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Hello From the Other Side and Other Signs of Afterlife

Ganga’s gone. Physically gone. Her obituary appeared in the Manorama newspaper yesterday. So it must be true. I find it hard to believe, because I wasn’t there when it happened. Chennai was in a lock down and Dad and I couldn’t travel to Palakkad for her funeral. How cruel is this life that we couldn’t be with the one person who has been with us through the good and the bad and everything in between. None of her loved ones were with her when she passed away.

As I sat in Chennai praying for her soul, I heard the phone ring. I answered and the person on the ‘other side’ said she was Thankam’s (Ganga’s) granddaughter. I told her that I was also her granddaughter. After talking to her for a few minutes I handed the phone to my mother. Later, I asked my mom who it was, because the lady on the phone had never mentioned her name. My mom told me her name was Indira. Indira also happens to be my grandma’s name.

Later that evening, the Roman clock that was a farewell gift to my grandpa when he left England, chimed once. The clock doesn’t work and hasn’t been wound up in a while. It hasn’t chimed even once since January, which is when I landed in Chennai. Coincidence? I think not!

It was as if both my grandma and grandpa were letting me know that Ganga was not alone and that they were there with her. I also found feathers and saw a lot of butterflies over the past week. An old family friend who also works with energy told me that Ganga’s energy was almost angelic and that she was definitely at peace. I wasn’t surprised because even in life she was a magnanimous soul. The kind that could give endlessly without ever running dry.

A couple of days ago, while sifting through old albums to find a picture of Ganga for the obituary page, I chanced upon a picture of a very close family friend who had passed away several years ago. She also knew Ganga very well. I sent the picture to her daughter and after sending it realized that it was her mom’s birthday. Was she also letting me know that she is with Ganga?

And then someone called me a gem just out of the blue. That’s my nickname that grandma came up with. It was like all the departed souls who knew Ganga were letting me know (in no subtle way) that she was fine. She was not alone. And they were all having a lovely reunion on the other side. Death is not the end. The soul goes on. And love goes on. That love is something I can always connect to. Not through painful memories but through all the love I received from Ganga when she was alive. True, I cannot hug her again or eat out of her hands or smell the scent of sandalwood on her skin. Nor can I hear her laugh till tears came out of her eyes or see her wide smile as she spotted me coming home from school. But I can close my eyes and feel her love well up in my heart and course through my veins. A love so strong that even death cannot dampen it.

I will love you, Ganga, always and forever. Thank you for showing me what unconditional love looks like. May our souls always stay connected through lifetimes to come.

P.S. The title for this blog post was a whisper from the other side. I randomly started singing Adele’s song “Hello” in my head. “Hello from the other side” is the song’s refrain. Also read “Love Never Dies” which is about how I feel my deceased grandma’s presence even today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The Story of the Temple

Here’s the story of the famous temple in South India where people celebrate their 60th, 70th, 75th, and 80th birthdays, and where we celebrated my dad’s 70th birthday. There once lived a sage who was a great devotee of Shiva. Every day he would joyfully offer his prayers to Shiva. One day however the sage was a little downcast when doing his daily poojas. Shiva appeared before him and asked him why he was not his usual happy self. The sage told Shiva that he had no children and that was the cause of his misery. Shiva smiled and blessed him with a baby boy. But he warned the sage that the boy would only live till the age of sixteen. The sage was ecstatic and he named the boy Markandeya. When the boy turned five, his father taught him how to do Shiva pooja. The boy prayed to Lord Shiva every day without fail. When he was going to turn sixteen, his distraught parents told him that his end was near.

On his 16th birthday, Markandeya was praying to Shiva when Yama, the god of death came for him. Yama told Markandeya that his time was up and that he had to go with him. Markandeya ignored him and continued with his pooja. Yama repeatedly called the boy but he refused to go with him. Yama, livid with rage, took his noose and threw it around the boy. Unfortunately, Yama’s noose fell over Shiva’s idol. Shiva flew into a rage and annihilated Yama.

Shiva granted Markandeya the boon of immortality, so he would stay 16 forever. Markandeya was so grateful to Shiva that he travelled from one Shiva temple to another singing 16 verses in praise of Shiva. The last temple which also happened to be the 108th temple he visited was Thirukadaiyur. “Kadaisi” means last in Tamil. The deity in this temple is Shiva accompanied by Markandeya and a vanquished Yama underfoot. Abirami, Shiva’s consort is flanked by Saraswati, the goddess of learning, and Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Right across from the deity is a shrine for Yama.

The story goes that after Yama was vanquished, there were no deaths on earth, but the births continued unabated. Mother Earth went running to Lord Shiva lamenting that the burden was too much for her to bear. She begged Shiva to do something. Shiva in his infinite mercy released Yama and gave him back his powers. With Yama back in his post, births and deaths were balanced out and Mother Earth heaved a sigh of relief.

