AT 59

Today, I find that I view my life in a totally different light than when I was in my 20’s, 30’s, or 40’s.  So much of what I believed to be critical to my well-being and happiness, no longer matters.  Personally speaking, I was never inclined towards material acquisitions or physical comforts and laid greater emphasis on relationships and self development.  As it turns out, most of my notions have proved to be erroneous or misguided.  These notions and beliefs were mostly based on the “do’s and don’ts” taught by family and society and on what they thought or deemed as important for success and life in general.  So, crucial growing up years were spent in learning things that are just superficial measurements of success in life; and hence, cannot impart the sense of wholehearted fulfillment and peace that we desire.  We move from one acquisition to another in the hope that “this is it” only to discover at the end that we have just collected a whole lot of clutter and baggage, and quite tragically we forget that in the process we are losing precious time.  We overlook the most important aspect of our life on this planet, our mortality.  We forget that we come with an expiry date and have limited time, that each passing moment is bringing us closer to our death.

The vastness and all-encompassing nature of this topic led me to contemplate deeply on the message of impermanence and what lies beyond impermanence and death.  Two things we can say about death is that one it is absolutely certain we will die, and two it is uncertain when and how we will die.  Perhaps the reason we fear death is because we do not know who we are, having derived our identity all along by physical material props…..name, body, family, home, job, etc……these fragile and transient supports become our security …..we feel we are safely ensconced, but when death comes we find ourselves lost and bewildered, in terrifyingly unfamiliar surroundings….something like waking up alone in a foreign country with no knowledge of the land or language, no money, no contacts, no passport, nothing.  Death has shattered our marvelously convincing illusion and we have no clue of any deeper reality……a higher state of consciousness……or have a spiritual practice that leads us to an insightful and ultimate realization that all of us are part of a great Divine continuum and the delicate balance in the cosmos of which we are a mere speck of dust ….a blink of light …… a whiff of air …… and it is all over.

Meditation on the higher purpose of life, on the basic nature of existence, on the essence of spirituality thereby gaining a maturity in thought process and actions is a humble way I have started my journey…..let us see where this dimension leads.

 

 

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PERCEPTIONS

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The Tree that Inspired

William Blake wrote “the tree which moves some to tears of joy is, in the eyes of others, only a green thing which stands in the way,”

The desire of monks and mystics is not unlike that of artists:  to perceive the extraordinary within the ordinary, by changing not the world, but the eyes that look… and to form the intention of new awareness is already to transform and be transformed.  The sun, moon and the stars are perfect in the sky, the mountains, rivers and forests are perfectly balanced on mother earth, but a single thought in our minds can make all the difference.

Perception is a powerful tool within us by which we can turn around the most unfortunate incidents in our lives into favourable ones and make them work to our betterment, thereby being on top of events instead of giving them the upper hand and appearing helpless.  A single change in our thought process can work wonders… and the beauty of our mind is that we do not require a big earth-shattering event for that to occur, a simple walk in the natural morning breeze by the sea, listening to an incredibly beautiful piece of music, just sitting by the roadside and watch life go by, spending fifteen in absolute silence just letting thoughts play out, a contemplative reminiscence of our own lives ….the list could go on and yet it may not enlist what works for you.  Each to one’s own friends, there is no ready-made prescription for this realisation.

…… and the day this realisation dawns is like a rebirth.  The experience is much, much above anything that we have felt before …beyond all physical sensations and pleasures, beyond all emotional attachments and satisfactions, beyond all intellectual comprehensions and conclusions…beyond wordy descriptions, it is a transforming experience that immediately puts one in touch with ones true spiritual realm and connects us to our cosmic nature where continuum and sublime oneness reign supreme.

…… and through this, we also realise how much of our precious time we have spent in petty  worldly pursuits, wasted our energies on insignificant matters in interpersonal relationships, acquiring possessing and preserving, and trying to weave complicated philosophies into our lives.  The one and only simple disposition required for this existential experience is to just BE, open and free, without preconceptions and conclusions and be aware of one’s own true being with respect to nature.

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This simplistic disposition is sounding deceptively easy when stated like this, but more often than not, it is a fairly difficult task, depending on how heavy a baggage one is carrying.  As it is true for any other goal that we may want to achieve, here too a sincere sustained effort and constant conscious awareness of the goal will surely get us there.  The transformation process from Attachment through Letting Go to Just Being, that requires a change in perceptions, can be painful, but is the most enlightening and blissful.

