On EnLightening the Heart

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From the very beginning on Saturday morning, I sat with colorless tears in my eyes that sealed my eyelids shut at the edges — perhaps not wanting to see any more darkness, perhaps mourning the state of a country ravaged by disease, death, destruction, despair, discrimination and disintegration.

And yet, after relaxation and prayer, there was the ever-present invitation to focus on the light within the heart…

After a few minutes, lightness came as a reminder of what many of us may need to do to cross the street safely – blinded as we may be right now by anger and despair and helplessness or even rage. What we may need to do is to hold on to the person in front of us… just like I would see the kids do at the school for the blind  which was virtually across the street from my high school in New Delhi, India. In a show of great trust, they would each put a hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them. In a show of great hope that the person leading the line could actually see where they were going, they would safely cross the road towards light. 

Enlightened, emboldened, encouraged and empowered, I closed my eyes even tighter. Another thought came to lighter the heart. Perhaps all we need to do to walk the lighted path, to lighten the heart, is to be like toddlers holding on to the hem of the divine mother’s garment as we navigate these new worlds around us. By having child-like faith that the divine knows what’s best for us, and is lighting the heart path that is best for us, we can take another light step.

We take a step forward in a faith that has stood us well through previous trials and dark times. We take a step towards light and lightness, even though that path may occasionally lead us through some seemingly insurmountable obstacles. We take another step forward, even though the path may be filled with the thorns of divisiveness.  And yet, we need not despair, for we know from previous direct experience, that within all of us is planted the reservoir of love and light.

And if the reservoir of love, light, lightness is within us, then it is within them too. They may be unaware of the reservoir, but it is there — for its absence in them would violate the natural law of existence, of fairness, of divine justice. There is the existence of  love within, so that we may learn to lead with it. There is the light within, so that we can turn inward towards it in those dark nights when there are no stars or moons to guide us as the storm rages around us and within us…

Light and lightness within the heart grow trust and faith. They are good defenses against the heaviness of cruelty and injustice. When we add the personal practices of mercy, empathy and kindness, we become the blooming flowers that give light and soil and water to the next generation of leaders. With our example of an enlightened heart, we encourage a new generation of youth  to lead with a sense of fairness, empathy and justice. We construct a brand new world with a brand new generation of heart-centered leadership.

As a gardener, I know that it is often with the dregs of past growth, often called ‘organic matter’, that a brand new lawn or garden can be created. We spread soil mixed with organic matter over a barren land. We use good, enlightened seeds infused with great heart potential, fertilize them with hope, water them with trust and let them be warmed by the sunshine of divine grace. Then we step back and watch a new, kinder and gentler individual, family, community, society, and nation emerge.

It all begins with one heart full of light. An EnLightened heart. One heart that upholds truth, fairness, and yes, even justice — particularly justice. A heart that understands, respects, even reveres natural laws. How can I be so sure that a new lawn of leaders can be seeded? It has been said that “The divine is no respecter of persons”. My interpretation of this is that if it has been done by person, one set of people in space and time before, then it can surely be done by another person and another set of people again.

With that sense of faith and hope, let us heed the call to EnLighten our own heart. Our lighted heart full of warmth is needed to create a new landscape where flowers of truth and justice can bloom again. The woods may be dark now, but we need to keep waking and walking. “We have promises to keep” to those of the next generation holding on to us, as we lead them cross the street to light, just like we held on to the generation of light-bearers before us.

Raise the banner of love. Arise, awake, and stop not until the goal is achieved! – Swami Vivekananda

Kumud

Saturday, May 30 2020. 640am. 

P.S. I invite you to join our weekly conversation in #SpiritChat on twitter, held together by the glue of love and light. This week, we will gather at our usual hour of 9am ET / 1pm UTC / 630pm India. Come and share some practices, some stories, that help you EnLighten your heart. Namaste – Kumud. 

After the rainstorm – light and lightness of raindrops on flowers

After the rainstorm - Lightness

On Living Memorials

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My search for a topic for the weekly chat usually begins around the middle of every week. During most weeks, the topic that I have picked out on Wednesday or Thursday is rarely the final topic that I pick on Friday evening or Saturday. The process of picking the topic isn’t exactly cerebral — it is an amorphous, heart-energy driven act of deep listening. This week was no different. By Friday evening, the topic had gone from ‘welcoming traditions’ on Wednesday to ‘remembrance’ on Thursday to something related to Memorial Day’ on Friday evening.

Saturday morning’s meditation happened to be filled with the ‘Memorial Day’ thought-parade. This mental chatter is actually predictable every week, particularly If I don’t write the weekly cover post by Friday night before bed. Today’s thought-stream was filled with suggestions and questions about how to frame the Sunday conversation. As I emerged from the ‘meditation’ that really wasn’t that still or silent, I noted down the questions that had flowed to me. And then, as I sat outside with my tea, I was prompted  to try something different in lieu of the usual weekly blog post.

