And just when I thought that all the light blooms were off of the flowering trees, in the stillness towards the end of the trail, a thicket of tall bushes bearing soft pink petals is still alive and blooming! Not only do they add color to the trail, they also give shade to the young wild roses yet to bloom.
As I start my journey back, the tall trees shower their lightest of leaves onto me as I walk. I can see that the wet and muddy trail is getting covered by a thin, first layer of green. It is perhaps akin to the first layer of the fine carpets that my ancestors were expert weavers of?
A thin branch of a rose brush reaches out and snags its thorns on my shirt as I walk closer to the edge to avoid a puddle. I pause and feel its kind welcome — nature’s hand on my shoulder, reminding me of the bigger picture, lest I rush by. What is the big picture of my existence, it wants me to ask?
My thoughts go back to the lecture hosted by us earlier in the week. Our guest speaker, who has been a Vedanta monk for almost sixty years, spoke about ‘The Big Picture.’ How often do we pause to remember who we are, and our connection to the universe? Why we do tend to so easily get entangled in the small, unimportant things in our lives, and get distracted by the BIG picture of our life? He gave a beautiful analogy to our dilemma.
“We often wander through the WiFi zone of life, looking for the password to connect to the higher network. But we already have the password. We have always had it. We have always been connected. We are just unaware of it!” – Swami Sarvadevananda
I pause again as I walk by the old house, turn around and look back. All of a sudden, I see that there’s green everywhere — green in the grass on the ground, green in the leaves on the trees against the sky, green in the algae on the water. How did so much green get created in a week or so? How much energy did nature have to spend to create this transformation?
I cross the tiny bridge and step out from the shady side of the pond to the sunny side, and the warmth of the sun already crested above the forty foot tree line greets me with aplomb. More questions came. What kind of transformation can I create within me and the world around me, if I focus on the BIG picture of my life and my walk through it? How do I stay focused on this BIG picture?
As if on cue, as I stand facing the sun and the lake, I hear the fog-horn sound of a bull-frog bellow above the birdsongs and the heavy highway traffic nearby. It is perhaps a reminder that a message transmitted with a singular purpose will always make its way through the noise of the world. Yes, I had to cross a bridge, stand in the light, and be in the right heart orientation to receive the BIG picture reminder.
Perhaps that’s the essence of spiritual work, isn’t it? What do you think?
P. S. Join us for our weekly #SpiritChat gathering, Sunday May 15 at 9amET / 630pm India on twitter. We will talk about the BIG picture, hopefully with a good WiFi connection, and some cookies 🙂 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
It was a bright, sunny early evening when I left home to head out for the Friday evening lecture hosted by our local Vedanta group. By the time I got to the highway a few minutes later to head east for a few miles, the skies had suddenly darkened. A mile or so later, it was pouring down, torrential downpour – severe enough for me to consider pulling over and let it pass.
I slowed down but decided to keep going, hoping that the thunderstorm would pass through. By the time I arrived at the venue, I realized that I had arrived at the eye of the storm, which included the steady drum-beat of pelting down pea-sized hail. I decided to wait it out in my car, for to step outside would surely mean an instant shower. Maybe I should have stayed home today?
The speaker was a young monk from Hollywood, California, who had arrived in the USA from India, less than two years ago. As he started his lecture, it was apparent that his (very good) English was still heavily tinged with Indian accents. However, his two-part message, of which, “flexibility in spiritual practice” was the second part, was unmistakably clear. With story after story of how to practice spiritual flexibility in life with respect to time, to people and to situations, he held the audience in rapt interest.
The gist of his message was that spiritual flexibility is one of the best ingredients to create inner peace.
Have you ever read or listened to spiritual and religious material(s) (books, essays, lectures, scriptures) and wondered why some of the messages within them seem anachronistic (out of time and place) with modern life? If yes, then his suggestion was to put a ‘time context’ to those material(s), and allow for temporal flexibility of the message(s) contained within them. The message(s) that made ‘sense’ then may not necessarily make ‘sense’ now. We may have to re-visit, re-classify, re-evaluate, and maybe even reject certain old doctrine(s), so that we do not become prisoners of dogma. This is called spiritual flexibility in time.
Have you ever wondered why certain people get attracted to certain spiritual practice(s) while some seem totally disinterested in them? Some may prefer yoga or chanting, others may prefer going to places of worship, while others may choose meditation or something entirely different. To each their own. There are also those who have developed a variety of such practices. Such people have the ability to be flexible in their understanding of, and their response to, different types of people. Diversity of spiritual tools allows us to practices flexibility with people.
Have you ever felt that your beliefs, your responses, and your outcomes to seemingly similar life situations have changed over time? An event or situation that would have sent you into a tail-spin a few year ago barely registers a blip on your emotional radar – this is a sign of growth in emotional intelligence. Similarly, our ability to respond with equanimity to ‘good’ and ‘bad’ events in our lives, and keep on doing good for the greater good, is a sign of spiritual flexibility in life situations.
Spiritual resilience is a benefit of developing spiritual flexibility. We learn the art of being flexible, and adapting with time, with people, and with life’s situations. What other pros (and cons) may be the result of practicing spiritual flexibility? I invite you to come and share with us in our weekly gathering. Namaste.
P.S. Join us for our weekly gathering on twitter – Sunday, June 30 at 9amET. I will bring some questions (and answers), and we can help each other build resilience as we walk our paths forward. Namaste – Kumud
The tree trunks, the branches, the leaves, and the not-visible roots… they are flexible, they all bend to the light and the wind… and hence transmit peace