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
Monday, September 21 was the observance of the International Day of Peace (IDP) sponsored by the United Nations and celebrated with various events held by organizations across the world.
I became aware of IDP through the Heartfulness organization’s effort called “Connect for Peace”, whose goal was to connect 40 million people in meditation over a period of 24 hours on that day. In order to understand “what does peace mean?” to different people (kids, athletes, change makers, spiritual leaders and more), a video of responses was compiled and shared (see link in the footer… highly recommended)
So, what does peace mean to you? How and when and where do you best experience it? How often do you seemingly lose it and how do you restore it? How can we experience Supreme peace, and be established in its awareness in the majority of the moments of our daily lives?
Some of you may have heard the story of the monk getting ready to meditate by the river bank who sees a scorpion drowning in its effort to swim. The monk picks up the scorpion from the shallow water, and as she is about to put him down on dry land, the scorpion stings her. The monk is unperturbed, and gets ready to meditate again. The scorpion wades into the water again, starts drowning. The monk rescues it again, and gets stung again. When this happens a third time, an observer sitting by the bank cannot resist asking the monk – why do you keep rescuing the drowning scorpion when all it does is keep stinging you in return for your kindness?
The monk replied – the scorpion, one of apparently much lower awareness than me, is holding true to its nature, which is to sting. I, of higher awareness, ought to also hold true to my nature, and which is to be kind and perform kind actions, don’t you think? Why would I give up my peace, my serenity, my stillness, my Dharma (way of being) in response to the scorpion’s sting?
Such is the nature of our living in the world. The world stings us when we do kind things. Let us not forget that sometimes we may be the scorpions – maybe not in action, but with our thoughts and words. Often, the stings are unprovoked, undeserved, unexpected, unjust and unfair. How do we respond?
We respond to the stings of the world in accordance with our height of inner awareness and depth of inner peace. We are not all monks (yet), but some of us are on the path to becoming aware again, remembering again that supreme peace is our intrinsic nature. By associating with those people, places and practices that evoke peace within us, we connect with our peace within. Through regular connection with supreme peace, we raise our awareness to the point where we lose our sting, and the world, our mirror, loses its sting too.
Have you ever wondered why new born babies tend to make everyone around them happy? One reason is perhaps that the new born is still immersed in its connection with the peace supreme. The newborn hasn’t had an opportunity to forget that It is That or that That is all there Is. The newborn isn’t questioning whether it is the drop or the wave or the ocean. It is simply being peace.
That is the state of newborn peace which our spiritual practices can return us to. When you and I practice peace, we contribute to creating supreme peace for all of us. Why create peace? Peace creates a channel to convey natural justice based on natural law and order, which is indeed supreme.
Spirituality teaches me that peace supreme is above all and within all. There is no journey towards it, because I am already there. It is infinite, and that is enough for me. How about you?
P.S. Join us in our weekly community gathering on Twitter with #SpiritChat folks – Sunday, Sep 27 at 9amET. We will gather in peace and play with some questions and answers. Namaste – @AjmaniK
More than the change in the early morning temperatures, there is a remarkable stillness that comes with dawn as the season make the turn from summer towards autumn. You can feel the stirring of change in the leaves as the ones that are to yield their greens to the yellows and reds and oranges get ready to lighten the load of the branches with their eventual precipitation.
I have been watching this transition brought about by the change in the angles and intensity of light for many years, and yet, every year the totality of the letting go of the deciduous ones rarely fails to amaze me. It’s almost as if autumn comes to remind me of the benefits of harnessing the change in light within to take another step towards lightness on the path.
There is a sense of urgency that comes with the shortening of the days as the setting of the sun in the distance moves ever so slightly Southwest every evening. Every day that winter comes closer, the physical light that we have access to grows a few minutes shorter. The birds know it, the bees know it, the butterflies and lightning bugs that have disappeared knew it, and yet, somehow, sometimes, us humans choose to forget it.
Maybe it isn’t so much that we forget about the shortening of the days but it is that we have our mind immersed in the past or the future that we are unaware of the transitions. External unawareness reduces the sensitivity of our inner sensors, as they collect dust from living a life of blindness towards the gift of the presence of light.
