During the weekly group call last Sunday, my mentor GD spoke with incredible clarity for an hour about the inner monologue that makes us zombies to the present moment. That constant thrum that never allows us to be quiet even during our attempts at peace. That inner screen we are glued to even more than our iPhone screen. I thought it was so powerful and potentially transformative that I decided to share some excerpts. If you would like to listen to the full talk, it is available as an audio download from The Core Healing Archives under the title ‘The Story of Me’.
Pause. See if you can notice the stream of thoughts moving in your head in this moment. That is what we call ‘the story of me’: it’s ‘my story’, ‘my life’. It’s like a non-stop movie inside our head. And it’s always in movement – and this movement is based on all the stories of the past and all the stories of the future. It’s a non-stop river, and it’s always about me, me, me. It’s a kind of dreaming we do even when we seem to be awake.
For most of us, the story of me is so unconscious, we don’t even know it is going on throughout the day. And the story of me can remain active only when there is unawareness. When there is pure awareness, even for a few moments, the story of me disappears. And what remains is just an openness, a stillness, a sense of being.
This story of me is always plotting, planning and scheming. It’s very clever. How can I get all the things I want and need? How can I avoid all the things that I fear? The ‘me story’ is always about avoiding all forms of pain, sickness and disease. And about acquiring all forms of happiness and pleasure. If you notice, this ‘me’ in your head is always going towards something or going away from something. It is never still… ever.
Imagine you are sitting in a movie theatre watching the movie ‘Titanic’ fully engrossed… feeling the emotions, enjoying the drama. And something goes wrong with the projection. Suddenly the movie stops. And we realize there is just a blank screen! We kind of wake up and realize the boat was not real, the characters were not real: there was nothing actually happening there. It was just a kind of hypnosis.
Similarly, there is a movie going in our mind on all the time – stories about my future, my past, my spirituality. They are all imaginary and they are all painful. Why are they painful? Because they are constantly running into the future. They are stories of unfulfillment, they are stories of neediness, they are stories of desperation. In a cinema hall, this drama happens for two hours, but for us it continues for sixty-seventy years. Morning to night, this imaginary story of me goes on and on and on.
All our conflicts with others also arise from this story of me – based on what I believe, what I think should happen, what I think is ‘right’. So the imaginary story of me is not just hell for me, it creates hell for others also. The ‘me’ tries to impose itself on everybody else. If others don’t agree with us, there is violence. The violence can be very subtle, like we may sulk and go into the other room, or it can be very loud and we directly attack the other person.
A time comes in our life when the story of me becomes spiritual – then the story of me becomes preoccupied with getting enlightenment and having the perfect state. The joke is that the story of me can never get enlightened! Because it’s this very story, this dreaming that is the obstruction to what is already always present!
Allow yourself to notice this story of me… again and again. Throughout the day, use this question: What unconscious dreaming is going on in this moment? The moment you pop this question, something will change, something will shift, and the story of me will snap. And what will be revealed is pure awareness – that which has no past, no future, and no story.
To download the entire 60 minute talk which includes further insights and a deeply meditative space – as well as other Q&A and clearings from GD’s group telephonic sessions – go to the Core Healing India Archives.
This year, I have been taking baby steps in exploring forgiveness as a spiritual path. A chance encounter with the intriguing phrase ‘advanced forgiveness’ led me to Gary Renard’s ‘A Disappearance of The Universe’. Encouraged by my mentor GD, I revisited my hardbound ‘A Course In Miracles’ copy. Many epiphanies later, I found my longtime Buddhist practice being steered into unexplored waters. And during a turbulent work-year, the guiding star I tried to steadfastly hold onto was forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness. From it, I learnt two things: one, forgiveness can indeed change your life; and two, most of what we have been taught about it is wrong.
Forgiveness, I was taught in school, is when someone does something awful, but you, taking in a deep breath of pure compassion, decide to forgive him. Because you are good, he is an ass. Plus, doing it makes you a favorite of old man God who smiles in his frosty beard and jots your name on His Special List of Favorite Children.
