Journal, Life-Saving Tips

Marie Kondo & The Gods In Small Things

marie kondo kneeling

While on the subject of Marie Kondo, I was reading some of the reviews of the Marie Kondo Netflix show ‘Tidying Up’ and was astonished at how much of the Western media is missing the whole point. A few critics have gotten tangled debating her suggestion that we should keep fewer books, “ideally, less than 30”, in the house. I found more than a few stories in mainstream UK newspapers saying the popularity of her process would be ultimately catastrophic to landfills.

For her part, Marie Kondo has clarified often enough that her process is not about removing things, including books, from our life—it is about loving those things which we choose to keep because they spark joy in us. The KonMari method is a gentle reminder of holding an attitude of gratefulness for the service these small gods offer us. From this flows a sincere desire to treat them wisely, kindly and gently.

Watching the show, one can see that Marie Kondo is obviously an empath, with a keen gift of sensing into the energy of objects and her physical environment. Those on the spiritual path are not unfamiliar with this kind of sensitivity. Her process marries this innate gift with the philosophy from her childhood in Shintoism, where everything in natural world is alive with sacred spirit called “kami” and worthy of reverence. It’s a beautiful combination.

The KonMari Method though is more than a philosophical ideal. At a deeper level, I realized as I worked through my books and papers, my attachment to things is my attachment to the stories of those things, and the stories behind those things. The objects are the tangible symbols of those stories. And the clutter around me is the plans and emotions that I haven’t dealt with yet. So de-cluttering is actually a cathartic process of facing those leftover stories—the debris of our abandoned plans, aborted love affairs and alternate timelines—and letting go.

For some, this may mean an overhaul, for others a few minor changes. Either way, your clutter is your perfect, custom-designed path. Like the Zen monk who mindfully and diligently sweeps the pathway of dead leaves, clearing your house of clutter is clearing your mind. No wonder so many of those who go through it report a burst of energy and clarity after they complete it.

To those Western minds furiously employing the law of attraction to manifest fantastic objects to bring joy, Marie Kondo offers a gentle sister process: how about finding joy in what you have already manifested? How about enjoying them in the present moment? How about folding your clothes not to make them smaller, but to touch them with gratitude?

Intrigued by Marie Kondo’s advice, I watched an episode of another popular Western de-cluttering expert. She attacked the same process with hard-hat determination—clutter was a scourge to be exterminated and objects were a litany of old sins to be expunged. On the contrary, Marie enters cluttered house and gleefully exclaims, “I love clutter!” She begins her method with a prayer to connect with the energy of the house and ask the house for permission. In place of a shame-fuelled purge she offers a gentle goodbye to that which has served us… and a reminder that everything we own has served us in some way. While the former approach changes the way your house looks, Marie promises to change your attitude to what you keep, to what you give away, and as a parting gift, to what you will purchase in the future.

With that last gift I think—and no critic has noted this—the Konmari method is actually an antidote to mindless consumerism and fast fashion. Not only because of that brilliant moment of shock when a person, for the first time, sees all the clothes they own piled into a mountain, but also for how Marie treats each object. Her method values the classic, the timeless, the long-lasting. Every item of clothing is treated like a friend you treasure for years, not as fast fashion you trash every few months. That lifelong bond with the items that serve us is an unspoken gift of the diminutive Japanese lady’s method to the audiences—and in the long run, also to the landfills.

Journal, Parenting

FATHER & SON: A LIFETIME JOURNEY

Last night, my father was felicitated as a real-life hero by one of the biggest stars in the world on a television show – my personal journey to seeing him as a hero took forty years.

Mr Bachchan’s Touching Personal Tweet on the Morning of the Telecast

One of my fondest memories of my father was waking up early in the mornings and seeing him out on the verandah, perched on his favorite rocking chair, scratching out his novel onto the pad propped on his knees. Through my bleary little eyes, I used to marvel at his dedication — I struggled to wake up early during exams and he did this almost every day of the year!

Like all children, my father was my hero. For the world, he was known as a prolifically creative author, painter and cartoonist, but for me his most remarkable quality was that he never imposed his parenthood. In fact, he trained me to call him by his first name. So when he came home from work in the evening, I would drop my cricket bat and run to him, happily shouting: ‘Hiii Aabid!’ Outsiders were sometimes shocked. But most remarked that we looked more like friends than like father and son. And that made him happy.

Teenagehood happened. And gradually, without realizing it, my opinion changed. I began resenting the fact that, unlike my friends’ fathers, he could not afford to buy me roller skates, then a skateboard, then a bicycle, then a Zx Spectrum computer. I blamed him for not being ‘fatherly’ enough in teaching me worldly things — how to shave, how a bank works, how to drive a car.