The number 16 shows up in the temple quite often. They performed 16 homams for my Dad’s 70th birthday. Sixteen kalashams or pots of water were poured on my parents. The priests recited the 16 verses composed by Markandeya and we had to do 16 namaskarams or prostrations. The belief is that people who visit this temple will also be granted a long, happy, and prosperous life. And I do wish that for my parents and for my aunts and uncle who accompanied us.


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Perfect In My Eyes

When we look in the mirror we either like what we see or we don’t like what we see.  We see flaws or we see perfection. It even goes beyond the physical aspects to character traits or even how we feel about ourselves. Our relationship with ourselves covers the entire spectrum from best buddy to worst critic.  Sometimes it evolves into a fatalistic obsession or a self-destructive streak.

Those who obsess about the way they look, spend hours preening, grooming and purchasing the latest skin products that promise to keep wrinkles away. Take it to an extreme and you have women making multiple trips to the plastic surgeon to fix different physical features which are perceived as “flaws”. Some just end up worse than when they started although they won’t admit it to anyone but can’t seem to break the cycle, all the time filling the coffers of the plastic surgeons.

Then some others are so unhappy with themselves that they need to constantly numb their senses to get through another day.  Alcohol, drugs, coffee and even junk food replaces a sober disposition and healthy mind. Before they know it the one-time thing becomes a go-to thing that comforts them or puts them in an alternative state of mind.

Still others don’t dabble in drugs or Botox but think there character needs a overhaul. Countless self-improvement classes don’t help them arrive at the conclusion that they are perfect just the way they are. Still others drown themselves in mindless TV or video games that offer them respite from dealing with themselves.

And yet deep inside we know that we are perfect. We were born perfect and came from perfection. If what we came from – call it God, Source, Creator or Universe – were looking at you or me what would s/he see?  To understand that we need to understand the quality of perfection. Perfection sees perfection in all things. If you take a drop from the ocean and carry it a 1,000 miles away it would still have all the properties of the ocean – salinity, fluidity and density. You cannot strip it away from the drop. The same goes for us. We are beings of light, love and perfection. Putting us in dense bodies doesn’t take that away from us. We still are an essence of our creator. In other words the entire universe lives within us and we within the universe.

The separation is not real and when we begin to see that, we see perfection first in ourselves and then in everything around us. Does perfection mean we makes no mistakes? No. It means we don’t beat ourselves up over those mistakes. We accept who we are, how we look, how we feel and all the other 10,000 things that go with being a human being.

From acceptance comes love, an unconditional love that loves the crooked nose or the frizzy hair, the sensitive side and the sour moods. It is utter acceptance and love without questioning your perfection. Remember you are unique and there is no one else out there quite like you – not even your identical twin can replace you! You are a puzzle piece that fits even if you think you have a funny shape.

If you could see through the eyes of perfection, you’ll see that you try too hard to be what you are not, forgetting that you are great just the way you are and that you can do wonders if you simply set aside your doubts and misgivings and embrace 100% of you – undiluted and uncensored.

When you see perfection in yourself then you will not tolerate people who deliberately point at your flaws as a way to either make them feel better or a way to bring you down. At first you get defensive and even angry and then you realize that their mirror is cloudy and there is nothing you can do about it, except hand them a cloth and hope they will get to cleaning it soon. And if they don’t, then walk away and stop looking in their cloudy mirror.

Have you ever handed a mirror to a baby and had the feeling that the baby really doesn’t know it is looking at its own reflection.  Can you look back and see when in your life you stopped admiring the face staring back at you in the mirror? Why did you stop? Didn’t you come from that perfect baby who didn’t judge itself so harshly?

Go back to your perfection. Feel it deep inside of you every day. That is how the Universe sees you. As part of its perfect infinite self. And when you do the world will right itself.


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End of the Tunnel

I am the light at the end of the tunnel. I am my own savior. My spirit ran ahead to beam the light of hope as my weary body and mind struggled to catch up. It was this light that kept me alive as the piercing darkness around me spilled into my soul. The tunnel was akin to a birth canal, squeezing every lie, facade and mask that I ever wore. Squeezing all my pompous notions of being above it all. Thinking I had reached the peak of spirituality, I refused to budge. But I slid quickly from the summit into a dark endless cavern where I stayed until I came to terms with my own foibles. There were no milestones and even if there were, I couldn’t see them. I wasn’t even sure if I was blind or it was too dark to perceive anything. I may have had my eyes closed, afraid of what I would encounter if I opened them. Somewhere along the way when it was too painful to grope in the dark I simply lay down in a heap and slept. The darkness of sleep more soothing than the one that I could not escape when I was awake.

