The Spartan Heart

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“Fearless”- Photo Courtesy: Jack Moore & Patricia Moore. “Facing and accepting your inner storm is courage; overcoming it is fearlessness!”
Yesterday my colleague walked into my office and said he wanted to learn how to meditate. He eagerly asked me, “So… is meditation really an out of body experience? I want to feel that.” A big smile spread across my face and I said, “Its really an in your body experience.” He stared at me for a whole minute trying to understand. I knew he didn’t understand and it was OK. I told him that meditation was more about going deep within your Self than going out of your Self. It is about having the heart to see and accept yourself as you are and then working on yourself even more till you reach the ultimate goal of Self Realization.

As I mentioned in my recent blog, “Too Cool To Meditate?” that people have highly exaggerated ideas about spirituality and meditation because of the way spirituality has been marketed to us these days. The only way to understand meditation is to actually do it and feel its effects on you. Many friends including my colleague have asked me what was the most profound effect that meditation has had on me. While I believe that a person’s spiritual evolution has many phases, my current phase is that of fearlessness.

My spiritual Master always reminded us of the famous Spartan saying, “Come Back With Your Shield Or On It.” He said the same is applicable to spirituality. There is no other way of returning from the war. He also said that he wanted lions and not sheep. One lion is worth 500 sheep. The idea of being fearless like the Spartans or like a lion sounds very glamorous but how does one truly become fearless? How does one attain that state of being? And why is courage and fearlessness needed in spirituality in the first place? People say, “Isn’t the practice of meditation something that you do in a silent corner all by yourself…hidden from the world? Why would you need courage for this peaceful activity?”

My response has always been this – “Doing adrenaline related activities takes a lot of external and visible courage but to actually sit down and meditate takes much more courage than one can imagine. Try it and you will know what I mean.”

When I started meditating nine years ago, I did not imagine that I would be at this stage today. I was not even thinking about things like courage or being fearless. The fact that I share the phases of my spiritual evolution with you all is so surprising to me and a proof that I am headed in that direction. Even as a child, I have had the reputation of being a System Buster in my family but this is something else.

The biggest life-changing effect that the practice of meditation has had on me is that it brought me face to face with myself. I started seeing who I really was. It made me extremely aware of my flaws and also my gifts. When my flaws or my darker side was revealed to me, I did not like who I was. I felt heavy. I felt burdened and suffocated. Sometimes, I just wanted to shower multiple times a day with the hope of washing away my negativities but I knew this was deeper than that. It had settled in the depths of my being. Meeting myself with all the inner baggage was not fun. The pain was so deep that I had sleepless nights. Eventually, I realized that there are no shortcuts to a Spartan Heart!

I continued to meditate. I was not at ease being who I was but meditation also gave me the courage to accept who I was and embrace it. Discovering myself and being friends with myself in spite of all the shortcomings required heart. Being aware of who you are is always better than being completely ignorant about your present spiritual stage, no matter what it is. It took a lot of hard work to work on myself. My spiritual Master has said that the most important thing in spirituality is obedience. With time, I realized that this obedience is not towards an external Master but towards the Master within me. By no means was I even remotely there when I started my spiritual pursuit.

With practice, I have been able to get rid of most of my negativities and I still continue to work on it. Be it my ego, guilt, doubt, fear, speech, deeds, or thoughts, I started paying careful attention to it. I am an extremely loving and empathetic individual and I was not willing to share that sacred space of love with other negativities anymore. It slowed down the process of being human. With more and more meditation, all my facades melted and masks fell off. I was finally the same person at home, work, and everywhere else I went. It felt wonderful to be one and in tune with Nature. I felt lighter each day. I love the feeling of being light because it makes me feel alive in true sense. With the negativities leaving me, my heart had more space for love to flow into it.

I automatically started doing the right thing when I stopped doing the wrong thing. For example, if I had a negative thought in my mind, I immediately replaced it with a positive one. Most of the times we are not even aware of our negative thoughts, let alone replacing them with positive ones. This is where meditation comes into play. It regulates our mind and makes us aware of our being. When I do right and think right, I have nothing to fear. I derive more and more courage from within me to live life fearlessly with each passing day. I started liking the person who I became on the other side of meditation.

Being an unleashed free spirit has never been so meaningful and joyful. Nobody starts by being lion-hearted. It is a process. There will always be a lot of mental battles, twisted logics, and pity parties – all justifying why we shouldn’t obey our inner Master or do the right thing but the heart will always win in the end, no matter what. So stop fighting with your heart and give it a chance. The time of the Heart has arrived!

Go Be a Goddess!

If I could go back in time and visit myself in 7th grade, I would just tell myself one thing. Well… I would tell the 7th grader quite a lot of things actually but this would be a pretty important revelation – “One day you will be a Zumba Goddess!” I can totally imagine a bewildered 7th grade me staring at a future me who was mumbling words that made absolutely no sense.

From the 6th to the 10th grade, I grew up as a chubby kid. I had discovered my love for yummy cheese sandwiches (thanks to my aunt who wouldn’t stop pampering me with big boxes of cheese) in that phase. I went from being chubby to fat to slightly thinner to chubby again in those years. It wasn’t fun. But I discovered that later. For the most part, I did not realize that I was a fat kid. I was just a happy kid who liked her cheese sandwiches.

It became embarrassing when I was the last one in the so-called “running races” at school. It was not fun when our weights were measured in front of the whole class for health and physical education purposes. I always heard some giggles. I avoided participating in any dance related activities because I thought I would look funny. I always knew I was a good dancer and I loved dancing. Who doesn’t? I used to learn the classical Indian dance and had answered three dance exams before the beginning of the “Chubby Era.”

And here I am almost 20 years later… remembering the poor kid who wouldn’t dance because she was fat. Although my Chubby Era lasted only till the 10th grade and I wasn’t super huge or anything, I had restricted myself from doing one thing that I loved the most – dance! Maybe if I had danced I would have at least lost that weight sooner. Lol. I would look funny but so what?

