When the Force Is With You; Heartfulness Decoded Through Star Wars!

Be a Spiritual Ninja; Meditate Wearing a Superhero Cape! CHECK 🙂

“Eat Cheerios,” it said! I thought I heard something wrong so I asked the same question again, “What is my calling? What should I really do moving forward?” I again heard a voice inside me that said, “Just eat Cheerios for now.” I was so irritated with it. Here I was at my annual spiritual retreat deep inside the Texan hill country all by myself for 6 days – meditating, cleansing, and contemplating and asking deeper questions about my spiritual calling and the answer I get every single time is – Eat Cheerios!

I thought I was doing something wrong. Maybe being alone for 6 days with no people to talk to, no gadgets to play with, and no books to read was really getting to me. In my previous retreats, I had always shared the beautiful cottage with other Heartfulness meditation practitioners. Even if we weren’t allowed to talk to each other, I knew there was someone in the cottage; there was another presence and that kept me going. But this time it was different. When I reached the retreat, Suzanne – the caretaker of the retreat who is also a senior Heartfulness meditation instructor informed me that I will be all by myself for 6 days and the entire beautiful cottage was mine. And I excitedly said, “Yay, all mine!!” After 3 days, my reaction was pretty much like, “Is it really all mine for all 6 days?” 😦 This was my toughest spiritual retreat ever. I had to live with me!

When I started hearing my own voice in my own head about eating Cheerios, I thought I was having a retreat overdose. I love Cheerios but it was 11 in the morning and it wasn’t time for Cheerios. I looked around and obviously there was no one watching me so I said to myself, “why not?” I walked to the pantry only to find the Cheerios container empty. I was slightly disappointed because as funny as it sounds, deep inside I thought that was my calling at the moment. I tried closing the doors of the pantry a little forcefully thinking to myself, “So much for finding my calling!” Just then, through the half closed door, a big box fell on my head from the pantry shelf. I bent down to pick it up… and guess what? It was a box of Cheerios kept on the topmost shelf, which I couldn’t see before but which probably fell on my head from the force of the door!

I picked it up and stared at it for a whole minute. I absorbed what I was looking at and I knew my question was answered. I smiled. I always think that Nature has the greatest sense of humor and it always speaks to me in the language I understand the best. What a dramatic way to answer my question!

Eating Cheerios was not my calling; what was written on the box of Cheerios was my calling. This was no regular cereal box. It was a Star Wars edition box of Cheerios! The backside of the box said in bold letters “Bring LIGHT to the DARK SIDE!” It also said, “There is a disturbance in the Force. Can you bring balance to the universe by matching the correct shadow to each of the glow-in-the-dark decals?” It felt like a very personal question that Nature had thrown at me in that moment. In that silent moment shared between Nature and me, I answered yes. I said I was going to try my best to bring light to the dark side. How could I not say yes? After all, it was being asked to me the Star Wars style…in the language I understood the best. Also, in Heartfulness, we meditate on the DIVINE LIGHT illuminating our heart from within.

I carried my bowl of cereals to my favorite corner in the cottage and began eating quietly when everything suddenly became clear to me. Few days ago, a friend asked me what makes Heartfulness meditation so different than other meditation practices and I said, “The Transmission also known as the ‘Yogic Force’ or the ‘Life Force’ that is transmitted directly in to your heart when you meditate makes Heartfulness meditation stand out.” The very first spiritual Master of Heartfulness, Lalaji said, “The Sanskrit word for Transmission is pranahuti (prana meaning life force; ahuti meaning offering). When it is directed into our hearts, we are filled with a force that transcends our own level of development. Just as electrical energy can be transmitted, so also spiritual energy can be transmitted. Transmission is the utilization of divine energy for the transformation of human beings.”

