Growing up in India, the primary source of protein for our primarily vegetarian diet was a regular supply of lentils. They came in all kinds of colors – red, green, yellow, orange, black, and more. There were the split lentils and the whole bean variety like the black-eyed peas, red kidney beans and the white and red garbanzo beans. The first step to cooking dry lentils is to sift through them to find any stray pieces of rocks that may have come with them. Once sifted, you soak them – sometimes overnight – and then cook them with spices suitable for the particular lentil. Without the sifting, the rocks end up cracking your teeth when you bite down on them while eating the soft, cooked lentils.
She was a wonderful cook and the kindest soul I have probably ever known. No one – friend, family, or stranger – could visit her simple home and not be treated like the most important person that they were. She lived the axiom that every “guest” is a messenger of the divine. I asked my maternal grandmother one day – what is your secret? How is it that you can be so kind to everyone who comes into contact with you?
She sat me down on the coir mat in her kitchen and made me my favorite flatbread on her griddle, drizzled it with a bit of clarified butter and sprinkled some brown sugar on top. “Eat first”, see said. “Then we will talk”. Once I was done eating, she asked – “will you have some tea”. All I wanted was the answer to my question. What I got instead was sweetness and kindness. After we were both done drinking a bit of tea in small glass cups, she gave me the answer.
“Every person in the world is like a bowl of uncooked lentils,” she said. “If each piece of lentil in the bowl is a character trait, then every person is bound to have some ‘rocks’ or flaws. You have to learn to ‘sift’ out these ‘rocks’ when you engage with them. Then you are engaging only with the goodness within them. In essence, you are doing them a great kindness. The benefit of this practice is that you end up sowing seeds of kindness within your own heart.”
Kindness, empathy, dignity, compassion, inclusion, dignity, faith, resilience, humility and joy. These are all seeds that are ready and waiting for us to plant in the fields of common ground, for the betterment of all. Kindness is the first seed. When we begin with kindness, then all the other seeds can germinate well and eventually yield a new, healthy crop of seeds for the next generation. My grandmother would be so happy today to see her namesake, Kamala, getting ready to sow seeds of kindness, unity and healing for the growth of a new world.
Will we exhibit leadership by taking their cue and plant a few new seeds of kindness of our own today, and every day from here on out?
P.S. Join our weekly twitter chat, Sunday Nov 8 at 9amET / 730pm India. We will sow some new seeds of kindness together for health, healing and harmony in our world. Namaste – @AjmaniK
What is the primary goal of spiritual practice and a spiritual mind-set and heart-set towards life? We all may have different answers to this question. From personal experience, I can say that the answers to this question often change with time, with our station in life, and as our definition of life-purpose changes.
One thread that runs common through all our answers to the question of “why spirituality” is perhaps to find an answer to the question – “Who am I”? It is with this self-inquiry that our search for self-knowledge often begins. It is when we begin the journey to look within that we can begin to see the aspects of ourselves that may need “improvement”. This often leads us down the path of seeking “self-improvement”, which often brings us to the path of “self-care”, and then “spiritual care”.
Hold that thought for a minute while I introduce you to my friend Jon Mertz. I met Jon in my early days of twitter, and we quickly became friends because he had a clarity of purpose and a transparency that was refreshing. He was very supportive of #SpiritChat during the early years, and remains so to this day. The opportunity came to meet him in Dallas, TX in January 2013, and we got together for lunch when I was visiting there for an Aerospace conference.
Let’s bring back the thought of “self-improvement” and “spiritual care”. Over the past few weeks on twitter, Jon introduced me to his concept of “betterment”. I was drawn to the concept because “betterment” seems to be the logical outcome of “self-knowledge” and “self-care”. It is when our spiritual practices “better” our state of awareness, “better” our state of Joy, “better” our state of Truth, that we know that spiritual growth is happening.
Jon Mertz has written a wonderful post to introduce the concept of Betterment as a “New Leadership Calling”. From a spiritual perspective, the “calling” is what first awakens us to the notion that we need to change something within. Regardless of our initial goal or motivation to change, it is when our efforts and practices produce tangible betterment in our lives that we are inspired to keep walking our path.
