3.29.2015

Finding Wholeness In Our Imperfections

There’s a feeling you get right before it rains. The clouds gather up, the sky turns gray, and you can practically smell the earthy scent in the air. Something deep inside of you knows the rain is coming. 

I’ve been having that feeling in the pit of my stomach, about writing. Things have been incubating for a while -- thoughts, ideas, reflections. Things that simply can’t be shared in 140 characters or less. Things that can’t be scrolled through on Facebook to people who may, or may not actually know you well enough to understand your perspectives. Things that need a slowing-down, not only on the part of the writer, but also the serendipitous reader who stumbles across this small blog, in this great big world of ours.

This blog that hasn’t been updated for two years. It was certainly not for the lack of things to share (and my apologies to all the new email subscribers, you’re probably wondering who this is right now :). Somehow there’s always been a small part of me that believed that writing and reflecting is a luxury. And I should focus on doing more important things that need to get done. I'm slowly learning that life constantly needs to, not just be examined at every level, but also shared, when possible. It is something that requires more courage and honesty than I can probably muster up most of the time. 

Made even more beautiful after breaking

A part of me is becoming more aware of the collective story that we're creating as a people, as citizens of the world, and especially as women -- and becoming more conscious of the impact its creating on the next generation. To see myself as a thread in the larger tapestry and taking responsibility, not just for my own little piece of the thread, but also for other threads around me, requires a deeper commitment to the truth than if I was fending just for myself. 

It also requires a getting over my own self, and my own insecurities. Whether they’re about not being a good writer or having something complete and worthwhile to share.  If anything I’ve learned at reaching the big 4-0 (I know!) is that I am always going to be a work-in-progress. And that is okay. In my twenties, I liked to believe that I would have reached some state of semi-permanent enlightenment by this age. (lol) But alas, I know that I will constantly just be “arriving,” in life, so I’ve learned to become a little more comfortable on the journey.

A beautiful Japanese phrase, “wabi-sabi,” sums this up elegantly. Wabi-sabi is the understanding that when things are imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete, instead of taking away from their beauty, they actually enhance it.

3.25.2013

Of Ashrams, Mountains, and Seemingly Ordinary People


It seems that all the sacred places left in the world can only be reached on foot; such is the case with this one. Coming together from different parts of the world for a few days, the six of us walk silently, one after another. Two-kilometer trek up the rocky trail of the Arunachala mountain feels harder than it should. I walk behind Jayeshbhai on the clay-colored rocks, a close friend and a mentor. Silence starts to wash over me, preparing the mind to step into something sacred.

Following numerous bends of the trail the view opens up to display the whole city of Trivunamalai, with four temples symmetrically built in the middle of the town. Jayeshbhai and I pause to take in the grand view. As we try to catch our breath on this quiet January afternoon, we hear someone coming from the opposite side. An older grey-haired American woman appears walking very slowly down the jagged rocks with the help of a younger white woman on her right, and a local man on the left. Each step seems to bring her body a lot of agony as her feet shake to find the ground beneath them. But there is a vast smile on her face, which is half-covered with the oversized black glasses.

Ramana Maharishi (an Indian saint)
We both stop in admiration of the spirit of this lady, who has obviously made it to the cave and coming back. Jayeshbhai spontaneously touches her feet and instructs me to also “get her blessings.” As per the Indian custom, I follow suit. The younger woman tells her to touch our heads, and guides her hands. Her grin widens and I feel the touch of her hands in my hair. We chat for a bit and ask if there is anything we can do to help. All three assure us that they are fine and will slowly reach the bottom of the path. Renewed with energy, we slowly move forward in awe of such a dedicated western disciple of Ramana Maharishi.

On finally reaching the cave, a sense of stillness comes over me as I enter. Sitting among dozen others cross-legged on the floor, the eyes adjust to the dark. Lit by a single candle I can make out the small inner room with a shiva lingam in the center. Ramana Maharishi's teaching can be summed-up in three words, he asked his disciples to focus on the inquiry, “Who am I?” As I meditate, the mind comes to a complete stop, the thoughts seem few and far between. Probably a half hour passes before I open my eyes, feeling guilty for taking my time. The mind nudges me to go outside, so others can come and meditate.

Path up the Arunachal mountain where Ramana Maharishi lived
The walk down is filled with peace and awe, as the sun starts to set across the mountain. As we get near the bottom, I’m touched to see the older American lady again making her way down. I now learn that her name is Renee, who is now resting on a rock with Rajesh – still smiling as wide as ever. Jayeshbhai and I fill in Anarben on our meeting walking up the mountain. We sit down beside her bombarding her with questions. After learning that she has walked this path eight times during this trip, and is eighty-three years old, we find out that she has been a devotee of Ramana Maharishi for over thirty years. All because of a dream she once had. She has never met him even once. Such is her devotion.

Back in California, as I think of Renee and the tranquility so visible on her face, one word keeps coming to my mind – reverence. Reverence for trusting the mysteries of life. Reverence for following a deep inner calling. Reverence for sacred mountains, and seemingly ordinary people that remind me to keep looking deeper. 

