Spiritual & Worldly..The Dichotomy.

My tryst with spiritual contemplation and exploration began with the questions: Why do I exist? Why am I here?

Most of us have struggled with these existential questions at some point of time in our lives. Some of us chose to ignore it and agreed to bury it deep down inside forever.  One way or another, it’s not an easy path to tread.  I was born, brought up in India and lived there for the first 26 years of my life and then moved to US. India is a land which is synonymous with almost everything spiritual/religious/mystic and US is the epitome of materialism. In this blog, I would like to share some parts of my life journey with you dealing with the spiritual/worldly dichotomy.

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Sunset on a Biking trail

I was born in a Hindu family but was fortunate to not be forced to do things a certain way. I explored my way through the questions of ‘why’ chant certain mantras, follow certain rituals and visit temples. I never bought into ‘this is how it is’ type of responses. I read a lot of books on different religions and alternate modalities, dived into different prayer rituals, the concept of idols (I don’t think I ever was an ‘idol worshipper’), contemplated on why I was born in a certain city to a certain family etc. You get the idea. I was bursting with questions and searching everywhere. Through most of my searches in India I did realize that most ‘spiritually’ inclined people didn’t pay much attention to everyday life which was filled with the challenge of facing ‘desire’ in many forms. Renouncing your family duties and not wanting to associate yourself with any material wealth was what most people aspired to do. I internalized that allergy to material wealth and never focused on trying to make more money and living a comfortable life. I could never relate to my friends who talked about their 5 year plan of getting married, buying a house, car etc. This was all gibberish to me. I could respect but not relate to their goals. It was easy for me to not place money and material goals on my priority list when I was 25 and living with my father in a good two bedroom apartment in Mumbai.  Having completed my MBA, I found a decent job with a company and made good money just for myself. My worldview completely turned topsy-turvy when I came to US as a student and had to do odd jobs, study , pay my rent, buy a car with working heat to survive in Chicago’s winters. I am not a quick learner though or should I say I am strong-willed and I couldn’t grasp the fact that I needed to align myself with the realities of the world where you ought to have a certain amount of money to feel safe, have a car to commute etc. I took my time but I learned my lesson.

My understanding  with respect to this dichotomy of spiritual vs material is that one is asked to be like a ‘lotus’ where one is in the dirt( you are free to question whether this world this needs to be referred to as dirt in the first place) but not of it. In my opinion, it’s easy to simply renounce everything and not have to perform any duties. It’s like being an addict whose life revolves around his drug of choice. The drug of choice here being the illusion of self-realization and nirvana. During my search I also came across a Buddhist thought which said something to the effect that: Before you are enlightened, you chop wood and carry water, after you are enlightened (which isn’t an end), you continue chop wood and carry water. This thought made perfect sense because it isn’t all or nothing. It doesn’t have to be ‘either – or’, it is meant to be an ‘and’. It’s about striking a balance. A few weeks ago, I was reading The Quran and was impressed by the clarity with which it portrays the need for this balance between spirituality and materialism.

The truth is that understanding these spiritual concepts is one part of the struggle and like any other subject, you need to be able to apply it in your everyday life. It is this application which isn’t easy and makes people want to find an escape and run away. I meditate everyday and there are times when I don’t want to come out of it because it’s a state of pure joy whenever you manage to tap into it. Despite feeling this joy during meditation I cannot say that I always emanate joy from my being in all my dealings on this earth. This is where one needs to laugh at oneself (am a huge work in progress on this one). It is easier to sit in the Himalayas and say that one needs to love thy neighbor as himself because all is one and a totally different thing to apply that thought when your neighbor’s dog shat on and ruined your first go at having a herb garden( On second thoughts, isn’t that manure for crops).

Be true to yourself on your journey as hard as it may be. Strike a balance with an ‘AND’ not ‘OR’.

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The Meaning of Anxiety

All of us have felt ‘anxious’ at different points of time in our lives. We feel it as

  • restlessness: in the mind (too many thoughts), body (inability to sleep, muscle tension)
  • in the doing mode
  • feeling of being overwhelmed
  • feeling like ‘there is something still to be completed’

This is a state of dissatisfaction, unrest. One is constantly waiting to arrive and never does. Our focus is on the future and our inner peace is dependent on some future event which is yet to happen. When at its worst, you do not feel safe in your own body and have a sense of being flighty.

Santa Cruz - relaxing

Santa Cruz

 

From a psycho-spiritual perspective, anxiety arises in the consciousness when one is not true to one self. You are not all that you can be. You are compromising your needs, desires, dreams etc hoping to please everyone else and thereby find your own happiness. You are leading a life based on how someone else (person, society, religion, media) expects you to live.