Betterment is simple. How do our actions and interactions make others better? How do our actions and interactions make ourselves better? – Jon Mertz
The simpler an idea is, the easier it is to implement, integrate into and sustain in our daily practice of living. Betterment meets that criteria.
Betterment is evolutionary and, sometimes, transformational. – Jon Mertz
The outcome of our spiritual practice is often transformational. Transformation of the heart, mind and spirit is the knowing that answers the question — Who am I? How am I making myself and the world better?
Simple and Transformational. Betterment is the calling.
Will we step up and answer the calling?
Jon Mertz’ Bio : Jon Mertz founded Santa Fe Innovates, a social entrepreneur accelerator program and community. He also is an interdisciplinary leadership doctoral candidate at Creighton University. @JonMertz on twitter and founder of the Thin Difference community.
Kumud’s note : I am grateful that Jon has introduced me to the concept of #betterment. I am excited that I will be hosting him in our weekly #SpiritChat on Sunday, October 25 at 9amET / 630pm India. Come meet Jon and stay for some tea and cookies with us as we talk about #Betterment for all. Namaste – @AjmaniK
— where all the stress that you brought with you is instantly dissipated by the first few steps of immersion in the stillness of the forest where the leaves are turning orange
— where all the energy that the trees have accumulated in your absence is seemingly showered on you in the falling of a single leaf
— as if you had walked into the ocean whose waves instantly wet every corner of your body – no matter how long you might have been away
— the ocean and the forest does not ask – where have you been? What did you accomplish there? Why have you been gone so long? How come you never wrote or called?
Maybe the ocean or the forest don’t ask these questions because of their state of being. Or maybe they won’t ask those questions because those answers would be from knowledge – whereas they are immersed in their own knowing.
Their own awareness, and their existence is not really influenced by our comings and goings — to them, all our knowledge is of no matter. Our knowing? That is a different matter.
I had been gone for six months. The fisherman’s trail off of the entrance path into the forest was welcoming as always, with the murmuring of the river inviting me to go left or right – or maybe straight down the middle to the bank where the trees overhang the water in suspended animation amid the stillness, and the mosquitoes immediately find you unless you find a spot with the slightest of breezes, whence they will leave you alone.
The crushed rock of millennia still holds the bank in place for those days when the river will rage – but not today, certainly not today. Today, the invitation is to walk into the middle of the river as the invisible force guides me with one hand and holds the flowing waters at bay with the other . And so, I accept the stillness and the gentility and the whisperings and the noontime birds speaking sweet nothings, stepping gently on one flat rock at a time, some of them barely big enough to hold all of my toes — and as soon as I can go no further into the river, the breeze that comes around the huge bend upstream greets me with an embrace that turns my heart into the wings of the monarch that has long gone South.
And yet, no matter all of that. You are here, You are home, in the center — maybe slightly left or right of it, but the center holds you— and you stand still. And then, an unprecedented invitation, to sit on the dry part of the river bed beneath your feet. You hesitate, but then you decide, that this is the moment for you to surrender to knowing.
So, you sit on the rock in the middle of the stream and absorb all the energy flowing upwards into you from the earth, flowing downwards into you from the overcast sky, from the waters flowing on either side of you, a bit faster on your left because it is devoid of the cluster of rocks that form eddies and lagoons on your right — so much peace, feeling the universe holding you in its knowing — and all you had to do was to accept the invitation.
In his book on Zen, Osho talked about the difference between knowledge and knowing. They are both limitless, and yet, knowledge binds us and knowing frees us. Knowledge creates desire to know even more, whereas knowing releases us from desire. The wave that surges from the ocean to touch the sky of knowledge, falls back into the ocean and is home again — in the ocean’s acceptance is the wave’s knowing of peace, love, joy, serenity, tranquility, silence, stillness, truth and kindness.
I am sure that you have all felt the light and lightness of this knowing in your experience with certain people, places and practices. I hope that you choose to accept their invitation, visit with them, and sit with them for a while in the days ahead.
P.S. Join us Sunday, October 11 at 9amET / 630pm India as we gather on twitter for our weekly #SpiritChat in the knowing that we will partake of tea and cookies 🙂 Namaste – @AjmaniK
Author’s note: ‘stream of thought’ written while walking the Rocky River Reservation, October 6 2020.
