Holistic Living - On The Road to Freedom
by Suma Varughese
Entry into spirituality gives us all the answers to life’s puzzles. and once we know the answers, we climb to a more and more overarching trajectory that changes our lives immeasurably
To an outsider such radical changes would seem amazing, unprecedented. How can people suddenly change themselves? And of course, there is more. Alcoholics giving up alcohol, smokers renouncing cigarettes, party-hearty socialites dropping anchor inwards, reclusive introverts embracing humanity, selfish careerists turning to social work, sybarites becoming vegans and teetotallers, atheists turning lovers of God – the paradigm shifts are endless.
And the source is one, though its manifestations are diverse: a movement into spirit. The space we move into thereafter is sacred, consecrated. It is a zone of powerful magic, of transformation.
Life in Spirit
All seekers have a ‘before spirituality’ and ‘after spirituality’ era. No matter how blessed the before spirituality era, it is bound to have had its confusions and restrictions. The simple truth is that life without spirit does not work. Nothing makes sense. Questions abound. What could be the reason for incarnation? And where do we go thereafter? And why is life so full of injustice? What do we do with feelings? How can we attain happiness if events explode like shrapnel around us, drowning us in confrontations, failures, relationship breakdowns, illnesses, and so on? Why do some people’s lives work and others’ not? What control do we have over life? Can one ever hope to understand life? Only entry into spirituality gives us access to these answers. No wonder the feeling often is of having groped around in the dark wilderness, trying to find a way, and then bursting out into a glorious clearing, where everything becomes clear, and we know where we are going and why.
In the Briharidanayaka Upanishads, Gargi asks the sage Yajnavalkya, “What is it that knowing which everything is known?” The answer is Brahman, the Vedantic source of existence. It is this Brahman to whom spirituality gives access, and it is through knowing the answers that we seem to climb into a more and more overarching trajectory. Our lives are immeasurably changed, and so are our lifestyles. While the rest of the issue maps the changes in lifestyles, here we will look at the changes that the search germinates within us.
How and when we are led into spirit is an intensely individual process. No two people have the same experience. For Dr Aminuddin Khan, a Hyderabad-based writer and trainer, the exposure came early. He says, “I don’t recall a day, or a phase in my life, when I decided to ‘get on the path’. But when I was five or six years old, a year or two before my father died, I was on the front verandah of the house in which we lived, looking across a section of the rain-drenched garden. The sun had come out, the fountain was playing in the oval pond, koels were calling in the mango grove close by, and green bee-eaters were flying around in rabbles. I suddenly felt that what I was observing all around me and I, the observer, were one! It was an uncanny experience, but an exceedingly exciting one. It made me happy. But I did not want to share it with anybody, not even my English governess.
“Today, 70 years later, the aftereffect of that experience is still with me. It never left me.”
Not everyone, of course, gets the answers right away. Usually, it is a gradual awakening once they enter into the holistic sphere. Shimla-based life skills trainer, Chitra Jha, says, “In 1997, I discovered Linda Goodman’s Star Signs. That was the turning point. One book led to another, and by 1999, I could not read any other kind of books.”
There is a quickening of the pulse that takes place when we move into the holistic sphere, as if our inner compass is finally showing north. We somehow know that this is the ‘truth’ and in time, other insights and aspects of the truth reveal themselves. There is truly nothing more thrilling than obtaining an insight, fitting it into the insights one already has, and finding that it has created a larger truth. Life becomes akin to a kaleidoscope; with every shake a new picture appears, that takes the old forward harmoniously.
This fluidity of truth effectively puts to flight all complacency or rigidity. We recognise that we cannot know the truth because it keeps changing. All convictions and world views are conditional, only for the moment. We are travelling, moving, no longer drifting aimlessly or standing in one spot. We are on a treasure hunt, and life is both exciting and challenging. What it is not is boring! And so the changes begin.
What are these changes? The first is to recognise that there is more to life than the material one constructed by our senses. There is a deeper source that creates these sensory and material objects, and it is both within us, enabling us to create our life’s circumstances, and around us, responsible for the grand panorama of the universe. We see through the myth that Newton and Descartes created and science assiduously cultivated, that we live in a material, fragmentary world, and that creation is a random accident. Simultaneously we become aware that interconnection is the nature of the real world, and that we are all one. Says Aekta Kapoor, “I am very conscious of animals and plants. I call up the trees people if I catch someone cutting trees in my neighbourhood, very unlike my old self, who was so wrapped up in herself! I see everything as connected, as a whole.”
