Life - A Life Less Ordinary
by Aparna Jacob
Making MiraclesMillions around the world have visions or encounters with angels, saints, gurus or have divine visitations. Billions more may never encounter these kinds of miracles. The difference lies in the
Understanding MiraclesShaky as the subject of thaumaturgy (the performance of miracles or magic) is, let’s begin with a basic definition of a miracle.
A miracle can be called an event, which is not producible by
“God leaves his imprints everywhere. In the blades of grass, in the radiant face of a sleeping child, in a note of music. For that tantalising instant you know you are glimpsing the
The entire universal consciousness works in such a fashion that we as pygmies think them miracles. But if you float in that universal consciousness, nothing is a miracle
“Negativity is what blocks miracles from happening to a layperson. They are bound by their dogmas, the straitjacket of religions”
The entire universal consciousness works in a fashion that we as pygmies think they are miracles. But if you float in that universal consciousness, nothing is a miracle
“Such epiphanic experiences occur within the great universal flow of energy and require nothing more than our sheer awareness of their presence”
“Once your chakras are open you become receptive to these divine powers. It’s like connecting your aerial to the divine source”
Heart over mind The mind erects barriers but the heart knows no limitations. While the mind ceaselessly questions, the heart’s acceptance opens you to experiences, which to the mind lie within the
“All I had done was put in peanuts of devotion towards Him and before I knew it I had plugged into a power greater than I can ever comprehend”
—Sharon Clark Sequeira
Sharon’s mother a staunch catholic, once sat chanting the rosary when she had reasons of the Buddha, Lakshmi and Jesus.
Miracles are guides, beacons of light and signposts in the labyrinthine wilderness in which we wander. God saying hello!
If we are sensitive to divine intent, we open ourselves to the blessings of nature and are in harmony with the universe
The rank smell of drying fish assailed my nostrils as the bus pulled into the sleepy depot at Yari Road in Mumbai. The handkerchief in my pocket smelt exactly as if it had been used to wrap a clam. Sweat poured off me in rivers as I made my way to the cluster of grey buildings in the distance, huddled against a bleak sky. I was on a quest for miracles.
Looking at the maze of concrete I was entering, it was not hard to know why sceptics like me abound. The lines of the objects around us, solid and definite, have come to define our perception of reality.
We limit our vision to the apparent, and acknowledge only that known through the senses. This has flawed our perception, blocking us to the vast possibilities of the universe. When the pollution clouded skies or the towering skyscrapers obstruct the view of the stars, birds, trees and other handiworks of the Divine, how much more difficult must it be to even sense the presence of the Divine?
Such were my thoughts as I called on Thelma Aranha that day.
The frail birdlike woman speaks in a quiet voice, different from the soprano she sings in the church choir. As she begins her story, her eyes cloud over with memories of that monsoon long ago.
"Rain had been pelting down all night, drowning, I remember, Edward’s snores. He slept on a different bed because of my condition. I was thirsty but too weak to call out to him. So I lay still and prayed for the hurting to stop.
"The fire in the insides for the last three weeks persisted. Amoebic dysentery. My bowels had turned to water. It drained me and I grew too feeble to even lift a spoon to my lips. The inevitable trips to the bathroom were an embarrassment because I had to be carried. The doctor said there was nothing more to be done. Three in the afternoon. Not much longer, the doctor had pronounced: ’You might want to inform your relatives.’
"Poor Edward was terrified and gently shook me, calling my name. But after so many days of pain, I was finally feeling light. I wanted to sink into the cottony softness of the sleep that was numbing my brain."
It was 2:30 p.m. Neighbours had gathered in the tiny apartment and someone called for a priest to take the dying woman’s confession. When he arrived, he went straight to Thelma and took her hand. She felt cold as a mausoleum. He looked at the pale face and closed his eyes, as if in prayer. Then he asked Edward to send everyone out of the room.
"The priest began rubbing the patient’s hands and vigorously massaging her feet. He wrapped her legs in several blankets and bound it in place with a strong cord. He started rubbing her hands, his eyes closed in prayer. At 3:30, Edward thought he imagined a faint flush of colour on his wife’s cheeks. He checked her temperature. She was warm and seemed to be sleeping peacefully.