I was about 5 years old, staring into a bassinet where a newborn baby was sound asleep. She was lying on her back and I was as mesmerized by her stillness as I was by her tiny hands. Soon, I became aware of someone standing behind me. It was not my Mom or one of my aunts because I knew that if it were, I would feel a hand on my shoulder or hear a familiar voice speaking to me. I continued to stare at the sleeping baby, and then she made a small sound and she smiled. I was totally amazed, but not by the baby. It was these words, “She is talking with the angels,” that amazed me. The woman standing behind me spoke these words so softly – not to me but to herself. Even at 5, I understood when someone was speaking to me and when she was not. It was not the woman’s words that amazed me – they seemed true enough to me – it was the way she spoke them. It was, I realized many years later, a tone that was full of wonder.
Joy and wonder! I link these two words because there seems to be something magical when we experience joy and wonder in the same moment. So, how do we rediscover joy and wonder when we are not watching a newborn talk with the angels? Times when you have experienced joy and wonder may have just immediately come to mind. When we are prompted, that often happens. We think about a gorgeous sunrise after a storm, or the first fireflies of summer, or splashing in the ocean, or some moment when we felt sheer, unbridled joy AND a sense of awe and wonder. A more important question is this – how do we rediscover joy and wonder in our day-to-day lives even as we live in these very challenging times? How do we experience joy and wonder every day? Every day.
I believe in the magic of everyday life, and believe we can choose to notice the magic within us and around us. We can pause for a few moments to notice the glistening dew on the grass, the way the light seemed to flash just as our eyes rested on those sparkles. We can drink in the beauty of the light reflected in the dew, knowing that it will shift and disappear in a few moments, and realizing that if we had not glanced in this direction in this exact moment, we would have missed this light entirely. Joy in the beauty, wonder in the timing, gratitude for the magic of the moment.
I hope you will join the #SpiritChat conversation this Sunday, and share your insights about rediscovering joy and wonder in our daily lives. Has this ever seemed more important to us than it is now?
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, October 4 at 9amET on twitter. I am so looking forward to “Joy and Wonder”, and all that emerge from our rediscovering them. Thank you, Sharon!
Fireflies evoke joy and wonder – photo by Dave Burwell
If ever a reminder was needed to fully enjoy and be present every moment, the pandemic that hit early this year and all of the chaos that has followed must’ve had that impact. No longer able to travel, visit loved ones, attend gatherings, see live entertainment, and so much that still hasn’t made its way into the “new normal”, all being replaced with uncertainty, worry, and stress for so many.
While we learn to be grateful for each moment of happiness, clarity, love and beauty, we also learn to be grateful for the opposite, as all of these moments are the seeds and the fertilizer of our spiritual growth.
There are days that are easier to be present, such as today, as I sit at a deserted beach on Cape Cod, watching the tide come in fiercely as the sun sets behind me. I sit by the waters edge and listen to the waves, hearing nothing else, I close my eyes and smell the ocean air, taking in each moment that I have here, where tranquility flows naturally.
Other days, when life is hectic or uncertain, it is not as easy to be present, or it is preferable to instead long for yesterday or wish for tomorrow. But I have realized that on these less than perfect days, the moments that force us to be present are those that shape us for the rest of our lives. These are the experiences that make us who we are. We find ourselves while we are weathering storms.
I have always considered myself “lucky” to have been born on the first day of autumn, the idea of a harvest inspires me. As we gather what nature has provided for us physically, we should also gather what it has provided for us internally.
The changing of the seasons is a good prompt to reassess accordingly, and during the fall, a spiritual harvest of each and every moment shows us how much we have grown, and to be grateful for it.
Kumud’s note: Meredith has been part of the #SpiritChat family for many, many years. I am delighted that she will be stepping up to host the weekly chat on Sunday, September 20th at 9amET for the community. Let us join her and support her hosting journey as best as we can. In the moment. Thank you, Meredith!
When he pushed his two suitcases through the sliding glass doors after the security guard had lazily glanced at his passport and matched the name on it with his Lufthansa paper ticket, he had no idea what kind of welcome, if any, awaited him on the other side of the Atlantic. He had just said goodbye – a very long goodbye as goodbyes in India on airports where a family member is headed into unknown and uncharted tend to be – to about two dozen friends and family. Some of them managed to smile, while others made valiant but unsuccessful attempts to hold back tears.
