Tag Archives: God

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?

Signs I Can’t Ignore Anymore…

As my long-term subbing assignment was nearing its end, I was plagued with questions about what I would do with my time. My future lay ahead of me, glimmering with innumerable possibilities, enough to confuse and confound me.

One day I walked into the classroom and was told that it was author day at the school. A famous children’s author was going to give a talk for most of the morning. I did not think much of it. Even thought that I should have simply taken the day off, for there wasn’t much work to do, except sit in the old gym and listen to a man talk about his books. Anyway, I was already there, so I simply followed the class to the gym and settled down to listen to whatever he had to say.

The author, Paul Owen Lewis lives in Washington and is a very gifted orator. A few minutes into his talk, he had all of us spellbound and hanging on to every word he uttered. He didn’t always know he wanted to be a writer. He practically stumbled upon a writing career when he was a substitute teacher in a local school. They had an author day at that school – you can imagine what was going through my head – this is no coincidence! He thought it was pretty cool to write books. Paul loved to draw and was pretty darned good at it. The author spoke about different ways to write stories. All stories did not have to start with words he said and this struck a chord with Paul. He loved telling stories through his illustrations. The rest is history. He now stood before us as a famous published author of children’s picture books.

He also compared the process of writing to putting the pieces of a puzzle together. You may only have a few pieces to start with but you can always find connections and link the pieces together. The idea appealed to me. Thinking that I needed a logical story line that flowed from one scene to another from beginning to end kept me going around in circles. In the planning stages nobody has the complete story or knows how to put it together. I only had a bunch of disorganized ideas. I had to put them down on paper and try and connect the pieces and add details to my story.

The morning session ended and I saw some teachers and students go up to the author, talk to him and pepper him with questions. Something within me was urging me to go talk to him but I quietly followed the kids back to class. A few minutes later I was back in the teachers lounge taking my lunch break. I was almost done when the author walked in. He smiled and asked if he could sit at my table. I nodded. I told him how much I enjoyed his talk and also added that the kids loved it. I blurted out everything about my dream to be a published author. He listened quietly and good-naturedly answered my questions while trying to chew his meal.

I knew wannabe authors like myself probably run up to him all the time asking for favors, tips and publishers’ contact details. Maybe that was the reason I did not approach him in the old gym. But when he sat by me at the table, I could not hold myself back anymore.

I knew this was a colossal nudge from the Universe. The term ‘in your face’ comes to my mind. I have seen signs before, subtle, faint, quiet whispers or visions that were sometimes hard to decode. But this time around the Universe gave me direct and perfectly clear orders. It didn’t get more direct than this. Or so I thought until later in the week another sign showed up. I was talking to a new friend I had made, who had just started reading my blog. She really liked the way I wrote and just like that out-of-the-blue suggested that I should write a book. She even mentioned an Indian author who grew famous through her blog and then ended up writing so many best-selling novels. I had heard of this author and even read her blog. I had even harbored this silly idea that if she could do it so could I.

Anyways, that’s what it always remains – a silly idea. I might get all fired up to write a scene here or a scene there or research a few publishers. Or follow an author’s blog as he tracks his word count and daily writing process. But soon enough the fire dies out and my enthusiasm flags. I just felt like I did not have the juice to see this thing to the finish.

The very next day, the Universe deciding that it was not done with me, but definitely done with my excuses, set-up this chat session with my cousin S. She is an aspiring writer between jobs, mulling about her future. Coincidence you say? I think not!

She said to me – I spoke to my cousin yesterday and he told me to write a book. I gasped at the impossibility of what I was reading. Those of you who were with me from the beginning know that I wrote my first ever blog entry after talking to my cousin. He asked me to write and some force outside of me took possession of me and before I knew it I had written and published a note on Facebook. In two months I had my own blog and three years later I still have so much to say – something I had never imagined possible!

Three years later the Universe wanted to remind me of that leap of faith, to get out of my own way and just do it. Just write and see where it takes you. Don’t worry about selling the book even before you type it up.

Paul Owen Lewis said to me – if you are looking to make money or become famous, don’t do it! For me it is more than that. It is about reaching out and touching someone else. It is about sharing life’s ups and downs and knowing you are not alone. So I’m going to do it and I know I am not alone because my cousin and every one of you reading this will be cheering me on much like you did ever since I started my blog. And for you – yes you! I am very grateful.

 

 

 

Death with Dignity?

