By Suma Varughese July 2014 Poet and art curator Arundhathi Subramaniam shares with Suma Varughese some snapshots of her life post spirituality You were a card-carrying intellectual before spirituality happened. How different are you now? Was I?! Perhaps I was. But honestly, I don’t think my journey has really been from ‘sceptic’ to ‘believer’. It’s been more from ‘product’ to ‘process’, from a frozen sense of self to a being with more fuzzy, amorphous boundaries. It’s been about coming to terms with some of my fears, shedding some of my rigidity, my resistance to change, and arriving at a greater sense of peace with ‘not knowing’. I’ve been a seeker for many years, and after a near-death experience of 1997, I became a somewhat desperate seeker. After meeting Sadhguru in 2004, one phase of the journey came to a close, and another began. There is now a deep sense of guidance and direction, as well as a reclaimed sense of wonder. But the journey is far from over. Am I different? Well, perhaps more open to surprise, more open to bewilderment. And more aware of the heart as an address – a dangerous address, perhaps, but an authentic one. And there is a deepening trust in the world, a greater buoyancy, At the same time, it’s not been about renouncing the mind and embracing the heart. If anything, there’s been a growing understanding that faith and reason aren’t incompatible. Faith can show up the vested interests and hidden agendas of reason; and reason can bring rigour to the self-delusional excesses of an unexamined faith. Can you share the differences in your understanding of life and yourself? I feel lighter, less encumbered by the dead weight of the past, old opinions, beliefs, investments. There is more gratitude. And yet, the confusion is not replaced by certainty. There’s just more breathing space, less psychological clutter, more inner space. I realise that deepening faith is not about an acquisition of new knowledge or a new set of verities. If anything, I am more aware than ever of how uncertain life is, how unsettled, how fragile. But there is a deeper sense of existential anchorage. I think that’s the enormous difference that a spiritual guide brings to one’s life. When I wrote my earlier book of poems, Where I Live, I said that the poems explored the gap between where I live and where I belong. I didn’t know where I belonged, but I knew where I lived – physically, geographically, culturally, politically. Now, with my forthcoming book of poems, I’m more aware of where I belong, but less sure of where I live! Life is, on one level, more unsettled than ever, and yet, I feel more deeply guided than before. That makes the world of a difference. How would you define yourself today? As a work in progress, more aware of myself as a porous being. And more trusting of that porosity than before. How would you define spirituality? In different ways at different times. For now, I’d say, it’s an awakening to the daily wonder of life. It’s about learning to see it less as a puzzle to be cracked, more as a mystery to be experienced. And it’s also about realizing that I can be a participant in that great, miraculous, unfolding dance of the life process, not a detached outsider. It’s also about realizing that matter and spirit aren’t oppositional categories; spirituality is about deepening one’s engagement with life, not turning away from it. What has changed about the way you approach your poetry? I think my poems are more riddled with holes now. There are more gaps, more pauses, and perhaps less of an anxiety to be understood. I realise that those blank spaces on a page of poetry mean. They may not mean something, but they mean. They are the source of a poem’s octane. I also trust the poem to lead me to its heart centre, the dark place of its origin, and am less in a hurry to impose my agenda on it. In what ways have you grown since the advent of spirituality in your life? Have you blossomed in some ways? I’m happier. And it feels like there’s more of me participating in my life than before. I feel I consciously inhabit more spaces within myself than before – not just in my mind, but also in heart, and in my body. Additionally, for me, as a writer, there has been the empowering realization that I don’t have to write from a fraught interior space, that I can write from a more expansive place within myself. This has also meant the relief of relinquishing the subconscious notion that one has to suffer in order to be an artist. When you become more acutely aware of the pain and the perishability of life forms, you also begin to become grateful for life’s preciousness, its fleeting pleasures, its fragile beauty. I enjoy going dancing, meeting friends; I laugh more, listen a lot better. I think that’s a kind of blossoming. Briefly, can you share how you entered the path of spirituality? I was always an avid reader of philosophy, and I think I gravitated towards poetry early in life because it seemed to be an ideal vehicle for the expression of wonder. But in 1997, on a train journey to Mumbai, after a particularly relaxed vacation in Nepal, I underwent an inexplicable near-death experience – one for which I had no ready physical or psychological explanation. It lasted a week. And when I emerged from it, it was clear to me that I needed guidance. The only people who seemed to talk about death in a way that resonated with me were the mystics. So, my reading now shifted from metaphysics to mysticism. I read widely, dipping into various traditions, from Buddhism to Sufism, from Ramana Maharishi to St John of the Cross. I also did a slew of workshops and meditation programmes, many of which helped. But it’s one thing to intellectually ‘know’ the right answers and another thing to live them. I wanted a path that could help me make that shift from the cerebral to the experiential. Just when I’d begun to give up hope of ever meeting a live master, I met Sadhguru (Jaggi Vasudev). That happened 10 years ago. It was a momentous advent in my life. There were several personal indicators that I had met my guru, but I took my time over trusting those. In time, that trust grew. I relaxed, grew to recognize his integrity as a human being, and was filled with awe, as I still am, at his capability as a guru. Above all, I saw that the path he was offering was a real one. What took my breath away was that it was a path that started from exactly where I stood – a personal path, as it were. I understood then what he meant when he said that a live guru mixes the spiritual cocktail in a way that suits the temperament of each individual seeker. He did just that. And I began to experience myself and my interiority differently. Since then, there’s been a shift: a shift from seeker at large to committed seeker, which is qualitatively different. How has spirituality changed the way you handle relationships? I think I’m less judgmental about people, primarily because I’m happier with myself. I also expect less from people, and am less anxious to extract anything from them. People relax with you so much more when they sense that you’re not trying to make a deal with them. And you relax with people, learn to enjoy them with all their idiosyncrasies, because you’ve made some peace with your own. What about its impact on the way you deal with money? Personally, I’ve never made life decisions predicated very much on money. I always valued my freedom more than anything else, so I’ve always opted to freelance and earn less, if necessary, than make money and be bound to a boss or an organization. My friends always told me that I actively shunned money, and perhaps they were right. Maybe there was a certain reverse snobbery there! In the past 10 years, honestly, I’ve probably been even less anxious about my material circumstances than before. I do believe that if you fix your sights on the goals that represent the highest to you, the means to achieve them finds its way into your life, without your having to try very hard. How do you cope with health issues today? Is there any particular health routine you follow? Have you made any changes to your diet and eating habits? Health matters, of course, and I guess there’s always an element of uncertainty about the body; one has to keep listening to its diverse demands in the changing phases of one’s life. I’m aware that my body in my 40s is quite different from the way it was in my 30s; it speaks another language now. I do my practices, kriyas and meditations more or less daily, and try to keep some measure of physical activity in my life – walking, gymming, or basic hatha yoga. I’ve never been a big foodie, but I think I actually enjoy food a lot more since yoga happened in my life. Even so, I’m a reasonably moderate eater. I’m not a zealot about health: I just try to make sure there’s some measure of awareness about my activities through the day, and that includes eating and exercising. I don’t fetishise either very much. Have the things that made you happy changed? Well, I suppose so. Or more accurately, let me say that while I still enjoy the things that made me happy in the past – whether it was my work as cultural curator or as poetry editor – they just seem more irrelevant than before. I cannot see them as the ultimate aim of my life. Writing – whether it’s poetry or spiritual literature — is a pleasurable way to spend one’s time, but I’m aware that I write primarily because I want to, because I enjoy it, not because the world needs me to. What are your pri
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