They stood outside the glass wall which encased the terminal, cheeks pressed against the window, hands raised in goodbye and blessings for as long as they could see him as he finally passed out of sight through the Customs check-point (yes, there is a Customs check on departure in India). He had no idea how long it would be before he would see any of them again, so he waited till the final call for departing passengers to leave their sight. There was no way for him to know how long it was going to be between departure and the homecoming, because when you leave the safety of the shore and surrender to the flow, life happens.
He landed in New York city’s JFK on a crisp autumn morning, took a bus to switch airports to catch a Piedmont flight to Roanoke, where he was received by some volunteers of the Indian Students’ Association. What a wonderful act of kindness that was, which brought much relief to a weary traveler after thirty six hours of traveling. It felt like a bit of a homecoming, to be surrounded by people who spoke your language. During orientation, half of which he had missed because he was late getting to the USA because of a visa delay, he ran into a very good friend who he had known since third grade! Another mini homecoming. And then, another friend from Delhi, who spoke his grandmother’s native tongue. An even bigger homecoming.
In his excellent TED talk titled “Where is Home”, Pico Iyer says that “Home is where you Stand”. By that measure, I have had a lot of homes across the world. From the easternmost parts of Assam to some of the northernmost parts of Kashmir, I have stood and felt a connection to people who have extended great love with a welcoming heart. Criss-crossing the Northern states of India several times on multi-day train trips, I made an attempt to get off the train at every single station. Now that I think about it, it was as if I was trying to feel at home at every single pause of the journey as I felt my feet touch the platform. It was as if I was feeling the flow of the earth under my feet at every opportunity I would get.
So, what does all this story-telling have to do with homecoming and spirituality? I had never heard of the word until I first came across it in the context of alumni returning ‘home’ to Virginia Tech during football Saturdays in the fall. Such a beautiful word. Homecoming. It creates a vision of those who have graduated from a station in life and traveled on to explore new frontiers returning home. A bit like the splashdown of the two American astronauts a few weeks ago after they had spent a few weeks on the Space Station. Or a bit like those who spend weeks preparing for, and then climbing some of the highest mountain peaks, returning home weary and falling into the arms of their beloveds and getting some well-deserved rest. Homecoming is thus a time for renewal, of sharing stories about our travels, and then setting out again on another new journey.
In a spiritual context, homecoming can be viewed as a return to source. It isn’t connected to a particular age or a particular physical place. It is connected to a return to the source that resides in our heart – not just the physical heart, by the spiritual heart that is our consciousness beyond the mind-matter complex. In fact, one could posit that in the spiritual context, there is actually no Homecoming, because we never really left. We may spend our entire life being unaware of who we are, and yet, the consciousness, the spiritual heart is always with us. At any given moment, when our awareness shifts to It, we are aware that we are home.
Home is where we stand in awareness.
It was twenty seven months before he returned. In the interim, there were short phone calls (they had to be short at almost two dollars a minute), long hand-written letters, bouts of home-sickness, regular instances of culture shock, many new friendships formed with Virginia natives, and an awareness that it was beginning to feel a little bit like a new home. He was beginning to enjoy the New River, the new flow, the new awareness of floating and letting be.
What is your story of homecoming? What does the word mean to you, remind you of? What emotions or memories or awareness does it invite? Do reflect, and then share if you are so led to do so.
P.S. Join us in our weekly gathering with the #SpiritChat community on twitter to share some thoughts on Homecoming. We will meet Sunday September 6 at 9amET (almost to the day when I first landed in JFK all those years back). I will bring some questions that will act as place holders for the real conversation that will happen in the many tributaries of the main flow. Namaste – @AjmaniK
One of my favorite bridges — I instantly feel welcomed, at home, a sense of Homecoming every time I stand on it…
Walking in nature has grown to be one of my favorite outdoor activities over the past four or five years. This invitation to walk the local reservation came about suddenly one day as I was driving to work. That was then, and this is now. Hundreds of miles and thousands of photographs later, there are still new paths that remain to be walked and new experiences to be had on the frequently traveled ones.
Nature has taught me much about life and shown me some glimpses of its inner workings during my walks. The variations of the seasons and how one season’s end is a preparation for the next. The contrast between the stillness of the water in the lagoons and the rush of flow in the river after the snow melts. The trees that grow taller every year so that they can carpet the ground with leaves every autumn to provide fuel for the forthcoming spring. This, and much more, has unfolded on the many paths for me.