I decided to share the questions about ‘Living Memorials’ that came to me during the morning meditation. I don’t believe I have ever shared potential chat questions in the weekly blog post on the Saturday before the live chat on Sundays. And yet, I thought — why not? Maybe it would inspire folks to reflect a bit more deeply about this special Sunday in the USA. Maybe it would inspire them to write and share a blog post of their own, or privately journal about the idea of a “Living Memorial” over the weekend. Maybe it would take the pressure off of those who valiantly try to keep track of, and try to answer every question during the live chat!

So, without further do, here goes. On Living Memorials. Some questions for you. They are in no particular order other than ’stream of awareness’.  I invite you to sit with them. 

  • What is the best memorial we can build to our spiritual inheritance? Our spiritual teachers?
  • How can we truly live in memoriam of those who have nurtured us in life so far?
  • Is it possible to build a living memorial to honor the forgotten? Why or why not?
  • Memorials which hold great importance to us often create a great sense of attachment. What is the psychological, emotional, spiritual impact of memorials?
  • Public and private memorials. What are the similarities and differences in the creating, the living of each one.
  • If and when they look upon how we lived — what would their memorial to us say about our legacy….
  • Physical memorials have been built by mankind for centuries. Why may this be so?
  • Some memorials are expressions of gratitude for those who sacrificed. Others are remembrances of those who perished… How can we best honor both in our daily actions?
  • The greatest acts of remembrance are done by those who ______ for those who _____
  • What kind of memorial, if any, could be ‘constructed’ about humanity’s response to the current pandemic? Should there even be one? Why?

I hope you will take one or more questions and do a deep dive into the answer. Maybe the answer will change color with every sunrise and sunset over the next few days. I invite you to share some of your answers — either in the live chat Sunday at 9amET in #SpiritChat or through any other medium you choose to share in. If you have questions to share about the subject, I welcome them too.

Namaste, and Stay Safe!

Kumud

Nature is a living memorial to life and all that sustains it…

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On Spiritual Grounding

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The the longer I sit here, cross-legged on the floor, the deeper and deeper the fog gets. It feels like it is now at the window, knocking on it, asking to be let in. It is as if I have come awake at one of those hill stations in India on a Saturday where the morning cup of tea on the porch, watching the fog do its magic, is a rite of passage of every summer vacation.

And yet, amid the fog, I feel grounded. Grounding. Yes. Connection with the earth that reminds us that gravity is what keeps us attached to this planet. Without gravitational force, we would all be like the fog, floating, simply existing in suspended animation. Actually, gravity is what keeps the fog hugging the earth too. It is perhaps evidence that suspended animation needs gravity and grounding too. In that way, fog is a bit like electric charge.

I think of electric current as the flow of potential across resistance. Potential, in order to do its best, useful work, seeks closure. It seeks to return to its source, the power plant from whence it originated, by the shortest distance possible. It can only achieve that ‘return to source’ by finding ‘ground’ or being grounded.

Did you ever wonder why every structure or device which flows electricity also includes a path to ground it? It’s a safety mechanism. In the absence of such a path for (excess) current, electricity and its surges would fry our electronically devices, our toasters and refrigerators, and even our homes. Electricity behaves badly when it isn’t grounded. It resorts to short-circuiting.

Humans are electrical beings too. This means that grounding is essential for us to make best use of our potential. Most of the external inputs fed to our senses raise the energy of our electrons. Their internal potential rises, and if their energy doesn’t find a path to ground by the discharge of that energy, they change state. In a sense, our electrons, and we, get short-circuited, suffer burnout or permanent (negative) change without regular grounding. The result is emotional, mental, physical, spiritual ‘crackling’ within us. We become ‘noisy’.

The solution? Give the electrical surge a path to ground. Develop a practice of inner grounding. Where may we begin? During the weekly Zoom chat this week, Sharon shared her deep ‘grounding experience’ when simply sitting by a campfire. Yes. The simple act of putting down our armors, our pros and cons, our devices, can quickly bring us to the grounding that we intrinsically need.

What is the result? Osho describes the experience of inner grounding as ‘becoming the witness’. Grounding will help us simply listen — to birdsongs and waterfalls and partners — without interpreting. Grounding will let gravity do its work on us, as we let it hold us and hug us. Grounding can allow for our inner current to find its way to the heart’s playground, and uncover the path for the heart’s current to flow into us in return.

Over time, with regular spiritual grounding, a lightness of flow will emerge within us. The humming of the divine song will become our constant companion. The song divine will lighten us so, that we will float our way home, listening to its melody.

Ready to try experience grounding? Consider it as a four step process.

We gather our best energies to build up our potential. We ground the inner electrical circuit to source. We recalibrate our resistance by regulating our inputs. We then watch, be witness to the flow of the inner current.

We can do this. Let’s begin. Let’s meditate.

Kumud

P.S. Join the #SpiritChat community in our weekly twitter gathering, Sunday May 17 at 9amET. Some say that it is quite a unique, even a grounding experience. I will play host with some questions – but I mostly show up because it is an excuse for me to drink tea and eat cookies! Namaste – Kumud

P.P.S. In the time that it took me to write this post, the Sun emerged, the fog cleared. It’s a brilliant day. And all I had to do was to sit and watch, be witness.