I found Zumba almost 3 years ago when I was going through a difficult situation in my life. Until then, I did not even know what it meant. I did some quick research and found a class close to home. I had absolutely no courage to step into the class but I still went. It took courage because in my mind, the chubby kid had walked into the Zumba studio. I was clueless. Once the music started, I was simply following the instructor and the other ladies…now soul sisters. With time, I felt at home. With more time, I did not want to go home. 😀 I only wanted to dance. We all did!

Not only was I dancing but I also understood that our limitations are in the mind and not in the body. I pushed myself even more. I met some amazing women from all parts of the world and we learned so much from each other. At this class, for the very first time, Lisa, our instructor called me a “Zumba Goddess.” These were new words for me and I was thrilled to be addressed that way. I remember asking myself, “Am I really a Zumba Goddess? Well…if Lisa says I am, then I must be one!” Within a couple of months I was one of them and we were one big family of goddesses sharing and caring for each other in every big or small, happy or sad life events.

Earlier this year, our group made a transition to a new Zumba class after our previous instructor moved on to manage other important responsibilities. Saying goodbye to each other was not something we had planned. We were not ready for it to be over. We thought we would end up going to new classes, new fitness regimes, and new schedules… but separately. The idea of not being together anymore was heartbreaking. I had just realized how much I loved these women. They were my heroes!

We finally decided to find a new class where we could all be together once again. We found a new instructor. We found ourselves in a new dance studio, with new faces, new songs, new moves, new dance spots…the same anxiety of going to a new class came back to me all over again. At least this time, I was not alone. We were all together in this. There was sadness of ending the old class and the excitement of beginning a new one.

Marta, our new instructor welcomed us with open arms. But I was still not sure if her group would accept us. When one or two people join a Zumba class, it is not a big deal but when a whole new group joins another, it is something else. After all, we were the outsiders now and had definitely crowded her studio with our presence. We had probably stolen their dancing spots from them. There was one thing common in them and us though. Just like us, they were a tightly knit family of Zumba Goddesses too. We saw similar camaraderie in them. Marta turned on the music and we danced. Music again played its magic and I forgot my anxiety. I loved the new class. Her group had embraced the change with great enthusiasm and had welcomed us with warm hearts. I knew I was going to be all right. Here are some fun moments of us all together.

At Beto Perez's (Creator of Zumba) Master Class in 2015!
At Beto Perez’s (Creator of Zumba) Master Class in Houston in 2015!

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My other friends always ask me why I feel so strongly about Zumba. I tell them that its not only about Zumba anymore; its about the “people” who I meet at Zumba daily. It is that sense of belonging to a group having a similar goal that is important. It is the joy of being a part of each other’s struggle, creating memories, and laughing and being silly together. Finally, it is about the person who I become when I walk out of the class every time. When I do Zumba, I feel happy, I eat healthy, I meditate better, and I am happy at work

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If anything, I have learned acceptance from Zumba. My group is totally international with different cultures, languages, cuisines, accents, professions, dance styles, etc. Each one brings a unique wealth of knowledge and experiences. We have had our differences like any other group but when time comes, I know these women will stand by each other or should I say dance by each other? 🙂 Such friendships happen once in a lifetime.

So what are you waiting for? If there is something you have always wanted to try, now is the time. All you need to do is show up and then you will learn to go with the flow. Every expert was once a novice. Zumba is now my second nature but 3 years ago, I did not even know what it meant. If I had not gathered the courage to show up at the class, I would have missed out on so much and I would still go on living as the chubby 7th grader in my mind. How many times have you seen someone do something cool and thought to yourself, “I wish I could do that” and moved on? Well…you don’t have to do that anymore. We all need to stop being obstacles in our own path.

Life is short – go be a Goddess!

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Too Cool to Meditate?

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Irina – one of our coolest meditation instructors! 🙂

“Hey, I thought you would be too detached towards everything and everyone because you meditate,” a close friend said to me when I expressed genuine concern for her. She didn’t expect me to feel anything for her. She thought that people who meditate are completely void of feelings unlike “normal people.” Within ten minutes of that comment, another friend sent me a message saying, “I know you have extreme empathy.”

It felt strange to hear two exactly opposite comments about myself from two of my closest friends within a span of ten minutes. It got me thinking about how often my friends and family have tried to fit me in a box only because I meditate or because I chose to walk on a spiritual path in my life. They created an imaginary box for me and tried to confine me to it. Things often go haywire when I stop fitting in their respective boxes.

The box created for me basically contained all the expectations that people had from me or how they generally expect a spiritual person to behave. When I stopped or started behaving in a certain way that did not fit within the 4 walls of the box assigned to me in their minds, I became an outsider who earned an unfavorable reputation for thinking outside the box!

Below are a few things that some of the box creators have said to me

  • What’s wrong with your life? Isn’t meditation something you do when you get old?
  • You look too young too meditate. What could a young person like you possibly know about spirituality?
  • You don’t eat meat? You don’t drink? Poor you! It must be so difficult to be you. Why are you doing this to yourself?
  • Shouldn’t you be meditating in the caves or mountains and secluding yourself from the world to be a real spiritual person?
  • How can you speak like this to me? Is this what your spiritual Master teaches you?
  • You are too cool to meditate! Aren’t you supposed to be boring and serious to be spiritual? If not, I am sure meditation will make you a boring person.
  • Its absolutely OK for you to go through this problem because you meditate and it gives you additional strength to go through the problem unlike me.
  • You are not a genuine spiritual person if you are not 24×7 meek and submissive to others.
  • You really think nature is your mother and actually call her Mother Nature? (with a sneer) How can you be so serious about recycling and about saving nature’s resources?
  • You wear your traditional Indian clothes during the meditation session? What’s wrong with your Western clothes? Are “they” making you do this? Why the restrictions?
  • You don’t want to shop anymore? What’s with this new minimalistic approach?
  • The other extreme to this comment would be – Aren’t you supposed to have a minimalistic approach towards life if you are spiritual?

Initially when people said these things to me, I painfully tried to explain my situation to them. Eventually, I realized that it didn’t make the slightest difference to them. They had already made up their minds about me. They had formed an opinion and were going to stick to it no matter what. Somehow they had already decided deep inside about how a spiritual person should behave, look, dress, talk, live, and even feel.

