On the Raising of Fathers

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Let’s get this out of the way at the very beginning. There are no perfect fathers, just like there are no perfect children. That could be the end of the blog post right here. In fact for some of you, “father’s day” doesn’t exactly fill your heart with warmth. It may even bring back pain, anger, grief and hurtful memories. And yet, allow me share a bit of my personal story with you.

I was fortunate to be raised, and influenced, by three wonderful men who played tremendous father figures in my life. My birth Dad, my Uncle whose family I spent fourteen wonderful years from third grade on, and my Uncle’s brother in the USA whose family pretty much adopted me from the moment I landed in the USA for graduate studies. All three of these men played roles in my life, most of which I did not understand until I became a Dad myself. 

All my Dads taught me more about sacrifice and grace in motion, than I could possibly hope to learn by myself. And this was all before I had ever read a single word of my ’spiritual guides’ like Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Yogananda, Ramakrishna, and more. Perhaps I was too busy taking notes in my heart about what my ‘real Dads’ were trying to teach me with their lives. Over the years, one by one, they all went to the eternal flame, as all mortals do. In their passage, they each left me with a hidden challenge —  to keep their flame in motion in the world around me. 

I became aware of the challenge when I was presented with the gift to raise my own. In the process, In raising her, I gained greater understanding that I was really raising myself in small ways every day. Could my daughter be raising me through direct experience of empathy, kindness and listening? Could it also be that the tough challenge of raising me had helped raised my Dads in some way? 

Psychologists stress upon the critical role of ‘fathers’ in their children’s lives, but what if the ‘fathers’ are resentful or afraid of the role presented to them? It is hard enough for willing and dedicated Dads to ‘do raising right’, so one can imagine the challenges of those who feel unprepared or unwilling.  In such cases, could the role of ‘raising’ be done more effectively by teachers, mentors, willing relatives, spiritual guides and more? 

There are no easy answers, because no matter how much we talk about ‘simplicity’, life is messy and complicated. The best advice that I got from my Dads was that they gave very little advice, if any at all. They left the door open for me to figure it out on my own  because they had no way of forecasting what I would be facing when doing my own ‘raising’. If anything, my Dads’ best ‘advice’ was in the kindness with which they all treated their family, friends, guests, and those who asked them for help.

The older I get, the wiser my Dads’ life lessons seem to get. I have a ways to go on my journey, and yet I know that they, and my guides, are raising me up every time I stumble and fall. I also know that there is a loving energy in the universe that raises you too. I hope you believe the same. 

Namaste,

Kumud

P.S. Join our #SpiritChat community in our weekly twitter chat, Sunday June 20 at 9amET / 630pm India. We will talk about Fathers, imperfections, and raising each other on our path. I will bring the usual goodies and questions. I hope you join us – @AjmaniK

 

The three who raised me… they show up often in nature…

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A Spiritual Return to Work

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It had been almost a year since I had the opportunity to walk some of my favorite nature trails close to my workplace. The work-from-home life-change had disrupted my almost daily visits to the rivers, bridges and forest spaces of renewal.

All of that changed in an instant this past week, as I took some time off to ‘return to work.’ The work of visiting with some of my ‘best friends’ and checking on their health. It was a wonderful return, a visit that reminded me of how much I had missed this essential part of my spiritual practice.

The trails are the type of friends who never ask you how long you’ve been gone – they just welcome you back with open arms. This felt true about the section of the river that was in spate after the recent rains, as also the section where a mother and her toddler were soaking their toes in its quiet flow under a bridge.

The welcome felt true about the narrow fisherman’s trail where the dense over-growth grabbed your ankles as you walked by, and the tall oaks invited you to hug them in the wide clearings. An hour and a half later, playing and visiting with the damp earth, waters and river beds, clouds in the sky, sunlight among trees, and the ‘ether’ that flows warmth from nature’s heart to mine, I felt while again.