My friend looked at me for a whole minute and then asked me again, “So how is that possible? How can some “Yogic Force” get transmitted to your heart? And how will I know that my heart is receiving the transmission? And how does this Transmission help me in my day-to-day life? I warmly smiled at my friend. These were valid questions. 10 years ago when I started meditating, I had the same questions. But now, receiving and feeling Transmission had become my second nature and I don’t know life without this constant special vibration in my heart. On a daily basis, Transmission to me is like having a spiritual armor around me that protects my interior environment even if my whole world on the outside is falling apart. It’s like having your own super power. This special energy is not something that can be explained in words. It needs to be felt deep inside your heart and for that you need to meditate.

I was trying to find the best way to connect to my friend at that moment to explain the Transmission. I knew I had to speak in the language we could both relate to. And finally, I found a way! We both bonded over Star Wars, Star Trek, Superheroes, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter etc. Secretly, I have always had an ambition of being a “Spiritual Ninja,” who meditates in a superhero cape! Well…I guess its no more a secret now. My friend knew my ambition and we always joked about it. I knew exactly what I was going to say to explain the Transmission!

I asked my friend, “Do you remember what George Lucas the creator of Star Wars said about the Force? Here are his words, “The act of living generates a force field, an energy. That energy surrounds us; when we die, that energy joins with all the other energy. There is a giant mass of energy in the universe that has a good side and a bad side. We are part of the Force because we generate the power that makes the Force live. When we die, we become part of that Force, so we never really die; we continue as part of the Force.”

This is what Yoda, the Jedi Master said about the Force, “For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between land and ship.”

And here is what the Spiritual Masters of Heartfulness have said about the “Life Force” or the Transmission, many many years before Star Wars was created, “The body lives and grows at the physical level and so sustains itself on physical food. The soul, being spiritual in nature, needs nourishment of a higher plane. In Heartfulness, this spiritual food is called Transmission. All Transmission comes from the source, through the Master. Transmission is not limited by time or space. As water flows through a water pipe, so the Transmission flows from the heart of the Master into the waiting heart of the aspirant.

The body is alive only because the soul is in it. At death the soul flies away, and then we say the person is dead, and call the body a corpse. So the body lives by the soul. How does the soul live? I will tell you. The soul lives by Transmission which we can think of as the essence of Divinity.”

And suddenly my friend totally got it and now wants to try Heartfulness! It is funny how we trust the external sources more than our internal strength. It is easy to watch the movies and believe in the Force but it is so difficult even to consider the idea of the spiritual Life Force only because we feel it is intangible. It is said that even George Lucas created the Force to awaken the sense of spirituality in the younger audience. Feeling the Transmission within you is not at all difficult. All you need is willingness to sincerely meditate daily. Find out for yourself why Heartfulness meditation is so different and special from all other meditation practices. Get your cape; Be a Spiritual Ninja. Let’s bring Light to the Dark Side!


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When Losing Means Winning! Transformation or Confusion?

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How often in your spiritual journey have you felt that you are losing yourself? And how often has losing yourself felt like actually finding your Self all over again? Have you struggled with tightly holding on to the current version of you but were unable to do so only because the new version of you was so spiritually appealing, satisfying, and agreeable to you? Have you felt unsure about the path you are headed towards only because you were losing yourself but feeling ecstatic deep inside because you were rediscovering a whole new dimension of your being? Well…you are not alone. Welcome to your transformative moment!

In our spiritual journey, we all evolve continuously. We notice a lot of changes within us. This is when losing actually feels like winning.

Here are 8 things you will start observing about yourself during your spiritual transformation or awakening.