They knew exactly how I should be conducting my life because I meditate! They knew how meditation works without themselves trying to meditate even once. Unfortunately, this is a result of how spirituality has been portrayed through media, books, people, and other sources over the years. Over the period of time, I learned to smile about such comments. I knew I could only wait for them to open their hearts. Sooner or later we all open our hearts.

I don’t feel the need to tell them anymore that nobody has forced me to be a vegetarian or not drink. It is completely my choice. I do it because I really think that the animal kingdom is an extension of my own soul and I couldn’t consume them. Consuming them would mean that I am diminishing my own self. I don’t feel like I am sacrificing anything. I don’t want to explain to them why or why not I wear Indian or Western clothes when I sit down to meditate. I am not even thinking about the type of clothes I wear when I meditate. I just want to be comfortable when I meditate. And I really don’t think people need to be boring to meditate or that meditation makes them boring. Also, being so called cool or modern should not be a hindrance to practice spirituality. In fact, I think I became truly cool and modern only after I began to meditate.

Yes, I really call nature – Mother Nature and recycling is the least I can do for her. Speaking of nature, we all know that nature has gifted each and every organism it’s own mechanism to defend and protect itself from predators. So is the case with us humans. A spiritual practice does not mean I have to be scared and submissive all the time. Everybody faces situations in their lives when they have to defend themselves. There are times when standing up for yourself is the last resort. When a spiritual person defends himself or herself, it does not mean that something in their spiritual teaching has gone wrong. If anything, the practice of meditation actually has taught me to defend myself correctly. It is difficult to explain that standing up alone for the right thing takes a lot of courage and it does not mean that a person is being disrespectful towards another human being.

A close friend put it very beautifully when she said, “Meditation gives you exactly what you need for your own personal growth. I used to be a doormat but due to meditation, I learned to stand up for myself. On the other hand, another person who may be aggressive may become a mild and calm person due to meditation.” I totally agree with her. There is no “One Size Fits All” solution when we practice meditation. The effects it has on us are customized according to our own spiritual needs.

This is exactly why we cannot fit everyone in the same spiritual box. Actually, there is no box, mountain, or cave to practice meditation. One learns to create this sacred space within oneself by living among others. I have no need to go to the caves and mountains if I can create that condition inside me. There never really are people inside and outside a box. There are no two groups of people who meditate and people who don’t meditate. I believe that we are all traveling towards the same source; only with different speeds.

Our external makeup, age, profession, color, country, language, food, and clothes do not define us; the love in our hearts does! Can meditation create that love in our hearts? I am going to say yes! But I don’t want you to believe me or anybody else. I want you to experience it yourself. True understanding can only come through practical experience.

Feel it; Don’t Simply Believe!

Fun Facts 🙂

I am sharing a few pics of my friends who are cool and spiritual at the same time and not to mention – also professionally accomplished. Being cool doesn’t stop them from meditating or meditation doesn’t stop them from being cool. 🙂 

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Roopa – Acing the marathon… and also conducting a meditation session in the heart of the downtown.

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Suzanne – That cool red sports car is not the only baby she has! She lives on a spiritual retreat ranch with her 9 peacocks.

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Simha – Zip lining through the Smokies may be his passion but it doesn’t stop him from having his feet on the ground and being in tune with Nature.

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Irina – Whether it is a cup of frozen yogurt next to a bike or a cup of chai next to a fellow meditator in India after a satsang (meditation session), she enjoys it with the same passion!

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And here’s me! 🙂 Be it sky or the sea, meditation has taught me to embrace all the elements of Nature with love.

Your Caterpillars Have Arrived!

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“Your Caterpillars Have Arrived! The Miracle of Metamorphosis is about to Begin! It’s Time To Grow!” were not really the first words I expected to read as soon as I opened my eyes after an hour of peaceful meditation at my Heartfulness preceptor’s (trainer) home. I knew that I always found answers to my spiritual questions during or after meditation but staring at a box which told me that an original cup of caterpillars has arrived definitely didn’t look like an answer to the questions that I had in mind that morning. “So much for finding answers after meditation!” I said to myself and curiously walked towards the box. My preceptor’s two little daughters explained to me how they were waiting for the caterpillars to turn into beautiful butterflies and how eagerly they were waiting to release those butterflies into their garden. I smiled and went home.

For a long time, I couldn’t get the words on that box out of my mind. Later in the day, I remembered the words from the book, “Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah” by Richard Bach. In his book he says, “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.” Suddenly, everything made sense to me! I realized that my questions had already been answered through a box of caterpillars. I couldn’t stop smiling. I was amazed to see how gracefully Nature chose to send me answers.

Recently, I had begun to see a lot of changes in my surroundings and also inside me. I believed in my heart that I was experiencing a beautiful spiritual transformation within myself. A silent transformation that was almost impossible to express in words and explain to another soul. Every individual’s spiritual journey is very unique to him or her. My outside world had slowly started changing as a result of the changes in my inside world. Things were probably changing for the better but who likes to get out of their comfort zone even if it is pretty uncomfortable there? We always have the fear of unknown within us and I was no different.

Lately, I had started feeling renewed. I was feeling calmer and more content. I was also happily becoming a minimalist. I was just happy to be! I was becoming lighter like never before. Deep inside, it felt good but I still wanted someone or something to tell me that I was headed on the right path. I wanted a confirmation because sometimes change can be confusing. Like everybody who is on a spiritual journey, I too have been through different phases of spiritual growth over the years but this time I simply needed to know that I was moving towards the right direction. That morning… before I began to meditate, I had endless questions in my mind but by the end of it, the caterpillars had come to my rescue! Now, the words like “Miracle of Metamorphosis is about to Begin” and “It’s time to grow” began to make sense.

I am happy to accept the caterpillar stage of my life now and willing to embrace the cocoon stage and move into an unknown space out of my comfort zone only to eagerly turn into a butterfly. Isn’t this what life is all about? We are constantly transforming for the better. Sometimes we understand the change right away; sometimes somebody tells us about it; and at other times you get sent a box of caterpillars! No matter how we realize about our transformation, eventually we all turn into butterflies!