As I grew up, I occasionally practiced forgiveness, using the same line of thinking, just with complicated multi-syllable words. Then, three decades after my Jesuit education, I was guided to ‘A Course In Miracles’ (ACIM), which makes forgiveness the cornerstone of its entire teaching system. According to ACIM, forgiveness not only heals, it single-handledly undoes the ego’s delusional worldview; forgiveness is not just an occasional step – it is an entire path towards the peace that passeth understanding.
According to ACIM, the commonly practiced form of forgiveness is actually ‘the ego’s forgiveness’. Notice the ego subtly making itself higher than the other by allowing what is considers a perfectly obvious act of evilness to pass. The victim sees himself innocent while the other is guilty. Attempting this kind of forgiveness is valuable because it may be motivated by a noble intention, but seems at best superficial and at worst arrogant.
To appreciate a more advanced vision of forgiveness we need to first understand how the mind projects its own unacceptable emotions on others. A man who furiously blames others at office for incompetence, looking honestly within, realizes it is his secret guilt about his own incompetence in some area, which he is constantly projecting outside. Or a woman who strongly condemns her husband for being unreliable will find it was coming from her secret shame about being unreliable. When this is seen, there is a natural forgiveness that happens, because now the other is not guilty. He was simply the screen on which we were projecting our movie. This is a more genuine forgiveness than the first because there is real freedom in seeing it was all a projection, hence a misunderstanding.
This is not the grudging forgiveness of the ego, this is a laughing forgiveness that wonders how it could believe that the fault was really outside. As American teacher Byron Katie says, “Forgiveness is realizing that what you thought happened, didn’t.”
Perfect forgiveness, ACIM says, occurs when we begin to glimpse the dreamlike nature of the world itself. So not only is the other not guilty because it was your projection onto him, you are not guilty either: the victim and abuser are equally dream characters. The highest level of forgiveness thus rises far beyond the plains of Puritan morality into the high peaks of Non-Duality. As ‘The Course In Miracles’ says:
“Forgiveness is the only thing that stands for truth in the illusions of the world. It sees their nothingness, and looks straight through the thousand forms in which they may appear. It looks on lies, but it is not deceived. It does not heed the self-accusing shrieks of sinners mad with guilt. It looks on them with quiet eyes, and merely says to them, “My brother, what you think is not the truth.”
In its purest form, forgiveness is not a doing, it a seeing: a seeing that the illusion of separate individuals is simply an erroneous mind-construct.
In its purest form, forgiveness is not a thought, it is a meditation: a sinking into the silence beyond form to see that without thought, this never happened.
In its purest form, forgiveness is a gift of love to yourself as much as to the other: because it reaffirms the truth of our oneness once again.
There are times, when even the most sincere seeker experiences ‘disconnection’. This disconnection can last hours, days or even weeks. Many seekers hence follow a daily ritual. Some follow a particular meditation style, some a breathing technique, because a daily ritual has a very simple purpose – it brings you back home.
This prayer was originally written by my brother GD to help a few friends who said they kept forgetting the core teaching; who kept getting disconnected… and needed a simple, short, crisp reminder of their true nature. So GD created this small reminder – in the form of an ‘advaita’ prayer – to help them stay connected to their essence.
Just one suggestion… please don’t rush through it.
Go slowly… and savor each line to experience the true power and energy of this unique prayer. It will reveal deeper meanings each time you connect with it.
PS: For those of you who would like a printout for daily use, we have included a pdf file which you can download. Enjoy 🙂Prayer of Oneness PDF
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
A timeless overcast rainy Sunday before me. White birds flap across twilight greens making their way home. It seems like this moment contains eternities. I watch as tranquil pools of water are broken by raindrops that ripple across and disappear into tranquility again. The water has no fear of being disturbed, no preference for stillness. I wonder at how afraid I am to be shaken up and agitated – how much of my life is managed to ensure it doesn’t happen. Then I remember that beneath this ever-changing persona, there is something else… It’s a reminder I need every day:
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.