At the very center of your being, this knowledge exists and surfaces in the form of anxiety. There are several ways to subside the symptoms but healing does not occur unless you work on the sources of the anxiety.

Bringing your awareness into the present moment using various relaxation/visualization techniques and mindfulness can be a good start. The feeling of ungroundedness can also be abated by connecting to earth in some way i.e. gardening, walking barefoot on earth, hugging a tree etc.  Finding the courage in accepting that you are not living your full meaningful life will need some therapeutic work.

What! I need to cater to my Body???I thought it was meant to serve me!!!

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What! I need to cater to my Body???I thought it was meant to serve me!!!

A few days ago I had written to a dear friend of mine that “ Don’t expect your body and mind to always serve you while you keep ignoring their needs.” In our fast paced and performance driven society it is very important to know our own limits. Commercial organizations may very well organize a one day workshop on stress management for their employees but seldom does one provide an environment/culture conducive for an employee to take a few minutes away from their work to de-st

Boston - Walkway

Unwind in nature

ress. To top that, we have demands in our personal lives from our children, parents, partners and friends.

There are also several schools of thought out there that teach us to stretch ourselves, push beyond the comfort zone and work on maximum performance every day. Extending ourselves into several different directions is required for our growth and we definitely need to stretch beyond our so- called comfort zone to grow physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. The only thing we are not taught is to pay heed to our bodies when it is screaming through pains, inflammations, diarrhea, persistent allergies and constant fatigue. Somehow we have not learned that there might be reason that our bodies appear limited. Every person has his or her own ideal working hours in which he/she can be productive and effective and then there are those hours that just count as ‘office hours’.

It is important to know that you are at the center of every activity you choose to engage in and the state of your health will reflect in every activity you take up.

There are some of us who are extremely capable of ignoring symptoms and putting up a ‘everything is fine’ façade. It is an inevitable vice in today’s society. Unfortunately or fortunately the body knows to scream louder and will draw your attention in several ways. Taking responsibility for yourself begins with taking responsibility for your body and scheduling break times for yourself.Allow yourself a few minutes of ‘me time’ and learn the art of saying ‘No’. Do your best to eat healthy.

Understand that it is required of us to  recognize our limitations and push ourselves within our boundaries; not those created by someone else for themselves. Our body is always talking to us, we fail to listen.

Ever wondered why Seers and other wise individuals ask us to treat our bodies like a temple? It is supposed to be the vehicle through which we perform our duties and enjoy a humanly existence. A vehicle that needs routine maintenance just as your car does!

The Wisdom in Stillness

 

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Folsom 

 

Being still does not mean you are stagnant.

When you are separated from external activity, through an illness, job loss etc, it is not a punishment. Embrace it as a time for renewal and healing.

Winter is nature’s time to lie low and renew. Everyone one of us lives through different seasons in life. All seasons play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of nature.

You will know when life presents you with this ‘still’ and ‘down’ time. Go inward. Spend some time in silence. Retreat into your being. Utilize this time to rest your body. Become a witness to all that you have created without judging yourself or others.

I believe it is for this purpose that several people go on a pilgrimage. You need not always travel to a different destination. You may choose to do so if your heart so desires. Spending time in nature will provide you with the inner stillness and grounding that you need. For some of us, it may present as a time to do some soul searching.

Until you find that ‘stillness’ inside you, you will continue to experience restlessness because your spirit is not at ease. A lot of us need a ‘time out’ from family and friends too. Some of us recognize that we need this time for ourselves but are unable to do so due to familial responsibilities. The more we ignore it, the more pronounced it becomes and then comes a day when circumstances build in a manner that we have no other excuse to reach for. We also find some people who take a break from a successful career to satisfy their soul’s longing and wonder how does one give up a well settled life in search of an unknown. I am reminded of the book ‘The Monk who sold his Ferrari’ by Robin Sharma as I write this.

Having lived through some such seasons in my own life, I can also say that there are some who choose to fight and fret this period which makes it even more gruesome. Ultimately, such periods are nothing but chances for us to grow on a spiritual, mental, emotional and physical level.

Not to say that there is anything easy about these stretches.

Similar to most other experiences in life, we can choose how we respond.

Namaste.

Fly Away!

Free as a bird who knows the strength of her wings I fly in the open sky

My wings are lighter and stronger by the burdens I chose to carry and alight

A solitary journey it is or I thought it was that I have travelled so far

My fellow travelers only hidden in the mist of my lonely flight

Our journeys so different and yet so alike

The intimidation of the vast sky now seems to only unite

Strangers we are not..sisters we are

Flapping our wings into the guiding light

Fly away!

Pooja Joshi