Such is the nature of the physical paths that have unfolded for me over time. It is hard to imagine that one could really walk in deep harmony with nature without experiencing a parallel spiritual journey within. Nature does not promote any path to the walker. It provides a new canvas every day and invites the sojourners to bring their imagination to paint a new path with every step. Some of my most satisfying walks have been where I simply wandered and let the sounds of the river and the play of sunlight among the trees be my guides. May every day bring a new way — that seems to have become my mantra.
According to Osho, ‘The Way’ is a good description of the philosophy of Tao. There is no goal — there is only the way or the path.
Each moment, wherever you are, you are at the goal if you are on the path. In Tao, there is no talk about moksha, nirvana or enlightenment. The spiritual work is that you have to find the path, the Way.
So, what does the Way look like? How do we find it? How do we know that we are on it? The challenge of this approach, if we choose it, is that we have to find our own path before we can start walking it. It cannot be given to us by anyone, or walked for us by anyone. There are no footsteps to follow, or leave for others. This may be disconcerting to many who have had a ‘religious’ upbringing, and yet it is an opportunity for great freedom of exploration. The variables are courage, risk, and adventure. An adventure of self-discovery, and of the path itself.
There is a blue heron that I have often stumbled upon during my walks. She shows up at different locations in the reservation depending on the season and the hour of the day. She invariably sees me before I see her, and starts to leave before I can take a picture of her. So, I stopped trying to photograph her. Then, one day, without preamble, there she was. Standing still on a log in the lagoon, for what seemed like an eternity. It was as if she knew that I had stopped trying to ‘capture’ her, so she stopped trying to escape from my presence. That was a really good moment on the journey, for I felt that I was one with the goal and the path.
And so, we keep walking, keep discovering, keep on letting the curves and bends of our path unfold before us. We draw from nature as we learn more about ourselves and our heart’s capacity through direct experience every day. It’s a great way to feel alive, isn’t it?
Join me and the #SpiritChat community, Sunday August 16 at 9amET as we continue our journey and cross paths on twitter yet again. Namaste – @AjmaniK
One of the sights on one of the many paths in the Valley Reservation
The longer I wait to write this post on Saturday morning, the shorter the shadows get in the back of the house which faces west. The Sun, slowly ascending towards its peaking of the day, on this day when daylight reach its ascendancy over darkness in the northern hemisphere, I contemplate union and unity.
A tiny baby dragonfly in resplendent blue with translucent wings lands in the center of the rainbow colored hula hoop encrusted with silvery highlights lying on the floor of the deck. An orange winged blackbird lands on the wrought iron post holding the bird feeder, squawks loudly as it departs without partaking, as if to say that I need to fill it again. The two boys on their swings across the lake have been going back and forth for the past half hour, unassisted, as they have surely mastered their art of Joy. The lake glistens and ripples as it often does in the harmony of the slight breeze and the low angle of the Sun’s light from the East. My cup of tea is empty but I am too enamored by it all to move off of the deck, lest I miss something vital.
Where was I? Ah, yes. Union and Unity. In the 5th century BC, the Indian sage Patanjali, compiled a treatise called The Yoga Sutras. It is said to be the collation of the knowledge and practices of the lives of the practitioners of Yoga of the time. Patanjali wrote about Yoga as a thread of aphorisms explaining the relationship between the natural world, the inner spirit of humans, and the unity between them.
The practice of Yoga can be simply described as any practice which leads to union between the external and the internal. Yoga is the manifestation of the unity that we often intrinsically seek in the paradox of living in the transient external world while seeking the permanent within.
Swami Vivekananda describes this striving for union in the form of four paths of Yoga, all emerging from One as we move outward on them, and then converging into One as we return home. These four paths are the path of work and action, the path of knowledge, the path of devotion and the royal path of meditation. Why do we need four paths? Why not just one?
Perhaps because all humans, like the colors of the rainbow, have different propensities and inclinations that they bring into their physical existence. So, the offering of four distinct and yet non-exclusive and equal paths of Yoga, invites the practitioners of love to practice love in the way that they may be most attracted towards in their current state of life. Very often, a human may practice all four paths simultaneously, with different levels of intensity at different times of the day and night.