"I woke up feeling hot and unusually hungry. Edward was peering down at me and a strange man with a long beard was holding my hand. I smiled at Edward and asked him for some water. The strange man’s face was serene and I noticed his long beard had raindrops spangled in it. He gave Edward some instructions and was quickly gone. ’Who was it,’ I later enquired. ’Wasn’t he the priest,’ Edward replied, puzzled. He didn’t go to church and didn’t know. ’No’, I said, assuming it was an acquaintance of some neighbor. But nobody knew who he was."
Thelma pauses to wipe her eyes and turns to look at Edward’s picture on the side table. "Edward called him a godsend, a miracle. He never missed mass after that," she laughs.
I have known Thelma long enough to respect her simple yet unshakable faith and her quiet gratitude to accept her statement that miracles happen everyday, to everyone. "God leaves his imprints everywhere. In the blades of grass, in the radiant face of my sleeping grandchild, in a note of beautiful music. For that tantalizing instant, your breath catches in your throat because you know you are glimpsing the Divine," she says barely containing the rapture in her voice. The last thing she says as she sees me out is "Seek and you shall find".
I had heard these very words earlier that week when I had spoken to Shehnaaz Sheikh, who had renounced her world of firebrand ac tivism and an illustrious career as an advocate to teach meditation and reiki. Hers was a fascinating spiritual rags-to-riches account.
Muslim. The word reared itself like a giant serpent, unfamiliar and rude as an abuse or a stone hurled at her. Overnight she was reduced from the fiery advocate of women’s rights, the lawyer who had never lost a case, to merely being branded a Muslim.
It was 1993 and Mumbai was in the grip of violent communal riots. A series of bomb blasts left the stench of fear everywhere. At her organisation Awaaz-e-Nizwaan, Shehnaaz worked round the clock providing aid to victims, counselling the terrified.
"I was divorced, working in a slum, wearing cast-offs, driven only by my conviction in my cause-the upliftment of the oppressed," the petite woman recalls calmly. "It had taken 10 years of my life, my sweat and blood to bring about the harmony between the Hindu and Muslim women. And now it was being replaced by cold doubt and suspicion. Watching my efforts fall apart was most demoralising."
Shehnaaz had left home at a young age, having quarrelled with her father over his fundamentalist views on Islam. Now she was compelled to flee the Shiv Sena dominated area she was living in. Friends wouldn’t shelter her, as that would mean inviting uncomfortable attention.
"So there I was, rejected by both the Hindu and the Muslim community. Homeless, with no God or emotional relationship I could turn for succour. When the nervous breakdown happened, it was almost welcome."
A friend suggested she attend the Vipassana meditation at Igatpuri. Never having meditated before, Shehnaaz was keen not to make mistakes, which repeatedly remind us to surrender. "All I could do was suspend my ceaseless questioning mind and follow the technique closely. At the end of the 10 days, I felt something of the calmness that had been eluding me so long. I returned to Mumbai, to the noise, the crowds, the pettiness. I just wanted to be left in peace, to revel in my newfound serenity. But my landlady came in to tell me about a persistent caller who had been enquiring if I was back."
Shehnaaz returned the call to find that she had been nominated for the coveted Neerja Bhanot Pan Am Award for bravery. An award given to women who have successfully strived for the upliftment of other women. A cash prize of Rs 1 lakh.
"I wept for joy. Here was the long due recognition I desperately needed to restore my battered self-esteem. My money problems were at end and I could start living again."
Other miracles began unfolding and the tangles in her life easily sorted themselves out. Her relationship with her parents improved drastically and the scars left by her divorce healed when she found love in her marriage with Jean Pierre, a Frenchman.
God saying hello!
Miracles, Shehnaaz feels, are guides, beacons of light and signposts in the labyrinthine wilderness in which we wander. They nudge us along our journey, offering us gentle instruction and compassionate encouragement. They firmly propel us back to the path from which we may have strayed.