3.16.2013

The Secret of Happiness

A beautiful story that I love from “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho:


A merchant sent his son to learn the Secret of Happiness from the wisest of men. The young man wandered through the desert for forty days until he reached a beautiful castle at the top of a mountain. There lived the sage that the young man was looking for.

However, instead of finding a holy man, our hero entered a room and saw a great deal of activity; merchants coming and going, people chatting in the corners, a small orchestra playing sweet melodies, and there was a table laden with the most delectable dishes of that part of the world.
The wise man talked to everybody, and the young man had to wait for two hours until it was time for his audience.
With considerable patience, the Sage listened attentively to the reason for the boy’s visit, but told him that at that moment he did not have the time to explain to him the Secret of Happiness.
He suggested that the young man take a stroll around his palace and come back in two hours’ time. “However, I want to ask you a favor,” he added, handling the boy a teaspoon, in which he poured two drops of oil. “While you walk, carry this spoon and don’t let the oil spill.”
The young man began to climb up and down the palace staircases, always keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. At the end of two hours he returned to the presence of the wise man.
“So,” asked the sage, “did you see the Persian tapestries hanging in my dining room? Did you see the garden that the Master of Gardeners took ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?” Embarrassed, the young man confessed that he had seen nothing. His only concern was not to spill the drops of oil that the wise man had entrusted to him.
“So, go back and see the wonders of my world,” said the wise man. “You can’t trust a man if you don’t know his house." Now more at ease, the young man took the spoon and strolled again through the palace, this time paying attention to all the works of art that hung from the ceiling and walls. He saw the gardens, the mountains all around the palace, the delicacy of the flowers, the taste with which each work of art was placed in its niche. Returning to the sage, he reported in detail all that he had seen.
“But where are the two drops of oil that I entrusted to you?” asked the sage.
Looking down at the spoon, the young man realized that he had spilled the oil.
“Well, that is the only advice I have to give you,” said the sage of sages. “The Secret of Happiness lies in looking at all the wonders of the world and never forgetting the two drops of oil in the spoon."

3.14.2013

Daffodils in Our Shoes


"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." - Anais Nin

Woke up to find that the bright buds had bloomed speedily overnight. Bringing with them a splash of sunshine into the family room on an otherwise foggy morning. Thank you to the anonymous kindness bandits that left daffodils in all of our shoes during meditation last night. You know who you are. :-)

May you continue to blossom and bring sunshine in people’s hearts wherever you go. 

3.12.2013

Suitcase Diaries


Can six months of one’s life be sloppily packed into a suitcase, and carried across the Atlantic Ocean to re-start yet again?

Photo by Meet Bhatt
The contents, in question, of a silver-gray bag, overflow to the top, the tight zipper working hard to keep it all in. Once opened at its California destination, the bright oranges, pinks, and purples embroidered on silk and cotton make much less sense than at the time of acquisition. The hand-woven scarfs and block printed tops tell a story of a life lived at a gentler pace. Hung next to the simple machine-made blue jeans, solid tees, and a white summer skirt, they scream indulgence, or a daily celebration if you’re in India. Gifts tucked into the corners of the bag last-minute from friends bring a wide smile to the heart: A purse, a handmade paper diary, incense cones, organic teas, a red and black bhandani sari, a white glimmering statue of Radha and Krishna, where he serenely plays his flute. They speak of generosity, thoughtfulness, and bonds built that will outlast the six months it took to develop them; and of reverence for the Gods and prayer, and of small things that take time to create or brew, like chai or great friendships.

Like a traveler on a long flight, whose head whirls with thoughts of the place that she departed from and the place that she’s going to – gliding through space, not fully being a part of either yet. Not having fully left nor having fully arrived, a space of limbo where you hang between the brightly colored handmade kurtis and an old pair of jeans that knows every curve of your body. The identity starts to feel threatened, perplexed since its called into question once again. 

Every departure is a chance to say goodbye to a part of it. And every arrival an opportunity to sift through and select the pieces you want to hold onto; Each intersection, a chance to consolidate the two and make a conscious choice about who you are and who you are becoming. A choice that should never be taken lightly. I choose love. I choose the word that has pervaded through the entire trip. A word that makes strangers become family instantly because they’ve all come together to serve others. I choose the lessons of maitri (friendship) that a certain Jayeshbhai quietly expresses through his presence. I choose relentless passion for life that Anarben permeates into everything she does. I choose unconditional joy and a search for truth that Madhu tries to live his life by. I choose authenticity that Nimo expresses in his every action. I choose relentless service that Meghna fills her life with. I choose constant quest for a more authentic way of living that Siddharth aspires to. I choose a purity of heart that Sanskruti expresses in the joy of giving. I choose constant experiments with the truth that Neerad so open-heartedly explores. I choose art and beauty that Lahar so effortlessly spreads into each event. I choose the genuineness of Bhagiben, who taught me what giving can mean to someone receiving your gift. I chose the path of cultivation that is made effortless by Mukeshbhai.

I choose the courage and grace of so many others who came to me in the form of guests, but left in the form of friends and teachers. Above all, I choose love and forgiveness – over and over again, until I learn all that I came here to learn.

