Category Archives: Spirituality

My Year in Review

 

Even through the tangled anarchy called fate

And through the bitterness of death and fall

An outstretched hand is felt upon our lives.

It is near in unnumbered bodies and births;

In its unslackening grasp it keeps for us safe

The one inevitable supreme result

No will can take away and no Doom change. 

– Savitri by Aurobindo

Dear God,

What a rollercoaster this year has been! It started off well enough with good writing work from a content mill. Then a bit of a lull in February after which you took me in a whole new direction in March with the substitute job at an elementary school. The job got extended to April by which time it was apparent that our move to India was imminent. I had to say goodbye to a job I had come to love and focus on selling and disposing of stuff. I thought it would be an extremely emotional affair. But I was wrong. I found I wasn’t really attached to much of the stuff (or so it seemed at that time). All of it can be replaced – I kept telling myself. The only thing that nearly brought me to tears was watching someone drive away in our black Honda Accord. She was there when I got married and came to the U.S. for the first time. She was there when my babies were born. She was there on our road trip to Maine. She took us all the way from Massachusetts to Florida. She was the first car I ever drove. Then she came with us to Washington State, where we finally bid adieu to her. Even today it is painful to look at a Honda.

Anyways, with a lot of prayer and on the wings of faith we reached Chennai ready for a fresh start. Little did I know that we were in for a lot of hardship. I did the only thing I know to do. I prayed, I chanted, I wrote in my prayer and gratitude journal. Four months down the line we had not made any headway. Days flew by and prospects of a job grew dimmer. There were days I could not get out of bed. Broken in spirit and physically exhausted, I doubted if my prayers would be answered. That was when a long anticipated trip to Arunachala happened and it renewed my faith and lifted my sagging spirits. But that was not the end of our trials was it?

You sent illness, floods and other challenges our way, so much so that we felt like the trials that had come before were child’s play. December brought illness and more flooding. By then I had reached the end of my tether. Hear my last desperate call, O God or I quit. I quit on you. All that I worked on for the past few years was a bunch of nonsense. There is no one up there. All this New Age mumbo jumbo that I keep doling out is a lie. There is no hope. Only suffering. I see how deluded I was. I won’t write blogs anymore. giving people false hopes.

In one last desperate call to you, I fasted one Monday in December. From dawn to dusk I only ate some fruit and milk. My body already ravaged by the stress of the past few months couldn’t take it. Exhausted, I waited for one tiny ray of hope. One answered prayer. That is all I asked for. Tuesday went by – nothing. On Wednesday I quit on you. I thought that you had given up on me and my family. Wednesday night saw me a crushed and crumpled being struggling to come to terms with myself. I felt abandoned by the only person I had trusted – YOU!

Then a phone call and everything changed. I got a job. One prayer was answered. My body shaking, I retrieved my prayer books which I had sworn never to touch again and I quietly said my prayers with tears streaming down my face. You heard me. You heard this wretched soul. You saved me yet again albeit after pushing me to the edge of sanity. After taking everything away and leaving me helpless, you extended your hand in the last moment to save me from inevitable ruin and disgrace.

Your grace is unrelenting and works in mysterious ways which are beyond the grasp of my human mind. You have finally given me something to hold on to. Something to build my life on again. Most of all you have lit the flame of hope in my heart which I can share with others who probably are in similar situations. So thank you God. I look forward to more answered prayers and more blessings in 2016 and I give thanks for all your gifts in advance.

Infinite love and gratitude,

DC

 

The Pull of Power Places – Trip to Arunachala

 

When I was a kid I recall reading about sacred places around the world where miraculous healing occurred and which drew multitudes of people to it. But it was in my early twenties that I actually visited one such power place with spiritual vibes so palpable that the air feels different. It wasn’t very far from my hometown Chennai and I practically stumbled upon this place quite unwittingly. In the small town of Tiruvannamalai stands this majestic hill called Arunachala. Legend has it that the hill is Shiva himself who appeared in the form of an effulgent pillar of light with no beginning or end. Brahma and Vishnu in their arrogance sought the two ends of the pillar, but no matter how deep they dug into the earth or how far into the cosmos they ventured, they could not find it. The two gods realized their folly, begged for forgiveness and prayed that the Lord may be present in a form that could be worshipped. Thousands flock to this ancient town from all corners of the world, to savor the peace that escapes us all in this maddening life.

I was in such a state when we travelled to Tiruvannamalai. Run down by life and its travails, with little or no hope in my heart. I wasn’t even sure the trip would materialize, like everything else before it. But the mere thought of Arunachala has a magnetic pull and draws one to it and everything fell into place miraculously. An outpouring of much needed grace came to our succor.

