Heartspeak - Coming Home
by Desiree Punwani
I am a home-maker, actively involved in family as well as community. I am also keenly involved with several NGOs. I have several other interests I actively pursue, and a large circle of friends I socialise with. But the most important thing to me is my spiritual practice.
Discovering my connection with God is not just the best thing that happened for me, it actually saved my life.
I am convinced that the indefinable dissatisfaction that most of us feel is nothing but the heart crying out for its spiritual homeland. If we cannot or will not hear its cry, our search for happiness becomes nothing but a frustrating chase after shadows. Further, for many of us, the results of disconnecting from the spirit are far more severe. It manifests as a life driven by unmitigated greed and ambition, jealousy and power play, or a shallow life wasted on trivialities. It results in ill-health, unhappy and unwholesome relationships, addictions, and a life paralysed by anger, blame and remorse. For me, it resulted in alcoholism.
I don’t shed tears easily. At times I consider this a disadvantage or short-coming, but it often is actually a blessing. Perhaps because I don’t weep easily, I could hear the agonising cry of the heart.
When a heart cries out, the Universe responds. We need to believe enough, so that we can recognise its response. Mine came in a story I heard, about how the prodigal can actually find him or herself closer to God. This is because every time they carelessly snap their connection, the Lord patiently reties the thread. This shortens the thread and pulls the profligate closer. The story helped me to drop my sense of shame and encouraged me to look up, and see after a long time the brilliant blue of a clear summer sky.
Where was I to find my God? Beautiful as the sky was, He clearly was not there. Abstracts didn’t work for me. I needed a God I could touch, I could feel, I could hear and see. Yet when I prayed I found no image coming up for me. I love Krishna, but no dusky god played the flute when I closed my eyes. Childhood devotion to both Guru Nanak and to Christ still did not cause them to appear in my dreams, nor did the Buddha meet me on the road, top knot and all!
Most of the approaches and means of recovery I tried worked very well for the body, yet I found it difficult to sustain physical recovery. I needed something more. It took me a while and many false leads before I realised that the answer lay in spiritual succour. Addiction is not merely a physical condition. It is more a symptom of inner malnutrition and desolation. Spiritually I was in a dark bottomless pit. Once more I found truth in a fable. In the story, a wise minister, imprisoned in a solitary tower, with no escape route, uses a silk filament to pull up progressively thicker threads, till he is able to fashion a rope to climb down from a little window on the top. I prayed for a similar chance to escape the relentless scourge of addiction.
The God I was searching for appeared. He came as a teacher who patiently showed me the way out of the darkness. He came as friends who held my hand while I took my first teetering steps towards freedom; he came as family who gave me unconditional love and confidence. He came as the marigold flower, whose brilliant yellow pierced my soul when I offered it on the Lord’s altar. He came as the waves in the sea that washed away the grime of self-loathing.
The tears came hot and furious at first, like thunderstorms that follow periods of intense dry heat. This was followed by a deceptively dry, emotionless spell when it felt like all feeling had evaporated, leaving me with a frosty and unresponsive heart. But the darkness did lift, and gentle rain followed, nourishing the ground that had lain arid for so long.
The years that followed can be best described as ‘romancing the Spirit’. Healing practices to remedy the malaise of excesses, soul work to soothe the tormented psyche, deep and intense meditations to connect with the core, forgiveness practices, psalms of gratitude, and loving-kindness practices to heal deep wounds and restore inner well-being, respectful study of the scriptures in an effort to have them yield their secrets, I did and continue to do all these and more. The key is ‘practice’; with faith and with devotion.
I have been fortunate. Spirituality for me today is no less than a congregation of God.
In the satsangs I attend regularly, the guru’s grace clarifies my mind, and brings far-reaching changes in my life.
The Buddha makes his presence felt in the sessions where we meditate, examine aspects of our life, and generally create a supportive sangha where people can feel safe and nurtured.
Tara graces the assembly where we do the loving-kindness chants.
Krishna dances in the eyes of the children I meet, and I hear his flute in the song of the itinerant flute-seller when he passes my lane.
When I hear the call of the muezzin, I hear Nanak’s voice therein.
The fallen peepal leaves outside my building remind me every day to remain committed to the spiritual path. Film songs become bhajans, and the Scriptures resonate with the deepest part of my being.
Loving hands stroke me to sleep on restless days, and I feel the energy and encouragement of sages at the retreats I go to periodically.
I experiment with different aspects of spirituality, be it loving-kindness, forgiveness, gratitude, generosity, or joy. Each reveals to me its secret treasures, enriching my life in unimaginable ways.
I have found my God. One I can touch and feel, one I can hear and see.
I have come home.
Desiree Punwani is author of the newly released book, The wolf I feed, the happiness I do, a straightforward account of her descent into alcoholism, and her way out of it.
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