Yellow Flower above ground

Our Mother’s Energy

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While there may be some perfect children, there are no perfect mothers. Wait. That didn’t sound right. 

Let me try this again. 

While there may some perfect mothers, there are no perfect children. Hmm. That doesn’t sound right either. 

One last time.

Just like there are no perfect children, there are no perfect mothers. Yes. I think that’s how the adage goes. 

If we can accept this premise of two-way imperfection, then we open the door to a lot of possibilities for Mother’s day. We open the door to accepting that both mothers and children are often doing the best they can as they muddle their way through their lives. The occasionally collaborative muddling is clouded with doubt and constant questioning, perhaps more on the part of mothers than their children.

For the most part, mothers are tough on themselves. To a large extent, I saw this with my own mothers.Yes. That’s a plural. Both my birth-mother and her sister who raised me for fourteen years, were tough on themselves. My aunt was tough on the kids too, but in a this-is-for-your-own-good kind of way. I also see this tough-on-self, but in her case, soft-on-the-kid approach in my wife, as she works on her role as a mother. Our daughter gets a (really) wide berth from her, and yet, my daughter also knows when she’e reaching the end of rope. It’s a very interesting dynamic for me to watch. 

The burden of perfection wears heavy on women as they learn their way into their roles as mothers. Society expectations of women in this role is extremely high. Women are expected to be primary caregivers, providers, nourishers, teachers and much more. It is a miracle that they can stay in sound mental health under all this pressure. During Mother’s day week, I often think about the pressures that my Mom must have felt, having her first child, my brother. at the age of nineteen, ten months after she got married. Barely out of childhood, and here she was, taking care of a child of her own. 

I wonder what her life would have been like if she hadn’t been handed the early-in-life of Mother. She was twenty one when I was born. What kind of dreams of her own did she have, that got put on the shelf — some of them to stay there permanently. She was very happily married to Dad, and they had lots of travels and adventures together, with us. There were a lot of moments of joy and family times full of tea, music, food and playing cards. And yet, I could feel that there was a sense of searching (for something) within her.

In her case, the search led her to her meditation practice late in life. She was always a devoted to her faith and religious person. However, her meditation practice gave her persona a lightness of heart and joy which had been missing in her life. It was as if she had received a re-birth of her faith through personal experience of divine energy in her life. There was nary a weekly phone conversation where she wouldn’t bring up her practice and her experiences with it. To say that this new child-like joy of hers had an influence on me, is an understatement. And so, a new journey began for me, as I decided to follow her method, a mere few months before she merged with light. 

This is the story of two people, mother and child, who began their journey together by muddling through the early years, and then spent most of their physical lives at long distances from each other after the child turned seven. And yet, the connection on the emotional level was rarely frayed — even during, and particularly so when we strongly disagreed with each other. Her final bequest to me was the sharing of her late in life spiritual practice, for which I am eternal grateful, for it shall keep me connected to her in stillness, silence and light. 

That’s part of the story of me, one of my mothers, and our imperfections. What’s your story? Are you among the few whose mother thought that you were the perfect child? Do you (or did you) believe that your Mom could do no wrong, and that she  ‘walked on water’? What were some defining moments of your ‘travels’ with your Mother or the one(s) who raised you? Were there any influences, weak or strong, that your Mama had on you, or that you had on her?

I have learnt over the years of hosting #SpiritChat that Mother’s Day is a day of widely varying emotions for many of us. It isn’t necessarily a day of celebration for some, particularly those who may have had negative experiences with their mothers. In addition, this day is very tough on those mothers who may be grieving the recent loss of a child, or children grieving their recently lost mother. And then there are those who want to be mothers, but for various reasons, can’t. The mothers of the disappeared. The mothers of those in refugee camps. The mothers of those in ICE detention centers. The mothers of those caught in human trafficking. The single mothers coping with the pandemic. The mothers trapped in heightened domestic abuse during the pandemic. The mothers across the world who struggle every day to provide drinking water, food, maybe even soap, for their children. And many more. 

And yet, I have also learnt, that there are those who do embrace this day to honor, celebrate and express gratitude for their journey together – mothers and children alike. What message can we send to all of them on Mother’s Day? Maybe we can make a small donation to women’s shelters and organizations like MitzvahCircle or UNICEF or UNHCR. We can send them a message of Hope with our giving, because it would mean the world to them.

In a spiritual sense, no matter where we may fall on the spectrum of joy or grief on this day, one thing is for certain. We can warm our heart in the knowing that the energy of the Divine Mother is constantly watching over us with deep love, suffusing her healing light into our heart, and is ever-present with her grace in our life. When we experience that divine energy, we can all find cause for remembrance and celebrate Her on this Mothers’ Day.

Namaste,

Kumud

P.S. Join us as we gather for our weekly conversation on twitter with the #SpiritChat community. Sunday, May 10 at 9amET / 630pm India. We will talk a little about “A Mother’s Energy”, and share some stories about how we muddled through childhood together. Namaste – AjmaniK

A blue (or is it purple or magenta?) iris blooms – my Mother’s favorite colors…

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Spirituality by Numbers

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The Big Numbers

If some of you are like me, then the month of April probably felt like it had much more than the normal thirty days. Some days  seemed like to run into another, and we would sometimes forget what day of the week it was. Some days even seemed to last longer or shorter than the usual twenty four hours depending on our frame of mind. 