The Yoga of action may dominate during the day, knowledge path may prevail during reading or observing nature, devotion may take over during prayer, meditation may subsume one at dawn or dusk or other times. Yes, we are all practitioners of multiple paths, whether we are aware or conscious of the particular path, or even the goal, for that matter.
And the goal? One goal is to manifest the unity of the four paths into the realization that our true state is where the states of permanence, knowledge, and bliss, unite us in our union with the One.
A sense of unity often precedes Union. However, we know that unity cannot be decreed by a constitution or any number of bills of rights or legislatures or courts or executives and their orders. It is just like a rainbow cannot be decreed to appear or be perceived — the sun and the rain drops and a number of other conditions have to come together to create it with harmony. The rainbow appears when human nature recognizes that the union of colors, while maintaining their independence and their right to individually exist as equals, can only enhance the beauty of the world for all who set their eyes upon such a union.
How does union and unity manifest? We can observe union in father-children relationships, in a bride and groom’s joyfulness on their wedding day, in a decision to be aware of and celebrate all the physical light steaming upon us during summer solstice. Perhaps the greatest manifestation of unity and union is in an individual’s decision to work towards their union with the divine through the path of Yoga of their choice.
To be friendly towards those friendly towards us, to be joyous for them in their joy, to be empathetic towards those suffering, and to be indifferent without attitude towards those with evil intent – these four practices of maitri, mudita, karuna and upeksha – are considered to central to Patanjali’s definition of Yoga.
As I finish writing this, a baby sparrow has arrived on the deck and is loudly tweeting in a sliver of shade by the bird feeder. It is as if she’s asking me to get off the couch stat and do my Dad Yoga of re-filling the feeder. Such is the life of a householder- to stay unified in the heart while performing the actions related to the feeding of the world around me.
Now where did I put away that 50 pound bag of bird seed anyway?
P.S. Join me and the #SpiritChat community in our weekly twitter gathering on Sunday, June 21 at 9amET/ 630pm India. We will integrate Fathers Day (US), International Day of Yoga, Summer Solstice and the kickoff of four days of online and offline events for my niece’s wedding in India… Namaste – @AjmaniK
The tears came suddenly and as large droplets from my firmly shut and already moist eyes at the end of the morning meditation session; about midway through I had ceded any semblance of trying to get my mind’s thought pattern to calm down as the thoughts had somehow drifted to thinking about privilege by birth, and how much of it I enjoyed growing up in a middle class family in India.
The tears came as I thought of the one who probably saved my life when I was ten, as I lay bleeding and unconscious on a concrete floor, having fallen from about 20 feet high onto my left side from the first floor window. I had broken the raised bone in my left arm where it meets the wrist and bridge of my plastic glasses had embedded into my nose on impact, which was miraculously not broken, but was bleeding like the river Yamuna. She was the only adult in the house with all of us kids — the very dark-skinned South-Indian lady named Chalma who would wash dishes twice a day for three families of at least eight to ten people each who lives in a three-story home in a wealthy New Delhi neighborhood.
Her tools were used lemon rinds, and wood ashes that she brought from the remnants of the cooking fires from her home, and the husks of used coconuts that she used as a cleaning ‘sponge’. The family sized pots and pans of cast iron and copper were heavy; plates, spoons, glasses, knives were all stainless steel. One eight foot section of the granite kitchen counter top would be filled with the washed dishes after she was done. She wasn’t allowed to stand and wash in the marble sink next to the counter because the ashes would cause damage to the fine surface.
So, on the floor she sat cross legged on a small flat stool, with her frail frame bent over her kingdom of dirty dishes, coconut fiber in one hand, dipping it ever so often in the ashes sitting in an earthen bowl by her. In the morning, she did the dishes from last nights dinner. In the afternoon, she did the dishes from breakfast and lunch. Once or twice every day, she was chided by the lady of the home, not to let the tap of fresh water run so freely. Her job was particularly difficult in the summer when running water only came for an hour, twice a day — during the early hours of the morning and the late afternoon. If she missed that running water window because she was ‘late to work’, she would have to use water that we would have filled in heavy aluminum buckets the night before, and lined her workspace with in a quarter circle — water that she would treat like molten gold as she used it sparingly, and wash out thoroughly for the next day, after she had washed all the dishes…
And then there was the lady who would come and sweep all the finely crafted and smoothed concrete floors of our family’s 1500 sq ft home on the middle floor of the three story home. The ‘dry sweeping’ with the traditional broom was the relatively easy part. What was much tougher was the mopping that followed. It was done with a heavy cotton-roped cloth about two feet square, sitting on her haunches as she dipped the cloth with her bare hands in the water doused with phenylaline as a disinfectant, moving slowly, a few square feet at a time.
