By Anahita Sanjana
We can only fully understand the design of life when we discover how much we learn under the tutelage of pain, says Anahita Sanjana
As I walk the wet bylanes of Mumbai sheltered by my umbrella, the rains stab the streets with a million transparent swords that melt and disappear into an infinitely absorbent earth.
“But ma’am, why should I go through pain at all?” asks Sandeep, his youthful forehead wrinkling into a frown.
“If God exists why does He always make things so difficult?,” he persists. “Isn’t it natural to want revenge if someone has hurt and harmed me so much?” His questions continued to pelt, much like the unrelenting rains in the background.
I return home after a long chat with Sandeep over his existential dilemmas. His questions bring a sense of deja vu to me; they are questions which had stormed through my adolescent mind a couple of decades ago. I recall those days when I had raised angry fists at the unyielding skies, and then dropped them helplessly. Sighing, I had resigned myself to surviving an existence that had little concern for my well-being.
I remember those cyclonic days when Karen (a relative of mine), used to create disharmony on a daily basis. Those days a recurrent sentence in my daily prayers used to be, “Please remove Karen from my life or let her change. I will be so much happier without her.”.
One good thing that came out of the Karen experience is that I got a first-hand experience of pain. Thereafter, it was not possible to dismiss other people’s pain as unimportant. Over a period of time I learnt of tolerance, patience, and the relief that forgiveness brings. I learnt to be kind based on the understanding that each person is the product of her history. Behind the barrage of Karen’s vituperative words I could hear the whimpering pain of her wounded past. Instead of feeling victimized by her, I saw that she was a victim of her own mind.
If my prayers for her removal from my life had been answered, how much I would have lost out on! This unfolding of events challenged my belief that every denial of my wants was a withdrawal of grace from my life. I learnt that there is an infinity of grace in these denials as well!
“Heaven’s wiser love rejects the mortal’s prayer:
Unblinded by the breath of his desire,
Unclouded by the mists of fear and hope,
It bends over the strife of love with death;
It keeps for her her privilege of pain”
Savitri, Page 457
When life smiles at us, flattering the sense of ‘I’ in us with praise, appreciation or success, we get a pseudo sense of security. Life then loses its threatening edge. It does not, however, take long for life to change its face and usher pain into our lives. Then one is forced to look for the real solution to the pain, the true security in life, which has little to do with external circumstances. If life did not send us pain we would be deluded into feeling secure in the phantom cocoon of praise, success and appreciation. Pain forces us to see that the circumstances that cause elation are as unreal as the circumstances that cause pain. It can be mind blowing to observe the precision with which life doles out just the right amount of pleasure and pain at the right time to guide us into seeing the quicksilver nature of both. Our gaze then turns to the only real anchor we have in life: Spiritual wisdom.
Through my experiences with pain, I have learnt that I can have faith; faith that affirms that even if I cannot understand its necessity, the pain is serving some purpose in my life.
“Whether it seem good or evil to men’s eyes,
Only for good the secret Will can work”.
Savitri, Page 424
When I had raved and ranted against the callousness of grace I had obviously not understood the exact implications of the words of the Mother (Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual collaborator)
“If I were to pander to your ego, I would be a traitor to your soul”.
I gaze out of my window. I see that it has almost stopped raining. The incessant hissing of the rains has muted down to a subdued sibilance. I look at the earth so hot, steamy and demanding just a couple of days ago, but so quenched and satiated after the rains. I reminisce on the other rain that had poured on me when my guru Sri Aurobindo had entered my life. How thirstily I had drunk the mysterious nectar pouring from his words. His epic poem, Savitri, I later discovered, is also referred to as his ‘shabdadeha’ or word body. I retaste that nectar by looking up the following passages from Savitri.
“Pain is the hammer of the Gods to break
A dead resistance in the mortal’s heart,
His slow inertia as of living stone.
If the heart were not forced to want and weep,
His soul would have lain down content, at ease,
And never thought to exceed the human start
And never learned to climb towards the Sun”. Page 443
I recollect Girish from college days. Girish seemed to be born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Handsome, suave, born to affluent parents Girish used to party every second night into the wee hours of the morning. We lost touch after completing college. When I ran into him years later, I saw a plump balding middle-aged man with anxiety creases lining his face. I also noticed in his eyes a kindness I had never seen before. Over the years Girish had lost his family fortunes, had developed health problems, and been through a stormy marriage.
“Life has not been exceptionally kind,” he sighed, “but I respect the person I am today far more than I ever have in the past.”