"Since I was 12, I could see light between my eyebrows, the opening of the third eye," she discloses. I always knew of future events and even saw the house I was to live in when I was 25. But I still won’t call them extraordinary because now I know my life was only going its destined course."
How come not everyone encounters miracles, I asked. "Negativity blocks miracles from happening to a layperson. They are bound by their dogmas, the straitjacket of religions," she explained.
That evening, mulling over her tale, I told myself Shehnaaz’s receiving the award was one of those giant coincidences. I turned over the pages of the book in my hand and stopped dead when the word glowered at me from the very page I was reading.
"Coincidences," writer Doris Lessing once said, "are God’s ways of remaining anonymous." They are much more than simple accidents. They are personal, everyday miracles which are nothing less than God tapping us on the shoulder, whispering, or at times even shouting: ’Here I am!’
That’s precisely what had happened to Rumi Ray, the artist.
Today was one of his good days, Rumi smiled to herself, remembering to nod at the right places, keeping pace with the rapid flow of his eager observations. Usually her attempts to draw him into a conversation would only make him irritable, and he would withdraw into the gloom and dreariness of his confused mind.
Her brother had been diagnosed with schizoid paranoia. She was familiar with the violent swings of his moods-exuberance one minute, blind rage the next. At such times she would try hard to keep from crying. She had to be brave for the two of them.
She remembered their days growing up in the house at Bandra, a whirl of school, classes, parties, friends. He was only a year younger than she was and in many ways her closest friend, sharing her secrets and sometimes dispensing advice. Their parents were away a lot and as the children grew up the emotional distance between the two grew.
"They haven’t given us much to go on with," she mused bitterly. Not even faith.
Then the first signs of her brother’s disturbed state of mind began surfacing and she remembered the panic on the face of her mother. ’What will people think?’ was the unspoken question that hung in the air. She felt ashamed and angry as her brother was quietly packed off to the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore. But above all, she felt alone.
’Rumi, what was that prayer you would say in school, every morning?’ he was now asking out of the blue. She turned towards him: ’Do you mean the Hail Mary?’ ’I think so. Would you say it?’ he pleaded.
She drew in a long breath. Schooling in a convent had imprinted the prayer on Rumi’s mind like the two times table. It had been 20 years since she had said it, yet the words rolled off her tongue: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
And as she was saying it, she saw a calm descend on her brother’s face-at peace and smiling. And within her was spreading an overwhelming feeling of relief and a new sense of joy. So forceful that she almost jumped off the chair she was sitting in. She remembers thinking: ’God, you’re really there!’ And Jesus answered: ’I was always there Rumi, only you didn’t know me.’ Raised in an agnostic environ ment, Rumi’s first reaction was to panic: Was she going her brother’s way? But gradually her conversations with God increased in frequency and a sequence of events began unfolding which revealed God’s plan for her.
As a child, Rumi had always been skilled with her fingers, an eye for detail and colour; a skill she had left behind pursuing her career in management. One month after the incident, Rumi picked up her brush and began painting under divine guidance.
A few weeks later she picked up a newspaper to discover an artistic legacy left behind by her great grandfather Hemen Mazumdar who belonged to the late 19th and early 20th century Bengal school of painting. Christie’s and Sotheby’s had sold his works in the 1940s and ’50s, and interest in them was now being revived by Bowrings. "This revelation came to me just when I was trying to make a name for myself as an artist. If it weren’t for divine intercession, the talent that ran in our family probably would have never surfaced," she often says.
Rumi has met great acclaim and success as an artist and humbly she acknowledges that none of this would have happened if God had not sought her out in that most dismal of places, a mental institution, and made Himself known to her.
"Such epiphanic experiences can happen to any one of us," Rumi said, "and lead us to our unfulfilled destiny. They occur within the great universal flow of energy, and require nothing more than our sheer awareness of their presence. To encounter these moments in their fullness and richness, to be aware of their message and hear their music, is truly to know God."
Rumi emphasised that these chances must be seized as opportunities for change, as they are vital keys towards expanding our consciousness. If we can learn to become more aware of and attuned to them, more cognizant of their significance, then we will evolve to a higher state of being.