I didn’t realize it then, but I spent my adult life trying to not be him. In my twenties, I sought solid father figures, in bosses and in spiritual teachers and left home; I looked to these new ‘fathers’ to tell me exactly what to do in every situation. Because that’s something my real father never did.

Since I secretly blamed him for his unreliability and his selfishness in pursuing his joy, I became the opposite: a steady dependable breadwinner who earned enough money that my son would never see me as a loser. Dad’s Bohemian spirit could not survive in an office for six months, I stuck to a corporate desk for more than a decade. With a sadness veiled as pride, I confessed to friends that everything I had wanted to enjoy in life — my first cellphone, my first car, my house — I had had to buy myself.

In between my busy career and marriage, the distance between us grew into monthly phone calls, mostly initiated by him, which began awkwardly and ended abruptly. The distance between us had grown so much that when he began a neighborhood campaign to save water by fix leaking taps for free, he didn’t tell me till many months later.

In my forties, after my son was born, I began seeing him differently. I experienced such an intense love for my son — I wondered if this was how my father must have felt when he saw me growing?

After I quit my full-time job to become a consultant in 2012, I began spending more time with him. In early 2013, I wrote a blog post called ‘Saving The World One Drop At A Time’ about his one-man NGO, which now had a name as quirky as his personality: Drop Dead Foundation. My blog post went viral and was translated into Italian, Spanish, Greek, Malagasy and Russian. Word of his inspirational campaign spread and he began getting more praise, awards and love than he had seen as an artist.

It was a still a home-run enterprise, working from his laptop and living room in a dingy suburb. When I offered to contribute money, he refused point-blank saying this was not a family enterprise, it was a social enterprise: if it had to run, it would run with the support of society or not at all. So I began helping him occasionally with media and PR. Still, I kept a safe distance between his world and mine. As the creative head of a major movie studio, I felt uncomfortable editing his NGO documentary in the ramshackle edit suites that were offered to him free.

As I faced the challenges of my own marriage and fatherhood, I began appreciating him even more. I appreciated that in becoming a husband, he never fully gave up being a freedom-loving human being – what I had all my life put down as selfish now seemed sane. As a father, I found it was more loving to give my son the freedom to learn on his own rather than forcing my conclusions on him. As I watched my son’s intelligence grow rather than his obedience, it made me feel as happy as my growing must have felt for him. My relationship with dad warmed into Sunday lunches, surprise gifts and more regular, friendly conversations. I began working on a documentary about him, put out four English translations of his novels onto Amazon Kindle format, and helped him sell his older books for film and TV adaptation rights.

Then in early November, on one of my little spiritual circle’s weekly group calls with my brother and our mentor GD, the last piece quietly fell in place. One of the participants on the call complained that he forgave others, but never completely. GD asked us to remember all the people in our lives whom we were still subtly punishing. He asked us to connect with that part of us which secretly held on to the energy of a punisher, a mini-tyrant or a stern judge meting out justice to others. “One of the easiest ways to catch where this is operating in your life,” GD said, “is by asking: who are you still subtly making wrong? Who do you think needs to be fixed? Is it your boss, your friends, your parents, your partners, your company…? That’s where the resentment is hidden. The tail of the elephant which you are still holding onto…”

I remembered dad. I don’t know what happened but in a flash was bridged what seemed to be a lifetime’s distance: he became fully my father again.

The following night, I got an urgent message from him saying that he had just landed into the city and needed my help for an interview the following day. I noticed in myself a level of welcoming towards him I had never experienced before. I offered to help him with the paperwork, his clothes, and the questions. I told him not to worry — I would be there for him whatever time he wanted for however long it took.

By chance, I found out later that night the ‘interview’ was an appearance on one of the biggest reality TV shows in India, called ‘Aaj Ki Raat Hai Zindagi’. It is an adaptation of BBC One’s ‘Tonight’s The Night’ hosted by superstar Amitabh Bachchan, the Indian equivalent of Sean Connery. The show felicitated ordinary people doing extraordinary things and dad was being felicitated as one of the heroes because his ingenious effort in water conservation had saved over 20 million litres of water.

En route to the shoot, I spoke to my brother on the phone. He was pleased to hear about dad getting long overdue recognition, and equally pleased at the transformation in my energy towards dad. He offered to send remote core healing for both of us during the hours of the show recording. He pointed out that in my wholeheartedly supporting dad, we were both being supported by the universe.

Backstage at a reality television shoot is a confusing, intimidating world — hundreds of audience members hunting for holding areas or canteens, dozens of crew members angrily muttering into walkie-talkies and multiple layers of security asking who you were. While I was at home in this world, dad was lost. Knowing I was there seemed to calm him. I helped him choose the outfit, guided him on signing release forms, and as we waited for the delayed shoot to begin, we paced across the studio lot till sunset chatting about life. Anyone looking at us would have mistaken us for friends.