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Where Did All The Superheroes Go?

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Once upon a time every man on earth used to be a superhero. His problems began the minute he realized that he was a superhero! The moment he realized the gift of his super powers, his ego developed and he started losing his powers. A great war between the ego and the superheroes took place and unfortunately the ego won. The superheroes became engulfed in layers of ego and lost all their super powers. Sadly, they crossed over to the darker side and forgot who they used to be. With the passage of time, superheroes became a myth. Myth became stories and stories became cartoons, movies, video games, and Halloween costumes.

Only a handful of people on this planet were immune to these special abilities and they continued being superheroes and reminding others how to come back to the brighter world. Rest of us are only the shadows of what we used to be. Now, we believe that being a superhero is only for the chosen ones. Secretly, all of us aspire to become one and we all know exactly which superhero we want to be. We know exactly which super power would suit us the best but we think that achieving it could only happen in our dreams and imagination. I believe that it is time for us to stop hiding and make an appearance. It is time to remember who we are and become what we are meant to become once again.

By the day, our modern day superheroes are engineers, doctors, cops, pilots, businessmen, dancers, janitors, teachers, and the list goes on and on. But when the night arrives and the entire world goes to sleep, there is a magical transformation in these hidden heroes. In the dark and lonely night, when nobody is watching, they come face-to-face with their reality. This is the time when these superheroes become who they really are – sad, tense, weak, frustrated, confused, fearful, angry, heart-broken, and doubtful. Sometimes, they use their capes to wipe off the tears.

Unfortunately, this is what we are facing daily. Times are tough but we need to be tougher. As of now, we are very far from gaining back our super powers. For starters, we just need to master very simple human qualities before attaining the super human abilities. The journey is simple but not easy. Like any other superhero, we have to go through our tests.

Have you ever noticed how often our mood changes in a given day? One minute we are exuberant while the very next minute we may be depressed. In the same day we may go through a wide range of emotions and feelings like self-doubt, suspicion, egoistic, excited, kind, helpful, bitter, fearful, etc. etc. It is quite all right to feel it all. After all we are all humans! But have you ever imagined what happens to your inner calm when you subject yourself to extreme reactions throughout the day? It doesn’t matter if your feelings and reactions are positive or negative. When a person goes through a roller coaster of emotions on a day-to-day basis, inner peace is lost and we are left with frustration and confusion, especially in life’s tougher situations, which need more strength and courage.

Meditation is the only thing that can come to our rescue. Through meditation, it is possible to restore our inner peace once again. The best and the most valuable gift meditation can give you is your very own personal space to retire within yourself when you are faced by challenges. A practice of daily meditation gives you the solid assurance that everything is going to be fine and every situation shall pass. Meditation helps you look at the bigger picture and helps you to connect the dots. The line of demarcation between a stressful and joyful situation starts fading and we automatically become thankful for everything that exists in our life.

You will no longer feel the need to tell people around you to leave you alone for a while or the need to lock yourself in a room or go away for a while when faced by ordeals. Meditation creates that sacred space right inside you and you can access it at any moment without having to request others. This reminds me of how Harry Potter always found the magical “Room of Requirement” at Hogwarts in the times of great need. The room always served its purpose by appearing in front of the person when he or she needed it the most. I believe that the “Room of Requirement” is a symbolic way to look at the inner spiritual space that is hidden inside each one of us.

Does it mean that you will stop encountering problems if you start meditating? No! You will learn to look at those problems with a new perspective. You will walk the storm with a new layer of protection. You will have a permanent shield protecting you at all times. You will always be connected to the source. You will know all the time that no matter what happens, no matter what life gives you or takes from you, nobody will ever take away that precious space from you. And this is a sign of a true superhero who moves about with that confidence; the confidence of coming home to that space again and again, recharging yourself, and moving on to face the world. When was the last time you came home? When was the last time you became a superhero?

Why People Don’t Get You?

What exactly do people mean when they say they don’t get us? Why don’t they understand us when we are painfully trying to explain our situation, experience, imagination, or a memory to them? Why does it get so frustrating for our audience and us when they don’t understand us?

Every single person has gone through this experience. Very often we find ourselves saying to another person that, “I don’t get you” or “I don’t get her.” Many other times, other people have said this to us. When such situations arise, we end up judging each other quickly, reaching an unfavorable conclusion of the other person’s sanity, and sometimes even severing our relationship with other people only because “we don’t get them or they don’t get us.” We allow ourselves to wallow in pain and self-pity because the other person did not understand us in spite of being our best friend or our parent or sibling.

There are two things you can do when you find yourself in this frustrating situation where you cannot get your message across or when you don’t seem to understand the other person’s point of view.

  1. Become aware of your own reality

You have to clearly understand that when you are explaining a particular situation or an experience to a close friend or a family member, that that particular experience belongs to you, not to the other party. Your experience can only be close to your heart because you are the one who has felt it deeply. For example, if you are trying to explain a beautiful dream to your friend where you found yourself in a land of most colorful butterflies perched and on the most exotic flowers with a fragrance so unique and pleasing to your senses that you carried this beautiful experience with you even after you were awake.

Be happy and content about the fact that your friend is willing to listen to your dream. Don’t start judging your friend because he or she may not be able to fully capture the splendor of the butterflies and the flowers. How can another person understand the joy of the fragrance of the flowers that you experienced in your dream? It is very unrealistic on your part to expect them to understand this and yet every single day, knowingly or unknowingly you make such expectations from your loved ones.

This also holds true for experiences in your life that are extremely painful. You expect other people to understand what you are going through. Your loved ones make an effort and truly try to console you but somewhere deep in your heart you know that they did not understand your suffering completely. And most of the times, it is true. If you have been injured severely or are dealing with a loss of a person or a pet, how do you expect another person to feel the same exact pain? They will not feel it because they are not going through it at that moment. It is your situation. People who have been through a similar situation could sympathize with you and give you hope but sometimes even people with such experiences fail to understand you because that experience has been in their past. You are the one dealing with the present life situation.