Was I alone in the tunnel? I could not tell. But I could sense a presence. A warmth. A glimmer of hope from somewhere afar. It was towards this that I floundered like a thirsty animal in a desert. The squeezing and extraction of all extraneous baggage continued until I felt like I was stripped naked. But instead of feeling self-conscious and embarrassed I felt free. I was exposed and I no longer needed to play the games I played before to keep a bunch of lies alive or to please people. This is when my eyes that were accustomed to darkness spotted a faint flicker far far away. Now I knew I wasn’t imagining the warmth. It was coming from this source. As I edged closer it felt warmer, loving, compassionate and all -embracing. It was me I found at the end of the tunnel waiting and shining like a beacon. I had just birthed a swanky new version of myself. Pure, free and full of child-like hope.

When I stepped out, I saw more like me shining and waiting to receive themselves. But like the indistinguishable darkness, our light merged and blurred our individual bodies. You might think I’m out of my mind and in a way you are right. Thoughts travel faster than the speed of light. Our soul knows where we are going and even when our bodies falter, the soul charges ahead unafraid.

Maybe Sri Aurobindo’s words would make more sense to you than mine. So I leave you with this excerpt from the Savitri.

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 us 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.

 


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Walking into the Unknown

It’s a scary place to be. The vast openness in front of you. Myriad intertwining paths stretching across the horizon as far as the eye can see. Fear immobilizes you. One wrong step and you think all will be lost. How sad it is sweet child that you have forgotten where you have come from. Squeezed out of a dark and snug chamber through a narrow canal, forced to breathe that air which was alien to you a second ago. Deprived of your continuous supply of nourishment, you had to latch on and suckle to survive. From simply being you were pushed into doing. You had to learn the tricks of this brand new world. Cry to get attention so your needs could be met – needs that did not exist before your birth. And isn’t it a wonder that you did incredibly well, although you had no idea what to expect.

Yet you falter when faced with the unknown. When uncertainty looms large, you fret and fume, cemented to your narrow path, unable to make a choice. Until you are pushed own the rabbit hole, forced to take a plunge and fill your hearts with courage. Why must you be afraid? The same force that birthed you and made you take in that first breath of fresh air, will nudge you along the right direction. If only you are patient and quieten your mind to listen to its guidance. For it is always there. It is like the background noise of a dripping faucet that you learn to tune out. But if you tune out  everything else, the noise becomes ominously loud – too loud to ignore. Follow that guidance and it will never fail you. It will in time take you where you are meant to go.

When I made my appearance into this world, my hip was dislocated and I wasn’t breathing. I could have made an exit without my first breath of air, without ever being held in my mother’s arms, without ever crying. Miraculously I survived but I was not out of the doghouse yet. Was my brain damaged because I was deprived of oxygen? Would my hip fix itself and would I ever walk normally? These were not questions that ran through my head. I was too small to know or even remember any of this. My parents didn’t know either. But when I visited my pediatrician, she would give thanks for every milestone I crossed. For she was the one who saved me from the jaws of death as I lay lifeless in her arms. She was witness to the miraculous power that let me live and thrive.

I don’t doubt for a second that help is always available for those who ask. But we must have the courage to follow through even in the face of imminent disapproval. Only we can hear our inner voice. We cannot let the voices of others drown it. Nor can we allow the noise of the world obliterate it. We cannot let fear dictate our actions. We have to trudge forward in full faith that the force that birthed us will take us home.


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Uncertainty and Surrender

For a couple of years now we have been grappling with uncertainty. That strange feeling of not being in control and not knowing where you are headed. It started the year we left Florida. We were supposed to come back to India but somehow ended up in Washington. There again I knew we wouldn’t be staying for long. Every decision and interaction was colored by that knowledge. We all pulled on with bated breaths not knowing what to expect.

That was nothing compared to the state of flux we find ourselves in now. Everything seems to be up in the air, in space, nebulous as I stand gaping open mouthed for it to fall into my outstretched arms. Every day I wait and I return empty handed. The shapes dance and swim out of my vision – mocking me and enticing me with promising futures.

I lie in bed thinking of the world I left behind and the irony of it all is that I had wanted to leave – not when I had but many moons ago. I wanted to come back to something familiar, something certain. Something solid to build our lives on. Not a shifting and shaking earth. I have finally come back but that old familiar feeling has long gone. Gone are my cousins, brother, grandma, friends and so many places and people that made Chennai special. Made Chennai home. Home is a stable and secure place where we can be our best possible selves. But here I find myself flailing in my new surroundings trying to find my sea legs in this tremulous place. I’m not on solid ground. No terra firma here. Just undulating waves of uncertainty that wash you to uninhabited shores. So what does one do?