Why I Read

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I have often wondered how individual authors and artists show a distinct yet suggestively similar understanding of universal manifestations, human emotions and intellectual comprehensions.  Thinking about what the medium of expression might be and the different approaches to understanding it, naturally leads me to the vastness of the field of human creativity or rather the exquisite expression in form of the inner humanity.  Each individual act or expression of creativity, be it music, art, poetry or literature, arises from the mysterious ground of inspiration and finds its expression as a communicating energy.

A question that follows naturally…..could this then guide us into a state of contemplative joy where some essential secret of our own true nature and the nature of reality is revealed.

How did Gibran write

“A voice cannot carry the tongue and lips that gave it wings, alone must it seek the ether.  And alone and without its nest, shall the eagle fly across the sun.”

Or what inspired Blake to write

“To see a world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.”

In my life, books hold a very special place.  They have been companions, sounding boards, debated with, interpreted and imbibed, almost as if they were living entities.  I have observed my reading habits and tastes evolve with time as I aged. From fiction, adventure and fantasies through semi fictional books and novels to the more serious nonfictional thought-provoking, life teaching and directing books.  From the “Famous Five” and “Secret Seven” series through “Gone with the Wind” “Alaska”  “Exodus” “Chitralekha” to “Rumi” “Ghalib”  “Sogyal Rinpoche”  the journey has been long, educative and exhilarating.  There are a host of other books and authors that have left an indelible imprint on my person, but it is impossible to enlist all of them here; however, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged needs a special mention as this book completely changed my way of thinking and perception, especially in the field of interpersonal relationships.

The years that followed saw my exuberant childlike expression give way to a contemplative reflective person preferring quietude and solitude.  I began to enjoy my own company and became deeply connected with nature, especially trees.  Once again, my reading underwent a sea change as regards the subject and content matter.  I was evolving and seeking as a person and once again, books never failed me.  “The Little Prince” “Illusions” “Gitanjali” and a host of other such titles found their way into my book shelves.  I learnt about the importance of variance in perspectives versus uncompromising rigidity, about love and compassion versus critical and judgmental attitudes, about sensitivities and sensibilities, about holistic personality trait development and the importance of emotional and intellectual development.

Books opened up my mind to all dimensions and aspects of life.  They took me to places I might never get to travel to, vividly described events and incidents that I may never be witness to, picturesquely described works of art, sculpture and natural beauty I may never get to see.  In short, I have seen the world and beyond, in all its beauty and glory through books.

Sometimes, as we grow up and learn other skills, the thrill of learning to read hardens into habit and we let the magic slip into mundane.  I still remember vividly my early reading experiences and have observed keenly my evolution through the years and with happy gratitude and humility, I can say that even after so many years, the wondrous possibilities of an unread book still holds untold thrill and excitement.   The great and mysterious thing about a reading experience for me is this: the more discriminatingly, sensitively, and associatively I read, the more clearly I see every thought in its uniqueness, its individuality, its precise limitations and realize that all individual and unique expressions strive toward the same goals, call upon the same gods by different names, dream the same wishes, and suffer the same sorrows.  Is this then the thread that so powerfully and conclusively unites us all?

 

I…….DENTITY

……….the light at the end of the tunnel is not an illusion, the tunnel is.

The realization dawned on me after a particularly poignant prayer session at a friend’s place.   I am compelled to pen my thoughts here, so powerful was the impact of this theme.

Many a times we find ourselves distracted with our thoughts wandering, especially during prayer sessions.  We ask for achievements and possessions, for good health, for peace and happiness, etc. etc. and etc.  WHOM are we asking of for these attributes?  Is it an external force that we bow down to with an expectation to fulfill our desires?  Or is it all within us?  To seek to answer such a profound query would require a lifetime of prayer and meditation, leave alone trying to reach a definitive conclusion.

Humbly, I submit what I feel.  The fundamental question that each one of us needs to address personally is “what is it that is alive in me, what is it that is actually called life?”