I realized that this is the part of ‘coming to work’ that I had truly missed over the past year. I realized that the daily connection to nature plants seeds of contentment, which grow into branches of calmness and the leaves compassion. Courage and clarity are the flowers and fruits become the tree of spiritual work.

Our real work is perhaps to remember our nature. Connection with nature can remind us that we have the potential to be living, breathing, loving, ever-welcoming, radiant hearts full of joy, awareness and contentment. May we all include That connection in our ‘return to work’ plans.

Namaste,

Kumud

P.S. Join us for our weekly Twitter chat, Sunday June 13 at 9amET / 630om India in #SpiritChat. I look forward to connecting with all of you. – @AjmaniK

The ‘bike path’ through the forest…

The Art of Doing Nothing

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One annual rite of passage at the start of summer is the making of the ‘reading list’. At my daughter’s school, the ‘requirement’ is to read a few thousand words worth of books from a list of their own making. As her first week out of school came to a close on Friday, she decided that we ought to give the library a visit so that she could get started.

The library, after over a year or so? Well, yes! Paper books. Yay! And I would have plenty of time to browse the “New Books” section because her list was a dozen and a half books long. Maybe I would find a new title on poetry or spirituality. We would see…

Thirty minutes of browsing, pulling and putting books back, and nothing was ‘speaking’ to me. And then, a small hardcover in white that said, “NIKSEN – Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing”. This was it. How did the library know that I had been exploring the Zen practice of “Wu Wei” or “purposelessness” over the past week or so?!

Needless to say, “Niksen” came home with me and I have been enjoying it. At first glance, the phrase “doing nothing” seems like an oxymoron because it combines ‘doing’ with ‘nothing’. If we are ‘doing’, then it cannot be ‘nothing’, right? The paradox can be resolved by adding ‘without premeditation or defined purpose’ to the ‘doing’. Think of an unplanned, spontaneous detour on a road trip. Or a trip into la-la land as you pause your brisk morning walk to look at the geese and new goslings cross the street. Or…

In moments where we suspend the churn of mental, emotional and even spiritual activity, we can find ourselves in a state of ‘doing nothing’. It is a state of just being. Some would equate ‘doing nothing’ to ‘being useless’. Even if that were true, the Tao philosophy posits that it is the balance between the ‘useless’ and the ‘useful’ that gives meaning to life. The pursuit of ‘being useful’ accumulates stress and tension in our lives. Embracing the useless by doing nothing, even for a few moments, can release stress and renew us.

We have all experienced those moments where we ‘lost ourselves’ to the world as we immersed into nothingness. Gazing at a butterfly landing on the azaleas, watching the kids rolling down the hill at the playground, listening to a favorite piece of music or dozing off in a lounge chair during a beach trip. You get the idea. Doing nothing can be so much fun because it feels like play! So, why don’t we do more of Niksen or Wu-wei?

We have our reasons, real and imagined. We have responsibilities, deadlines, project reports, home-stuff, school-stuff, work-stuff, the stuff of life and death. How are we supposed to find time for conscious nothingness in our busy lives? Maybe we can ask a different question. Where are we headed if we don’t make time to ‘do nothing’ and give the ‘useful’ moments of our life a chance to rest?

Let’s make time. If necessary, schedule time to do nothing. It’s going to be uncomfortable for some of us ‘go getters’. If it helps, let’s consider your ‘doing nothing’ time as a new growth opportunity. Who knows? We may find ourselves niksening in the “what’s new” section of our local library and even discover some new (inner) treasures.

Kumud

P.S. I invite you to join our weekly Twitter chat on Sunday June 6 at 9amET / 630pm India. We will play with the idea of doing nothing in #Spiritchat! Namaste – @AjmaniK

Sunrise happens while we do nothing…

In Loving Remembrance

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The act of remembrance is a multifaceted thing. Some practice it in deep silence while others may engage it with sound and fury of music and focalization. Some may pick up a brush, dip it in colors and paint their memories into masterpieces, while others may dance their way across wooden floors in the company of new friends.

