Punctuate Life

Pause Breathe Relax


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

30 Days of Gratitude

So I successfully posted one thing I was thankful for every day in November. Here is the complete list.

Day 1

I am thankful for the chance to start our life over in the U.S.A.

Day 2

I am thankful for my own beautiful space to think and be

Day 3

I am thankful for my tribe of sisters who have stood with me through thick and thin. Dedicating the upcoming posts to each one of them.

Day 4

I am thankful for my dear friend Shoms who has been around since the day I was born and continues to be there for me, pray for me and guide me (she even secretly follows me around all over the globe!) I love you and I’m eternally grateful that God put you in my life.

Day 5

I am thankful for my soul sister Namami who believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself and pushed me to be the best version of myself through her wonderful example. So so thankful that our paths crossed.

Day 6

I am thankful for my little sister Gayatri who has shown such courage, hard work, discipline and perseverance over the past several years. She is not afraid to chase her dreams and has inspired me to do the same. Love you to the moon and back and you are such a blessing in my life.

Day 7

I am thankful for my little sister Latha who reminded me to practice gratitude when I really needed to and who egged me on to finish my book. Thank you for being there for me.

Day 8

I am thankful for Hema who went out of her way to help me when I was in India struggling to keep my head above the water. She gave me hope, her husband helped my husband secure an interview and she still keeps checking on us and praying for us. Thankful for angels like her in my life.

Day 9

Today I am thankful for my children Anjali and Nitin who see humor in even the most solemn situations, who remind me to laugh and let me see that life is not about the big things but about the littlest of things – a warm hug, a snuggle, a giggle or breaking into a song or dance. Love you both to the moon and back.

Day 10

I am thankful for my parents who have always been there for me no matter what and who have shown me that being a parent doesn’t mean being perfect but trying to do your best in every situation. Love you both very much and wishing you a very happy anniversary and many more to come.

Day 11

I am thankful for our friends Raghu and Swastika who have been so helpful during this time. For being patient and taking the time to help us sort out stuff. We miss being neighbors with you and hope we meet again soon.

Day 12

I am thankful for good food on my table and for above average cooking skills.

Day 13

I am thankful for my brother Dinesh who has been around since I was 2 1/2 and has grown up to be an dashing young man. I’m thankful for the crazy times we had together making up jokes and laughing till the wee hours of the morning. I’m thankful for your unique and deep insights when I most need them. Most of all I’m thankful for your support through really tough times when I felt alone in the world. Love you and wish you have a very happy birthday and many more to come.

Day 14

I am thankful for children, not just my own, but the many I have come in contact with over the years through teaching and volunteering in schools. Their innocence, lack of guile and unconditional love always leave me speechless. If you are weary of this world, simply spend a day with a child and see your joy rising and hope returning to your cynical life. Thankful for all the little yogis and tiny Zen masters of the world. Happy Children’s Day!

Day 15

I am thankful for my brother Rohit for being my body guard in the streets of Chennai and for always being protective of me. We have laughed endlessly, shared our burdens and teased each other mercilessly. Even though he is far away, I know he cares and will do anything for me. And for that I am deeply grateful.

Day 16

I am thankful for my Valliamma who has always been around for my family. Illness, birth of a baby, trips out of the country, she is always there, a steady presence providing support, love and care. Love you Valliamma and I am very fortunate to have you in my life.

Day 17

I am thanful for my aunts, Uma chitta and Sridevi chitta, strong hardworking women who have crossed numerous hurdles to get to where they are today. Their steel grit and determination to succeed is admirable as is their poise and elegance. Love you both very much

Day 18

I am thankful for a good education from one of the finest schools in India – Good Shepherd Higher Secondary School. My love for the English language, good manners, a broad-minded and inclusive outlook and much more, I owe to this school which was truly my second home. I am thankful for the wonderful and dedicated teachers who nurtured our minds and expanded our perspective of the world. To this day they care about every student whose lives were touched by them. Thank you my sweet teachers and it is a honor to have graduated from Good Shepherd.

Day 19

I am thankful for my alma mater, Women’s Christian College, where I met an amazing group of girls and teachers and soaked in the history of the place that has been around since the pre-independence era. Lighted to lighten, a motto that many of us have taken seriously as we continue to shine on in our varied worldly roles.

Day 20

I am thankful for my 2nd alma mater, Madras University, where I turned my love of writing to a degree that would one day help me earn a living. Also met some great girls who are still my buddies. Beach combing at 2.00 in the afternoon, matinee movies with the whole class and a trip to Munnar. So much fun and learning packed into 2 short years.

Day 21

I am thankful for good books and public libraries that take you out of the mundane and into other realms, make you forget your worries while you dwell on their pages and shelves. So much so that I forgot to post this yesterday…had my nose buried in a book about a cat named “Cleo” by Helen Brown.

Day 22

I am thankful for Senthil who landed me a job in India and continues to mentor me and send opportunities my way. He would do anything for a friend and I’m glad our paths crossed 15 years ago.

Day 23

I am thankful for the joys of baking and an oven. Sorely missed it when I was in Chennai. Have a key-lime pie baking in my oven and will be dusting off my lasagna pan tomorrow. Nothing like the smell of melted cheese and tomato sauce wafting through the house.

Day 24

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Today I am thankful for food, family and the holidays. At the same time I want to take a moment to pray for those who don’t have food on their table, are not with their family for various reasons and also for those who don’t have holidays. I hope and pray one day everyone would have more than enough to eat and lots of things to be thankful for, like I do today. God Bless everyone.

Day 25

I am thankful for my blog, it has taken me places I never dreamed I could go and connected me with so many wonderful readers. Blogging is like sharing a part of yourself and it is mostly fun but sometimes excruciatingly painful to bare your feelings. But it also extremely rewarding and satisfying. One of the best things I did was create http://www.punctuatelife.com

Day 26

I am thankful for Reema Moudgil who has been a constant source of support and encouragement since I started blogging. She is a gifted writer and beautiful soul and I have been a recipient of her generosity many times. Glad that our paths crossed.

Day 27

I am thankful today for nature, her boundless beauty, her colorful seasons, her thirst quenching rain storms and her nurturing harvest. She reminds me that we worry too much and that we will be taken care of like the flowers and the weeds.

Day 28

I am thankful for gods, goddesses, angels and saints who guide us with unseen hands and embrace us when things go terribly wrong. If it were not for love, faith and hope we’d be dead inside.

Day 29

I am thankful for good health without which it is impossible to enjoy or even be grateful for any of the other blessings. I am usually thankful for it only when I fall sick, which is quite infrequently. Today as I nurse a cold, I was reminded to be thankful for health and well-being.

Day 30

Today I am thankful for blessings that are yet to come. I am thankful for a meaningful way to offer my talents and services to the world and be rewarded for it. I am thankful for beautiful relationships that honor and bring out the best in me and others. I am thankful for unity, peace, stability and abundance for all citizens of the world.

What I have learnt from this exercise is that you can never run out of things to be thankful for. Every day is a gift and every breath a blessing. Say thank you quietly in your mind for everything in your life from the time you wake up. Running water to brush my teeth – thank you. The beautiful sunrise – thank you. A nutritious breakfast – thank you. Nice clothes to wear – thank you. A car to take me to work – thank you. And the list goes on.

 


Leave a comment

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.


9 Comments

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.


4 Comments

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!


6 Comments

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

 


3 Comments

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?


2 Comments

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.

 

 

 


9 Comments

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.