When we integrate both the experience and the meaning of these into our lives, we open ourselves to the enriching possibilities, the blessings, and the sense of harmony with the universe. She called it synchronicity.
Science is the sceptic’s last refuge, I mused, before putting my feeble questions on rationale and scientific laws to Suresh Kothari who has daily conversations with Lord Krishna. I told him how in the heady days of the rise of science, many came to see miracles as a violation of the laws of nature, like the Scottish philosopher David Hume.
"But this implies that everything there is to know in the universe has been fathomed, no more discoveries are possible," he retorts. "The conversion of one thing into another may seem impossible. But the possibilities were always there. When science catches up, these possibilities are unearthed and they cease to be miracles. For instance, a computer was a miracle in my father’s time. It is not today. Time creates miracles."
"Nothing is a miracle" is the affable Kothari’s claim. I then urge him to relate his near-death experience.
"I could feel the whirl of activity around me. They measured my blood pressure and I heard zero/zero. I was a goner," he begins.
"Suddenly, I felt a storm in my stomach. An inexplicable energy began creeping up my legs. I could sense something emerge from my body and hover about-it was paper thin and translucent. I was floating and remember seeing a lot of bright light. I felt immense love. I could feel a force exploding from the top of my head in a broad shaft of luminosity.
I was later told I had remained in that state for almost 90 seconds. But I felt as if I had lived billions of years and travelled millions of miles.
When Kothari came through, friends and relatives poured in and he felt the urge to ask each one for their forgiveness. In his heart was a new certainty that he was going to live, despite the grim prognosis about the abscess in his liver.
Sure enough he was discharged the very next day. But for six months after that, he was unable to recognise anyone, not even his wife or mother. I kept thinking how crude this worldly love was in comparison to that divine love I had tasted in those few seconds, remembers Kothari. He was able to see what lay 10 miles below and into other rooms. A year later, Lord Krishna himself began conversing with him.
Describing his daily visitor, Kothari says: "I was struck by his glowing face. So handsome, lively and brightly dressed." Kothari was honest with Krishna and told Him that people don’t hold Him in high regard anymore. That plagued by monetary worries, they rebuke Him. Kothari himself requested three things: That I need my business thriving and healthy, to live in my present house in the good condition that it is in. I also requested Him not to take me away to the spiritual world just then.
Of course the Lord complied but in exchange, He required Kothari to follow a path of knowledge and devotion and serve as a conduit for His work. "I was no meditator, I was not religious, hadn’t even read the scriptures. And here I am scripting the new Gita, dictated by the Lord himself," reflects Kothari.
The late Swami Rama could stop his heartbeat for 20 seconds. Experts were investigating and the rest called it a miracle. A certain Yogananda Swami saw that there were thorns growing in his backyard. The thorns would keep the wild animals away. He prayed to them: "There are no wild animals that come here, please stop sprouting." In a week they disappeared. A friend had a lot of cockroaches infesting his house.
He begged them to leave and they did. "Now, are these miracles?" demands Kothari. I nod imperceptibly. To observers who haven’t mastered these techniques, these seem like miracles. Only those who are unaware of their own potential call these miracles. Miracle is too inferior a word. These are natural occurrences on your spiritual evolution. The entire universal consciousness works in such a fashion that we as pygmies think them miracles. But if you float in that universal consciousness, nothing is a miracle.
"Once your chakras are open you become receptive to these divine powers. It’s like connecting your aerial to the divine source. Just like a radio," smiles the old man. Everyone has a latent divine potential. But how many are interested in fathoming it?
Special providences, said theologian Louis Berkhof, are "special combinations in the order of events, as in the answer to prayer, in deliverance out of trouble, and in all instances in which grace and help come in critical circumstances". God’s hand is visible, in a sense, to Christians who have watched all the pieces-one or more of life’s puzzles-fall into place in a special way.
Sharon Clarke Sequeira’s is a case in point. Previously a Lakme model, now an active member of the Sanatan Sanstha, an organisation for scientific spirituality, Sharon cites numerous instances when she felt touched by the miraculous hand of God. "It never ceases to amaze me," says Sharon, "how all I had done was put in peanuts of devotion towards Him and before I knew it I’d plugged into a power greater than I can ever comprehend."