The creative team of the TV show, noticing his youthful quirkyness during research, had designed his entry onstage with dancing girls to a Bollywood song. They told him of this idea only just before the show but dad was not flustered. I helped him quickly learn the hook step in the vanity van, but beyond that his lifelong joie-de-vivre and innocence made it a perfect entry onstage.

I saw my father differently as he stood on the stage. I have seen many superstars sharing a stage with Mr Bachchan and they struggle to divert any spotlight away from this imposing legend. Dad was doing it effortlessly, just being himself — a solid human being. Every anecdote was greeted with laughter and his palpable love was returned by the audience in showers of applause.

“It’s not only about water,” dad said at one point. “If you can’t save water, save the sparrows who get cut on kite string every year or help stray dogs who get diseased. But do something for the world which does so much for you.”

We all bathed in the magic of this one human being, alight with the fire of belief, who was making this grand strobe-lit studio stage seem small and hollow in comparison. At the end of the show, Mr Bachchan was so moved he offered a surprise personal donation towards Drop Dead Foundation. Being a media person, I have grown cynical of stars’ grand public acts of charity because I know it’s mostly for PR — later the money comes from the studio, movie producer or channel, if at all. But Mr Bachchan surprised me by adding with endearing humility a small request that this not be a part of the telecast. Dad got up and did a little victory dance.

Backstage after the show, dad’s work continued — he shared brochures of Drop Dead Foundation with the camera crew and the production team, some of whom felt inspired to begin this work in their own neighborhoods. In between post-shoot interviews, he enrolled housewives, schoolgirls, elderly couples with spare time. He wasn’t a hero only when the camera was rolling, he was the real thing.

As I watched the episode later on television, I was a little sad that much of the magic of the evening had been edited out due to time constraints. But perhaps it was perfect — the world didn’t get to see him in his full glory, but I did. And it had taken me a full forty years to see it.

I share this not to say that my relationship with my father is special, but that this is the journey every father and son must make. And the circle between father and son is closed not because a father does something grand and glorious but because a son is willing to finally forgive him for not being the perfect father. Simultaneously he finds he is forgiven for not being the perfect son.

A few days ago, my six-year-old son was having a play date at home. As I sat nearby reading a book, I overheard my son boasting to his five-year-old friend: “My papa starts his work in the night, even before its morning.” I almost fell off the couch. I quietly prayed that my son’s journey from adoring to hating to finally forgiving his father is as perfect as mine has been.

Thank you dad for everything.

With my father and son
With My Father and My Son

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To watch the episode of Aaj Ki Raat Hai Zindagi on which dad appears, click here.

To know more about Drop Dead Foundation or to ask how you can contribute, click here.

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Journal

An Accidental Pilgrimage

Sometimes, when we are lost in our worldly lives and cut off from Source, it takes a minor miracle — and in my case, many little miracles — to remind us that we are are never far away from Grace. Initially, I jotted down these incidents only for my private journal because I knew that in the years to come I would not believe this really happened the way it did. I decided to make this available publicly now because I remembered that I may accidentally be someone else’s reminder of Grace, just as others were accidentally a part of mine.

Arunachala Mountain
The first glimpse of Arunachala

To say that I made a trip to Ramana Maharshi’s ashram in Tiruvannamalai last month feels like a gross exaggeration – almost like stealing credit for something I didn’t do. It would be more accurate to say that I was pulled there – circumstances were created, alternatives were blocked, unexpected people appeared who helped – in such a way that I found myself in the holy mountain town of Tiruvannalamalai on a warm Saturday morning. And what happened next was even more incredible.

This was at the end of about two months of being cut off from my brother and mentor GD. Why do I get cut off from time to time? I don’t really know – some form of rebellion within stops me from picking up the phone and then the inertia of flowing with work and family drags me along: the routine of working, watching movies, reading, going to a mall on the weekend becomes all-consuming and all-numbing. A certain sadness wells within but it is buried in busyness, in reading or watching movies till I fall asleep, so that I don’t get a chance to think about my feelings. This coincides with a decline in spiritual practice too. As I have often seen in the past, disconnection from GD is only the outward manifestation of disconnection from my Self.

So this time, I had to be literally cornered into going to Ramanasramam. I was stuck during a weekend work trip to Chennai city with all my meetings cancelled for Saturday and all my attempts to create meetings failed due to various reasons. Further, I had to be in Chennai again on Sunday for a dear friend’s wedding, and the office indicated that it would be expensive for me to fly back from Mumbai to Chennai twice in a weekend. In fact, it was my CFO who suggested: why don’t I go to that Tiruvannamalai place a few hours from Chennai that I keep talking about? I had not considered the possibility until then…

On Friday night, at a party, Indian actor Kamal Hassan’s 60th Birthday party, I bumped into an estranged colleague to whom I mentioned the possibility of visiting Tiruvannamalai the following day. It turned out his wife’s family owned a college in that very town. He instantly arranged a car and driver for me to travel there and back the next morning.