Contemplation and meditation lead us forward on the spiritual path.  Gradually, we realize that the physical, mental and intellectual, i.e. anything that is bound by time and space, is manifest and tangible, is impermanent and changeable, is bound by the cycle of life and death cannot be the highest Self, the ultimate Power without a Beginning and End, Forever and Timeless, Pure Consciousness, Absolute Silence, a Serene and Calm beyond description, blinding Light and Energy….BLISS…..call this by whatever name that you are comfortable with.

We realize that all that is negative and unpleasant, sorrowful and distressful in our life situations arises from our own thoughts and emotions, from identifying with the physical and pursuing the world of materialism.  The results of a mindless accumulation of material wealth and running after physical comforts do not need elaborate discussion and are there for all to see….this lifestyle has brought us to the brink of extinction and we have become our own biggest enemies.

Looking deeper into impermanence, there is an inherent emptiness, a lack of stable existence and when seen and understood in their true relation, things are not independent, but interdependent on all other things.  Think of the waves in the sea, each wave appears to have a distinct identity, a beginning and an end, but a deeper analysis shows that the wave is just something made temporarily possible by the force of wind and water and is ever dependent on changing circumstances.  Every wave is related to the other wave in that it contains the same sea water, has arisen of the vast water body and having spent its energy, will ultimately merge back into the sea.  A thousand forces converge to make and break a single wave.  The water that gave the wave its existence is not different to the water that is contained in the wave.  If we were to apply this principle to us human beings, we realize that all differences are merely superficial and deep down within each one there exists the same Life force and that is how each one is connected to the other.

The more we think of this, the clearer it becomes that the entire cosmos conspires and wills a being into existence that after having spent its energy, goes back to where it came from….the cosmos.  Birth, growth, death is a universal divine law.  The flower must die for the fruit, the fruit must deteriorate for the seed, the seed must be buried and rot for a new sapling……it always happens like this.  On our part we require a clear seeing, a calm abiding and an abject surrender……a state of absolute nothingness…..SHUNYA.

CHANCE and CHOICE

……do these two words determine the quality, the texture, the condition of our life as it is today?

Many a times, looking back at our lives we feel that had we not been present at that place… at that particular time, we would not find ourselves in the situation we are in and our life would have taken an altogether course.  Thrown into this world, I have been ruled by and subjected to its wills and contingencies, and therefore it is logical for me to feel impermanent.  For the person that is me, there is no other possibility and yet coincidence and history is neither sufficient nor adequate to explain my perplexity.  I purposely use the word ‘perplexity’ as it never fails to surprise me how, in my daily living, in each and every relationship; I am looked upon as a different person with widely ranging qualities and attributes, where the very same ‘me’ is next to god to some and the devil incarnate to other, with the latter exceeding the former by a large number!!!  Of course, a great deal depends upon the perceiver and the level of their perception, and might I add there is very little effort at pretensions on my part.

The moon is a stone; but it is a stone about which and because of which people develop inspired feelings.  There is a soft moonlight that can give us a peace that passes understanding.  There is a moonlight that inspires a kind of awe.  There is a cold and austere moonlight that tells the soul of its loneliness and desperate isolation, and its insignificance.  There is moonlight prompting love, sometimes even for the whole universe.  It is the same moon emanating light, but due to different perceptions, its interpretation is effectively different.  This gives my ‘god’ and ‘devil’ representation some solace!!

Back in my younger days, I did not want to antagonize anybody and felt that much happiness and my success as a person in the different roles that I played depended on how much I could give off myself and to what degree I could overlook my own physical and emotional self.  Quite naturally, I too was looking for acceptance and wanted people to like me.  Looking back, it was wrong of me to have taken that stance of self neglect and it has been very damaging.

A choice to change is always on the cards; sometimes small adjustments are sufficient to effect the changes and at other times, depending upon the magnitude, greater efforts are required.  A large part of our lives are spent in doing the same things over and over again, and it seems that nothing will ever change….and yet it does.  We surround ourselves with the illusion of permanence….solid house, lovable people, close friends, books to read, insurance plans for future, etc, etc. and etc. and yet, all slips away from us.  Unpalatable, but true, everything changes.

There are no readymade answers and each one must experience for oneself the stark naked reality of this world, the trauma and pain of self realization, and pick oneself up after the bubble bursts, so to say.  This marks the beginning of a new journey…..again replete with choices.

