moments of self-doubt; even the most powerful human is helpless in the face of life and death; even the most intelligent person cannot escape the quirks of destiny.

Our salvation lies not in becoming someone else, but in becoming purer versions of who we are. Our challenges find their conclusion not by our running away but in facing them head-on and changing what we need to in ourselves. We are incomplete until we have played out every single range of emotion that humans contain within ourselves — from the good to the bad, from the easy to the excruciating. We cannot be divine until we embrace the demons within us.

We cannot be rich until we amass compassion; we cannot be beautiful without love and forgiveness. We cannot be powerful without conquering our fears. We cannot be intelligent without the humility to adapt ourselves. Our stories are given to us for a reason. Our problems have a purpose. Think of Nirbhaya; her unthinkable suffering shook up the conscience of an entire nation. Think of Jesus: his terrible crucifixion awakened the whole world.

We do not need knights in shining armour to defeat our monsters. Sometimes, all we need is faith. Everything else follows.

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Finding God

Not alone

Someone recently told me, “It’s very brave of you to be able to bring up two daughters single-handedly in a city like Delhi.”

But I have never felt ‘single-handed’. I’ve felt overworked, yes, tired, exhausted, worn out and any other synonyms you can come up with. I’ve felt physically incapable of juggling all the ‘work’ thrust upon me — by my own choices, I must add. I’ve felt 24 hours just aren’t enough to get everything done, and I have struggled with letting go of certain things in order to make space for others (laundry instead of dusting, bank visits instead of buying fruits, you get the idea). I’ve outsourced as much work as possible, and stopped imagining even in my fondest dreams that my house will look as spanking clean as my mother’s. I have given up on the idea of being superwoman; my choices have made me acutely aware of my limits.

But I have never felt ‘single-handed’. I was introduced to Buddhism at the age of 30, and that is the period of my life I call ‘the opening of the eyes’, which is coincidentally (or not) a chapter in Nichiren Daishonin’s Gosho. At that point, despite my ‘amateur spirituality’ and metaphorical blindness, there was an instant connection with… how should I put it… the Universe (I was too green to call it God then). There was an immediate sense of ‘oneness’ with the forces of Life, a sense of being part of something much larger than I was. As if someone had opened a door and I could suddenly see this truth. Even if my eyes were squinting and blinking in this bright light, I could sense I was in the ‘right place’. Finally.

It is only after this ‘awakening’ of sorts that I was able to put an end to an already dead marriage. So being ‘single-handed’ was never a feeling I have had to deal with. I was able to take on the weight of life as a single mother only because I had the comfort and knowledge of a much larger force carrying all of us along.

Many women my age, in difficult marriages or otherwise similar situations, ask me how I found the courage to take all those steps, how I managed to handle a difficult job along with all the social mountains and this heavy burden of bringing up two kids in a heartless city. I tell them I didn’t find the courage, the courage found me. The minute I embraced my spiritual practice with surrender and devotion, a tsunami of chance happenings, miracles and inexplicable blessings poured forth on me, carrying me along a wave of unimaginable change.

I can almost say I had nothing to do with all of this, I only had to allow nature to take its course in the truest sense. Being a single mother doesn’t have to mean being alone and unsupported.

How can I feel single-handed when I’m sitting atop the innumerable hands of God?