So the following morning, I drove some two hundred kilometers from Chennai to Tiruvannamalai with no hotel booking. I would have ideally preferred to stay in an ashram, but those rooms were booked up months in advance. So we stopped near a small temple with upstanding trishuls near the gate, to ask for directions to the best-rated hotel. When we found it, the hotel was all booked. So was the second, third, fourth and fifth option and two ashrams. The manager at the fifth option curtly told me all hotels for two kilometers around Tiruvannamalai were full for the weekend, almost accusing me of being foolish enough to arrive on a Saturday without a booking. I was a bit concerned – what was happening? Had I made a mistake in coming? Finally, I stopped at an internet cafe that listed rental rooms amongst its diverse services. The man suggested I try Sheshadri Ashram, then seeing my plight, he considered a business proposition: he told me to check a room on the first floor of his half-completed building and if I wanted, I could have it for a night. It was the only finished room in a construction site, not very pleasant, but it was near the ashram. I said I would take it — and went off to buy a new padlock.

As the car returned to the main Ashram road where the shops were, I suggested to the driver to take us to the Sheshadri Ashram just next door to Ramanasramam. I walked into the office gingerly, and the unsmiling boy who was at the desk looked at me suspiciously — my heavy desert boots, my raw denim jeans and open khakee shirt over a dark green t-shirt was more suited for a party than an ashram. He asked for ID and finally confirmed he had one single room available! He gave me the key to see it before paying, though by that point, I would have accepted a bed in the temple courtyard if it was offered.

When I went out of the gate to tell the driver the good news I realized we were exactly behind the spot where we had been first “lost” – outside the temple with upstanding trishuls – and had began our fruitless search for hotels. Had we just asked for a room instead of directions there – we would have found this best option, better than any hotel, at a fraction of the price. My room was Rs 400 ($6) for an A/C room with two beds. I was really getting proof again and again that I was being taken care of. I sent my driver with Rs. 50 to the Internet Cafe owner as a thank-you, and to tell him I was not taking his room, and moved my luggage to Room 77 at the Sheshadri Ashram.

An added bonus of the Seshadri Ashram was that they had a canteen which served excellent vegetarian food. I wolfed down a delicious late lunch and lay down in my room. I thought back to the events of the day, and I began to cry. I felt it must be Ramana’s Grace that had worked so many miracles to bring me here.

The room where Ramana gave his final darshan

At the Ramanasramam, I first visited the samadhi room where Ramana gave his final darshan before his passing on April 14, 1950. The room is kept exactly as it was in those days with only a fresh bedsheet on the bed where he lay in pain with cancer, yet not willing to turn anyone away who wanted his darshan till his final breath. Tears began to quietly flow down my cheeks once again.

In the meditation hall, the bells were clanging. I sat through a beautiful Sanskrit chanting and later, an arati of Tamil songs sung in his praise. It was marvellous to see so many people of all shapes, sizes and nationalities circumambulating his shrine in the meditation hall all through the prayers. The sounds would resonate in my ears for a long time. At the end, I walked towards the pooja tray along with everyone else, where we took in the light of the flame and put the tilak paste and the vermillion dots on our foreheads.

One of the highlights of visiting Ramanasramam for any devotee is the high-energy Arunachala mountain upon which it is situated. The last time I had come with GD, five years before, we had done the inner pradakshina, a four-hour circumambulation upon the mountain after which we felt refreshed enough to go for an evening walk.

This time, I wondered if I would be able to do the inner pradakshina. I had heard the inner pradakshina had been stopped due to increasing forest fires, and I knew that the outer pradakshina – circumambulation on the road around the mountain – could take upto a day to complete, so I didn’t think I had time. Yet I knew if I didn’t go on the mountain, my trip would feel incomplete. As I fell asleep, I decided to leave it to Bhagavan – who had taken of everything so perfectly till now.

The following morning, after a quick breakfast and bath, I headed back to the ashram. I sat in meditation – practising Self-Enquiry as taught by Ramana Maharishi. During meditation, after such a palpable presence of Ramana during this trip, I felt comfortable asking Ramana for guidance. I got a clear voice within which told me to listen to GD, he was like a living Ramana in my life.