2. Become aware of your ego

The second most important thing is to become aware of your own ego. Most of the times when the other person does not understand you, you will let your ego decide that the other person is below you – mentally and emotionally. Your ego will make you feel superior because you have been through an experience that nobody else can understand. On some days you will walk around with a full-blown ego of a person who is above everyone. You will be frustrated when people do not understand your pain, dreams, nightmares, ambitions, imagination, and memories.

Our ego fails to explain to us that when we share our experiences with other people, we are only giving them mere words about the experience and not the entire experience that involves the colors, smell, people, and feelings that we ourselves experienced.

When it comes to understanding others, you need to honestly answer some questions for yourself. Will you be able to fully understand someone’s childhood memories? No! Because those are not your memories and you are not present in them. You are present only in your own memories. At other times your ego stops you from appreciating the experience being shared with you only because you were not a part of it.

Once you become aware of your ego and accept your reality, it becomes easy to understand another person who you did not “get” at first. You will also learn to accept the fact that it is absolutely okay if other people don’t understand you and if you don’t understand them. After all, your personal experiences are for you, not for others. They are the lessons sent to you for your growth and evolution as a human being. Other people get sent different life-lessons for their growth and evolution. The minute you stop feeling the need to prove yourself to others, you will be at peace. You are self-sufficient; you are enough.

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Interstellar and it’s Powerful Message about Love

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For someone who falls asleep during most of the movies in cool dark theaters, I did pretty well when I went to see Interstellar. Very often, friends have to check on me and make sure I am still with them and enjoying the movie. Many times, during a 3-D movie, I have found friends lifting my dark 3-D goggles only to find me fast asleep beneath the comforting darkness of those goggles. I am not proud of it but somehow  television and movies have stopped interesting me like before. Why? That is another story for another time. For now, I want to talk a little about what Interstellar exactly did to keep me wide-awake. Yes, I am a huge fan of Matthew McConaughey but this time it wasn’t only him that made me enjoy the movie.

I came home after watching this movie and ever since I have been in awe of a particular dialogue by Anne Hathaway who plays the part of Dr. Amelia Brand, a scientist and an astronaut in the movie. Throughout the movie, she talked about space, gravity, equations, technology, speed, and everything that was hardcore science. I was listening. Then all of a sudden her conversation turned towards love. Now, I was really listening and suddenly I was completely awake. Following is the conversation that takes place between her and Matthew McConaughey who plays the part of Joseph Cooper, a NASA pilot on the interstellar expedition.

Cooper: You’re a scientist, Brand.

Brand: So listen to me when I say love isn’t something that we invented. It’s observable. Powerful. It has to mean something.

Cooper: Love has meaning, yes. Social utility, social bonding, child rearing…

Brand: We love people who have died. Where’s the social utility in that?

Cooper: None.

Brand: Maybe it means something more, something we can’t yet understand. Maybe it’s some evidence, some artifact of a higher dimension that we can’t consciously perceive. I’m drawn across the universe to someone I haven’t seen in a decade who I know is probably dead. Love is the one thing that we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can’t understand it.

At that moment, Dr. Amelia Brand had echoed my exact feelings about love. She had conveyed a powerful message about love so easily. Anne Hathaway, herself said in an interview that her character, Dr. Amelia Brand, to begin with was an arrogant scientist who went only by theory but during the interstellar expedition her ego drastically melts. Dr. Amelia Brand gets converted into a humble person by the end of the journey. She begins to believe in the power of love which helps her to become more in tune to who she really was, a spiritualist who was also a scientist.

For once, I was happy to be at the movies and not fall asleep. This one or two minute dialogue about love made me feel like Tom Hanks when he lit a fire for the first time in the movie “Castaway”. I wanted to stand up right in the middle of the dark theater and tell my fellow moviegoers to listen carefully, for Dr. Amelia Brand was speaking the ultimate truth about love. I think, this is exactly what love is capable of and even more. This, in my opinion is the real message of the movie.

So often we talk about Love but do we fully understand its depth and intensity? I fall short of words to express what I truly feel about this so-called feeling that resides in each one of us. Brand was right when she said that Love is something that transcends dimensions of space and time. Love according to me is bigger than what we generally think it is. No matter where our loved ones are geographically, we are still able to feel the same love for them even with 1000s of miles separating us. No matter how old we get, we don’t stop loving them. Even when our loved ones pass away, we are still able to retain the same love in our hearts even though we know that they will never return and are not a part of our world anymore. I also feel that it is a miraculous thing for us humans to feel love towards our plants and pets, a totally different species from us and actually be able to receive it back from them.

History has proved time and again that love has ignited such fire in the hearts of humans that they have been able to overcome grave hurdles in their paths that could have been otherwise impossible. Yes, it is true that love can actually travel through time, space, age, species, pain, and suffering and actually remain unchanged throughout its journey. What it really changes is us! Just like Brand was reborn into her purest Self once she realized the true power of love, it is also time for us to realize what love truly is. Through her deep metaphysical realization about love, Brand had finally accepted that she was a scientist and a spiritualist at the same time. Same is applicable to us. Being spiritual can and will never go against our day-to-day material lives and our outward personalities that the world sees. If anything, it will only help us create more balance in our lives.

I never realized what love is until I started my spiritual journey. Once I began this journey, love unfolded itself at every step. I did not struggle anymore to understand what love truly was. Yes, it was definitely more than what we see in the movies today or what we feel for each other and for things in general. What we are able to understand about love in our day-to-day life is only a very small subset of real Love. Most of the times, it is intelligently commercialized in such a way that we don’t even realize that our brains are trained to feel love the way some external sources want us to feel about it. Yes, that’s right. Our “brains” are trained to “feel” something that only the “heart” can truly feel and we don’t even know that this is happening to us.

Meditation opened the doors to love in my life. Love had finally happened to me! 🙂 And then a new journey began. At the beginning of this journey, I thought I was learning the process of understanding love. As I moved forward in this journey, I realized more and more that it is not about understanding love but becoming love myself. I am the process. I am love in the making and I am loving every bit of this process. Like Amelia Brand said, “maybe we should trust that (love), even if we can’t understand it.”