It has taken me about thirty minutes to write this post on a crisp Saturday morning. The two boys across the lake on their swing set have been going back and forth like pendulums all this while. The stillness of the forest has gone from the steady hum of insects to the awakening of blue jays. The young puppy has gone from calmly sitting on the dew covered cushion to chasing its tail in circles.
I sit here wondering about how the developing of the practice of focusing on the source of light within the heart has improved my awareness of the importance of lightness in my life. Lightness can come when we are lost to the external world in the moment, when light within returns to the source. We often experience lightness in joyous external activity like music, painting, dancing, writing, cooking and the like.
It is when attachment to activity and inactivity stops, when all the colors merge into One, when the letting go is effortless in its completeness, that the immersion in lightness is complete.
No matter the season, spirituality and spiritual practice is perhaps about being in that lightness, carrying the awareness of transformation within us, in every moment.
Onward. Bring on the new colors. I am ready to let go. How about you?
P.S. Join us for our weekly gathering and conversation with the #SpiritChat community on Twitter – Sunday, Sep 13 at 9amET/ 630pm India. Namaste – @AjmaniK
The entire notion of ‘return to school’ this fall has taken on a new meaning in the context of the pandemic. For my daughter’s school, the conversation between administration, teachers, support staff, parents and local, state and health agencies has spanned most of the summer. Finally, this past Friday, school did reopen to students. The entire first day was spent in orientation sessions about new rules and guidelines.
And yet, about 15% of the students have chosen not to return ‘in-person’. They have chosen the ‘online’ option. In many ways, the ‘return to school’ has become a bit of a fragmented experience for the student community. Just like the world that they live in, school has become a brand new world for students. Wearing of masks and six-foot distances, taking turns while visiting their lockers, no large assemblies, no theater in the auditorium, no inter-school sports. It’s quite a bit to take in for the parents, let alone the school community.
However, inspite of all the changes and adjustments needed to make ‘in-person’ school possible, the ‘first-day survey’ says that the students are happy to back. The social bonding that happens in school cannot be duplicated online and is thus an important part of the educational experience. One may argue that some level of social bonding does happen in online (social media) interactions, but we can all agree that the ‘real life’ meeting is orders of magnitude more impactful. So, what does all this have to do with spirituality?
Well, that’s a good question. I guess one connection that comes to mind is the question – how have our spiritual practices served us in times of great change? Most students seem to have taken all these big changes in their ‘return to school’ process in stride, and with a good attitude. How do we adults handle great changes in our (learning) environments? Assuming that there are no setbacks, and that ‘in person school’ continues through the academic year, these fairly large changes will be in effect for a fairly long time. If we were in a similar situation, how would our spiritual practices be affected or undergo change(s)?
Let me share one personal example of change affecting spiritual practice. Ever since we brought a new puppy home six weeks ago, my morning meditation routine has had a ‘return to school’ experience. I had no idea how difficult it would be to try and sit quietly in the same space with a ten-week-old puppy. You see, the puppy wants to do the exact opposite of sitting still at 7am in the morning after a good night’s sleep! So, I had to change, adjust, and even school the puppy a bit. I would let her play for half an hour, let her burn off her energy, and then sit for my morning practice. And guess what?
After a few days, she caught on to the fact that this was my quiet time. I often found her curled up at my feet at the end of my morning sitting. I won’t go so far as to say that my original daily practice has been fully restored, but I am on my way back. It is a ‘return to school’ in a different environment for me and my practice. The timing and space where I practice varies depending on how the morning develops, and I have developed a new sense of gratitude for what I can accomplish on the days when I am able to practice.
That’s my short story. How about you? Have there been occasions where you’ve had to make small or big changes to your practices? Have you experienced a ‘spiritual return to school’ at any time and learnt new things about yourself and your environment? What did you learn in the process?
P.S. I invite you to ‘return to school’ with the #SpiritChat community on Sunday, August 23 at 9amET on twitter. We will ask some old questions in new ways, and share some new answers. Maybe we will even get a bit of an education on taking change in stride and staying in school. Namaste – @AjmaniK
I have always been a fan of the number nine. I was delighted when I first found out that if you added the number nine to any number, and you sum up the resulting digits, you got back the sum of the digits that you started with. Nine is preservative in addition. So, let’s say we begin with 25. Two plus five is seven. Now, add nine, and we get 34. Three plus four is seven. Let’s add ninety-nine. 34 plus 99 is 133. One plus three plus three is seven. Try adding 999. 1132. Still seven.