Sharon speaks of how God sent her endless signs and situations to experience his presence. But I’ve come to realise that these experiences are not terribly important in themselves. Their message and what you make of it is.
"Spiritual experiences are commonplace when one embarks on the path," explains Sharon. These are anubhutis, where there is an effect without a cause to activate it. She explains how these are instances when the divine is trying to contact you through your subtle senses and vary according to the five elements of prithvi, aap, tej, vayu and aakash.
For instance, meditating in a room, if all of a sudden you begin to smell sandalwood or incense or roses, you would be experiencing anubhutis at the prithvi level. Aap is the element of taste and Sharon recalls how a meditator during sadhana could experience the thick sweetness of sugarcane juice.
At the tej level, one sees visions. Sharon’s mother, a staunch catholic, once sat chanting the rosary when she had visions of the Buddha, Lakshmi and Jesus. Anubhutis of touch occur at the vayu level. A meditator could feel a warm, soft wrap against her skin each time she chanted her mantra and it felt like a cocoon of love and security.
An American yoga teacher woke up one morning to the most melodious strains of a flute and spent the morning trying to locate the source. A spirit guide later told her that she had heard Krishna playing his flute. This is an example of an anubhuti at the akaash or etheric level.
I remembered Rohini Gupta, a seeker, telling me that an individual, through intense sadhana, can gain such a level of mastery over the elements that parting seas, levitating, walking on water, remaining impervious to fire, even travelling through space and time are possible. These she called siddhis.
But above these, says Sharon, are the anubhutis related to the mind; states of perpetual bliss that stay with you even in utter chaos.
Sharon, fortunate for having experienced these, reveals: It feels like sparkles going off all around, an indescribable delicious sensation. "Anubhutis," she says, "come with rigorous sadhana and can be re-experienced if one repeats the same technique. But miracles are once in a blue moon occurrences where one sees clearly the divine hand that orchestrates the universe."
The silence in the hall in Khandala, where 15 teenagers sat in contemplation was occasionally punctuated by a giggle or a sneeze. The 14-year-old sat with her eyes closed, the marble floor cool against the soles of her feet.
"Who was Jesus?" she repeated to herself. Someone you went to church for, then sat and stood and sat and stood during mass, dropped money in the box and forgot about for the rest of the week? Who was he?
Her breath quickened as her questioning climbed to a frenzy. She felt trapped, as if in a shell, pounding her fists against its walls to get across to where her answer lay. Beads of perspiration glistened on her temples as she beat against the walls and ran around in circles in her mind. She felt a hand on her shoulder. Turning around she saw Jesus. ’Always look for me within, Sharon,’ he said.
Her eyes flew open and she found herself in the retreat hall. She sat blinking, collecting herself from the shock of so vivid an experience.
As a child Sharon remembers looking into a mirror and seeing the objects in the room reflected in it. From somewhere within came the thought: This world is not real. But only after her experience at the retreat began her relentless pursuit of knowing God in earnest.
At 21, she met her guru Dr J.B Athavale. He told Sharon God won’t appear in a flash of lightning or as a white dove, which was what Sharon perhaps half-expected. When she began sadhana, numerous anubhutis began coming her way, letting her know she was on the right path. There were coincidences aplenty. I could see the next day’s headlines. "I knew of future events, saw visions," she recalls. "I clearly felt his presence all around and felt ready for him. Then why was he keeping himself from me?"
One afternoon in Goa, Sharon spent the entire day sobbing. She’d had enough of anubhutis, she felt. If only God would reveal himself.
"I finally heaved myself and went to the kitchen to cook dinner. I began pouring oil into the container, which had a narrow neck. In my impatience, it spilled over," Sharon smiles. "And with that God had given me an answer. I was not ready to receive him yet. I had to continue with my shraddha (spiritual practice) and saburi (patience) and he would come when the time was right."