Spiritual Synonyms

When Master Kamlesh Patel visited Austin in June this year, we Texans were beyond excited about the opportunity to meet our spiritual Guru. Personally, I had never met any of the Masters of Heartfulness in my life in spite of being in the system for almost 8 years. Circumstances had never been favorable for me to be able to travel to meet the previous Master. I started with Heartfulness when our previous Master, Chariji was still physically present on this plane. Like everybody else, I too yearned to meet him but it never really worked out.

In December 2014, I was relaxing in a shady corner under the coconut trees on a peaceful beach in Puerto Rico… reading Chariji’s book when my friend sent me a text message letting me know that our beloved Master had passed away. I quietly closed the book and stared at the ocean. I was absorbing the news. After a few minutes, I finally managed to smile. I was happy that my Master’s physical ordeal had come to an end. Deep inside, I had been concerned for his health. But I wasn’t worried about anything else other than that. I did not shed any tears. There was no need to.

Some friends asked me if I felt sad because I did not get a chance to meet him before he was gone. At that point in time I did not say anything other than a simple “no” and I am sure they did not believe me. But it did not matter.

When our new guru, Master Kamlesh was visiting Austin, which was only three hours away from where I lived, I was definitely not going to miss the opportunity. I drove to Austin and we had a lovely gathering with our new Master. I am glad I went to the gathering because I learned some very important things about myself. Had I not been there, I would never be able to share this experience with you through this post.

During lunch at the gathering, a close friend asked me an innocent question. She said to me, “I know you speak so highly of the previous Master and we know how much you loved him…so based on that, what do you think of this Master? Are you able to accept him as the new Master?” At that very moment I felt a huge lump in my throat and I was unable to speak. She was waiting for an answer and I knew I had to say something to not hurt her feelings by being quiet. But before I could respond, I ran into another older friend in the crowd who stopped to say hello. She had something very similar to discuss with me about our new Master. She said, “Yes, I know he is the new Master but the old Master was something else. I am sure the new one will eventually evolve to be like the old one.” By now the lump in my throat began to hurt immensely. I smiled politely and went back to my friend who had asked me the question. In both cases, I sensed some kind of insecurity, doubt, and hesitation.

There was so much I wanted to tell them but I remained silent. I had learned it the hard way that people don’t really understand what other people feel or what other people are going through until they themselves experience it. Empathy is difficult to develop these days. I believe that being deeply empathetic is one of the greatest spiritual blessings. So I really did not think they would understand my feelings for my Master. However, I was going to do my part. I was going to try. I answered my friend’s question in very simple words.

I told her that I felt extremely unworthy to discuss what I thought about the current Master. I was not spiritually accomplished to give my opinion about him. However, I told her that I had absolutely no problem in accepting him as my new Guru. Nothing had changed for me. I had never met Chariji and I loved him deeply. I had only heard of the two previous Masters before Chariji but I felt completely connected to them too. If I could be in great love with the Masters before Chariji, why couldn’t I love the Master after him? Only the physical bodies had changed over the years. Everything else was the same. I did not care one bit about the current Master’s shape, size, or color. I could only sense the Love in him. The same Love is carried over from one Master to another. Love doesn’t change even if physical bodies change. I told her that I experienced my Master and His Love in such a way that I did not feel the need to hang his pictures on my wall or have their photo frames on my table. My Master is Love himself. I use the words “Master” and “Love” as synonyms for each other. I do not see any difference in them. And this Love was so great and grand that no photo or a physical human body could contain it within itself.”

She nodded in agreement but I don’t really know how much she personally understood or agreed to. And I thought that was absolutely okay. We are all on the same journey; going towards the same source, only at different speeds. I knew she would reach this stage eventually. Maybe she would have a better understanding than me and someday help me understand things that I did not.

Yes, personally I have been through my own “photo phase” too. We all do! And there is nothing wrong with it. That is also a phase that needs to be embraced lovingly. Possessing the pictures of Masters, meeting them in person, and reading the books written by them is very necessary. We need these tools to know about them and understand their teachings. We need these things to introduce our children and the future Heartfulness generation about spirituality and meditation. One cannot reach the stage of not needing the books, photos, and tools like these without going through what I call the “photo phase.” But we also have to remember that these are only means to help us reach the goal and not the goal itself. I believe sooner or later we will all overcome this material phase and be directly connected to the inner Master. It is never about the current Master evolving to be like the previous Master but about us evolving to be like our Master.

So you may ask me if I had overcome my “photo phase”, what was I doing at the gathering eagerly waiting to meet the physical Master. Personally, I drove all the way to Austin to pay my respects to my Master. I knew he and I were connected beyond the material plane but he had traveled all the way from India to meet us; so couldn’t I drive at least three hours to acknowledge his loving gesture?

It is always a great thing to be able to meet your spiritual Guru in person. But not everyone can do so. We could face issues like health problems, financial difficulties, or even immigration issues to be able to travel to our Master. And he knows it. I know deep in my heart that he knew the problems I went through in reaching him physically so he reached out to me by blessing me to overcome my sadness of not being able to meet him while he was still on this plane. He blessed me with a greater understanding of what a Master truly is. He helped me understand that he was not his body, pictures, books, or a pendant. He was only and only Love. And that Love needed to be felt inside me. My Master never resided outside of me; he had always been inside me.

Chariji had never left me. How could he? Over the years, he had blessed me with his divine transmission (pranahuti) – the life force itself. Through this divine transmission, he continues living through me. He continues living through all of us and also through our current Master. He has left back his divine legacy in our form. Now, it completely depends on us what we choose to do with this legacy – with ourselves! I believe it is time to multiply and move his legacy forward with our actions, faith, and most of all with Love.