Now try multiplication with nine. Nine becomes transformative. The resulting sum of the digits will always be nine. 25 times 9 is 225. Two plus two plus five is nine. 25 times 99 is 2,475. Two plus four plus seven plus five is 18. One plus eight is 9. Yes, we can play with nines like this all day long. Magical when we slow down to contemplate, isn’t it?
In human life, when nine is engaged in multiplication, it becomes an agent for transformation. For example, it takes nine months for a human baby to be born. Is there any greater act of transformation than two cells becoming a baby? Can you think of an example in our daily lives where addition by nine represents preservation? I will give you a personal example.
Nine years ago to the day, give or take a few days, a few folks gathered on twitter on a Sunday morning at 11am ET and had a conversation about spirituality. The topic was, “On Slowing Down”. There was no agenda or expectation that there would even be a second conversation the following Sunday. It was simply an experiment inspired by a question posed by me to one of my good friends – why isn’t there any chat on twitter about spirituality? Wayne’s response was — so what if there isn’t one? Why don’t you start one?
Answer a question with a question. That’s the classic way in which a teacher and mentor can nudge us to do something that takes us out of our comfort zone. I remember thinking back then — what will I even talk about? So, I asked Wayne again. What should the topic be? His response was — what do you love doing most? Talk about that. Hmm. What do I love doing most? I love slowing down, sitting and doing “nothing”. I learnt that from my Dad.
He could sit and read the newspaper for hours. He could sit in absolute stillness and silence with a cup of tea at peace for what seemed the longest time. He could stand in the kitchen patiently and tend to the assembly of his seven-layered, seven-colored rice dish for what seemed like forever. You simply couldn’t rush him for anything.
So, in the last week of July, which happens to be his birthday week (he would have been eight six this year), on a Sunday morning in 2011, a few friends of mine gathered and chatted about “slowing down”. There were only three questions. I did not ask the first question until twenty minutes into the hour. We had no idea what we were doing except that we were all simply happy to be there, enjoying each other’s company as we held our cups of tea or coffee and wondered about the merits of “slowing down”.
That was then. Nine years ago. It seems like a life-time or more in online years. And yet, not much has changed in some ways since 2011, has it? If anything, the need for us to experience the magic of slowing down is all the more greater, isn’t it? How else is one to engage in remembrance and gratitude, if not through the active process of slowing down? How else, if not by slowing down, am I to thank all of those who have sent hundreds of thousands of words of hope and inspiration to the #SpiritChat community over the years?
How about slowing down offline? It is in slowing down that I can watch and deeply feel the sun rise slowly at the eastern end of the street at dawn or feel the silvery glow of the sliver of the moon’s rising at dusk. Slowing down allows me to contemplate the beauty of the flower that was separated overnight and fell to the ground in homage to the earth. It allows me to touch the dew fallen in the grass with light feet, and inhale the air of the cool morning breeze before the heat rises and melts it away. And yes – how is one to engage in meditation, if not by first slowing down physically and remembering to bring myself to a state of rest?
So yes, slowing down allows us to return to remembrance. Regularly slowing down within allows us to be in constant remembrance. What kind of remembrance? The external world will be relentless in its demands on us, and yet That stillness will remain in our hearts forever. It shall be patiently waiting for us to accept its invitation to visit with it, to let the outer world be, and to choose to be immersed in the world within. Will we make that choice? How much can we slow ourselves down? Will we observe the observer and remember that there is That permanent, indestructible, all-loving, all-joyous, all-truthful One within All off us?
That remains the great question, the great challenge.
Nature has some pointers for us. As fast as a hummingbird flies or a bee buzzes or a butterfly flaps her wings, they all have to slow down, to come to a moment of stillness, so that they can experience the magical taste of the nectar of life. What can we learn from their behavior? Even the new puppy, who can go a hundred miles an hour, has to pause for a drink of water, a nibble at her food bowl, before she can take off again like an express train towards her next station of play.
