Finding God

Battlefield body

Two nights ago, I sat in bed sniffing, sick of my allergies, seeking an answer and relief from it all. “What is an allergy essentially,” I mused out loud to a skeptical husband. “It’s the body on overdrive, hyper-alert, always fighting invisible monsters in the environment. I sleep so light that even a whisper wakes me up and then I toss and turn all night, adding to my body’s immunity dysfunction. What does all this essentially mean?”

“That you need to take some medication?” he offered.

“No, it means I am a highly stressed personality, always sensing danger in the environment though there is none really. The body is merely obeying my mind’s signals to be crazily alert. But it’s been going on too long and it’s killing me.”

“So how do you give your body different signals?” he asked, humouring me.

“I don’t know,” I sighed. “I don’t know how to change my pattern of thinking. I need to connect with God. There’s too much noise in the head, I am disconnected from the stillness. How do I stop fighting?” We slept.

The next morning, God replied by email as I sat sipping a coffee on the sofa, the house still quiet. It was a quote by Eckhart Tolle: “When you lose touch with inner stillness, you lose touch with yourself. When you lose touch with yourself, you lose yourself in the world. Your innermost sense of self, of who you are, is inseparable from stillness. This is the I Am that is deeper than name and form.”

A voice in my head said: The key to stop fighting is to surrender. I sighed.

To make sure I had heard correctly, God sent me an angel in the form of a beautician at the local salon the same afternoon. I had never met her before. She looked young, calm, ethereally composed as she went about the business of waxing my arms. As I gazed dreamily at the jar of wax, she asked, softly, “What are you thinking?”

Just to put it in context, no one ever asks anyone this, not in Delhi where everyone is always in a rush, not in salons where time is of essence and a quick turnover of customers is key to profit, not in today’s day and age when everyone too self-obsessed to make meaningful conversation.

“Nothing,” I said, taken aback, then adding, “I was wondering where wax comes from. Nature or chemicals?”

She gave me a lesson in wax-making (sugar-based or jaggery-based, depending on the season), and we got talking. She was careful around a small fresh burn on my hand, sharing tales of the indoor and outdoor accidents she’d had in the past, stoic even about major ones. She spoke slowly, a constant smile on her face as she told me about her son who had just turned 20 and wanted a bike. “Wow,” I said, “you look 25 yourself.” She then added in that gentle way of hers, “I have two more sons. The second one is 15, the third is 8.”

“That’s a sensible gap between kids,” I marvelled.

“And it’s all natural (kudrati),” she replied.

“What? You guys didn’t use contraception?”

“No,” she said, laughing modestly. “It was all natural. Everyone would ask me, what do you eat?”

I gazed at her unlined face, this woman whose name I still don’t know, and sought out the depth of her eyes. A warm, humorous, wise old soul twinkled back at me. Krishna? I thought to myself.

Of course it was natural. She was the kind of personality that had surrendered. The kind who could take both sadness and joy with similar equanimity. The kind who wore a gentle smile on her face all the time, and who didn’t age. The kind who stayed calm and whose immune system worked in harmony with the universe. The kind who had no battles to fight.

Time passed very slowly, silently, in the little cubicle when I was with her; I was sure we’d been in there a couple of hours at least, but my watch insisted it had only been one. I stepped out feeling very blessed, as if I had just been touched by a great presence.

Surrender, I said to myself the rest of the day. The battle isn’t with the external environment; it is with my own tendency of creating monsters where there are none. Krishna says life is a balance of stillness and movement. Be still and flow.

Surrender to the process of life. Surrender, and win.

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Seeking God

Naked

One of the folktales about Krishna relates an incident when the teenage god, wont to flirt with the young women (gopis) in his village, hides amongst the trees when they’re bathing. Naughty as ever, he snatches up all their clothes and runs away to a corner. When they’re done with their bath, they look around for their clothes and realise what he’s done. They plead with him to return their clothes, but he just sits there grinning wickedly, his eyes dancing in merriment. Finally, he challenges them to come and collect their clothes from him one by one, their arms up above their heads so that he can watch them walk towards him, dripping wet in nakedness and vulnerability. He returns their clothes, one bashful woman at a time.

When I first heard this story in my youth, I was chagrined at the blatant sexism and sexual harassment evident in the epic parable. I was shocked that Krishna, my favourite god, could do this to any woman. I hated him for it.

Many years later, after some episode in my life that I’ve now forgotten, I finally understood what this story meant. Since Krishna was not just any man but the Supreme Being Himself, the gopis were not being harassed, they were being blessed. They were being taught the art of surrender, and the divine gift inherent in vulnerability. They were forced to strip themselves of not just their clothes but their ego and their sense of ‘I’, the identity we all create for ourselves. The bathing was symbolic, of course. In Krishna’s merry all-knowing gaze, they were cleansed of their self-delusion and self-importance. In his benevolent smile, they became immortal, their imperfections converted to perfection in the eyes of God, their beauty sealed for eternity.

Nakedness and surrender come together in this ancient story. When we are stripped of all labels and trappings, we can either grapple to recover some clothes and sense of assumed dignity, avoiding humiliation. Or we can surrender and liberate ourselves. In our innocent nakedness, we free ourselves of shame.

Suddenly, I find myself without labels, without the trappings of fame and fortune. In one fell swoop, a major role in my life has been rendered void. Like the gopis in the water, I initially cry and mourn and beg Krishna for cover. Then I see Him sitting there, atop the hill of my salvation, grinning like an imp, beckoning me to walk over in all my naked glory. “You can either cower there in the water forever,” He challenges, “or you can surrender to me, washed of all illusions and delusions of self, and allow me to save you.”

“This is just a game for You,” I say, angrily. “You will do as your whim, how do I trust You? How do I know what further harassment awaits?”

He lays back, His head behind his head, crosses His feet and blows bubbles in the air. “Do you have a choice?”

I grit my teeth in frustration. “I do not,” I call out. “I am forced to trust You.”

He rolls over on one arm, and grins wider. “So who’s blessed now?”

It is time, I realise. Gingerly, I rise above and take a step – in faith and in surrender.