  • Lack of Interest in Abundance: When we begin transforming, we notice in ourselves the lack of interest in materialistic pleasures. We experience a feeling of content and satisfaction with everything we own materialistically. For example, we may not want to shop anymore for clothes, shoes, and jewelry and may be happy using our old stuff till it lasts. We start focusing more on needs than wants. Eventually, even our needs start reducing as our consciousness starts rising.
  • Food and Drinks: As we progress in our spiritual journey, we start developing compassion for Nature and all it creatures. When we start feeling One with everything, our body naturally stops accepting the non-vegetarian food. Overall, the need to eat simple and healthy food starts developing. We also start consuming food in adequate quantities as opposed to overeating only because the food tastes good. This is also applicable to drinking. Alcohol consumption automatically reduces and eventually goes away since it interferes with our spiritual condition.
  • Awareness of Technology Abuse: We are a highly technologically advanced generation and we have to admit that it is difficult to stay away from our gadgets even for a few minutes in a day. However, with our spiritual evolution we start becoming aware of the time spent using our cell phones, laptops, and television. We realize the negative influence of the social media platforms that we are a part of. Violence, nudity, horror shows, unacceptable language in the movies and television interferes with our spiritual condition by leaving deep impressions on us.

I started paying particular attention to what I was watching on television and social media for another important reason. I practice the Heartfulness meditation where we are taught two different types of meditation techniques. One is the morning meditation, which we practice after waking up in the morning and the other one is the nighttime “Cleaning” meditation. The Cleaning meditation plays an important role in helping us clean the day-to-day impressions collected within us. I realized that the violence, nudity, foul language on the television was creating more impressions on my mind and heart and all my efforts in cleaning the impressions were not being 100% fruitful. It felt like I was taking one step forward and two steps backward. This made me more aware of what I was subjecting my senses like vision and hearing to and helped me control my technological abuse. Electromagnetic waves from our gadgets also affect our subtle body and interfere with our spiritual condition.

  • Losing Your Friends: This probably is the most painful aspect of your spiritual awakening. You will lose some of your friends and loved ones in the process. It is quite understandable actually. After we start becoming aware of our indulgence in abundance, unnecessary shopping habits, gossiping habits, food, drinks, movies, social media etc., we start controlling our behaviors to suit our spiritual condition. We automatically stop fitting into our existing social circles because we have nothing in common to share with our friends and loved ones, especially with those who are not yet on the path of spirituality. Nobody wants to be friends with a boring person who does not drink and party!

This is when we struggle explaining to our friends and dear ones about the deep changes we are going through. We do not want to hurt them but at the same time we do not want to subject ourselves to people and situations that hinder our spiritual progress. If your friends and family are not on a spiritual path, it is highly unlikely that they will understand the changes happening within you. Some times people on the spiritual path also do not understand us (because everyone is at a different level of spiritual evolution), then why blame the ones who aren’t on that path yet?

Know that it is OK to let go. Do not feel guilty. The company we keep determines our spiritual progress to a great extent. Your friends and family may understand you sometime later in the future when they are ready… or they may not. There will be a period when you will feel very lonely and abandoned. No matter what, do not stop your spiritual practice. Nobody promised you that this journey is going to be easy. You made your choice so move on with courage. Slowly, you will start meeting new friends who share your interests and whose vibrations match yours and is favorable for your spiritual progress. Sometimes your old friends will join your new friends and you will all pursue the same goals.

  • Develop Spiritual Sensitivity: We start developing spiritual sensitivity towards the environment we are in. We become more focused on feeling than mere knowing. Some people may start becoming sensitive to very loud noises and may only prefer gentle music. We may consciously start speaking softly and calmly. We may also start becoming sensitive to clothing and fabric. We may prefer comfort to fashion. We may want to wear softer and more natural fabric conducive to meditation and yoga. Sometimes, we may also start liking different colors, which we never liked before. Our body may also start craving for pure and unprocessed food likes fruits, vegetables, salads etc. Do not worry about your changing preferences. All these changes suggest that there is a spiritual change going on within you and you are craving for purity and simplicity on all levels. Try to observe the changes and accept them. Work on making your daily meditation practice more palatable for yourself.
  • Professional Goals: As you evolve spiritually, you may discover that your long-term professional goals may also evolve. You may feel the need to align your professional goals with your spiritual goals. Many times, spiritual people struggle to align the two and find dissatisfaction in their current jobs when they realize that their profession is not going hand in hand with their spiritual practice. This is quite common. However with more practice of meditation, things will eventually fall into place and we are generally able to find a balance between our spiritual and professional life. Sometimes we also find a new profession that is more favorable to our spiritual awakening. Whatever may be the case, we must continue to do our jobs wholeheartedly believing that we are doing the best with what we have.
  • Compassion for Nature: We develop compassion for Nature as we progress spiritually. Our inner nature becomes more aware of the outer Nature and starts becoming One with it. We develop love, sympathy, and compassion for all the living creatures. We start noticing the innocence of the animal kingdom and acknowledging them as a part of our own Self. This is another reason why a lot of people on the spiritual path turn into vegetarians and vegans.