Like the piano virtuoso Wayne Mcevilly, who inspired me to start the weekly chat nine years ago said — the greatest classical music compositions are so because the composers put as much care into putting the pauses into the right place, as they did into assigning the notes that each instrument is to play.
Let us condense nine years into nine minutes. That is my invitation to you. Take nine minutes and be still. Watch your breath or the light in your heart or the sunrise or the sunset or a single flower dancing in the stillness. Absolute stillness. There is magic in all of That. Thou art That. That is all there Is.
We all can experience all of That, if we were to embrace the act of slowing down. No magic necessary.
P.S. Join me and the #SpiritChat community on Sunday, July 26 at 9amET as we slow down to create some magic. I look forward to hearing from you about your experiments with pure stillness. I will bring tea and maybe even some cake – you bring your open hearts and we will chat. Namaste – @AjmaniK
A bee slows down to visit a butterfly bush in the front yard
I wouldn’t be surprised if the notion of “play” isn’t exactly on the forefront of most people’s minds these days. With all the challenges facing us in so many areas of our lives, it almost seems “tone deaf” to even talk about “play”. And how are we to effect spiritual healing through “play”? Let me tell you a small story.
Last week, I talked about the new puppy that has done a “takeover” of our home. As one would imagine, her energy level is simply off the charts. It took her a mere two or three days to cajole the older dog to engage in full out play with her. He simply couldn’t resist his instinct all her invitations to play, and eventually they both were having long sessions of all out, football like scrimmages on the living room floor. The quiet, brooding, meditative seven year old came back to life. I didn’t know that he still had it in him to engage in “play” with such joy and abandon.
Then, another thing happened. One morning, I gave her her newly discovered, favorite, dog-bone shaped, mini-biscuit. I walked away, thinking that she would be busy for a while. When I returned a few minutes later, she was sitting in the exact same spot that I had left her, in the position that is her invitation for us adults to come play with her. The treat had been set aside in the corner of her play pen, untouched. Silly me. I then realized that her favorite treat wasn’t the dog biscuit — the opportunity to play was her favorite treat!
And so, I wondered. Where do we “adults” lose our propensity to engage in “play”? Is it that words and phrases like “leadership” or “responsibility” or “accountability” or “parenting” or “setting a good example” and so on make us forget our playful nature? All of us, in our formative years after birth discovered the world around us through play, didn’t we? We would play, sleep, eat, drink, and do it all over again the next day, wouldn’t we? So, what happened somewhere along the line that we largely forgot our sense of play? Why is it that we forgot the connection of play to our well-being and health?
Or did we really forget? Maybe we simply replaced physical play with other kinds of play. What is “play” anyway? One way to define play is its outcome – how do we feel after the experience of play? If we feel lighter, more joyous, more at peace in any or all of the three – the heart, body or mind – after engaging in any activity, then we have engaged in play. Any creative activity that engage us in a manner which heals our heart, body or mind, can indeed be a form of play. Don’t you think so?
The painter with her colors and brushes and crayons and pencils and stencils and canvases is at play. The photographer with his cameras and landscapes and portraits and lenses and perspectives is at play. The amateur cook dabbling in the kitchen with recipes and spices or baking new creations is at play. The dancer, the musician, the writer, the poet – all are at play because their heart is lighter, their mind is healed with their activity. Any action can become play, if we approach it with a light, joyful and playful attitude. And yes, even ‘spiritually focused’ activities like meditation, yoga, prayer and more, can become play. Why not?
In the Bhagavad Gita (“the song divine”), it is said that this entire world is a creation of the divine energy at play. It is further said that the deepest and highest form of love is manifested as a result of this play. If one were to believe this to be true, then we can realize that play has tremendous (healing) energy. Imagine what our life would look like, if we were to open our heart and accept the invitation to play. In loving play, we could all experience deep bliss, deeper awareness and the deepest truth in all of our being, all over again.
P.S. Join us on Sunday, July 19 at 9amET on twitter for our weekly community gathering in #SpiritChat. We will toss around some questions and answers, and experience the healing energy of play. I hope you can join us. Namaste – @AjmaniK
Hydrabgea in bloom – a wonderful example of nature at play!
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
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.
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.