After one final flash of color, the trees are losing their leaves and getting ready for winter. Winter! Brrrr! The very thought of it makes me shiver. And makes me want to run away to Florida where I enjoyed five mild winters with the temperature hovering around 60 degrees F. I have always wanted to escape tough situations than face them. This doesn’t mean that I’m not strong. It just means that I prefer not to deal with things head on. For instance, if I’m really mad at someone, I like to walk away and cool down instead of engaging in a wordy altercation. Withdraw. Retreat. And hope that the problem magically disappears.

So it was only natural for me to want to exit from the human plane when life got really crappy and I hit rock bottom. It came as a rude shock to me that my behavior caused intense pain to my loved ones – even though I felt nobody really cared at that time. They loved me. Even the sick, sad and unhappy version of me. My presence was all that mattered. My living, breathing presence.

There are days in my life that I really wish I didn’t have to go on but I always remember the lessons I learned during my days of dark depression. My sphere of influence may be small and unimpressive but the people in it need me – right down to my last breath.

So when Brittany Maynard decided to take her own life by consuming lethal drugs prescribed by doctors, it hit a nerve. The whole story did not sit well with me. The planning and preparation, moving to a state that supported “Death with Dignity” and having doctors assist in the suicide. The enormous support and the outpouring of funds for the cause is even more appalling.

There is a lot of controversy over pulling the plug when comatose patients show no response after years of surviving on life support, or little or no brain activity. When there is no written documentation of the patients’ wishes it is a hard decision to be made, legally and emotionally, especially for loved ones. There are cases where doctors have wanted to pull the plug but could not without parental consent, only to have the patient recover from the coma and go on to live a normal life. So is this trend making doctors give up too soon and misjudge a patient’s ability to recover and heal? Probably.

We as a race try to lord it over all – animals, humans under our care and even death! We think we have the power to decide who dies and how and when it should happen. We do it to dogs and cats in shelters that no one will adopt. So if someone wants to die, let’s all chip in and help. That seems to be the attitude. Let’s not die fighting, let’s just die before even trying! Please don’t get me wrong. Terminally ill patients undergo a lot of suffering and it decreases their quality of life but I find it disturbing that they leave no room for a miracle or hope. Their struggle could be someone else’s inspiration or a wake-up call to family to take better care of themselves. You never know.

If I had given up and left I wouldn’t be here typing this. I wouldn’t be a mom of two adorable children. I wouldn’t have taken a cross-country trip or eaten apple pie or met half of the wonderful people I have met till today. My life has its ups and downs but I know if I’m still breathing I have not fulfilled my purpose.

I saw a disturbing documentary about of group of people that go around assisting terminally ill people. They go into their homes and help them die (or appear to) in their sleep. They put on gas masks and at some point the body’s reflex is to try and remove the mask. That goes to show that the will to survive is stronger than any other dominant emotion. I won’t go into the details of the documentary which is very perturbing to say the least. But I do remember how shocked and upset the loved ones were. Yes, the deceased was suffering and it was hard for them to bear the pain and suffering. But these people meant something to their loved ones. Their presence – sick or healthy – mattered to their family. In my opinion if you can’t give life, then you have no business taking it away.

With limited knowledge about the repercussions of doing something drastic like snuffing out a life before its time, we are messing with things beyond our understanding. Life is full of pain and we cannot avoid it. But we can avoid suffering. Not by shedding our mortal frame but by tapping into that undying part of ourselves. One brave soul did just that.

Her name is Talia and she was suffering from Neuroblastoma and Leukemia. This bald 13 -year old bubbling with life, never let the cancer dim her spirit. She posted videos of herself, smiling without a single hair on her head. She loved make-up and posted videos of how to apply make up to get a certain look. She was an inspiration to everyone who was fighting cancer and struggling with body image issues. Cancer leaves one feeling ugly and incomplete and she addressed this in her own special way. She did not make it but lives on through the videos she has created – smiling and beautiful in the face of something so tragic.

Imagine if Stephen Hawking gave up. He had ample reason to. You think getting through every day is easy for him? And he was not born that way. He was born normal and progressively lost the use of his limbs and voice. If he had decided to die, the world would never have heard about black holes and god particles.

You and I may not make award winning discoveries or inspire the whole world but we surely matter. Every breath is a gift no matter how labored or painful. Don’t throw away your life or support “death with dignity” no matter how right the reasons look. There is a bigger plan and please have the humility to not mess with it.

 

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.