We also start thinking about preserving our Mother Nature more. People start paying more attention to recycling, reusing, and making more conscious green choices. We explore ways to reduce pollution that we cause on a day-to-day basis.

We also start becoming aware of our actions, words, and thoughts that we send out into our atmosphere. Sending out negative thoughts into our spiritual environment is nothing but polluting it with our worries, fears, anger, hatred, and other insecurities. With meditation practice, these insecurities also start coming under control and we become balanced individuals.

  • Being Genuine: More than anything we become honest with ourselves with our spiritual evolution. Our external layers drop off and we become genuine wherever we go. We are the same person at home, office, or elsewhere. There aren’t 2-3 different parallel versions of us. Surprisingly, the new version will start being accepted by everyone we know, no matter how diverse these groups are. Nobody can avoid being charmed by the genuine charismatic energy that meditation infuses in us.

With each passing day we become more and more fearless to face the world. A genuine person functions with strength that comes straight from the heart. Difficult situations will be faced with more courage and calmness. Being genuine also helps us realize that there is no need to prove anything to anyone. We are enough!

In conclusion, I would like to say that not all these changes happen to everyone. And they definitely do not happen all at once. Spiritual awakening happens in phases. A caterpillar never became a butterfly overnight. It had to go through its phases of transformation. Similarly, we all have to go through our spiritual transformation in different phases. I have said it before and I will say it again – there is no “One Size Fits All” solution in spirituality. Each one of us has a different transformational path that is suitable for our specific spiritual growth. What we need to do on our part is to accept the changes happening within us and become aware of our Self. Spiritual transformation is the only process where you lose to win; where losing yourself actually means finding your Self!

Restore Yourself to Your Default Settings

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It took one helicopter, one humpback whale, a family of stingrays, a dormant volcano, a couple of waterfalls, few of world’s gigantic sea cliffs, and one man’s ultimate sacrifice to restore myself to my default settings on the beautiful island of Maui.

I felt at complete peace when I stepped out of the noisy helicopter on a beautiful sunny morning on the Hawaiian Island on my recent trip. The last thing I expected when I booked my helicopter tour to see the Molokai Island from air was for Nature to put together a perfect recipe of its elements to remind me that I could do better in restoring my default settings. Going on a helicopter tour was a last minute plan but most of the times, these are the plans that change you forever!

It is said that West Maui is the home to one of the wettest places on earth and I wanted to witness that. The helicopter pilot who was also our tour guide flew us – a small group of 6 strangers to watch some breathtaking sights that awaited us. During the tour we came across the “Wall of Tears” that included more than 17 waterfalls. I also saw Maui’s tallest waterfall, the 1,100 feet tall “Honohohau Falls” up close. Later, we also flew above the 1,170-foot Kahiwa Falls, which is Hawaii’s tallest waterfall. Our skilled pilot flew us so close to the waterfalls that I did not realize I was holding my breath for a long time. I was flying right above one of the tallest waterfalls in the world and seeing it drop down right below me.

If this wasn’t enough, he then flew us above the towering sea cliffs. Molokai has the tallest sea cliffs in the world and there is nothing like them. I could not believe that man and his technology had come so far that we could actually reach higher than the highest points of the world. Amidst the sea-cliffs was a family of stingrays serenely floating in the turquoise blue water. Even before I could let my heart melt over the magnificent stingrays, I saw the tail of the largest mammal on Earth right below me. It was a humpback whale gliding majestically in the transparent waters. I couldn’t believe my luck! I was slowly absorbing everything that was happening around me. The helicopter tour had started taking a different turn for me. My heart had switched gears from that of a tourist to a spiritualist. A few tears rolled down my cheek. My heart overflowed with love for these beautiful sea creatures.