4.25.2012

A Fine Day

Sometimes common phrases in a language can really provide insight, into the mindset of a culture. For instance, in English we often use the phrase, “It’s been a long day.” We’re all well aware that each of us is given the same twenty-four hours a day. But when I say, “It’s been a long day,” I’m trying to place what is happening with me internally, onto something that is outside of myself. It draws a clear line that it was the events of my day that made it long, not the way my mind treated them.

The reason why I’ve been thinking about this is that I’ve been trying to have a perfect day for about a month and a half. I’m amused by the idea myself, but it wasn’t a conscious choice or something that I put on my to-do list. A part of me just figured that if, that was ever going to happen, it would be now where I have the most control over my schedule (somewhat).

What is a perfect day? For me, right now a perfect day revolves around my work and spiritual practice. In short, getting things done that need to be done; perhaps even more importantly, leaving things aside that don’t add a significant value to my life or others. And of course the usual exercise, eating healthy, and so on. On most days, it’s quite a full schedule. But I don’t think that busy-ness was the biggest obstacle to my perfect day. I’ve come to terms with the fact that, being productive is actually really important to me. If I had a chance to just lay on the beach and read a book. I would probably be exhausted after the first day. It’s kind of pathetic really, but that’s just who I am at this point in my life. I actually love what I do, and often feel privileged to have an opportunity to be involved with meaningful work. 

However, the mind has its own habit patterns; the biggest blockage for me was the feeling of never having enough time. I was carrying around the mental residue of how much there is to do, which automatically sends the mind into a mode of scarcity. That overwhelming feeling instead of forcing me to work harder, actually worked against me. Instead of being regenerative, it started depleting my energy, and allowed unwholesome practices to seep in like, drinking coffee to get things done, or even worst, distractions that were more fun.

Sometimes you just have to experience the sunshine of the day, to recognize the darkness of the night. Without a hint of prior warning, I found myself stumbling onto a perfect day yesterday. I recognized that more was done in a day, than I could do in almost a week. The types of the things on the schedule were the same as always. Instead of pushing to get through the work, there was just mindfulness of one action, followed by another. There was a quiet remembrance that I want to do this, and this is exactly where I’m needed, throughout the day -- which allowed the mind to shift from scarcity to abundance. An effortless energy was just flowing through; there were no hooks for the mind to place its hat, it just kept moving along. In place of stress, there was a calm, gentle feeling of being refreshed.

As I woke up this morning, trying to figure out why yesterday was so different than other days? Why I didn’t feel like it was a “long day,” even though so much occurred? I can only infer that the underpinning cause perhaps was that there was no one there to feel tired, attached, proud -- somehow, somewhere along the way, the doer – disappeared. Even if that vanishing act was only for a day. Perhaps that sense of “I” is the foremost obstruction to having -- a fine day.

4.15.2012

What’s Your Song?

Everyone is looking for something. We’re all running around in circles, on this great big planet, trying to find the purpose of our lives. What’s the meaning behind all of this? What is the song that I came here to sing? The inevitable question that all of us grapple with at one point or another: What am I supposed to be doing?
                                                            
Albert Einstein is famously known for how he would solve an issue. If he had sixty minutes to find a solution, he would spend fifty-five minutes defining the question, and the other five minutes on finding the solution. Perhaps therein lies our problem. Maybe we need to take a long look at our question itself: “What am I supposed to be doing?” Often times that question gets reduced to, “What should I do to make a living?” It's a valid question on its own – but not what we’re talking about when we’re looking for the ultimate purpose of life. To take it even further, I think the word “doing” in the question is really what misinforms our investigation.

 When we talk about “doing,” in a spiritual context, somehow the words fall a little empty. I, for one, feel that it’s true that I should try my best to take conscious, life-enforcing actions each day. Yet, it’s also important to have one eye looking out through the window of eternity. Really, what can one person do to add to this massive place we call Earth -- a place that has gone along without us for over four billion years? In today’s world, we can change what we do as often as we change our clothes. There is a fair share of information to help us with this "doing," and that information keeps changing to guide the elusive nature of this question. However, when it comes to our inner world, this question might not be as important as we make it out to be. What, then, is a better question to ask?  If the doing is constantly changing, is there something that is with us all the time?

That’s where I see an answer staring right back at me, quietly gliding in and out through my entire day, mostly unaffected by what I am doing. It’s a shift from, the “what” to the “how.” From “What am I supposed to be doing?” to “How am I living?” What is the state of mind that I’m carrying around with me all day? It’s that BE-ing which we carry ourselves with, live deeply with when no one else is looking – that’s what we’re doing with our lives.

What is the song that I came to sing? Maybe I’ve been a part of the symphony all along, and everyone around me has heard every word – except me. The purpose of a river is just to flow. It doesn’t stop to ask for directions or sets out to find its song. Or look for the name of the ocean it will eventually merge with. She just keeps on flowing. She trusts that whatever brought her here in the first place will take her where she needs to go.  Its secret, which she whispers if you listen closely: Stop your searching and start your living.  You’re already half-way down the road. There is no purpose to life. Life is the purpose. 

(Post inspired by last Wednesdays meditation circle)