After an hour, I began to feel pulled to walk towards the hill. As I wandered towards the back side of the Ashram, I found a narrow gate I didn’t know existed. It said this was the route to Skandashram, the cave up the mountain where Ramana stayed for seven years. I walked barefoot up the mountain path and kept walking and walking – it turned out to be almost two kilometers high. As I walked, I began to realize that this was the plan Bhagavan had for me – a perfect journey for me into the mountain!

My heart gladdened with every step. Though my breath was rapid, I didn’t feel tired. On the contrary, I felt energised. I was on the mountain again, as I had dreamed of for so many years since my first visit with GD five years before. Walking on the very stones that Ramana himself had walked, and going to the cave where he had sat in meditation!

Arunachala-Skandashram
Skandashram (Pic Courtesy: Meath Conlan)

Skandashram had a small patio and a green stone frame for a door with a tiny meditation room within with mats laid out, further inside was a photo of Ramana at the age when he stayed here, sitting in meditation with a flame before it. I sat down on the mat and lost myself in self-enquiry again, as if in a solid block of Silence.

When I walked back down the stony mountain path, on a lonely stretch, a large monkey came up to me hungry for some treats from my bag. There was no fear, just a mutual understanding. There was a bottle of butter-milk in my cloth bag which he sunk his teeth into as if to indicate that is what he wanted. I removed it, and offered it to him. He took it in both hands and scampered away.

A few meters down, still practising self-enquiry, I became acutely alert to the radio noise of the mind within, and in noticing it, it suddenly quietened down. I began to walk slowly, noticing everything in great detail now – sounds, colors, smells and the sensations below my feet were vivid and alive and all one.

A little lower down the path, I noticed a tiny dung beetle, pushing a ball of excreta twice his size across the path. I wondered if that was me too, struggling to hold together the pointless endeavours of my life. I watched him for a while, literally almost crushed under the weight of his shit but unwilling to let go. And I remembered the cryptic message I had got in meditation the evening before: “What is pointless is pointless, there is no more or less in it.”

As I walked below, it struck me that the loudest voice in my head was that part of me which was trying to make everything silent. I saw the irony of the situation – the class monitor who was trying to silence the class was the noisiest voice in the class! Alone in the mountain path, I began to laugh to myself. The walk changed to become loose-limbed and relaxed. I sensed this was the final fruit of this trip. Even the doer of the meditation dropped away.

As I walked smilingly, I passed a white peahen in the clearing a few feet away from me. It was marvellously beautiful – like an apparition almost unreal stepping gingerly in the dappled sunlit glade. I stood transfixed.

peacock
The white peahen I saw at the end of my journey

For me, this unplanned pilgrimage was a powerful reminder that even when you have forgotten your guru, He has not forgotten you. Even when you move away, you are taken care of. And even when the only remaining  link is a tiny flickering flame of longing in your heart, it is enough.

As we drove back to Chennai on Sunday evening, I SMSed my mentor GD after almost two months: ‘Thank you for giving me the space to behave like an idiot sometimes. I love you.’ He replied ‘Ditto’. After a minute came another SMS from him: ‘The ditto was only for the last line.’

I realized I hadn’t laughed like this for many months.

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Journal, Life-Saving Tips

It’s Not Too Late If You Are Reading This…

One of my dearest friends lost his brother to Dengue this morning. It happened suddenly – he was diagnosed last Sunday and didn’t live to see the next one.

I urge you to take care.

Not just from the disease, but from the regret of not having loved and listened to those people in your lives while they were around. Take care of them while they are alive and well.

I know it feels like there will always be time tomorrow right now. And I know they sometimes ramble and tell you things you’ve heard before. And maybe they phone more often than you would like to talk. And of course, you intend to return their calls, even when you don’t.

They are annoying sometimes in interrupting your plans and life. They may not be in the right place at the right time but put them at ease anyway. Don’t continue to hold against them what they once said because it makes you a winner in some game of moral righteousness. The only way that game ends is with you losing.

You will miss them some day. Not just the sound of their voice which you will hear in your head only then. Not only the secret memories – those polaroid moments of eternity. Not just the smell of them that cannot be replicated – or the touch of their skin pulsing with Life. You will miss their annoyances someday. You will regret those times when a flickering screen was more important than a human being you loved.

Look around right now. You have something beautiful and perfect and irreplaceable – this moment. You may not be as wealthy as you would like but you have something the richest person on the planet can’t purchase a minute more of. Use this moment to say and do what is really important, not merely what seems urgent. Take care to use this moment as if it were priceless.

Use this moment to say your ‘sorrys’ and ‘thank yous’…

Because not all of us get to say our good-byes.

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Journal

Voting For Joy

vote

India, the world’s largest democracy, is in the throes of a thrilling and tumultuous election. But this is NOT another post about voting wisely on election day – this post is about living wisely.

We need to be conscious that we are casting our vote not just once in five years, but every day. Every choice we make is a ballot for the world we want to live in.