Her task was to remove the dust that is endemic in the oppressive summer heat of Delhi when the hot breeze called loo from neighboring Rajasthan brings hot sand with it and coats everything in its path — whether it be a shining, three story home in a wealthy neighborhood or the ramshackle tenement of the dish-washing lady who tries to feed her family every night with just enough money earned by washing dishes all day so that she can buy just enough wheat or rice filled with stones and dirt from the ration shop every week or so.
I have to admit that while all this was happening around me in middle-school, high-school and under-grad, I didn’t think about it much because it was considered “normal” for most middle-class families to employ multiple, task-specific maids. The maids and their families needed to work to live, and we were supposedly providing work, wages, an occasional cup of tea when they were done working — even a saree or some clothes for the kids on major holidays. It was a sort of unwritten societal labor contract — it was also a social network of ladies of the homes and the maids who worked through multiple homes every day.
For some reason, lately, I’ve been made aware of the privilege enjoyed by me in that contract, in painstaking detail. For me, the way out of that contract happened to be in coming to the USA for graduate studies. For them, the only way out of that contract, was perhaps death. For death does finally destroy all privilege accorded by birth, or does it?
I do remember talking to a teenage son of one particular lady who used to do the daily trash pickup and clean the bathrooms — the dish washing lady, the floor cleaning lady, laundry washing and clothes ironing lady, and bathroom washing lady were all separate — if he had ever considered going to school. I don’t know that he ever answered me directly except by saying with his brilliant smile and impish grin with slightly downcast eyes — bhaiya (brother), this is my life, and I am happy doing the work given me.
So, that is why all the tears came. His statement, which I never forgot, was such a simple reminder that “it isn’t the task that makes the person high or low — it is the manner in which it is done, that makes the person so.” The tears also served as a reminder of what I have read so often in two of my favorite essays delivered in London in 1896 — “Vedanta and Privilege”, and “Privilege” — both by Swami Vivekananda.
A quick recap may be useful. The Advaita (Oneness) philosophy of Vedanta says that for Oneness to be our truth, one needs to believe in Universal equality, in the fact that we are all manifestation of the One divine. Without that central belief and practice, our inner world is fragmented and we dwell in anger, hate, jealousy and all that which divides us. If we hold that central belief that we all have the same One light of higher embodiment, our inner world is united through an ever-flowing current of higher love.
So, what is it that destroys Oneness, ethics and equality?
“Everyone is the embodiment of Knowledge, of eternal Bliss, and eternal Existence.
The ethical effect is just the same, with regard to equality.
And yet, there is privilege – the bane of human existence. The privilege of the strong over the weak, of the wealthy over the poor, the subtle privilege of those who claim higher intellect, and the worst of all, because it is the most tyrannical, is the privilege of (birth and) spirituality – those who think of themselves as more (due to birth), or those who think they know more of spirituality (than others).” – Vivekananda
And so arise the questions in my heart-mind complex. What privilege(s) do I assert? Which privilege(s) have I inherited? What privilege(s) am I passing on in my legacy? How does privilege manifest in my actions and practices, my goals, my dreams and my aspirations? And perhaps most importantly, how do I break down the bondage of all these privileges that entangle me in the web woven by all my desires?
I don’t know. Perhaps I can begin by washing my own dishes, keeping my personal (office) space clean, and maybe doing (or at least folding) my own laundry. Or all of the above…
P.S. Join our weekly chat, Sunday June 14 at 9amET/ 630pm India in #SpiritChat on Twitter. All are welcome. No privilege necessary to attend, to share some love with all. I will bring some questions, some tea and cookies to share, for that is the small loving privilege granted me by the community for that hour. Namaste – @AjmaniK
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
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