So, it was a bit of welcome relief to actually see the calendar roll over from April to May. There was a sense of freshness about seeing the single digit, 1, in the calendar icon on my phone’s home screen. It felt like the universe was nudging me to begin anew and re-establish some sort of a normal schedule — whatever ‘normal’ even means or will mean any more. As I looked back at April, I couldn’t help but think about some numbers.

We dealt with a lot of really big numbers in April. Trillions, billions, millions, hundred thousands, tens of thousands. In various different contexts, these numbers with lots of zeroes attached to them, came into our awareness. Some of these large numbers  will perhaps remain in our awareness for a while, if not permanently. We may rarely ever again treat them as mere numbers, because they attempt to quantify the impact of Covid19 on our collective consciousness. 

However, numbers big or small, did not always a role, or any role in human life of the past. Humans only invented numbers a few thousand years ago. Before that, humanity led a life on Earth for a fairly long time without numbers. This doesn’t mean that the ancient humans did not know how to count – they probably didn’t use numbers in the way that we use them. Some of us humans like me, even get obsessed with numbers occasionally. 

Learning Small Numbers

One of the very first things we want to teach toddlers is the skill of counting. As parents, it is often a great moment of accomplishment and pride when our child can learn how to count from one to ten. It’s a milestone of sorts. If they didn’t learn  how to count, children would be greatly impaired to function in this world. The parents and teachers would be deemed downright failures. And yet, I would posit that counting, numbers and the ability to eventually learn mathematics is mostly a mental skill. 

So, I reflected on the question – how do we remove ourselves from our dependence on numbers, if only for a moment? Nature provides the immediate answer. Walking the forest trail, I have never counted the number or trees. I have never even thought about counting as I walk across a bridge, marvel at the river’s flow, watch the woodpeckers tap on the trees, get blinded by the sunlight streaking through the trees or watch new flowers springing before my very eyes. When the storm starts to build up over the lake and the clouds do their dance, numbers are erased from my consciousness. You get the idea.

To quote Shakespeare — “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. I would take some liberty and replace ‘philosophy’ with ‘numbers’ — particularly the really large numbers. The ones with all those zeroes, particularly those which quantify pain, suffering and death, tend to overwhelm the heart and mind. It isn’t that every single person’s grief and healing isn’t important. It’s that when we look at suffering in mass aggregates, we run the risk of losing empathy for the individual.

Spirituality and Significant Numbers

And yet, there are some numbers which are very important from the heart’s perspective, from the spiritual perspective. In the vein of ‘paint by numbers’, let us be creative and look at them as ‘spirituality by numbers’. I was going to list a countdown from twelve, but for the sake of brevity, I will limit it to five. So, let us begin. 

Five. The number five represents the elements, and our senses. Our body is considered to have ten (a multiple of five) doorways, through which we receive sensory input. It is the tenth, the invisible space between the eyes, the third eye, which is the most significant from a spiritual perspective. It is used by many as the doorway to travel within, and as also the seat of awakening. 

Four. The four quadrants of the heart space and the cardinal points come to mind with the number four. In spirituality, there are the familiar three — the heart, the mind and the body — and also an additional fourth, unexplored, unearthed dimension. Can you think of any more spiritual interpretations of the number four?

The number three immediately evokes the Trinity of Christianity. In Sanatana Dharma (hinduism), three represents the powers of creation, sustenance and destruction that govern the cycle of life. The notion of word, thought and action, all interconnected, represent the number three. There is no thought without word, and thoughtless action notwithstanding, there is no action without first being impelled by thought. 

What about the number two? The philosophy of duality follows from the notion of two. Man is created in the image of the divine. Man eventually merges into the divine. These flow from the ideas of duality, which are often the creators of the ego, which can be the cause of great pain and suffering. One proposed solution is to discard the notion of duality. 

Finally, we arrive at the number One. The idea of Oneness is very appealing to many, because it represents our Universal nature. If we can remember to constantly embrace our fundamental nature of Oneness, then the world would be one of infinite love. And yet, the practice of Oneness is a work in progress. It is a seemingly huge task and yet it can be accomplished if we begin by recognizing and experiencing our own Oneness with the divine. The heart is our instrument, our flute to the experience of Oneness — if we let the divine breathe the breath of love through it. 

The lesson for me from April has been that it is easier to focus on the small tractable numbers. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Learning to count, all over again. Not to be outdone or ignored, zero is possibly the most powerful number of all. Zero can take any number, no matter how big or small, and by multiplication. reduce it to itself. Zero can also take any number, big or small, and by division by itself, create infinity.

From zero to infinity. That is all the spirituality by numbers we will ever need in our new present, won’t we?