Every product we buy is a vote. Companies run on profits. So if there are fewer buyers, the assembly line stops. Every television channel we watch is a vote for more such programming. Advertisers pay media networks for audiences and if we stop watching, it eventually stops being produced.

Some votes are less obvious. If we put money into a company’s shares purely for the promise of returns, regardless of its human and environmental policies, we are casting a vote. If we buy a product because it’s a little cheaper regardless of how it was produced, we cast a vote. We vote every day with our wallet.

Most importantly, what we give attention to in our own lives every moment is a vote. If we indulge in our anger, we empower that within us. If we are casual about our integrity, we contribute to a world that is corrupt and lazy. Every time we are conscious and kind, we contribute to a world that is the same.

So let’s vote consciously every day. Let’s vote for peace instead of meaningless entertainment distractions. Let’s vote for health over the call of junk-food consumerism. Let’s vote for love and blessing over isolation and anxious self-concern. Choose what you want to vote for and live it!

As we get more awake to our daily votes, we won’t need to blame government for their broken promises. We will be shaping the planet in the most powerful way possible – through our time, attention and money.

Our life is a vote for the world we want to live in.

So vote wisely.

Journal

Healing Dad

Aabid Surti

Last year, my father visited my therapist brother GD for a healing session for the first time, almost 15 years after GD began healing. The healing session had been powerful and by the end, dad had fallen into deep meditation. He looked at ease with himself, his eyes steady and chronic cough silent.

As we drove back at night to Mumbai together, expressway lights swishing past the corner of our eyes, we talked more than we had talked all year. And we talked about real things – not things to fill the silence. He remembered the incident when GD, as a toddler, had fallen from a mid-ocean pontoon — how he had miraculously survived certain death. And how, as a teenager, GD had meditated so long he damaged a nerve in his leg for years. He spoke of how he had been incensed with GD as a twenty-something who ate, slept and meditated all day while he worked. And about how my mother cried for months after GD left for Pune to live with his spiritual teacher and stopped phoning home. But most of all, he spoke about how proud he was of both of us today.

Two decades ago, in a family of modest means, a grown-up son’s decision to devote his life to spirituality had real financial implications. And while dad did not ever say a word to stop GD, some part inside had remained raw and sensitive. And until this session he had not allowed himself to fully take support from GD.

I quietly told dad that GD and I often speak of him as a rare father, who gave us freedom and yet supported us. Who did things for us he did not agree with, but maintained his integrity. Who did not shame us because we were not following what he thought was the right path.

Talking to him, I realized how little we know even about those closest to us, because we never talk beyond immediate, daily problems and information. How hurts can lie unexpressed within for years, until distances grow into long empty highways. But most of all, I realized how few words it takes to express appreciation that can be missed for decades.

As I helped dad unload his luggage at the end of our journey under a pool of halogen streetlight, I knew it was not just his healing that had happened today — a circle had been completed and a deep healing had happened for all three of us.

I share this with the hope that you take some time out to rediscover your own parents. To hear their stories, and their versions of your stories. And to thank them for the way their lives arced to make space for yours. Watch them paint images of your life that you didn’t see before. And you show them their own beauty in a new light. So often, under the inertia of mundanity, it is the important ‘I-love-you’, the ‘please-forgive-me’, the ‘sorry’ and the ‘thank you’ that remains unexpressed until it’s too late.

Journal

Clear & Transparent

forest stream

Anyone who has done meditation, knows and cherishes this space of clarity and transparency. This little artwork of a poem by my favorite Zen master Ryokan is a wish for you all to experience the same silence and emptiness this weekend…

GD Speaks, Journal, Life-Saving Tips

A ‘Happy New You’ Letter

Flickr Lel4nd #3Most Dearest Friend,

Welcome to 2014. Or as the Mayans called it: “Extra Time” 🙂

We didn’t speak as often in 2013 as we would have liked. When we did, we often danced around what was immediate rather than what was important… and it was fun too! But today, I thought I’d write you a letter about that other stuff – the big, unspoken, sometimes scary stuff.

You know, we’ve been reading in the news about hundreds of natural disasters in 2013. But not one newspaper is reporting headlines about the inner cataclysms that are happening on the planet.

People all over the world are sensing earthquake-like shifts in their old values and being swept off secure life-paths. You may have sensed it as a growing disorientation about who you really are and what the hell you are supposed to do. It’s happening quietly, of course, so even you may not have joined the dots. You may have tried to shrug it off as bad luck, or a passing phase or just one of those days/months/years, and I thought it’s important for me to write to you that it’s not. And even more importantly – that you are not alone in this.