We packed our bags and our burdens and took off in our small car. Leaving the dusty city behind we drove past lush green paddy fields and sugarcanes swaying in the warm breeze. The open vastness of the blue skies greeted us in every direction. Starting before dawn we caught an unobstructed view of the sunrise over the villages. Along the way we passed the Gingee Fort with steep steps cut into the rocky face of a hill. We stopped for some hitch-hiking monkeys looking for food. They were far too comfortable in human company for their own good.

As we approached Tiruvannamalai, the lone hill of Arunachala stood in the distance, still and firm, above the din and busyness that marks life in a small town. My heart leapt with joy and I instantly felt light and free -like a yoke had been lifted off my neck. We drove to the ashram to get the keys to our room in the guesthouse. The guesthouse was named Achalam, meaning still. Simple, clean accommodations in a quiet, serene neighborhood with overhanging trees, added to the peace that had now replaced the gnawing anxiety that accompanies urban life. After resting for a bit and eating a bit of breakfast, we headed back to the ashram meditation hall, where I got my spiritual batteries charged. A sanctuary for humans and animals alike, the ashram is frequented by dogs, peacocks and monkeys. The Maharshi’s love for animals is honored even today by the caretakers of the ashram. After a delicious and simple South Indian lunch we decided to explore the hill. From the back of the ashram is a path that leads uphill. The kids were excited at the prospect of trekking, but it wasn’t the best time of the day to do it, given that the afternoon sun was beating down on us.

I was however determined to go for it, having missed the opportunity to do so in my last two visits. The path was rocky and before long we reached the summit. From a clearing we could see the temple town below. After resting on some rocks and taking in the view, we trekked uphill for nearly an hour before reaching Skandashram which was built by a devotee single-handedly over a period of ten years. A few rooms with pictures of the Maharshi and a neat garden set against the backdrop of a rocky cliff was all it was. On one side was a spring with water pooled around it and a horde of monkeys gamboling around it. The place had only a handful of visitors and was imbued with quiet and peace.

We then went downhill on a treacherous path to the Virupaksha cave. The walls of the cave were low and we bent down to get in there. It was dark except for the light of a steady oil lamp. The inside of the cave radiated heat and we sat there for a bit taking in the quiet and the stillness.

The thought of climbing back up the hill and then back to ashram seemed daunting. So we asked a little boy and some old ladies if we could continue downhill to reach the town. To our intense relief they said it was just a 10 minute walk downhill to the temple from where we could begin our 14 kilometer walk around the hill. A few minutes into our walk we passed another cave – the mango cave – which was well lit and attended by a priest. We crawled in and prayed, while he told us about the history of the cave. We then proceeded downhill and found our way to the temple. The ancient temple of Shiva, was full of secret places to explore. I was particularly interested in locating the patala linga which was underground. This is where the young Maharshi sat absorbed in a state of bliss while ants and rodents gnawed on him and naughty boys of his age pelted him with stones from the top of the stairs that led to the chamber.

It was time for our walk around the hill, we purchased a bottle of water and started asking for directions. A helpful lady materialized out of no where and showed us the way to the first temple along the route. We walked with the hill appearing and disappearing from our sight. We walked as the sun set and the moon rose. We walked in the dark, after a power cut. We walked with weary legs and rested at temples along the way. When we got back to the starting point it was nearly 9.30 p.m. An auto took us back to the ashram and then we drove to our guesthouse. We ate some curd rice and went to bed. We slept soundly and rose early in the morning to visit the Arunachala temple. We took the kids to see the happy temple elephant that gave pats on the head with its trunk in exchange for coins, and swayed as if dancing to music only audible to its ears.

Back at the ashram we ate a simple breakfast and had some coffee with fresh cow’s milk. I would have loved to linger on and soak up the peace till I was immersed in it, but we had to head back home for Ayudha pooja.

In 24 hours I had undergone a complete transformation. My faith was renewed, hope rekindled, the heaviness was gone and so was the utter helplessness and despair. I knew that I would be taken care of and so would my family. It wasn’t up to me to take on the burden of the world.

Miracles awaited us as we returned to Chennai. Bigger upsets also swung by to torment us but that day spent in the shadow of something much larger than myself, gave me the strength to go through it, to have faith and to emerge out of it victorious.

Have you visited any power places? What has been your experience?

Shining Your Light

This blog post was supposed to be “Challenges in Chennai” thanks to my friend S. Another friend H who looked back at her blog posts from several years ago urged me to do the same. I looked at all the pieces I wrote after arriving in Chennai – one miserable piece after the next. Where was the hope? Where was the inspiration? It was there buried somewhere but you really had to look for it.