Regardless of personal preference, the practice is important because it reminds us of the frailty and fragility of our own life. Remembrance and memorialization have been with us as integral parts of our lives for as long as human memory exists. Thousands of years ago, the Egyptians built great pyramids. Why? So that they could be remembered, not forgotten.

This fear that we shall somehow be forgotten in death is perhaps what drives us to seek a purpose-filled life, a life where we ‘make a difference in the world’ and even ‘leave it a better place’. What could we perhaps do in this life that would make us immemorial? We could begin by remembering why we’re here in the first place.

One simple explanation of this ‘why’ is that we are here to remember love. Not just ordinary, human love, but to partake in the experience of divine love. In the Yoga tradition, this experience can be felt through Bhakti – a deep, constant, immersive remembrance of the beloved in the divine. And yet, this is only one way to love.

The Yoga of action, or Karma Yoga, also leads us to divine love. We simply have to remember to dedicate all our actions to the real doer, the divine. The Yogas of knowledge (Gyana) and meditation (Raja), both have pathways to lead us to the remembrance of the presence of divine love in our lives.

Our greatest spiritual challenge is that of forgetfulness. We forget that the opportunity to experience divine love is available to us in every given moment. Yes, love requires labor. But what if we were to remember to integrate deep immersion, inspired action, experiential knowledge and in-the-moment meditation into our labor of loving?

With loving remembrance, we can develop awareness of oneness, and our lives can become living memorials of truth and joy to all those whose silent sacrifices of life-force have fired our hearts with higher purpose. Let our gratitude flow towards them today.

Namaste,

Kumud

Join us for our weekly Twitter chat, Memorial Sunday (in the USA), May 30 at 9amET / 630pm India in #SpiritChat, as we discuss remembrance and love. Namaste ~ @AjmaniK

On Bridges and Spirituality

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I decided that I was going to walk farther than ever before along my recently discovered walking trails around the lake. I figured that I would go as far around the circle that I was allowed, and then have to double-back on my path. It would be a good opportunity to view the morning interplay of light, water, sky, birds and trees from both directions — going clockwise and counter-clockwise.

What I hadn’t accounted for was that I would be presented with an invitation at the three-quarter mark around the circle. It was lying hidden among the tall grasses, in a shallow formed by the meeting of two down-slopes on either side of a moist stream bed. Perhaps the smallest of bridges I have ever encountered — one that a tall person like me would even leap over.

The invitation of the bridge created a decision point, an opportunity. Do I abandon my original plan to double-back and experience the trail from both directions, or do I accept, cross over, complete the circle and engage a different experience in that space and time?

We often encounter such ‘bridge experiences’ in our lives. Bridges tend to hold a fascination for most humans engaged in exploration and discovery, because they represent new possibilities. A bridge need not necessarily be a physical entity – far from it. People and practices, and their ability to facilitate new connections can serve as bridges too.

In many ways, music, art, dance, painting, sewing, hiking, reading, meditating, day-dreaming, sky-watching, cloud-spotting, gardening — name your favorite — can become a bridges. When we accept the invitation of any experience that transports us into a realm that creates sustainable silence, stillness, peace, we become a ‘bridge person’, don’t we?

And yet, we often refuse the invitation of bridges. Fear and uncertainty make us reluctant to build them, to cross over them, or invite others to cross with us. We often choose to double-back and keep reworking our well-trodden paths, rather than engage the ‘new bridge’ experiences, no matter how small the leap or crossing may be. What can help us accept the invitation?

Remembrance that faith, courage and grace are our friends can help us be bridges for others. When we experience our ability to help people in small ways, we gain spiritual strength. When we accept the help of those who have crossed before us, we open our heart to the light. In making small bridge choices, we plant the seeds of bigger crossings.

We are almost home. It’s time to take the leap, to cross over. Are you ready? Let’s walk.