What’s really happening, I am told, is that the old structure we defined as ‘me’ –along with its drives, desires and dreams – is dismantling. The visible signs, according to many, many spiritual guides are quite distinct. See if some of them sound like what you have been trying to keep secret from your ‘normal’ friends.

Some lifelong relationships have been feeling fake and outdated. There is a sense of inexplicable inner sadness, sometimes punctuated by episodes of crying. Strange body aches and pains are experienced – and more tiredness than before. You feel lonely, even in the company of others. For some, a sudden change of job or career seems important, for others, there is a loss of passion to do anything. There is restlessness for something new to show up which will make sense of all this. Often, you feel safer staying aloof in a personal storm-shelter (aka bedroom) till clarity appears. (One of the reasons we didn’t meet so often in 2013…so I understand!)

Of course, in reality this shift is not a disaster but a blessing. From what I hear in the words of many spiritual guides, channels and teachers: the world is changing, you are changing, and the new paradigm of consciousness is evolving. Big words, I know, but to put it simply for a Mac-lover like you, you are moving to a new advanced iOS. Your system needs time to slow down, shut down and reboot. And while it may not seem like it right now, but after those little bug fixes, it’s all going to be way cooler and more intuitive. And I can say that with some certainty because I have seen up close the way people like GD function.

What’s worth remembering, he says, is that the disaster-like fallout is only as painful as the attachment to one’s old paradigm. Holding on is the only suffering. And there are simple things you can do to smoothen the path ahead.

For one, honor your changing mind-body system. Befriend your body. Become aware of your changing food preferences: food quantities, timings and even the kinds of food you like will undergo a change. As you become more sensitive to your energy, spend time in nature and ground your energy more often. Catharsis, forgiveness, or meditation – whatever you do to empty your past will only help.

Two, learn the art of honoring the impulse in this moment… and then the next and then the next. Like learning to skate, it just takes a bit of practice to get one’s balance. But once you do, you are guided speedily towards events, circumstances and people for your highest good. The old adage ‘Let Go & Let God’ is the single best piece of advice anyone can give you at this point.

One really strange thing that I must point out is that the old ‘me’ does not get replaced by a new ‘me’ – it just gets gradually melted in the Now. I suppose some day we will come to a point where we live so dissolved in the moment that there is no one to ask ‘am-I-there-yet’.

Until then, be cool, my friend. This is an unsettling period – don’t take it personally. You have not done anything wrong and you are not being punished. You are not weird – okay, you are weird but that’s exactly what’s super-cool about you. In the meantime, it’s a great idea to keep in touch with positive, like-minded, weird people (…like me!). So let’s connect more often in 2014.

Wish you a happy new you.

Love,

Me

PS: Enclosing an old cartoon to remind you of this conversation and make you smile whenever you’re feeling a bit down. Keep shining 🙂

The Winds of Change

GD Speaks, Journal

The Silent Accuser

The Silent Accusation

The human mind is powerful and subtle. It is also twisted and self-deceptive. Many journeys towards peace, joy and healing are sabotaged by hidden undertows of fear, guilt and blame.

One hears, for example, of people who suffer from chronic ill-health or depression, who appear to be sincerely trying everything to get out of it, but nothing seems to work. A place we would never think of looking for a solution is whether there is any hidden benefit for the person in holding on to this suffering.

Twisted as it sounds, often there is. Through sickness one can get sympathy, attention, pity-love, control, no responsibilities and moral superiority. And the heaviest anchor holding a sickness against the winds of healing may be a subconscious desire to punish someone and hold them guilty. The way this game works, my mentor GD explained to me, is that with your sick body, you tell these others: ‘Look what YOU did to me! While there is tremendous suffering, there is seemingly greater value in that righteous moral superiority. While there is danger, it is overridden by a belief in a more grievous threat to one’s self-image and ‘reality’ without this defense. GD reminded me of a quote from A Course In Miracles: ‘Damaged bodies are accusers’.

This game can play out across decades and its outward expression need not be only through sickness – its expression can be through loneliness, depression, poverty or chronic failure. It can play out between son and father, between husband and wife, between employee and boss, even between a disciple and teacher. In each case, the baleful glance of the sufferer says, ‘What is happening to me is your fault. And my suffering is proof that you are evil, and I am noble.’ In each case, the suffering is a cold finger pointing accusingly at the imagined perpetrator.

A few years ago, when I had quit my full time job, I had gotten into a panic over finances. With a seemingly mountainous home loan and monthly expenses of the family which were princely, I felt crushed by an unfair and overwhelming burden. To right the situation, I began living a Spartan life. My extreme self-denial became a silent way to make my family feel guilty about their spending. I stayed unhappy, contracted and secretly resentful without realizing what was happening. While the reality was that finances were taken care of – and unexpected monies beyond my expectations were coming in – the mind refused to let go of being the poor victim for a long time. In fact, until last night.

