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.

Meet your biggest Critic..YOU!

It saddens me to witness so many of my friends and clients become victim to their own inner criticisms. The negative self talk as we know it. Some of us are aware of this constant badgering we put ourselves through and some of us oblivious to it. When we find someone talking out loud to themselves we think they are going crazy but what about this constant unforgiving chatter in our minds?

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Be kind to yourself

One of the earliest issues a child develops while growing up is that of low self esteem. We often try to find external causes for the occurrence (that’s if someone identifies the issue) or assume that the child just needs to try harder in a particular area. As I write this, I am reminded of a friend’s facebook status after she delivered a baby which was “ the way we talk to our children, becomes their inner voice.” If it’s not parents, it is some other family member/friend/teacher/boss etc whose voice gets installed into the software of our brain. Sadly enough we keep running these tapes in our head without ever questioning them.

Messages like: 1) “You cannot even draw a straight line.”

2)  “You should always get an A or else you are a failure.”

3)  “You cannot afford to relax if you want to be successful.”

4)  “Boys are not attracted to you because you are dark skinned.”

5)  “You are not aggressive enough for this job.”

I am sure that each one of us has our own versions of messages like these that always keep running at the back of our mind. Somehow we believe these to be true and keep working as per the ‘shoulds’ and the ‘musts’ other people have imposed on us. We internalize these as our own values and continue inflicting pain on ourselves. All these messages tell you somewhere that “I am not good enough”, “I am not valuable/loved the way I am.” We also begin to play the “ I am good if I do..” game and feel puzzled when we are not accepted anyway.

It is also important to differentiate between this unhealthy self talk and constructive criticism/ feedback. When you receive constructive criticism or feedback for improvement, it is specific to the situation/ behavior and you leave from the situation understanding that you are valued for who you are and are being given suggestions to grow further. For example: A parent could tell a child that “ I was looking at your progress card and congratulate you for your improvement from last semester in Mathematics. Continue to do your best.” The child here is not being judged at a global level that he is a bad child for not receiving the highest grade. It is here that we learn to give ourselves some room for mistakes and ease out the need to be perfect all the time.

Low self esteem shows up in our work as settling for a lesser salary, our belief about what kind of life partner we deserve and what limitations we set on our abilities. A great amount of depression and anxiety stems from this unhealthy inner self talk.

At a much larger level, one cannot accept another person if one does not accept one’s own self. The answer lies in awareness. Be mindful of your inner dialogue, journal about it and reflect on whether it is helpful or harmful at this point in your life.

From a holistic perspective, I would like to mention Dr. Masuru Emoto’s water crystal experiment where he finds that water tends to crystallize in shapes resonating with the type of music being played around the water. The principle behind this experiment is that sound vibrations from the music influenced the formations in water.

With water being a major component of the human body and thoughts containing vibrations that echo through our systems, I would encourage you think about the impact your thoughts are having on your physical/emotional/ mental health.

My dirty laundry epiphany

My dirty laundry epiphany

I am beginning this blog with a confession for a change.Here it goes..

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Airing laundry, Mumbai

I spend a lot of my time denying my humanly flaws and limitations. Somewhere I nurture a belief that I am superior to others or better than others in some ways. Where I learned that from? Well, I will give myself credit for some personal work I did through self reflection and seeking feedback from people whom I placed at a pedestal. For the most part of my life ( just so you know..I am not 50 years old) I have also been what many people understand as a ‘spiritual seeker’. During my associations with several spiritual organizations and teachers I believed that I was being ‘good’ and doing ‘good’ by being of service to people in different ways. I was almost convinced that I did not have much stuff to process and that I was just a few meditations away from having a ‘halo’ around my head ( I smile as I write this). My life was hunky dory until some relationships mirrored my stuff to me i.e. rigidity, ‘I am right and you are not’, extend your wisdom only when asked. My intention in writing this here is to say that today I am willing to acknowledge my own ‘shadows’ or ‘ego issues’. I have often found myself irritated and frustrated when I have projected my issues onto other people which in itself has been a learning process. Phew! An example of a epiphany would be that I may be available to help another person in some kind of distress with insights/tools/experiences/ways to better themselves etc etc..but every individual has a choice to not accept my offering at that point. Also, I may not necessarily be everyone’s ‘teacher’ ( there’s that dreaded word). I have had to learn to hold back and offer myself only when asked. Believe me, it’s a very hard lesson. Why am I writing all of this? Today while I was in the gym, I stumbled upon the idea of relating the process of washing clothes in a washing machine / manually to our internal cleansing process if you will. Bear with me as I describe this mundane process: we take our dirty laundry, insert in a machine, choose the spin cycle depending on how dirty the clothes are or the nature of the fabric, add detergent and let the cleaning begin. The inherent assumption here is that we recognize we have some dirty laundry. If we refuse to see it (and I have lived with some roommates who stunk the rooms with their laundry…digressed, ok), it keeps piling up and the stench grows. Assuming we are fairly reasonable people, we take our laundry and begin the process of cleaning. Our detergent is our external cleaning agent to intensify the process and our helpers are the adjustments in the cycles. My aha moment happened when I thought…there is a point in the cleaning process when the dirt coexists with the cleaning. These are simultaneous occurrences and over a period of time and effort, the dirt gets washed off. Beep, beep!!! In my personal life, I have found relationships to be instrumental in highlighting my dirty laundry. It does take a couple of blows in different intensities to identify and acknowledge – ‘my bad’, ‘ I am wrong’ and the likes. I know it in my body when I am trying to deny something that has come up for me. I become defensive, feel tight in my shoulders and breathe shallow. Some individuals tend to use guilt and shame towards themselves to which I can say today ‘hey..whatever works for you’. However I love myself too much to put myself through that ‘spin’ and I tend to choose a gentle cycle. Interestingly enough, I am now fairly comfortable acknowledging my flaws and find it easier to relax knowing that ‘both are needed’ i.e. the dark and the light (I thought of the Chinese yin-yang symbol while writing this).As I work on my strengths and increase my capacity to be aware of my limitations, I need to sit with some level of discomfort on a daily basis. I can also say that ‘this is just a part of being human’. As I accept myself better, it will also reflect in the nature of my relationships. As is said in some schools of thought, once your awareness has increased, you cannot be the same person as you were. Our external cleaning agents which we can use could be journaling, meditation, talking to a friend, personal coaching and just being open to that inner voice that exists in all of us. Isn’t it much easier to be in the flow..instead of holding on to dirt and adding unwanted weight!So..what do you need to clean up? Hahaha.