The smallest of bridges, can set us free…

A Spirit of Acceptance

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ery time I tried to come out of it, I kept falling back into the light – that’s what happened multiple times as I tried to emerge from the morning meditation session. It was a bit like the oceans current pulling you back as you try to come ashore after a swim. I did not resist the pull of the light. Every time I was pulled back, I emerged a bit lighter as a result. 

It was a good thing that this happened on a Saturday morning and I could engage this dance without any time constraints of a work day or a school day. Any other day, and I would have resisted being pulled back or falling back, because I had ‘other things’ to do. Such is the nature of the balance between acceptance and resistance. 

How much time and energy are we willing to give to the clearing of our mind and the opening of our heart? When the messengers of pain and suffering come our way, are we going to be accepting of their messages and sit with them, or are we going to rush them away like unexpected guests at our doorsteps? 

Acceptance has another dimension. Our acceptance of our own beauty, our talents, our abilities and our frailties often meets with internal resistance. At some point in our lives, we all have perhaps had a nagging sense that we are not enough, that we don’t belong, and that we are somehow even deserving of our undue share of pain. Our emotional and mental health suffers as a result. 

One pathway to acceptance of our selves is knowing who we are. This self-knowing is different from the knowledge (about who we are) given to us by others, no matter how well (or ill) intentioned they may be. It is useful to ask the question, and ask it often – who am I in this moment? What is my truth? What am I feeling and where did this feeling come from? And so on.

Eventually, when we have had enough immersions in the answers, we may not need to question any more. We come to realize that we are the ocean, and that our separateness from it is a form of forgetfulness of that knowing. 

Through remembrance, comes the knowing of “I am That”. From knowing, come acceptance. With knowing, we can then stay in the ocean or emerge from it. It does not matter either way, because we are then in constant remembrance that we belong to each other. True healing and helping can then begin.

Kumud

P. S. Join us for our weekly gathering with the #spiritchat community on Twitter, Sunday May 16 at 9am ET / 630pm India. We will talk about acceptance over tea, fruit, flowers and cookies. Namaste – @AjmaniK

The sun crests over the trees on a spring morning…

On Mothers and Perspectives

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How can I write about a Mother’s perspective when I am not one according to the world’s definition? One way to attempt it is to write from my viewpoint as a child of a mother. Another way to write about it is through listening, watching and observing the Mothers around me. Yet another way is to consider the varied qualities and roles that ‘Mothers’ play in the world. Let me dive in and try a blend of all of the above.

The biological mother is the physical reason for our being, the conveyor of our existence. All of us have a connection to her through blood, tissue, genetics, and in most cases, nurture and nutrition. From a woman’s perspective, becoming a mother (or wanting to be one) requires a complex investment of physical, emotional, mental and financial energy. My own mother told me the stories of her challenges of getting married at nineteen, and then almost dying while giving birth to my older brother within a year. I often wonder – how would have her life been different if she hadn’t been handed the Mother role at that age? Yes, her three children were her great pride and joy, and yet the way she talked about her dreams, I sometimes wonder – what more could she have accomplished in life if she had had more ‘freedom’ in her role? Do you ever wonder the same about your biological mother?

There are many whose lives have had little influence of their biological mothers. For them, grandparents, fathers, foster parents and even teachers, may have taken over the traditional ‘mother’ role of nurturing, caring and loving. What is the perspective of those children and their ‘mothers’? I happened to stumble upon this perspective through my neighbor’s writing this week. It is titled “The Strength of Surrender” – I invite you to read her powerful story where she says that ‘Courage is a Mother’s first name’. Yes, the perspective of courage can often be overlooked by those who have lived through an ‘ideal’ upbringing – if there is even such a thing as ‘ideal’.

Yet another perspective on Mothers and children is that if the “Universal Mother”. I often refer to “Mother Earth” or “Gaia” as the one that provides unlimited and unconditional love and caring to humans, animals and plants alike. Mother Earth’s various energies manifest in diverse ways, recognizing and filling the needs of growth, development and healing for all her beings. The Universal Mother evokes a perspective of deep gratitude within me – what m’a your perspective on her?