This is perhaps the fulcrum of the change in world view that colours all our perceptions. We are not alone in the world. The universe is friendly. There is a meaning and purpose to existence. There is a Creator. It may not be the superman in heaven we were led to believe but a force, a power, a friendly and benevolent energy, seems to exist. Slowly, the scales fall from our eyes. The 300-year-old illusion of living in a material world, which is the source of modern civilisation, falls apart like a house of cards. None of it was true, after all. The realisation is momentous, and may take many of us years to process it. We re-assess all the systems based on separation. Allopathy, based on destroying the bacteria and virus which are seen as the sources of ill-health, reveals itself as amazingly simplistic. It takes no cognizance of the importance of food, or the mind or the spirit. It takes away all power from the individual, and vests it in the God-like authority of the doctor.
The very basis of modern culture, external conquest, reveals itself to be deeply faulty. Conquest of nature, conquest of nations, conquest of the poor by the rich, all have created a world rife with suffering, injustice, disease and scarcity. Such a world is not inevitable. It is the creation of the materialistic world view. A new kind of world based on oneness is possible and intensely desirable. It is this awareness that has created the New Age movement.
For us Indians, this discovery is deeply gratifying because we discover that this truth has existed all along in this country, enshrined in the Vedas. We discover too that oneness is the basis of all our traditional systems from ayurveda to vaastu to arts and music. Our culture is the prototype for tomorrow’s world culture. For us Indians, entry into the spiritual domain unfolds a great love for and pride in this country.
Bond with Divinity
The second and related change is building a bond with divinity. I used to be an agnostic until I had a spiritual awakening that enabled me to realise that there was a design to creation, which means there was a designer. There is perhaps little that is more life-giving and satisfying, than rebuilding one’s lost connection with God. What a source of strength and faith opens up for us when we acknowledge there is God, recognise his presence in the circumstances of our lives, and communicate with Him.
Say Dinaz Dastur, “My journey started when I turned to God! It began gradually, and now it’s become an insatiable need to spend time with Him. I regularly visit the fire-temple for a good amount of time. I recite my daily prayers, and attune myself to Him totally. Now it’s become a habit that I just can’t do without. Powerful insights pour into me whilst in attunement with Him, and I experience His power, warmth and vibration flow into every cell of my being, soothing and calming me.”
It is through this awareness of a Higher Power, that we discern that we are on a path. Suddenly, things come to us when we want them to. Books drop into our laps, people who need to teach us just what we are looking for come into our lives, and coincidences abound. We are no longer alone. This Higher Power seems to have joined with us, or is it that we have joined with It? We get the comforting sense of being watched over and guided.
Says Anita Vasudeva, “I know there is God / Energy / call it what you will. I don’t even question it. For me God is Being and Not Being and Everything. I just think if I can live this fully with a truth in my heart, and also find quiet time to reach a stillness – that is the practice I need to follow.”
And somewhere we recognise that this momentous journey that we seem to have embarked upon without quite realising it, is at one and the same time, about changing ourselves, about discovering the truth, and about going ever deeper into knowledge of God.
Rajaque Rehman, a former journalist who is today fully dedicated to teaching Art of Living courses, says, “Though I have always been a devout person, my relationship with God was impersonal. Now it has become so personal that it’s almost impossible to see a separation between me and God. I have realised that there is nothing but God. When you know that there is nothing but God, everything you do become a practice to get closer to God. Every moment I live in awareness is a prayer for me.”
The path of change is a circular one, and things do not happen sequentially. Some people know the answers, and work towards seeding them within their consciousness. Others seem to gradually evolve until by the time they get all the answers, they have already changed their consciousness sufficiently to contain them. So we cannot say where in the journey the following changes happen. But they happen.
The dawn of awareness
We become more conscious. Our mind seems to open up, time seems to slow down, we become more aware of our inner world – the world of feelings, thoughts, reactions and dreams. We recognise that the personality that we had thought was fixed is actually very malleable. We can change ourselves, radically if we wish to. Biology is not destiny, nothing actually is destiny. We can overcome our weaknesses, rise above the reactions and fears that hold us captive, and take a shot at greatness.
Says Rajaque, “Once you are on the path, every aspect of life changes. Life for me has become so fulfilling, so effortless, and so simple. Being on the path brings depth in whatever one does. For me, it has added depth in the way I talk, the way I interact with people, the way I look at life, the way I handle situations and people, the way I understand myself and my relationship with God.”