Last night, my therapist-wife Aditi reminded me how ironic it was that today I had more money than ever before and yet I was feeling poorer than I had as a teenager. One of the questions she asked to help me understand the reason behind it was: ‘Imagine yourself happy, abundant and expansive – now, what’s wrong with this picture?’ I saw that I would lose control over the family – if I went for a holiday to France, I wouldn’t be able to tell them not to. I would have to ‘forgive’ them for their past misdeeds of burdening me with earning money. Holding on to my chronic internal lack and self-denial (which I had given a spiritual lacquer to) actually felt safer than letting it go. Because this device’s power lies in the dark conviction that the problem is external and not-my-choice, simply bringing it into the sunlight is enough. Seeing this device clearly, without self-judgment, was incredibly freeing. Laughter, expansiveness and love resurfaced.

So if you have a chronic issue that resists healing — and if you would like to end the suffering — ask yourself what is the hidden benefit in holding onto it and whom do you hold responsible for it? Ask yourself if it was completely solved, what would go ‘wrong’? And most of all, ask yourself: If blaming anyone was not an option, how would you deal with this situation?

You may just find that true healing has begun in that instant.

GD Speaks, Journal

The Many Languages Of Love

languages of love

Late last night, as little Nirvaan slept in his cot at the foot of our bed, my wife and I held hands and whisper-spoke for more than an hour. At one point, she said, ‘For me, this is love. Spending time alone with you and talking. Love is being able to share myself and know I am not being judged.’ We reminisced how, when we first met, we often spoke till dawn. Over the years, and especially after the birth of Nirvaan, this had tapered off.

I had not paid much attention to this lessening, but hearing her say that reminded me of a conversation I had with my brother and mentor GD last week. He told me he sometimes asked his clients during sessions about what love meant to them and the variety in the answers surprised him. One unnamed client, he said, told him she did not feel loved until the other person shared his deepest, darkest secret.

“Just imagine,” GD said to me, “a man could be showering her with affection and giving her diamonds and it wouldn’t really matter to her. Because her subconscious definition was that until he had shared his deepest, darkest secrets, it wasn’t really love. I realized during my sessions that most people don’t consciously know what love means for themselves or their partners. So they keep doing things for their partners according to their own definition of love, and then feel disappointed that their partner still doesn’t feel loved.”

As I read up further on this, I came across Dr. Gary Chapman’s bestseller ‘The Five Love Languages’. It says that most of us grow up learning the language of love of our parents, which becomes our native tongue. So if you speak Spanish and your partner speaks English, communication is impossible, comprendez? Chapman counts five broad languages of love:

Words of Affirmation
Unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. Hearing the words, “I love you,” are important—hearing the reasons behind that love sends your spirits skyward. Insults can leave you shattered and are not easily forgotten.
Quality Time
Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there—with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby—makes your significant other feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed dates, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful.
Gifts
This language is not about the value of the object but the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift. The perfect gift or gesture shows that you are understood, cared for and prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you. A missed birthday, anniversary, or a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous—so would the absence of everyday gestures.
Acts of Service
Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an “Acts of Service” person will speak volumes. The words he or she most want to hear: “Let me do that for you.” Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don’t matter.
Physical Touch
A person whose primary language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchy. Hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder, or face—they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love.

*
While these categories are useful, my guess is that the definition for each person doesn’t always neatly fall into them. For another client of his, GD said, love meant the other should be always present nearby. Because he had lost loved ones through death, travel or separation, the marker of love had become whether the person was physically present. Some people, GD suggested, had strict parents and as grown ups, a partner’s aggression could be a subconscious reminder of tough love.

I shared this with my wife as we lay silhouetted in bed. It turned out for me love is about receiving thoughtful gifts and acts of service. As we spoke, we realized that I often give my wife surprise gifts, but receive few in return because she never realizes how much they mean to me – it isn’t part of her definition of love. On the other hand, she makes time for mid-week lunch dates and quality time with me, which doesn’t have quite the same impact for me.

It’s so interesting that our definitions of love could be so varied and so important to us, yet remain unknown to ourselves and our partners all our lives. This simple missing bridge can create a huge chasm between the most sincere, loving couple.

As a support to everyone else reading this blog to find their own and their partners’ definition of love, I would really love to know what are your definitions of love in the Comments Section below. A quick and simple way to find out is to ask: How do I express love to others? What do I complain about the most? What do I request most often? Or simply when do I feel truly loved by my partner? I would love to find out what you discover about you.

Thank you and happy loving! 🙂

******

P.S. For those who would like to go deeper into discovering their own love language, on Gary Chapman’s website, there is a short Love Language Profile test.