The fourth perspective I would like to present for your consideration is that of the Divine Mother. For me, She represents the ultimate ‘safe harbor’, the ever available giver of warmth, understanding and forgiveness, the fountainhead showering constant love, and the firmament of grace and protection for her beloved children. Every instance of remembrance of such a Divine Mother has the tendency to fill me with light, lightness and joy. How about you? Do you have a similar perspective about her existence, her presence in your life?

I realize that I may not have covered all the perspectives of Mothers today. In fact, it isn’t possible to do so. There are those for whom the Mother perspective is that of pain, suffering, estrangement and more. There are those who have lost a Mother, and Mothers who may have lost children recently. There are those…

My hope and prayer is that whatever your perspective on Mothers may be, may it in some way eventually help you walk towards more love, more light, more healing and more living.

Namaste,

Kumud

P.S. Join us in our weekly chat, Sunday May 9 at 9am ET / 630pm India with the #SpiritChat family on Twitter. I will bring some of my Mom’s favorite chai and snacks – @AjmaniK

The Spirit of Goodness

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It is the first of May. Over the last ten days of April, my mind has been all over the place with all that has been happening in India. If my social media feeds are any gauge, a lot of my friends and family are in the same situation. We are all witnessing the pain, the grief, the suffering – some are in the midst of it and others, who are at a distance, are doing whatever they can to offer help and support.

The anger and rage, despair and despondency, seemed to grow exponentially, as the situation deteriorated at a rapid rate. It seemed that almost everyone that I talked to knew someone who was affected in a big or small way by the virus’ spread in India. A lot of folks, including me, were asking – how could this (be allowed to) happen?

It isn’t unusual for us to ask this question when unprecedented pain, suffering, and death is brought upon humanity – how can a loving God (or higher power) allow so many to be subject to all this? How can this be a just outcome? Where is the goodness in all this?

I believe that these are all good questions to ask. I also believe that darkness and dark times can awaken us, remind our hearts of our empathetic nature, and inspire us to yet again focus on creating goodness and healing through our actions.

My belief in goodness is being re-affirmed every day by the same social media streams that are carrying pleas for help. For every individual plea, there seem to be dozens of people stepping up with ideas, resources, messages of hope and prayers. Non-government organizations, faith groups, corporations, and countries are taking action to provide all kinds of resources.

In the midst of the tragedy, when I refocused my mind, my heart began to see an awakening that led to an outpouring of goodness and goodwill towards India and her people. The questioning and blame setting and analysis of ‘what went wrong’ will continue for a while, and yet there is affirmation that goodness of human hearts is alive and well.

Hundreds of pop-up food kitchens. Folks lining up to donate plasma. NGOs creating makeshift hospitals. Doctors creating zoom networks to provide free consultation around the clock across the country. Teenagers creating “GoFundMe” campaigns to raise money for UNICEF India. Healthcare and frontline workers working untold hours at grave personal risk. The list of goodness and good people goes on and on…

What have I learnt? Darkness is an opportunity to create more goodness, or awaken the reservoir that already exists in our heart. We belong to goodness, because we have breathed it through the live of our parents, our caregivers, our well wishers, our friends and family, our spiritual guides and lights, and even the kindness of strangers.

If there is a winning or losing, then Goodness wins. Let us remember, and stay focused on helping the helpers who embody the hearts and hands of the divine.

Namaste,

Kumud

P.S. Join us for our weekly conversation, Sunday May 2 at 9amET / 630pm India. India and I are grateful for your love and grace, and look forward to sharing tea and cookies with you again. – @AjmaniK

Sunrise on a morning walk. April 2021.