Says Dinaz, “Right people, right books come into my life at the right time! I’ve become extremely intuitive, and when I sit with a stranger for just a few minutes, I can somehow assess the individual’s personality, and insights keep dropping into me, guiding me to guide the person in his/her situation.”
Says Jyothi Subramanian, writer and follower of Yogiraj Siddhanath, a Himalayan master with an ashram in Pune. “The first inner quality to manifest, that I noticed, was a constant feeling of endless joy that seemed to well from somewhere deep within. I perceive this change or transformation happening at many levels, emotional, mental, and physical. A slow stripping off of excessive baggage that leaves a residual feeling of freedom.”
Says Radhika Nagrath, a seeker, “I am happy most of the time. I have a purpose in life. Now small issues do not matter much. Relationship breakdowns do not bother me at all.”
As we become more conscious, we become aware of many things at the subtle level that was obscure to us before. We recognise the role of motivation in determining the consequences of actions. Good and bad cease to be fixed concepts; it is the motivation that determines whether it is so. Charity performed for the sake of feeling superior to another is no virtuous act, while lying to another in order to comfort them, like telling someone before a party that they look good, is actually a good thing!
You also know that everything is a process, and individual events fall into place. Whether it is the state of the world or of one’s own mind, there is simply no point in fretting over wrongdoing – because transformation takes time. We and the world are a work in progress. We stop writing ourselves and others off, knowing that all are capable of change, and that the Higher Power is working on each of us.
On the whole, we become far more optimistic about life, because we discern that good things come out of bad things. There is no need to fear or dread the shadow side of life, because everything can be of use as instruments of growth. This one realisation integrates life for us, and we no longer divide it into good or bad.
Gradually, we develop an independent code of values, and cease to plug into societal norms of conduct or priorities. What society finds to be important like money or status may no longer seem paramount; nor do we find it as important to get society’s approval. We become our own person, which is a great freedom in its own right.
Who am I?
The more we find out about ourselves, the more we find there is to know. We seem to be a bottomless enigma, with more and more veils obscuring us from view, the moment we manage to part one. Who would have thought, the question, Who are you? uttered so thoughtlessly at social interactions, would have such a difficult hard-to-get-at answer? The first identification to disappear is that of the body. We learn with great astonishment that we are not the body. We are in the body, but we are not the body. This discovery leads most people to disengage from an excessive concern for the body, particularly its upkeep and embellishment. One is no longer under any illusion that looking good at the physical level has anything to do with the purpose of life. At the same time, a genuine concern for the body crops up. This precious life, so rich in meaning now that we know something about it, can only be pursued in embodiment, and therefore the body must be looked after. We become less reckless with it, and take care to groom it, exercise it, and give it the right food and rest.
Says Vizag-based fashion designer, Madhu Tigunait, “I always had a delicate digestive system, but I used to eat all the wrong food. When I got into spirituality it hit me like a hammer’s blow that I needed to take care of my health. I got into an ayurvedic form of eating to match my vata-pitta prakriti. I have lots of fruits, light soups and salads and avoid wheat. I don’t have tea or coffee and prefer herbal teas. Even if invited out for dinner, I make sure I eat and go. I do not want a late meal to mess up my early morning meditation.”
As the journey progresses, identifications fall off. The mind, the instrument with which we think and which seems so intimately us, also starts to loosen up. In meditation, we go to a region beyond thinking, and far from disappearing as Descartes would have us think, we actually feel far more alive and vital without thoughts.
The dreaded ego makes its appearance around now. And we begin to see how it traps us within an illusion of aloneness. We watch ourselves choosing the larger piece of cake, of rushing into a train to get the best seat for ourselves, or putting others down so we can feel good. It is the ego that obscures the oneness of life, we slowly recognise. As we consciously look through the caprices and manipulations of the ego, we become more transparent, free of games, and more and more in kinship with life. Says Anita Vasudev, “Whereas earlier life revolved around me and the larger world, now I can see the larger world on its own. A sense of frustration persists in what we do to the environment – physical, social, political, side by side with a strange sense of acceptance of the evolution. I feel responsible for it as a member of the world.”