Kumud

P.S. Longest blog post ever, isn’t this? I get carried away by numbers. Thanks for reading. And join us for our weekly gathering of folks in #SpiritChat on Sunday, May 3 at 9am ET / 1pm UTC / 630pm India. We will talk about some small numbers over tea, coffee, fruit, cookies, and a few questions. Namaste – @AjmaniK

Sunset – Spirituality, beyond the Numbers

Sunest Spirituality by Numbers

Our New Spiritual Earth

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Earth Day celebrations this year followed the trend of so many events that have gone virtual or online over the past month or so. It has been a month where every day seems the same, and some days we are hard-pressed to remember what day of the week it actually is. In such times, one would have ample reason to forget about Earth Day, let alone celebrate it in any meaningful way. 

On the other hand, this is a year where the fiftieth Earth Day and Earth month observances could not have come at a more appropriate time. The incidence and spread of the SARS Covid-2 Virus or the Novel Coronavirus has brought large parts of the world to a virtual standstill. Some are referring to these times as “The Great Pause”. Country-wide “lockdowns” and “stay at home” orders have entered the vernacular of our awareness. 

There have been many visible and measurable effects of the pausing, the slowing-down, the stopping of everyday human activities on our planet. Early on in the pause, we saw satellite imagery of noticeable reduction of pollution over countries like China, large parts of Europe, India, and more. Residents of a city in northern India woke up to a new landscape of reduced air pollution. After almost three decades, they could now actually see the snow-capped peaks of their neighboring  Himalayas. Scientists have reported that the great pause had actually changed the level of seismic activity, the way the Earth was moving.

It is reasonable to expect that the effects of this unprecedented, large-scale pause in human activity are going to be short-term in nature. However, if seeing is indeed believing, then these changes have shown us how rapidly and dramatically we humans can effect change on our planet. One may argue that we are in extraordinary times, and that the current drastic reduction in human activity is a blip on the radar. That argument is probably correct. However, even small, incremental, persistent changes in our behavior can eventually change the energy and the vibration of our planet. It is like boiling cold water – it often seems like it is taking forever for the water to warm up. Once the water reaches 211F, it only takes a single degree of change, for it to change state and becomes steam. Massive change often comes in slow increments, from small commitments.

The newly minted weekly video gathering of #SpiritChat folks occurred on Earth Day this week. Four of us gathered briefly, and contemplated asked the question – what does Earth Day mean to us? Sharon (@awakeningtrue) offered that her hope was that more folks would take the opportunity to meditate on Gaia and her warm, golden, healing energy. Julie (@juliejordanscot) said that she was going to act on a challenge to hug a tree deeply, with a warm loving embrace, and feel its energetic, inner vibration. Quratulain (@iquarattariq) spoke about how the great pause has led her to ‘reduce her footprint’ on this One Earth, and to be grateful for her abundant life, when compared to so many others’ lives. On behalf of the community, I offered a reading of a short poem by Emily Dickinson…

Nature rarely uses yellow
Than another hue;
Saves she all of that for sunsets, —
Prodigal of blue;

Spending scarlet like a woman,
Yellow she affords
Only scantly and selectly,
Like a lover’s words.

– Nature XXXI #EmilyDickinson #CollectedPoems

 

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Sunset in the backyard (Fall 2018) 

What may Earth Day mean to you? We have a few more days left in this Earth month of April. We still have time to consider some small changes that we can make in our lives — changes that will eventually make a huge impact on all the elements of our planet. The water we drink, the earth we plant seeds in, the air we breathe — all these elements, this ecology, is looking forward to helping ensure for our healthy, long-term survival. On this Earth day, in this Earth month, we can perhaps commit to meeting the planet and its elements at least half-way, can’t we? And yet, we have something greater to do.

The greater commitment we can make on this Earth Day is to take a great pause, and examine the state of our inner Earth. What can we do to cleanse our inner Earth’s elements of the toxic pollutants of fear, anger, jealousy, prejudice, and the like? How can we create a sustainable, rare Earth that embodies the five elements of simplicity, purity, peace, amity and compassion? If it is true that the outer world reflects the state of our inner world, then let us accept the invitation to begin within.

Let us embrace the opportunity provided by the great pause with a sense of urgency. The time to act is now. We have the heart and soul of the planet to heal. 

Kumud

P.S. Please join us on Sunday, April 26 at 9amET / 1pmUTC / 630pm India for our weekly gathering of the #SpiritChat community on twitter. We will discuss our commitment to action to the Earth within and without. Thank you for reading. Namaste – @AjmaniK

Do the best you can, until you know better; Then when you know better, Do better — Maya Angelou

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On Spiritual Liberation

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The idea of liberation, of freedom, is perhaps as old as humans have been around on planet Earth. One of the freedoms that we seek in our daily lives is to be liberated from the bondage of the laws of Nature and its hold over us.

We want to climb a mountain? Nature stands in our way. We want to grow crops? Floods and droughts thwart us. We want to reach the Moon and Mars? We have to overcome gravity. We want to cross the oceans? Storms pose all kinds of disruptions. We want to be in good health? We are constantly fighting off all kinds of microbes, germs and viruses.

How finite it seems that we are! How helpless like soft clay in the hands of the potter who moulds us and our lives on his spinning wheel of time, space and causation! How little control we seemingly have of our own existence, for we do not even know whether we will get the next breath or not!