The helicopter then moved on to fly over the Kalaupapa Peninsula, which for a long time served as a prison for people affected with leprosy before a drug was found to treat this disease. The Kalaupapa Peninsula on the Molokai Island has a very touching history about how the lepers were brought to this isolated island and abandoned to die. Our final in-air stop was Father Damien’s monument. Father Damien was a saint who moved to Molokai at a young age to serve the lepers. He served them for many years until the disease consumed him.

The tour was coming to an end. We flew back over Western Maui Mountains, which are made of an extinct volcano and the 10,000-feet Haleakala Crater, which is a dormant volcano. We slowly descended while still watching the vibrant green valleys and the tropical rainforests. Although, it was the helicopter that was coming closer to the land, it felt more like my ego was descending within me. My settings were being restored to the default mode. We landed. The six strangers didn’t seem like strangers anymore. We had all been through one of the most beautiful experiences of our lives together. We were not the same anymore.

Later in the day, I took a walk on the beach. The sand under my feet had never felt so soft and the sound of the waves had never been so revealing. I sat down watching some distant sailboats and let tears roll down my cheeks.

I cried because once again I had come face to face with myself in my spiritual journey. They were happy and sad tears at the same time. I realized the power of Nature during the helicopter ride. The tallest waterfalls, tallest sea cliffs, the biggest mammal on the planet, the volcano, and finally Saint Damien’s ultimate sacrifice made me feel very small and insignificant. The vastness of the sea below me showed me where exactly I stood in the grand scheme of things. It made me feel that I was a nobody and for the very first time in my life, it felt good deep inside to feel like a nobody. It felt liberating. It felt like a burden had been lifted and I was feeling pure once again.

Exactly at my age, almost 150 years ago, Father Damien had left everything and moved to the remote and isolated Molokai Island to serve the lepers. And here I was touring the island in a cool helicopter watching his monument from air, at the same age when this man was already fulfilling his spiritual destiny by helping the people who nobody wanted to touch, see, or even think about. If I were feeling small before, this realization made me feel even smaller. This was a wake up call!

Don’t you think we are smaller than the smallest dot in the universe? Then how can such tiny human beings like ourselves have the egos that consume the entire universe and make us blind to what is Real? Why do we let our egos engulf everything around us in darkness? Why do we make such a big deal out of us in our own heads? Why do we take ourselves so seriously? Why is the “I” in us so important to us? What is the need to constantly control and conquer Nature? What does it even mean when I say that the helicopter was hovering above the tallest waterfalls and sea cliffs on the planet? Why did it create a feeling of greatness inside me to be above them?

I wiped my tears and continued sitting on the beach. I automatically began meditating and during the process, I realized that it was OK to be small. It was OK for us to not conquer everything and everyone that crosses our path. Even if we are a smallest dot in the cosmos, our souls know no boundaries and the love in our hearts knows no concept of space or time. It could transcend through it all and become bigger than the biggest.

According to the Business Dictionary, this is the definition of default settings, Controls of a computer hardware or software (or of a device, equipment, or machine) as preset by its manufacturer. Some types of default settings may be altered or customized by the user.”

In our case, Nature is our manufacturer and our heart is the software. And this software is definitely not sticking to its default settings given to it by Nature. We have managed to alter our software’s default settings to meet the needs of our ego. Honestly, Love is the only default setting of our heart but we allow it to be engulfed in layers of ego. When ego leaves us, only love remains – the only default setting given to us from the time of creation. If we become Love, there is no need to become anything else. So how do we become love? An occasional helicopter ride and a humpback whale might enhance the process but there are no shortcuts to Love. 🙂 But Love is your shortcut to everything else! And meditation is the only key and the shortest and fastest route to your default settings.

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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