So much for being the “enlightened” one, who dabbles in yoga, reiki and all the new age mumbo jumbo and then proceeds to shove it down everyone’s throat. But I discovered that it is so hard to shine your light when everything around you falls apart and there is no light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. The last four months have seen me move across the globe, sell almost all of our worldly possessions, unemployed, with kids trying hard to adapt to a culture alien to them. Added to that the water problem, maid problem and traffic problem. Every day you wake up in the morning not knowing what problem you will have to confront on that given day.

Before I knew it, I was sucked into a quagmire of problems. The more I struggled, the deeper I sank. It wasn’t before I was neck deep in it that I realized my folly. The problems were getting bigger because I kept focusing on them and complaining about them. I had to find my tiny bit of hope and I had to find it fast. It was my only foothold to stay above the water. I had to tell myself that it was coming and was on its way, even though I had no idea what was coming. That small expectation kept me going, even when there was no change on the outside.

That tiny bit of hope came trickling into my life a few weeks ago. It wasn’t much, just an assurance that some work may come my way after a hiatus of nearly five months. I heartily lapped it up and it grew in me and glowed within. Then things began to change on the outside. We had heavy rains in Chennai. The parched earth quenched her thirst and was replenished. The maid, gone for weeks, now returned. A big burden was lifted off my chest. Things are going to get better. As this transformation happened, an old school song from my school days came to my mind.

Jyothi De Bhagwan (Give me light O Lord).

Mere Dil Mein Jyothi De,

Jag Ko Apni Jyothi De,

Teri Jyothi Se Mein Chaloon,

Jag Ko Apni Jyothi Doon.

 

Give light to my heart,

Give light to the world,

Let me burn in your light,

Let me give your light to the world.

And that is exactly what each of us has to do. Find that little bit of light in our life and spread it. It is not easy, as I have experienced in my life. If you are unemployed, a single parent, chronically ill or in a unhappy relationship, you are consumed by it and it is harder to find the light – forget being the light. Some of us simply drift, barely keeping our head above the water. But survival is not our sole (soul) purpose. Some of us are swallowed by this tidal wave of sorrow and despair. There is no hope. No lighthouse to guide you through the storm. You probably know at least a handful of people who are worse off than you. But one person shining their light can lift hundreds out of their misery. And that person could be you.

Don’t wait for your life to be in order before you start sharing your light and uplifting others. Start now and start right where you are. Open your heart, empathize, help someone today. Your purpose is more than doing a 9 to 5 job, chores, managing kids or a business, social gatherings, college and discos. The world may be full of problems, but you can be the solution. Be the light. Be the love. Be the change we have all been waiting for.

The End of a Lazy Summer

I am ready to throw a tantrum. Summer is over. Kids are back in school. I’m still home and unemployed. Feels like I just retreated back into my shell. The kids didn’t complain though. They got up at 6.30 instead of 8.30 like it was the most natural thing to do!

But every year I’m miserable when the kids go back to school. I’m antsy, bored and feel like I have too much time on my hands. It’s not like I haven’t looked for work. I have. All summer long. But I haven’t got a single call or an interview.

Sometimes it makes me doubt my faith. If God knows I want something and can hear my prayers why doesn’t he give me what I want? Like a child asking its parent over and over again, I keep beseeching this God in a faraway place. But he keeps me right where I am. Why would a parent deny their child something? Why?

I had to put myself in a parent’s shoes to answer this mindboggling question. As a mom I find myself saying no to my kids several times. If my children want something but I see it as a distraction or a clash of values I end up saying no. Do my kids understand? Do they think I’m being fair? Maybe not. Do they give up on me? Absolutely not! And so it is with God.

We came here to learn, grow and evolve. We made arrangements, chose our environments, our paths, our families and even our obstacles. Of course we fall into deep amnesia once we are born into this world. We bumble around like babies, falling and making mistakes, totally oblivious to our true calling which can be heard in the whispers of our soul. We go down winding paths leading to nowhere. We strive and struggle, pray and fast to achieve something that is not in our destiny. Something we never signed up for. Maybe not getting what we want is God’s way of nudging us closer to what we really want but cannot put into words as we continue living a dream.

When following the course of a religion (or anything for that matter) over many centuries it becomes obvious that good times and bad times come and go in waves. Temples are built and civilizations flourish for many years and then one day everything burns down and something new takes its place. Yet we place so much importance on acquiring transient things like money, property and fame. None of these are lasting. None of them can give us lasting happiness.

I need something to do to keep me occupied. You need money to pay the bills. Somebody else needs a place to call home. But if my entire existence is focused on getting a job and a job that ‘I’ think is good enough for me then it consumes me and I end up miserable. So it is with money or trying to get a bigger or better place to live. I read somewhere that pain is inevitable but suffering we create.