So, it is natural that we seek liberation, seek freedom from the agency that Nature exerts upon our every exertion towards progress. Our seeking for liberation is essentially an affirmation, a confirmation, an assurance that we are not just finite, but possibly Infinite. How can we be both finite and Infinite?* How do we resolve this conflict?

To resolve conflict, the first step is to heal, to harmonize, to integrate with Nature. When we take actions to live in integrity with Nature, then our life becomes more peaceful.  In the presence of this peace and healing with the without, we can begin the journey to exploring our Infinite nature within. On this inner journey we can experience the bliss Absolute of our integrity with the whole, with the Oneness. When we experience that divine Oneness, we have the opportunity to become the living free, the jeevan mukta — one who walks awake in the state of moksha, of nirvana, 

The how to question of spiritual liberation, of experiencing the infinite, is often much simpler to answer than the why to question. The paths to the inner experience are many and multifarious. Some say that walking the path is more that important than the path itself. In that vein, some prefer the methods of deep prayer, practicing intuition, extra-sensory perception, divination, and the like. Some prefer the method of withdrawing their attention seed from the external, from Nature, and sowing it within, in meditation. Through the regular practice of meditation, we can give the seed sunlight and water, and an opportunity to grow in the heart’s soil.

How do we know that our spiritual practice(s) are being effective to move us towards liberation? We begin to experience our   Infinite divine nature is experienced  by us as a state of bliss absolute, a state of permanence, a state of truth and higher knowledge. Once we have experienced a glimpse of the infinite, of our divine reality, we are on the path to liberation from our limited, finite nature. We are breaking the shackles of the external, of Nature itself. True liberation is thus  like the butterfly who emerges from the cocoon of finite existence, with her wings having been energized with the experience of its own infinite potential.

Yes, butterflies are still subject to the laws of nature, to cause and effect, to life and death. And yet, every flap of their wings as they defy gravity and gracefully glide among flowers sends messages into eternity. They seem to be saying — yes, you are finite like us, but you have also been given the opportunity to realize your Infinite nature.

Let us heed the messages. Let us not hanker for or rush to return to the old normal. It didn’t serve many of us very well, did it? Instead, why not pause to create a new normal with our newly discovered infinite nature? Can we imagine a new, sustainable world of caring, compassion, courage, empathy, forgiveness, giving, healing, joy, kindness, purity, simplicity, solidarity, and Ubuntu?

Are we ready to realize our Infinite nature? What do we have to lose? Let us take the first step. Let us begin with simplicity. Let us take responsibility for our own spiritual liberation.

Kumud

*Swami Vivekananda. The Open Secret (Los Angeles, CA, Jan 5 1900)

P.S. Join us for our weekly twitter gathering and conversation – Sunday, April 19 at 9amET / 1pmUTC / 630pm India. We will talk about the finite and the infinite, and yes, even a bit about liberation over tea and coffee, fruit and bakery. Namaste – @AjmaniK

Breaking free – expressing their infinite potential – the first blooms of spring…

IMG 2037 spring buds

On Raising Compassion

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In all the years that I have been hosting the Sunday #SpiritChat, it has become a sort of tradition to ‘pause’ the weekly virtual gathering of our community on Easter Sunday. One reason for the ‘pause’ is that it is a day for celebration with ‘real life’ friends and family and local community. Many of our #SpiritChat community members are traveling or hosting travelers in their homes. Another reason is that it is usually ‘spring break’ time for my school-going daughter, and I myself am traveling. Perhaps the biggest reason for the ‘pause’ is that it serves as a day of reverence, renewal, reflection and, often, new spiritual resolutions for me and many in the community. 

However, this year, life is a bit different because a lot of us are not going to be gathering with our ‘real life’ communities on Easter. A lot of us are ‘physical distancing’ to help contain the spread of the pandemic, and we can see some positive results emerging from our efforts, as each of us in our small way contribute to the wellness of the whole. So, we break ‘tradition’ and gather virtually, to connect and celebrate our collaborative spirit of compassion. 

When I started to think about the topic for this unique day, I initially thought about resolve, resolution, renewal, rebirth, and yes, even resurrection. However, the more I read about how different communities, cities, states and countries have been responding to this unique challenge, the more I asked myself the question – what is the greatest need of the current situation? To rephrase the question in the form that was popular a few years ago — What would Jesus Do (WWJD)?

Two Aprils ago, we were all in Southern Brazil on my father-in-law’s farm for the Easter holiday and spring break. There were a lot of gatherings with my wife’s immediate and extended family. The one event that was perhaps most impactful to me was the one that I hadn’t planned on or expected to attend. It was an Easter service at the family’s local church where my wife’s cousin is the priest. I wasn’t sure what to expect, because I had never attended an Easter service before. I went with an open heart, with the expectation that I would find some common ground with temple services. 

Sure enough, there was common ground aplenty. There was light through candles, there was music and singing through the choir and congretation’s singing, there were rituals and pageantry, and much more. Above all, there was family togetherness, and the peace among all those gathered was palpable and pronounced. At the start of the service, when the priest and processional walked through the center aisle with the Cross held high, I was immediately reminded of Swami Vivekanda’s famous quote — “ Unfurl the banner of Love! – Arise, Awake and stop not until the goal is reached.”