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If Tilo had not smiled…

Tilo hurriedly walked towards the ICU. She was running a few minutes late for her ICU posting. Tilo was a young 22-year old medical intern at a hospital in India. While her focus was only on reaching the ICU as soon as possible, she heard a loud call, “Akka” from a nearby economy ward window. She did not pay attention because there was nobody who could call her Akka (meaning older sister). Akka was a term used in Indian villages to address one’s older sister out of love and respect. Tilo was a city girl. Why would someone call her by that name? She kept moving forward. She again heard the word, “Akka” and this time it was loud and clear.

Tilo finally stopped and turned back. A little boy of around 6 years of age was frantically waving at her from the economy ward window. He wanted her to come to him. Tilo did not have the time but she couldn’t break his heart. She broadly smiled at him and walked back towards his window. His joy knew no bounds. She asked him why he had called her. He did not know what to say. He was blushing. He hid behind his mother. Tilo smiled and waved at him and continued walking to the ICU.

For the next few days the same story repeated. Tilo was getting used to meeting her little friend Arun daily. She made it a point to get him candy  everyday. Arun’s parents told her that Arun thinks she was his fairy or a princess. Arun had heard stories of beautiful fairies and princesses from far away lands, from his village elders and he thought Tilo fit their description perfectly. His parents told her he still couldn’t decide what Tilo reminded him of – a fairy or a princess. Tilo giggled and liked the idea of being a fairy-princess for Arun. Although Tilo and Arun spoke different languages, they managed to understand each other. One day she stopped to talk to Arun’s parents about his health. They told her that they were very poor farmers from a nearby village. Their son Arun was being treated for gangrene at the hospital.

Tilo looked at Arun’s foot wrapped in guaze pads and bandages and had a lump in her throat. Gangrene was not a good sign. She hoped that Arun would get better soon. Tilo and Arun’s love for each other grew every day. To him she was an absolutely beautiful fairy-princess and he felt privileged and honored to receive her attention. For Tilo, Arun was her little angel who was teaching her courage and happiness each day. She admired his spirit that was never dampened by his poor health and extreme poverty.

Like all love stories, Tilo and Arun’s story also had its own storms to go through. That afternoon had arrived. Tilo was dreading this day but she knew she had to be near Arun that day. She did not know what she would see and how she would go through it but she decided to meet Arun. She slowly walked down the hallway breathing heavily. She finally reached the economy ward where Arun was being treated with several other patients. She had reached just in time. Arun was eagerly waiting for her. She handed him his candy as usual and stood next to him with no expression on her face. She was scared for Arun.

Arun’s doctor and nurses arrived to take off his bandages one last time. It took them few minutes to unwrap his leg. The bandages came off and Tilo looked at Arun’s leg. The gangrene had eaten away Arun’s foot. It had to be amputated to stop the infection from spreading to rest of his leg. Tilo stared at it. She was numb. Although she was a medical student, this situation was new to her. She stood there not being able to react.  She was suddenly shaken from her numbness by Arun’s voice. She quickly looked at him and caught him staring at her and looking directly into her eyes.

She knew she had to act soon. Arun himself looked shocked by not seeing his foot. He had been prepared for this moment but how could someone really prepare a 6 year old about loss of a foot. Arun began to cry but he did not stop staring at his Akka. His eyes had a lot of questions for her. Nobody understood the powerful intensity of that moment. Nobody realized that Arun had asked Tilo the most important questions through his innocent eyes.

But her heart had heard them all. At that very moment Tilo held Arun’s hand tightly and gave him her most radiant smile. Their eyes met. She conveyed to him that she still loved him and will always love him. They hugged. All Arun needed was her approval and her acceptance. She told him she was so proud of him. Arun stopped crying and smiled. Tilo clapped her hands and the hospital staff and other patients joined her. They all cheered Arun for his courage. Arum beamed at everyone. He was not embarrassed about losing a foot anymore.

Arun finally went to bed knowing that his fairy-princess still loved him. He knew in his heart that his Akka would never stop loving him even if he did not have a foot. Arun had made peace with his situation but everything had changed for Tilo in that moment. Tilo had cried all day after coming home. She loved Arun like her little brother and she could not imagine how his life would be after this. She kept thinking, “Will the other kids accept him when he goes back?” “How will he play?” “How will he run?” Arun was too little to even think about these things. She knew he would eventually have to adapt to his reality.

Deep in her heart she knew she had done the right thing. She had told him that it is not his foot that made him whole in her eyes. It is his heart and the love in his heart that made him complete in her eyes. Tilo could not forget the look in his eyes. The look that asked her deeply, “Will you still love me or are you nauseated looking at my amputated leg?” Tilo trembled in fear while she thought, “What if she had not caught that question in Arun’s eyes? “What if she had not been able to control her tears in front of him?” “What if she had not given him her brightest smile when she saw his leg?” “What would have happened to this little boy’s confidence if she had not hugged him in a timely manner?”

Tilo told me that she would have created another future for Arun if she had not acted on time. Every child believes in something or someone when they are growing up. And that someone in turn teaches the children to believe in themselves when they grow up. During his hospital stay, Tilo had become Arun’s reason to accept and heal faster from his sickness. Her smile, acceptance and love was all he needed to accept himself. She was happy that she was blessed with a loving heart to give Arun what he needed the most at that time. Soon after that Arun left for his village with his parents to begin a new life.

I asked Tilo if she missed him after that.

Tilo replied with twinkling eyes, “It has been ten years since Arun came in my life and to this day the word Akka still echoes in my head.”

Tilo continued, “2-3 months after Arun left, I was walking in the hospital with my friends when I suddenly bumped into Arun and his parents. He was back for a routine check up. The minute Arun saw me, he ran into my arms. I sat down so he could hug me. What amazed me even more was in spite of having an amputated leg inside his bright red canvas shoes, he was walking and running. Arun had learned to adapt. He had accepted his situation.”

Tilo took a long pause and dreamily looked into nothingness and finally said to me, “Arun had accepted his leg the way it was but I had never been able to accept such a cruel fate of this little boy. I stepped in his life for a purpose but I think his purpose for stepping in my life was greater. His role in my journey was bigger. There couldn’t be a better closure to our story.”

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When I met Gollum

I have often heard my spiritual Master say, “Be in tune with Nature. Be pure and simple. Be one with Nature.” I personally thought I was doing my best to live like Nature until I met Gollum.