On Life and Dignity

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What is dignity, and why is it important to us as human beings and our human experience? Rather than try to define dignity in physical terms, I feel it easier for me to define its experience. One such experience was the soft spoken-ness of my grandmother, which was inherited by her children, and perhaps by me to some extent. By lowering their voices and weighing their words, particularly in times of great stress, all my elders showed me that dignity can flow from speaking softly, kindly and with deliberation.

Why may we need dignity in speech? Perhaps because it isn’t even possible to have dignity in our actions if our speech is corrupted by indignities of the mind.

How may one develop dignity of thought? One way is to purify the heart, whence the mind’s layers of dirt get flushed with silence, beauty and awareness of the truth that we are.

Yes. We are back to the work of the heart’s purity. One way to purity is to work with an attitude of loving service, as we remind ourselves, and those we may be privileged to serve, of our shared human dignity. Every verdict that “bends the long arc of the moral universe a bit more toward justice”, every invitation by someone to break bread with them, every softly spoken word whispered to us in the hour of our awareness, seeds dignity within us.

It is with these new seeds of dignity that we find the courage to rise yet again, and continue our walk towards that permanent love and grace which is available to all. Our walk need not be complete or complex. In fact the simpler the better, the more dignified it usually is.

This reminds me. It’s time for a cup of tea. One join me. Namaste,

Kumud

P.S. Join in our weekly chat on Twitter, Sunday April 25 at 9amET / 630pm India as we share some tea, fruit, flowers and cookies. Namaste – @AjmaniK

The simplicity, purity and dignity of Spring

Love and Forgiveness by @AwakeningTrue

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Love and Forgiveness 

True forgiveness is like a rainbow – a rare and beautiful gift, precious and elusive.  As a child, I was often told that it was important to “forgive and forget.” No one explained that the step of forgetting – of letting go of our hurt and pain – may be even more important than the act of forgiving.  I understand that now that it is. 

I have been thinking a lot about forgiveness and when I consider the importance of forgiveness in all of the relationships in my life, and in everyone’s life, many questions come to mind… 

… Is it actually possible to “let go” of hurt?

… Do the people who have forgiven me “hold on” to the pain or sadness I caused them?

… Have I truly forgiven someone if I re-live, from time to time, the pain or sadness I experienced?

… How do I know, beyond a doubt, that I have been forgiven?  How does anyone ever know? 

The answers to these questions, and the mechanism for letting go of pain, seem unknowable to me until I add the most essential element in my life: LOVE. 

When we love unconditionally, and when this love guides our thoughts about others and our actions towards them, I know it is possible to “forgive and forget.”  When we love someone unconditionally, the way we hope they love us, we recognize that in our shared humanity we all make mistakes.  We apologize when we sometimes say or do things that hurt others, things we deeply regret.  Others apologize when they hurt us.  And if we are wise, we choose to love and to let go because if we do not, we continue to feel the pain we experienced or caused, and it remains a heavy burden to carry.  Only love can enable us to fully forgive, to let it all go, to drop the burden and move on.  Only unconditional love can help us wipe the slate completely clean.

We are all wonderfully imperfect, and in loving and forgiving ourselves and each other, we experience the same sense of awe we feel when suddenly a rainbow appears after a storm.  The miracle of a rainbow.  The miracle of true forgiveness. The miracle of unconditional love. 

Sharon Kathryn D’Agostino — @SharonDAgostino, @AwakeningTrue and @SayItForwardNow 

Author’s bio: I believe in the power of love, compassion, kindness, forgiveness, and gratitude. And I believe that each of us has an important role in shaping a kinder, gentler, more compassionate world for all. 

Kumud’s note: I am delighted that Sharon will be hosting #SpiritChat for all of us on Sunday, April 18 at 9amET / 1pmUTC / 630pm India on twitter. I am so looking forward to “Love and Forgiveness”, and all the grace that emerges from her leading the conversation on this topic. Thank you, Sharon!

Rainbow of Forgiveness – Photo by Sharon Kathryn D’Agostino

 

IMG 0700 rainbow sharon