Compassion is our common ground because it represents a commingling of all the different streams of love, with a passion for each others’ well-being. Love is the banner that has been raised in all times, by all spiritual teachers of all spiritual denominations. When we raise the banner of compassion, we celebrate the resurrection and empowerment of the heart. When so empowered, we evoke grace, we act with tenderness, we put into motion the wheels of empathy. 

So, for the opportunity to raise compassion and find common ground, let us gather virtually again. Let us celebrate the heart’s resurgence, and honor the remembrance of love and light that Easter represents. 

Namaste,

Kumud

P.S. What does (spiritual) Easter represent to you? Share with us in our weekly gathering on twitter in #SpiritChat – Sunday, April 12 at 9amET / 1pm GMT / 630pm India. To all those celebrating, Happy Easter and Feliz Pascoa! Namaste – @AjmaniK

Let the Lillies rise again…

IMG 1955 Lillies

 

Our Spiritual Stress-Test

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Most of you may not know that my day-to-day engineering work involves computational modeling and testing of aircraft engine systems, in particular the combustion system or the combustor. As the name suggests, it is the system where fuel and air is mixed in varying ratios to create the desired amount of heat for takeoff, cruising, landing, and so on. In short, the goal of our models is to predict and improve, as best as we can, the efficiency of the engine, and the emissions created by it. The models are constantly improved and tweaked based on data from actual hardware tests. The models help in preliminary design of new hardware, and reduce the costs and time required to build a new, better combustor. 

The average time to design, build, test, re-test, certify and eventually put a new system on an airplane, particularly a combustor, is about ten years. Computer modeling is helping to reduce the ten-year cycle, but we aren’t quite there yet. The reason is that the modeling of the mixing of air and fuel and the subsequent fire that is created, is more complex than it looks. It can often take three to four weeks for thousands of computers working in tandem to produce a single answer for a single setting of the engine (say, takeoff).

Still with me? You can now understand why I have been fascinated by all the attempts of scientists to try and predict the growth, the spread and the mortality rate of the Covid-19 virus.  The modeling is being done with limited real-world data, and with limited understanding of how the virus affects different populations and how fast it is being spread by those who don’t show any symptoms. The result is that is a large amount of uncertainty in the various models’ predictions of when the infections are going to peak in a particular city or state, and what the corresponding death rate is going to be.

In short, the modeling is less than perfect. However, the early modeling was very useful giving hospital systems in cities and states a rough estimate of the number of cases that could happen if no action was takien. This early-warning system is what prompted the calls to “flatten the curve” so that the healthcare systems would not get overwhelmed and fail their stress-test. Some states passed “stay at home” orders, and hoped that citizens would heed their plea and actually comply. In my state of Ohio, the vast majority of citizens did comply,  and the result was that we have collectively put the state and our frontline healthcare workforce in a good position to deal with the peak of the stress-test that is coming in a few weeks. 

And yet, we know that, as of this writing, our preparation is not enough to avoid the stress-test that is coming our way. The very first time I heard of the possibility of one hundred thousand deaths in the early part of the week, I went into a bit of shock. Even though I had been following the modeling closely, I had a very difficult time accepting this number. Over the next few days, my emotions ranged between anger, angst, anguish, acrimony, animosity, and even a bit of anxiety. It felt like my emotional and spiritual systems were facing a stress-test of their own. 

How did my spiritual training and practices respond to the stress-test? How well did they withstand the shock of the emotional waves that came ashore like a raging storm? I would say that the jury is still out. The initial shock and stress-test did expose the cracks in my individual preparedness. I came face-to-face with the awareness that the practices I have developed over the past few years, while useful, need to be shored up. Yes, there was perhaps no way to design my spiritual practices to pass a stress-test of this once-in-a-generation magnitude. What spiritual practices has the current stress-test reminded me of?

The current stress-test has reminded me of the daily habit of returning to the healing voice within, of taking time to limit the voices that influence my mind from the without. It has brought the practices of ’empathy for the suffering’ and ‘gratitude for grace’ to the forefront of my awareness. It has led me to reconnect with nature and ask the question – how do nature’s flora and fauna deal with the stress-tests that they are given?

Late Friday afternoon, it occurred to me that the local bird reservation must have undergone quite a transformation since the two weeks that I had last visited there. When I arrived there, the parking lot was much more full than I could ever remember. In a small patch of grass at the beginning of the trail, a young couple was having a picnic with their toddler and their puppy. The bridge that spans the pond at the entrance had a mother with her two teenage daughters admiring the ducks that were floating around peacefully. The wooded part of the trail sported a wide range of parents with their kids sporting binoculars and cameras, taking in the sights and sounds of the forest. The sun was playing hide and seek with the tall trees and starting to cast long reflections on the trail. Along the stretch that runs between two lakes on either side of it, several pairs of geese had staked out small patches of territory (with proper physical distancing) for nesting. There was a baby turtle sunning itself on a small island in the middle of a swathe of blue. The half-moon had already risen high into the early evening sky, ready to bid the sun a good night. 