God does not make us suffer by denying us what we ask for. We reject the gifts we have because we think they are not good enough and we need more of this or less of that to be happier. And when we don’t get it we allow our minds to lead us into suffering. Sometimes getting what you want may not be a good thing after all. For instance, I wanted to move to Florida for the weather. To enjoy good weather we gave up our spacious home and lovely neighbors. Good weather with no friends to enjoy it with was no fun at all. Now in Seattle I’m tempted to make the same mistake. The house is too small. The weather is gloomy. I don’t have a job!

But we’re on the ground floor with a playground for the kids. We have good neighbors who will chase the winter blues away! I can always volunteer in my kids’ school. You can’t change what is but you can change your attitude to it. Then every thing becomes a gift. Even the darkest winter becomes bearable. Years become days and life flows effortlessly. God doesn’t give you exactly what you want but he provides the best circumstances for your life to flourish.

The Great Disconnect

We are fragmented beings at many levels, living in a fragmented world, trying so hard to patch together our fragmented lives. The chinks, the cracks, the scars and the wounds leave us feeling incomplete. This hole we try to fill with things we seek on the outside, failing to realize that they can never make us whole.

Take our bodies for instance. When we fall sick we look for external causes. We perceive our bodies as separate entities over which we have little or no control. We keep treating symptoms by popping pills or by getting someone else to figure out what is wrong with us. And we keep trying to fix things on the outside instead of looking inside for our own natural wisdom. Our bodies are not a mass of unintelligible cells. Each cell has its own innate intelligence and not the kind that humans acquire by poring over books or earning degrees. I’m talking about an intelligence so advanced that it is beyond the comprehension of us mere mortals with our limited thinking and limited vocabulary (confined solely to our experiences as humans). Animals are in touch with and connected to this intelligence. If you have pets you might have seen your dog eat some grass and then throw up when they have tummy troubles. They take charge and know exactly what to do to feel better.

Treating your body as an entity separate from you and separate from the supreme intelligence is the big physical disconnect. Ancient cultures that lived close to the earth possessed this intelligence. They had a vast knowledge of herbs that could heal. Modernization has caused us to disconnect.

Modernization also imposed proper manners and etiquette. Some of these things are good, like expressing gratitude and waiting to take turns. But most of it is pretentious and asks you to deny your true feelings to avoid hurting someone else. All this has led us to stuff down our feelings and force ourselves to act like everything is ok. Think about it. Some of our interactions with people are so fake and superficial. Like robots we have structured responses to every situation. We disconnect from our heart and our own emotions. We let our heads do all the talking, making most of our relationships flimsy and obsequious at its worst. We also refuse to acknowledge our true feelings and are quite content with the charade we call life.

Lastly we disconnect from Spirit /God/ Almighty and this causes the most suffering. It is like a hole you can never fill. Like everything else we project to the outside world, we continue to seek God on the outside as something separate from us. We view ourselves as different from this being. Nothing can be further than the truth. We seek love on the outside from people as fragmented as us. That kind of love just keeps us hostage and wanting more but never really fulfills us. It is like uprooting a plant from the earth and then trying very hard to keep it alive by pouring water on it, keeping it in sunlight and spraying plant food on it. The plant needs the earth to complete its life cycle. We need to connect to our source of life to become whole. Connecting with the divine spark within us will heal us of emotional and physical issues. This is when miracles become every day occurrences. So we can walk tall with our mind, body and spirit in perfect unison all working for our highest good.

Once we make this connection we become aware of another disconnect. The nature disconnect. God is not only within us but also within every blade of grass, every drop of the ocean and every animal. When we disconnect from nature we pollute, destroy and deplete resources and drive animals to extinction.

Disconnecting is like making  Horcruxes (please excuse the Harry Potter analogy) and we walk around with our souls in several pieces totally and utterly unaware of the horrific consequences. While Horcruxes cannot be undone, we can piece back our souls by simply looking within and acknowledging our own divinity and the divinity of others.

I turned to God (up in heaven kind of God) to help me heal emotionally. Again as a healer I relied on healing from a Divine source (outside of me). They say God is omnipotent and omnipresent. As a kid I imagined several images of God all over the room, all over the world and all over the Universe (invisible of course!) Now I understand those words quite differently. God is within each one of us, has been and always will be. No matter where we are, we are with God at any given moment. Also every person we meet is divine. Yes, that includes you as well!

It is not easy to accept this idea of being one with others, nature and God all at once. So start slowly by looking for answers within. By connecting with that deep wisdom, healing, love and oneness every day. Slowly the connection will become stronger until you no longer need to consciously seek it. It will always be on!

So let me conclude by saying Namaste – the light within me bows down and honors the light within you. For we all have inbuilt flood lights we just need to remember to turn them on!