As we let go of the many faces we show the world, as we become simple and essential and at the same time, magnificent and beautiful, all the barriers that separated us from our own selves melt. We begin to have space for every bit of ourselves – every feeling and reaction. We have compassion for our own suffering, and actively appreciate the many good things about ourselves. We discover a good wholesome love for ourselves that seeps into us like a gift. We become our own best friends, our support system, the one source of unconditional love and acceptance.
Says Dinaz, “I love being the way I am today. I listen to my soul and get all my answers from within.”
Anita Vasudeva says, “With the years and down the path, I have changed from an ‘I know everything and high self-esteem’ person, to an ‘I don’t know most things and high self-esteem’ person. Listening abilities and learning from anyone has gone up hugely. I don’t need to prove myself to anyone. I am projecting myself much much less to an external world.”
Aekta Kapoor says, “I love myself, which is a big thing for me. I hated myself earlier! I have been putting myself over others, again an achievement, because I used to be big on ‘sacrifice’ earlier.”
The dawning of self-love is a fundamental change for it frees us of the many emotional and psychological needs that enslaves us to others and to the world. Insecurity leaves us, for we have discovered an undying source of security – our own selves. We freewheel away from manipulative behaviour, and become less needy and more confident. Without the need to prove ourselves to anyone, we become quieter, more essential, and more powerful. The world begins to acknowledge our newfound self at this stage for it finds it can no longer manipulate us. We find a new respect and acknowledgement coming our way, and perhaps some disgruntlement too from those who once used us.
Relating to the World
Over time, our relationship with others change. We need nothing from others, neither approval nor love. We therefore love for its own sake. Since we are no longer shrouded in the veil of our own needs, we can now fully appreciate the other, without feeling the lesser for it.
Says Rajaque, “Love has become the basis of all relationships. So all judgments have dropped and there is no relativity. I love everything and everybody as they are.”
Dinaz says, “I hold no grudges. I’ve forgiven and forgotten. I’ve learnt to take any negative occurrence in my life as an opening for growth. I rarely get angry and remain calm under provocation. I’ve learnt to intently ‘listen’. People turn to you when you attentively listen to them – not just their words but their feelings too. On the whole people are extremely comfortable with me, and even the most introverted and taciturn of people have voiced how easy and at home they are with me.”
Most relationships work wonderfully, but sometimes the reverse happens. We free ourselves from dysfunctional or unhealthy relationships, since we are free both from need of them, and from fear of societal censure.
One seeker shares, “I left my husband after 10 abusive years. My feeling was: I can perhaps live a frustrated, lonely life but I do not want
to die like this. I figured this life was all I’d got, and I didn’t want it to be a waste. I had never liked sex. It was painful and violent. I had never liked my husband, who was (is) into major substance abuse. After over nine years of marriage, around the time I got into spirituality, I just stopped sleeping with him. I could not tolerate it any more. I felt that my body was my temple, and that I could no longer desecrate it with doing something that repulsed me, and made me feel dirty, ugly and wretched. I walked out a year later.
“And now? I have a loving, faithful, devoted partner who says he finds his own pleasure in mine!! I find sex a spiritual thing; it connects me to some vital pulsating energy force that’s out there for all of us. For the first time, at the age of 31, after having had kids long ago, I finally realised that sex was a pleasure, not pain! And that far from being frigid, as my husband used to call me, I am a highly passionate, charged lover.”
Anita Vasudeva says, “I let go of my mother mentally and emotionally when she passed away, and she was really my closest relationship. I let go of a couple of friendships – I thought they let go of me and circumstances did – but I realise I needed to let go of them, because they were draining me of time I needed for my quiet self.”
The larger World
The essence of the change is distillation. The complexities of life dissipate and life becomes eminently simple. Our needs reduce themselves to the essentials of food, clothing, shelter. Our relationship with ourselves and with God gradually become one and not two. The buzz of life settles down, and stillness eventually dawns. We are at peace with ourselves and life. That most elusive of states, happiness, comes and knocks at our door. This is a happiness that is not dependent on circumstances, a happiness that is permanent. Now we are free to do what we can for the outside world.
Most of us at this stage get actively involved in seva. Maybe our concern for the environment comes to the fore; maybe the poverty of the masses moves us beyond bearing, maybe it is the mental agony around us that we wish to address. It is said that when the Buddha became enlightened, he was tempted to remain in that bliss for ever more, but the very earth gave voice and pleaded with him to impart his knowledge. In the same way, most people on the path go beyond themselves and towards the world. And it is through them that a new world dawns.
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