My friend, Lavina, too, willingly learnt the lessons pain brought into her life. Lavina was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 30 years old. She had always been a high-spirited fun-loving girl, deeply compassionate, but not as yet consciously inclined to the spiritual path. After discovering that she had cancer she was forced to question life, and I was moved with the readiness with which she accepted the doctrine that “everything (including the cancer) happens only for the best.” Hardly out of surgery, she insisted on going for a Vipassana (a 10-day meditation programme) retreat to Igatpuri. She confronted her fears regarding her illness during those 10 days so superbly that they never bothered her again! Lavina would be retching one day from a bout of chemotherapy, but the next day, donning a bandana over her bald head, against her doctor’s advice, she would be partying! Lavina broke every rule in the book about post chemotherapy care. Her doctors advised her not to go to theatres or crowded places during the chemotherapy treatment as her immunity was low. Throwing caution to the winds, her darkened eyebrows highlighted by a colourful bandana, and looking stunning, Lavina insisted on visiting every theatre in town! Her doctors clucked their tongues but their prophecies of doom fell on deaf ears. With her joie de vivre Lavina’s recovery was much faster than that of most people I know.
A few years after her recovery she was blessed with two beautiful children as well.
“You know, Anahita,” she said pensively, once, “cancer has been the best thing that ever happened to me! I cannot tell you how grateful I am for every single thing that has happened in my life”.
Again Lavina had expressed in simple words what is expressed in Savitri.
“A power is in thee that thou knowest not;
Thou art a vessel of the imprisoned spark.
It seeks relief from Time’s envelopment,
And while thou shutst it in, the seal is pain:
Pain is the signature of the Ignorance
Attesting the secret god denied by life:
Until life finds him pain can never end”. Page 453
I saw how pain had brought out strengths and dimensions in Lavina that neither she nor I knew existed in her. Pain had helped her address certain thought patterns, and emerge a stronger and more integrated person!
Pain forces us to see that the circumstances that cause elation are as unreal as the circumstances that cause pain.
A kind school teacher will give a student who has failed a test, maybe one retest. If the student fails again she will enter the failed mark in her grade book. But the Supreme Intelligence at work in life is an infinitely patient and compassionate teacher. It gives us the same test an infinite number of times till we pass, because this God intelligence loves us too much to mark us off as failures! Therefore, when a similar pattern of suffering keeps recurring in our lives, it is life asking us again and again to address within us what needs to be addressed! I learnt that instead of complaining about the pain, it is far more productive to ask, “What can I learn from this painful situation?” Once we have learnt what life wants us to, the suffering, having served its purpose, is removed from our lives!
Radha, another friend of mine, discovered that her husband was having extra marital affairs. When she first learnt of this, she was devastated. Anguished days of discussions and broken promises followed. One day, as Radha sat crying at her altar, she realized with a start that the one flaw in her husband – his uncontrolled appetite for women – had been magnified by her mind to the extent that that was all she could see in him. In a moment of epiphany she was reminded of all the goodness that also existed in him. She saw that his kind and compassionate nature far outweighed the one dark spot in his nature. Her stance towards him softened, and a camaraderie that had been lost over the past few months was rekindled between them. When she truly made peace with herself and her situation, things started changing. She started getting a feel that her husband was not having affairs any more. All along her husband had only been serving her purposes, and without knowing it or intending to, had led her to learn an invaluable lesson of life. Radha learnt that our outer life changes in proportion to the change within. That the ultimate and only protection we ever have in life is the consciousness with which we live life.
Over the years, the hardened teguments of self-defence in me have been eroded away by the constant rain of my guru`s words and the consequent flowering of life experiences. My stance has changed, my self-imposed prison has dissolved. I no longer see life as something threatening, something to be survived with gritted teeth. I get to live now with the joyful abandon of a child whose all-powerful Mother is constantly watching over it.
“This world was not built with random bricks of Chance,
A blind god is not destiny’s architect;
A conscious power has drawn the plan of life,
There is a meaning in each curve and line”.
Savitri, Page 459-460
As these words sparkle in my heart, like sacred jewels, redeeming a perplexed darkness, I long to share their sheen with Sandeep; with all those Sandeeps I see on the road, stupefied by the enormity of life, and buckling under its burden of pain. I long to whisper in each of their cringing fearful ears, “You are safe, you have always been safe”.
About the Author: Anahita Sanjana is a disciple of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo. She teaches hatha yoga in the light of their teachings in schools in Mumbai and also holds classes for adults
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