Uncertainty is part of life you say and I agree. Life wouldn’t be interesting if there weren’t some twists and turns every  now and then. But when uncertainty decides to make your life its primary dwelling place then things can get really sticky. After a point every waking moment is tinged in uncertainty that you simply cannot push it to some corner of your brain. It becomes every breath, every thought. Every instant you struggle with that hollow feeling deep inside and very soon the uncertainty turns into fear. Fear of the future and fear of failure.

Finally when my over wrought nerves could take it no more I sought refuge in God. I pleaded, I begged, I prayed but the uncertainty lingered on. It became bigger and bigger and harder to ignore. At long last when none of the old tricks worked I decided to stop fighting life and to simply surrender. There was no use straining, the shackles only became painfully tighter. No use swimming against the current to attain the unattainable. Let the waves lash, let the emotions smother you and let every damn security you invested in come crashing down. When you lie there stripped of everything, cold and trembling with your head held low in an act of complete and utter surrender, an outstretched hand appears to lift you up and out of the raging waters and soothes your troubled soul. To wipe the tears of frustration and show you hope. Hold on to that hand and never let go for it will take you to where you belong – home.


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I Thought I was Alone…

You can be surrounded by a room full of people and still feel alone…alone in your frustrating circumstances, grappling with seemingly inconsequential problems that no one really sees as problems. How you wish you had someone who would understand! How you wish you could draw strength from your loved ones and fall back on their support! And sometimes the very people who have supported you, fall on hard times. How can you turn to them when they can barely keep afloat? How can they save you from your pain? Ultimately no one can save you and you need to find your strength and pull yourself together. But as humans we also need to connect with others and seek solace in their company.

I was in a limbo, a week ago. Kids had finished a year of school. My contract with the company I was working for was ending. There was a lot of uncertainty in the air and I was feeling the weight of the long year full of challenges and not really looking forward to more of the same. I hadn’t blogged in a while and just couldn’t find any motivation. As I kept sinking into oblivion and praying for redemption at the same time, something magical happened. R sent me an inspiring video that nudged me out of my stupor. I wrote and published a post on my blog, the very same day.

The next day my friend S sent me a message asking how I was doing and sent me prayers and good vibes. Another friend from Florida called me and spoke to me for hours, praising me for sticking it out for a year and not giving up (I know how many times I did and then had to push myself to keep going!) Then several other friends sent me encouraging messages after reading my blog. All of them lifted me up and out of my pity party and I felt reassured in the midst of all their comforting support.

Yesterday I went to see my friend’s grandma who was also my pediatrician for years. Frail of frame at the age of 94 and pushing herself with a walker, her eyes lit up when she saw me. I sat beside her, basking in her comforting presence. She held my hand the whole time squeezing it ever so gently every now and then and told me she would pray for me. Her prayers brought me back from the dead, so many years ago when I was born breached and wasn’t breathing. And as I sat there I realized that the same force that had brought her to my rescue had given me this chance to be in her healing presence. I looked up and on the wall in front of me was a picture of Jesus.

My friend’s Dad reminded me of what my friend had been through and how everything turned out ok in the end even though he had given up all hope. Good things happen when you least expect it, he said. We just need to keep going on and then suddenly the thing you were chasing will fall into your lap. I left their home which is named “Serene” by the way, feeling so at peace, like giant loving arms were embracing me tightly.

Maybe I am trying too hard to make things work when I have absolutely no control over any of this. None of us do and so many of us are hurting because we feel helpless. Personal challenges and the horrors of the world are being unleashed on us. We look around for the ones who always saved us and see them stumbling and falling. Fear can only live when we isolate ourselves and cut ourselves off from all the support available. And sometimes it is not easily available and we think our numerous pleadings have fallen on divine deaf ears. Help may come from the most unexpected of places but it does come if we are open and it nudges us towards greater happiness if we allow it.

Another magical meeting arranged by the universe also happened yesterday and I met an old friend from my days at the Women’s Christian College and Madras University. She too moved to Boston after she got married and we used to meet quite often. I hadn’t met her since 2007 when she left Boston for Chennai. As a writer, she keeps checking on my progress and she came just when I needed to brush off that dusty memoir and get cracking on the next chapter. A writers group that she is a part of is also something I need to get into to inject some discipline into my otherwise erratic writing habits.

When it rains it pours! And the floodgates are open so to speak. As I receive support, more seems to be coming in and I am thankful that I don’t have to go through this all alone. I am opening up to more magic, revelations and miracles in my life.

Hang in there if you feel like you are on a roller coaster and you are all alone. You are not! And help is just an arm’s stretch away…may you find the support, healing, peace, joy and abundance you are looking for. God Bless You!


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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

 


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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?


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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.