At a chance meeting, with a long lost friend, the conversation veered through many topics and suddenly, out of the blue came a comment that changed my thought process and I made my choice.  “I have money, but I am poor.”

Gradually, over the years through disciplined training, I have found my peace.  I have understood that the crux of the problem was that I was identifying my happiness with material gains, with acceptances and approvals, with mindless jobs providing unending services, and in the process not paying any attention to my own personal growth, thinking the more I submit the happier I will be.

The age-old fact remains that the more enriched we are spiritually, whatsoever you understand by that, the less you need in material terms to be happy for happiness is a state of mind.  The less desires, conflicts, and possessions, the more contentment and peace we will be at.  One is inversely proportionally to the other.  Also I feel that any amount of external paraphernalia aimed at making a person spiritually rich are just helpful stepping stones…..end of the day all that matters is internalization of the conscious factor, realization of our true nature, and actualization of the SELF within.

So, go ahead friends, take your CHANCES, make your CHOICES, and see the CHANGE.

STIMULUS AND RESPONSE…..TEARS

for blog 8“There is sacredness in tears.  They are not the mark of weakness, but of power.  They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues.  They are messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”  Washington Irving.

We all cry ….in fact our moment of arrival on this earth is a robust cry….and from there the saga begins…..of endless tears…for endless reasons.  At different stages we cry for different reasons….as infants we cry for attention, to get someone to notice us and attend to our needs and offer comfort.  Physical pain and discomfort elicit copious tears and loud wailings.

Down the line, a little later we cry when we fail to get what we want….a toy, chocolates, a gadget,….here we are either incapable of or prevented from getting what we want ….and ironically, forced to do things that we simply detest…..like algebra for example….reason enough for a good loud wail and buckets of tears!!!!

Growth in years also widens our interaction with others…..we start dealing with people other than immediate family members and this leads to a wide kaleidoscopic range of emotions never experienced before.  Our interactions with others impact how we feel in general, about others and about ourselves.  I remember crying, induced by two diametrically opposite emotions, for the same reason but involving different people….not receiving an invitation by one made me feel special and I shed tears of joy….and not receiving an invitation by another made me feel rejected and I shed tears of hurt….needless to say life was getting complicated….a raging range of complex emotions….and an endless flood of tears.

Deep emotional involvement in interpersonal relationships leads to expectations and hopes, all centred on an individual’s response to the other’s comprehension of the depth of your involvement.  Any sort of loss related to this relationship….death, break-up, divorce, rejection, physical or emotional neglect, abandonment…..produces crying behaviour.  By the way, we are adults now….a single emotion or incident is unlikely to tear us up…we need a set of emotions…feeling helpless and hopeless, sad and angry, unable to accept the situation…..tears here are a reflection of a deep sense of loss and betrayal….of a feeling that refuses to go away.

Further to this, depending on our psychosocial development, we shed tears in empathy, on behalf of others.  Untimely deaths, wronged individuals, gruesome shots of heinous crimes (the chemical attacks in Syria), poignant expressions of love, patriotism, etc….all stimulate our empathetic response of care.  We also shed tears of regret and contrition when we inadvertently hurt others and feel morally responsible.

Uncontrolled emotions produce tears of relief and pure joy.  In my case here are some…..the pain I caused on my mother, parental approval for my marriage; husband’s unqualified support at the time of my mother’s illness; birth of my children; sisters’ monumental help at a very difficult time; sister receiving an award from guess who, the President of India; daughter’s marriage to a gem of a human being….his valuable contributions at all important events are exemplary; son clearing one of the toughest professional exams and setting up own firm;……the list is getting long….this is only illustrative and can never be exhaustive as I am now nearing 60 and umpteen people have made me cry….for one reason or the other!!!!

Physiologically speaking, crying has its own benefits.  It allows for a release of emotions and feelings, paving the way for some sort of relief and satisfaction.  It also sensitizes others and encourages their support.  Whether they are induced by joy or by pain, tears are an emotional response to a psychological stimulus….mostly representing normal psychological functioning, though serious medical condition like depression cannot be ruled out completely.

Quite unintentionally, this has turned out to be an exercise in objectivity…..an ocean of un-shed tears lies undiscovered within each one…..perhaps at a later date…..on some other occasion…..in an uncontrolled response to a powerful stimulus….or maybe never,….because surprisingly the intrinsic reason for tears….expectations…. never really vanishes.