(Most of you who are J. R. R. Tolkien fans or LOTR fanatics like me know who Gollum is. For those of you who don’t know about Gollum, let me tell you very briefly about him. Gollum is an important character from Tolkien’s books. He is a scary-looking monster-like creature constantly in search of a powerful magical ring after he loses it from his possession. He also calls the ring, “my precious.” Once known as Smeagol who was a happy and a sane hobbit-like individual, he turns into a corrupt and hideous creature due to his greed for the ring. Smeagol and Gollum are two sides of the same individual constantly trying to reason against each other. They both love and hate each other and constantly fight each other about wanting and not wanting the ring also known as the “precious.”)

Every morning when I walked into the deeper parts of the remote hill country ranch where I was staying for my spiritual retreat, I had unending questions in my mind. Wrapped in my shawl with a camping chair on my shoulder, granola bars in my pocket, my writing diary tucked under my arm and a water bottle in my hand, I used to walk away with intentions of disappearing for a long time. And disappear I did.

One such morning I was camping under a beautiful tree trying to write some thoughts in my diary. I reminded myself that I was sitting in the middle of nature and I need to be in tune with it. At that moment nature to me was the trees, animals, birds, rocks, insects and flowers that surrounded me. But this nature was actually only a smaller subset of real Nature. And then, I had a set of new questions coming to my mind about being in tune with real Nature. “How does one really be in tune with  Nature? How do I really blend in? Do we always have to be present in  Nature to live like it? And even if we are present in Nature, can we or do we actually feel one with it always? How could I continue to blend with it when I return back to the concrete jungle in which I live?” My questions wouldn’t stop so I decided to close my eyes and meditate.

After a while, I opened my eyes only to find all the answers literally standing in front of me. At first, I thought it was nature’s joke. And maybe it was. I smiled and allowed nature to have a sense of humor if that is how it chose to answer my questions. 🙂 I saw in front of me a flock of wild turkeys. On the other end of the ranch grounds, I saw a big herd of deer. Standing behind me were some of the curious but magnificent ranch peacocks. And to my left was Jack the rabbit hiding behind a bush busy nibbling on something. I also saw some beautiful red butterflies sitting on delicate yellow flowers while the cricket crawled in the grass by my feet. It was too much beauty to take in all at once. It was too much nature for the unaccustomed eye.

All the birds and animals surrounded me and I sat right in the center of my momentary nature. I wondered if they had been around me all the time or did they only appear to answer my questions. Maybe they had always been there and my eyes refused to see them or maybe they had just appeared as my answers. Whatever the case, I sat in my chair quietly feeling every ounce of beauty that these animals were showering on me. At that moment we all co-existed in perfect harmony. We were all still, absorbing and trusting each other. Nature trusts us when we trust Nature. There was pure silence and for the first time I heard the voice of the silence deep within me. I felt that the pace of my heartbeat and the flapping of the butterfly’s wings had the same rhythm. Our rhythms had mysteriously blended and I felt One with it. I felt whole. I knew. I smiled in acknowledgement. As if my understanding smile was a signal to leave, all the animals slowly departed after explaining to me what it meant to be One. I was finally in tune with Nature!

But I have to admit that a few seconds before I felt One with Nature, I met somebody else. This somebody else reminded me so much of the character Gollum seeking for “his precious” that I decided to call him by the same name. He was my inner Gollum. My inner Gollum reminded me of the very first memories or instincts that I felt when I experienced nature around me that day.

When I first saw the beautiful yellow flowers growing in the grass, my inner Gollum said, “my precious” and wanted me to pluck them. I convinced this creature that the flowers belonged to nature and I do not want to separate them from her only to enjoy a few minutes of unnecessary possession. When I saw the butterflies sitting on those flowers, I again heard the words, “my precious” and I tried to understand what it meant this time. I slowly remembered my childhood memories when my brother had taught me to sneak upon butterflies and catch them by holding their wings. I cringed in pain because now that I was One with Nature, I could actually feel how the butterfly feels when someone holds it by the wings and bottles it up for temporary enjoyment.

I am now a vegetarian but I have been through my phase of non-vegetarianism. When I saw the beautiful wild turkeys standing in front of me, I could not believe that few years ago they were “my precious” when I was consuming them. Same goes for the deer and everything else. Now that I was One with them and the rest of Nature, I realized how I had been affecting my own extensions and reducing my own self bit by bit. It felt miserable to realize that I was never bottling up a butterfly but only locking my own extension into a glass jar and suffocating myself. No wonder I never felt whole before; no wonder I never blended and felt in tune with Nature before.

And that’s when I realized why it was difficult to follow my spiritual Master’s words. I had not left any nature around me to follow its example, learn from it and live like it. For too long, I had been hoarding it, thinking that it was “my precious” and I Had To possess it and feel powerful. But when I was One with it, I realized that “my precious” is within me. In fact, I am the precious. I am Nature. I am.

My questions had been answered. I serenely walked back to the cottage amidst the nine beautiful peacocks that lived on the ranch… for the very first time feeling One with them – feeling like the tenth peacock.

We all have inner Gollums hidden inside us. Each one of us has a voice that constantly keeps saying, “my precious” to us. Sooner or later we all encounter the Gollum in us and we are not going to like the creature that faces us. But we have to give this creature a chance to surface and resurface again in our life. We need to hear it. We need to face it with courage and accept it. Maybe it is showing up only to leave us forever and make us pure and simple. After all, it has been put there for a purpose…the purpose of reintroducing ourselves to us. It is constantly teaching us how to differentiate between who we are and what we are meant to become.

My inner Gollum appeared in front of me when I was in the middle of nature. The minute I overcame him, I felt in tune with Nature; I felt One with the Universe. Your inner Gollum may appear in front of you while you are stuck in heavy traffic; while you are in the middle of an important meeting with a room full of people or maybe while you are shopping for grocery. What will you do when he appears in front of you next time? Will you choose to snatch “your precious” from outside of yourself? Or will you be the precious yourself?

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