As I headed back from my visit, it struck me that all seemed well with the world of nature. There was no sign of stress, let alone any sign of a stress-test. The reservation was in the process of embracing spring with an open, joyous heart. I felt immersed in nature’s joy, internalizing it. I felt nature reminding me that in the midst of perhaps the greatest stress-test of our times, our best spiritual practices are those which return us to our intrinsic nature of love and joy. 

No matter what the projections and models say, we are all in this together. There is no computer model that can predict the strength of human resilience. With cooperation, integration and harmony, we can pass this stress-test. Of that, I am sure. 

Kumud

P.S. Join us for our weekly gathering on twitter on Sunday April 5 at 9amET / 630pm India. How are you coping with the current stress-test? What practices are helping you most in these times? How can the #SpiritChat community be of help to you in these times? Do share with us. We look forward to connecting and listening. Namaste – @AjmaniK

Resources: IHME Covid-19 Modeling (US State-by-State Data) / State of Ohio Covid-19 Modeling / American Medical Association Podcast: Vaccines and Immunity

A goose takes a rest from nesting… yoga on the trail! 

IMG 1844

Our Spiritual Reserves

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The sound of distant rolling thunder woke me up from my deep sleep. It felt like a freight train was headed in our direction, and I tried to go back to sleep but to no avail. The storm grew louder and louder until it was close enough to pelt the windows with a driving downpour. It was determined to be heard, demanding an awakening. And then, just like that (or so it seemed), there was silence as it must have quickly moved east. Even though the eye of the storm had passed, I could hear the distant rumblings, but from a different direction.

And yet, using my relaxation technique, I managed to go back to sleep again.But this felt like a different kind of sleep. Thunderstorms are known to charge the atmosphere with ions as they pass through. The severity of this one in the pre-dawn hour must have done the same. This new sleep felt like I had one eye open in uncertainty, in a kind of raised awareness. An awareness of a low intensity electric current running through the heart. A current that was asking questions like — what is truly essential in my life, what am I certain of amid this uncertainty, what is my readiness level for the next storm?

My Isshin-ryū sensei often used to say, a large part of preparedness is about knowing your strengths. He was also a proponent of practicing the basics, over and over and over again — even for, and particularly for, the black belts. “If you forget the basics, your foundation will weaken, and your mental reserves will eventually dwindle to the point where even a weak storm (opponent) will knock you over.” Good self-defense is a combination of awareness of our strengths, of the potential and intensity of the threat(s), and of our reserves.

Some storms come our way without warning or grow quickly upon us. They are like the hit that we don’t expect and they  hurts the most. There are other storms which can be seen coming our way from a distance. The early warning systems are flashing yellow, and the ones who have had their sleep broken before, know that it’s time to awaken. They know that this isn’t time to choose to ignore the warnings or to believe that they are somehow immune. They take action to check on their preparedness, to build up their physical, mental and spiritual reserves. 

What may our spiritual reserves look, sound and feel like? They may look like select passages of our faith’s texts or the essays and writings of spiritual luminaries who inspire and enlighten us. They may sound like the saying of our childhood prayers, the singing of our favorite soothing songs, the poetry recitations of hope, or the re-reading of stories read to us by our parents and teachers. They may feel like the remembrance of moments that gave us courage when we felt that we were deeply loved.

How do we build up our spiritual reserves? We build our reserves every time that we read a little bit more of the inspirational, sing a little bit more of the devotional, share a little bit more of the emotional. We can also build our reserves when we do regular check-ins with how we’re feeling, become more aware about how we let others’ actions influence our feelings, and clean our receptivity filters. Engaging the mundane can help us build our reserves too.

As I was walking the dog yesterday evening with my daughter, we got into a conversation about who expends more energy per body weight in a walk around the block – dogs or humans? Does it make a difference that humans have to only use two legs and dogs have to use four? This led to other mundane questions. How is it that the dog, in the middle of a deep sleep on a couch in the back of the house, can spring awake and bolt to the front of the house because he has sensed another dog walking by?  

Yes. Sometimes, asking the mundane questions of life is a good distraction because it shifts our awareness from the impending storm to the present moment. It gives us time to pause, to breathe, to let our guard down and let the nervous system resume its normal flow.

So, what are we to do with all this preparedness? What is the best use our spiritual reserves? We can use them to support those who are leading community preparedness, to spread awareness about the need to prepare, to perform small acts of kindness, to dissipate our fear and to boost our spiritual immunity. We can use are reserves to create more empathy for the suffering, deepen our friendships and even form new ones, and learn anew to find joy in the small things.

We are all in this together. Now, more than ever, our connectedness is essential. Of that, I am certain.

Kumud

P.S. Join us for our weekly conversation on twitter in #SpiritChat – Sunday, March 29 at 9am ET / 1pm GMT / 630pm India. We will try and boost each other spiritual reserves through (mundane) questions over tea and cookies. It isn’t the end of the world, and yet it may be the beginning of the creation of a new, more empathetic one. Namaste – @AjmaniK

Sunrise on the beach in Riveria Maya (March 2016) 

Sunrise on Riveria Maya