Personal Growth - Muscles of the heart
by Jamuna Rangachari
Faith, prayer and a spiritual attitude towards life can prove to be powerful tools for seekers who wish to develop inner strength
Buddha being tempted by Mara in the penultimate stage of enlightenment
In the long list of demands I make of the Almighty, one item that keeps figuring is strength. ‘Let me have the strength to deal with any situation life presents’ is something I never fail to ask for. Wherever or whoever we are, isn’t it true that all of us, young or old, could do with more strength? Luckily, inner strength is something all of us can cultivate.
To understand what true strength is, one need look no further than how true heroes like Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela responded to the big challenges in their lives.
But it is not just giants who have something to teach us about strength. Ordinary folk can have extraordinary lessons to teach us as well.
In the wee hours of May 28, Shreya Sen was on her way to Mumbai after spending some days at her cousin’s wedding in Kolkata. In Bengal’s West Midnapore district, at 1.30 in the morning, the train she was travelling in jerked to a halt. Some compartments of the train had derailed.
Minutes later, the compartment Shreya was travelling in with her mother and brother was hit by a speeding goods train. Shreya’s right hand was badly mangled in the accident. She also hurt her legs, face and back rather badly. It took the architecture student one-and-a-half month at a Kolkata hospital and four major surgeries to get back to her feet. Shreya lost her right arm but insists she was lucky that night, which claimed 148 lives. “Somehow, by the grace of God, I felt no pain. I knew something was very wrong with my right hand, I could feel the warm blood on my dress, but I did not feel any pain,” she says.
“Imagine the pain of losing a loved one. There is no physical remnant of what used to be a person to ease the pangs of separation. I was lucky. Things could have been worse,” says Shreya, who refuses to condemn the unnamed Maoist whose actions changed life as she knew it forever.
“I don’t know his story, his motivations or if he acted under threat. How can I be angry with him,” she says.
I ask her where she finds her strength. “My family and friends and teachers at my college supported me so completely that it was easy for me to muster the will to face my loss. After all, nothing is that difficult.”
It is the attitude of counting her blessings that has helped her as it has helped many other winners in the game of life.
When Sharon William’s (name changed) husband left her for another woman, she took stock of the situation. She had two young children and in-laws who loved her greatly. She did not want her young children to suffer because their parents had separated. “I refused to hate,” she said. “I did not let my children know their father had left.”
Shreya Sen: Heroism in action
Soon, the tide turned. Sharon’s husband broke up with his girlfriend and Sharon accepted him without a trace of animosity. “I draw my strength from my friends and family and my faith in who I am.” Never forgetting the beautiful experiences of the past, she says, quoting feminist author Simone de Beauvoir, “No matter what happened afterward, nothing would take those moments away from me; nothing has taken them away; they shine in my past with a brilliance that has never been tarnished.”
Acceptance is the key to handling all of life. Be it health or any other issue.
Neelam Mehta, a writer, puts it beautifully. “I had just finished my second reading of The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle when I got diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I resonated with the book at a very deep level and was seriously practicing present-moment awareness at that time. As a result, when the C-word was pronounced, I received it from a place of complete neutrality. There was no sense of fear or panic. I did not ask ‘why me’ or ‘what now’? Because of that surrender to the flow, acceptance came easy. It has been four years since I got diagnosed and I have had three relapses since then. However,
I recall the famous line about pain being inevitable but suffering being a choice. And
I choose not to suffer.”
Catching them young
It is important that one teaches children what true strength is. They have to be taught that the bully is not strong. He merely draws his strength from his insecurities.
Ameeta Shah, a psychologist, who has seen many such cases, says, “Parents can do a lot in helping children develop inner strength. The way parents shape their children’s ideas of fairness, mistakes and performance go on to become the scripts they live their lives by. For example, strength enhancing thinking when a child fails a test would be ‘There is no failure. It is only feedback’”.
We must remember that not forgiving others cripples us and makes us weak. We must remember that we become strong by forgiving others. Jesus had prayed for forgiveness of those who crucified him. We may not possess his strength but we can certainly live by the light of his example.
Santosh Joshi, a life coach and past-live regression therapist, says it was his spiritual outlook combined with the example of great people and the support of his wife that has been a source of strength for him. “My commodities trading business was not doing too well. I wanted to be a healer, motivational speaker and a life coach. My wife Aruna stood by my side while I made the transition. She kept urging me to follow my heart. Her words gave me the strength to realise my dreams.”
Dinaz Dastur suffered from back pain but did not let that drive her to despair. Instead, she prayed hard. “Prayer is the most powerful of therapeutic tools. The belief that he is by my side brings me divine peace, which, in turn, helps me face everything patiently and calmly.”
“God is not to be reached by the weak. Never be weak. You have infinite strength within
you. How else will you conquer anything? How else will you come to God?” asked Swami Vivekananda.
Whatever our approach, it is necessary that we cultivate inner strength so we can face the challenges of life with equanimity. Whether through prayer, or attitude or spiritual practice, developing strength is the need of the hour. It is, after all, what separates those who win in life and those who are won over.
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