Journey

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The place was teeming with people of all hues and colours, young and old, children of all ages….some being dragged by anxious parents held tight by the hand lest they be lost in the melee, the aged trying desperately to keep pace with the surging sea of people….pushing rushing jostling running….all just for a glimpse of what they perceived would offer deliverance from the cycle of life and death, open the gates of heaven, forgive them their sins….sort of connect them with the Ultimate..and at that moment it struck me, then and there as I stood at a safe distance, that I did not belong here, that I cannot connect this with the Ultimate, that there was no way I could participate and consider myself blessed….however holy the place may be, whatever the occasion may be.  It was just not for me.

On the journey back definitions had changed.  I was no longer the person I was when I had embarked.  I was a seeker now   with umpteen questions that the sight had thrown up.  Years went by, life went on as usual on the surface, but within me, a fire was raging.  What was I seeking, why couldn’t I be just satisfied like the rest and play along, where could I go for peace, whom to approach, etc, etc, and etc.  It was an upheaval of a magnitude that just refused to die out.

Ironically enough, it took another journey…deep into the forests…at a different time…all by myself   bereft of all preconceived notions, my beliefs, my religion, my understanding…my my my…I understood there that this “I” was the greatest limiting factor for a spiritual seeker, that my physicality was confining me and if not for my physical body, I had no identity, that I was boundless cosmic energy and at that moment the true meaning of “Aham Bramhasmi” dawned on me.  Instead of an intellectual search, there was suddenly a very deep gut feeling that something was different…seeing that sun set in the background of the very deep black forests, seeing – rather than knowing for sure – that there was a relentless of flow of energy, of time, of space in the cosmos that was beyond man’s rational ability to understand, that suddenly there was a nonintellectual way of understanding …and on the return trip home I suddenly experienced the universe as intelligent, loving, harmonious.  If it sounds simple then believe me it is that simple…if we were to see things as they are…just as they are…without thrusting our preconceived notions…then it is really simple.  A leaf is made up of multiple cells, tissues, etc. but to the innocent eye it appears quite simple.  Thus it is with the human seeker…the myriad complexities of the individual mental, emotional, conceptual processes and the miraculous simplicity of the final answer.

This brought to the forefront the age old mental dialogue between religion and spirituality.  Through the years, I have learnt that one need not be exclusive of the other, and practised in the right proportions, one’s religion is a tool to reach the spiritual goal.

Religion is, for all per se, a belief system that one inherits and up to a certain point affects our perceptions and concepts.  Seeing and growing up with the way events are handled, joyous occasions are celebrated, ceremonies are conducted, unfortunate incidents are concluded we tend to get attached to these and start identifying with these as absolutes and are averse to contradicting conflicting views, which sometimes takes an acrimonious dimension.  We are simply too attached and hence mentally closed to even consider anything to the contrary, even an academic discussion seems an assault.  Being so deeply enmeshed in these ideas, we become prisoners of what is meant to liberate…..and that in my opinion is the biggest drawback of organised religious belief systems…..it snatches from the individual the freedom to think freely and explore spirituality for oneself; one gets caught up in the superficial paraphernalia of rituals and customs,….very few have directed their journey inwards to realise and experience the pure consciousness within each one of us.

Spirituality is just that…a journey inwards to realise and experience the pure consciousness within each one of us.  True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance.  It is far deeper than that – it is spiritual transaction with the Creator.  Walk in solitude, the quieter the better.

Meditation is to be aware of what is going on – in our bodies, in our feelings, in our minds, and in the world.  To practice meditation is to be in touch with both aspects of the world we live in…the pleasant as well as the tragic, the beautiful and the ugly, the vast amount of good work being done as well as the mindless killings, the births as well as deaths taking place…a balance and equanimity, a quiet inner strength is what meditation provides.  Please do not think we must be solemn in order to meditate.  In fact, to meditate well, we have to smile a lot.  Part of spiritual and emotional maturity is recognising that it is not like you are going to try to fix yourself and become a different person.  You remain the same person, but you become aware of your mortal nature and of the transient nature of the physical, and from here you embark on an altogether different journey ….one that will lead you to realise that “you are not a drop in the ocean….you are the entire ocean in a drop”.