There was no point in hurrying like the impatient devotee who insisted on seeing God even as his guru urged him to be patient. Finally giving in to the young man’s persistence, the guru showed him God. The young devotee went blind because his eyes couldn’t take the radiance.
Behind the enchanted life she leads is Sharon’s undoubting faith and complete surrender unto the divine will. She lives secure in the knowledge that she will always be provided for and that God will always watch over.
In her motherhood, she learnt to let go of the possessiveness she felt for her child. "When I realised that mine was only a finite love, I committed Mark to that source of infinite love."
"Early in my pregnancy, I had a vision that I was standing in the sea and there were huge waves crashing down on me. Then came a giant wave that loomed like a black wall above me and I knew if it hit me, I wouldn’t live. Just when it was about to break, my guru’s hand picked me up and set me down gently after the wave had passed. I knew this was a sign. I’d come close to death during the delivery but would survive.
"One night during the last week, I woke up just in time to see a torrent of blood rushing out from between my legs. I was having a placenta previa, which leads to either the mother bleeding to death or to the baby being a stillborn."
"Padded with towels, I was rushed to the hospital. The kind doctor tried to prepare me for any eventuality. But I, secure in the knowledge that it was a matter of few hours before I would be united with my baby, remained calm throughout. Mark was born healthy and sound."
One evening, when Mark was three, Sharon returned home very late from a lecture. Not having informed the family, she expected to be met with sullen faces and cold vibes. But to her surprise everyone seemed quiet and preoccupied.
All of that day Mark had been running in and out of the house, slamming doors. His fingers got caught and were crushed blue. His father scooped him up and put him in the car to drive to the hospital next door. Rushing back in to pick up his wallet, he hurried to the car.
To his surprise, the child seemed in no pain. He examined his fingers and they didn’t even appear crushed anymore. By the time Sharon returned, even the blue bruises had vanished. "While I do God’s work, he’s taking care of my son. It’s like a pact between us and I completely trust him because I know he’s a much better mother than I am," smiles Sharon.
For many days after I met Sharon, I couldn’t get her story out of my mind. Miracles happen to us everyday. "Most times we are either too busy to notice them, or we think them too insignificant," she said when I insisted nothing of the sort had ever happened to me.
I racked my brains. I remembered 1998, when I was a student of science, strictly at my parent’s insistence. It was a period of plummeting grades and self-confidence and soaring tempers and decibel levels. When the finals came I was so ill-prepared that I remember thinking: "Nothing short of a miracle can save me." There was the terrible burden of guilt I carried to the exam hall. Of the enormous amounts of money paid as tuition fees, the high hopes everyone had pinned on me. All of which I would be crushing in the next two hours.
That day was the Maths paper, my nemesis. I filled in my name on the answer sheet and drawing in a deep breath looked at the question paper. I knew none of the problems. I looked around at the rows of heads bent down in concentration over their answer papers and tried to look busy myself. When I stepped out of the exam hall, I knew I had sealed my fate.
On the day of the results, I dragged my feet to college knowing what was in store for me. My heart was sick every time I thought of my parents expectant faces.
The stiff mark sheet was handed to me. Passed, I said. I blinked and looked at it again. I looked at the Maths marks. 35! That was borderline. But I new I had written nothing to deserve even that.
A Miracle, I smiled to myself.
A friend often speaks of how indulgent God is, giving you many chances as you require, looking after even your smallest needs. She once had an intense longing for some mysorepak (a sweet) from Bangalore. On her there visit, a curfew had prevented her from visiting the shop famous for selling the best mysorepak, the kind that crumbled on your tongue, dissolving in bursts of delightful sweetness.
Back in Mumbai, she was ruing her bad luck when the doorbell rang. It was cousin, and he had brought her some of the delectable manna from the very shop she had intended to buy it from!
It’s events like these, I saw, that trigger our faith and jolt us awake to a world beyond the staidness of our material one. They come as an extension of hope, a reason to live joyously when buffeted by winds of trouble. They come with the reassurance that you are God’s favorite child. As is everyone else.
Subject: enquiry - 25 May 2012
Hello, I am curious about this Rumi...Please do let me know about her. Regards, Samindranath
by: samindranath majumdar
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