Over the last few weeks, GD and I have been revisiting some of the early posts of this blog and marvelling at their crispness and insight. There were only a handful of readers then, today there are over 700 followers. So from time to time, I will repost some of these timeless posts for you to enjoy. Here’s one of my favorites…
A few weeks ago, I had an amazing phone call with my brother where he gave me his radical take on the ego. After the call, I wrote it down so that I could remember it. Every time I read it, a sense of silence blooms within.
FIXER OF POLARITIES
All our lives, we are trying to fix our bodies, thinking or circumstances. Some people spend their time trying to fix others. Not a day, an hour, a minute goes by when we are not involved in this activity in some form.
We get a jolt when we see that the fixer within us is itself the suffering – the desire to fix is itself the suffering.
The attempt is to fix ourselves at one polarity, and eliminate the other forever. Given the nature of polarities, this can never happen! The most powerful will be powerless in some situation, and the most intelligent person will be stupid in some situation; and the depth of the valley will be exactly proportionate to the height of the mountain.
Polarities always coexist in time and space. One may be very successful in work, and be unsuccessful at home. One may be successful now, and feel unsuccessful in the next moment. In fact, all successful people continue to feel at times like failures, just at the higher level of the success game.
Happiness/Sadness, Love/Hate, Insecurity/Security, Knowledge/Stupidity, Peace/Chaos, Anger/Compassion, Success/Failure, Balanced/Lopsided Life always maintain equilibrium. When we try to strengthen one pole, the other side is simultaneously gaining power – and waiting to emerge.
We give all our power to one polarity, and think we can destroy the other if this side becomes strong enough. So when the opposite polarity emerges, it is extremely uncomfortable and painful.
The nature of the mind is to believe that salvation is always in the other polarity. The superstar at his peak dreams of times when life is simple and ordinary, but when he feels he is losing his stardom, he fights to get it back.
When all attempts to fix fail, the fixer experiences a shift in the final polarity: “I can fix my life/it’s useless” and goes into a depression because nothing works. But in time, this polarity too changes and one goes back into fixing. That is how the game continues.
The fixer is the ego.
While reality here-now is always simple, kind and perfect, the ego perpetuates itself through crisis.
Ego not only creates the crisis, it is itself the crisis! In the absence of ego, there is no crisis.
Ego is the creator, the problem solver and the satisfied one at the end of the crisis. It plays all the roles.
Ego has a brilliant mechanism: “I and the cause of suffering are separate; and I will solve suffering permanently one day.” This keeps us from seeing the ego’s real nature as the crisis-creator.
Crisis gives a false sense of importance to a useless piece of equipment: the ego.
The ego is not a bad, evil thing. It is like a beautiful, faithful dog who has gone neurotic and is now barking at butterflies, the postman, and lamp-post. It is itself exhausted and is happy to dissolve.
The whole point of Surrender is to let go of trying to fix the polarities. The whole journey of Meditation is to transcend the polarities. The whole path of Wisdom is seeing the falseness of the one experiencing polarities.
Without awakening, one is always buffeted between desire and fear. We think we make choices in life, but actually our desires and fears choose.
Exploring this sense of “I” – the one who is experiencing the polarity – is a good place to begin. Where is this I? Is there a real miniature ‘you’ inside who gets angry or scared? Or is it just a picture and a sensation? Stay with it and it will reveal its secrets to you.
And this is how it goes:
The landscape of your childhood
goes first; then those who shared it.
Your own memories turn transparent
And one day, you go too.
A gravestone – a name, two dates –
marks your passage till rain and sun smooth it
into bald-faced anonymity.
The gravestone becomes a rock again,
the body becomes earth again,
the grasses sway in the breeze.
And this is the lie that never lets you see this:
this picture you are seeing just now –
of this field with swaying grasses.
As if the mind can show you
what will remain after you are gone.