By Faraaz Tanveer
Young people are getting increasingly drawn to spirituality, judging by the number of youngsters in large spiritual organisations. what attracts them and what do they get out of it?
I had an excellent academic record, a successful corporate career as an HR professional, got married at 25 to a wonderful person, and life seemed like it had met most of the social criterias of ‘success’. But soon I began to question what success meant to me.” And thus began 28-year-old Chennai-based Meenakshi Krishnan’s tryst with spirituality. As we continue our unbridled march towards progress and prosperity, more and more young people are opting to take stock and re-assess their priorities. They are searching for meaning and purpose beyond just living a ‘good’ life. “I felt the need for an anchoring philosophy and way of life that will keep me centred even as life’s circumstances changed around me. I felt no amount of achievement in the external world could fill the space inside,” she recalls, speaking for many young professionals who, like her, are increasingly turning towards spiritual pursuits to complete their lives. Their brand of spirituality is not an indulgence or a hobby, but a sincere attempt to bridge the outer world with the inner.
So what attracts the young, and the notoriously restless, to the path? “As I grew up, there were questions about reality and perceptions that constantly plagued me, especially in school since back then I was a reticent child. As I grew, so did my desire to know more about what lay beneath every individual. That is when my quest for spirituality started,” says Rochie Rana, Delhi’s celebrated 27-year-old radio host, pranic healer and colour therapist. While it is difficult to imagine this gregarious on-air host for Delhi’s Meow FM as a reticent child, the sincerity of her inner quest is evident in the heartfelt colour therapy advise she doles out in her shows.
After postgraduation in Public Relations and a stint in advertising, she started Chocolat, India’s first chocolate club. She was also a regular columnist with various publications. But she found that even so much ‘outer’ success so early in life was not enough to satiate her spirit. She recalls, “In the midst of a busy life, I still felt a certain vacuum, and in my quest to satiate that I reached Dharamshala. That is where I found my true calling: learning the art of pranic healing and colour therapy.” This meant a complete change in the direction of her life, as she became a full-time therapist. Later, she found a way to combine her passion for healing with her skills as a writer when she wrote her first book, 30 rays of hope.
It is this quest for combining one’s passion and vocation that drives today’s young seekers. This message of ‘living spirituality’ is what attracted 25-year-old, Delhi-based economist, Shaurya Dubey, towards Vedanta and the teachings of Swami Chinmayananda. Today, in addition to pursuing his career as an analytics consultant, he is also the secretary of CHYK, the youth wing of Chinmaya Mission. His spiritual initiation started at an early age, when his parents encouraged him to participate in various religious activities at home and spiritual engagements outside, like the Balvihar camps organised by Chinmaya Mission.
“As I grew up, my connection with a higher existence grew stronger but still essentially I was religious and not spiritual. With age and varied experiences of life, I understood that religion is a means, though an effective one, but just a means. The goal is the journey within,” he says. What attracted him to this path were the moments of ‘utter happiness’ that he experienced while engaged in any spiritual activity.
Education professional and Shaurya’s colleague at CHYK, Nidhi Bhatia, 27, also found her calling at an early age. “Since childhood, I have participated in various religious activities and spiritual lecture series. My parents not only instilled noble virtues in us, but led by example. As I grew up, I started appreciating the greater force and intelligence working behind this world. I recognised that life unfolds itself one day at a time, and we will eventually reach where we want to be. With CHYK I found my direction as well as my destination,” says Nidhi, now a regional CHYK co-ordinator.
So how do these young seekers incorporate the spiritual aspect in their lives? Rochie sees no fundamental difference in her ‘work’ and inner calling. In fact, she combines the two quite well! She explains, “I do shows on colour therapy twice a week. Also, I am currently writing my second book, which will be on colour therapy and how it can bring more love in one’s life. Even at work, whenever someone feels stressed out, I take out the time to listen and be of help; I am also actively involved in helping people with doing up their interiors woven around the science of colours.” In fact, all the Radio Today offices nationwide have been done up according to colour principles suggested by her.
A spiritual outlook automatically translates into greater personal and professional excellence for Shaurya, who doesn’t believe in any special practices or lifestyle. “I do not practice anything different or follow a ‘lifestyle’. The significant change, however, is that I am more alert about my inner self and thus can deal with myself better. I have clarity on what I should do vs. what I like to do. I enjoy my company and I try to understand a situation from a higher standpoint. My spiritual backing gives me courage to get out of my comfort zone, and take on challenging tasks as learning opportunities in my life,” he says.
‘Inspired living’ is how Nidhi likes to describe her approach. “I have started looking at life in a more positive way. The broader vision helps me to look beyond my comfort zone. I practice it in dealing with my family, friends and at the workplace. I have consciously tried to enhance my ability to share, care, and at the same time I have become a more responsible person,” she says. Following her inner urge to do something more useful and to contribute effectively towards society, she joined a two-year course called Youth Empowerment Programme (YEP), conducted by Chinmaya Mission. Thereafter, she completed a teacher training course in yoga from Sivananda Ashram, Kerala. In addition to commerce, now she also teaches yoga and value-based education in schools and private institutions.
For Meenakshi, transition into the path meant re-assessing her priorities in life and translating her insights into action. “I have started expanding myself into many new areas that I feel are more in line with my spiritual quest.” Impacting people’s lives in a meaningful way, and enabling their personal/spiritual growth are her priorities. She has started taking formal training in yoga and Vedanta.
She also attends various spiritual retreats and cultural events. “I make a conscious effort to attend cultural programmes, be it music, dance or theatre, meet with neighbours, family, and friends, and develop an appreciation of life around me rather than just being caught up in myself. I am less focussed on being in the race of getting somewhere, and more on experiencing everything life has to offer,” she says.
Pune-based communications consultant Sudhindra Sarnobat has been on the path of self-discovery since his college days. His longing to share the path with others his age inspired him to initiate a weekend group consisting of young professionals and students. They meet every Saturday at Law College Road, Pune, for an hour. Starting with five participants, they are now a group of 40. “The main aim of these meetings is to understand spirituality and get closer to God. We all get an opportunity to discuss and share our paths.” He adds, “We also conduct a lot of other activities like music programmes, guest lectures by eminent personalities on spirituality, social initiatives like adopting an old-age home and organising health camps. To us, this is spirituality.” It has also helped him in deepening his own spiritual insights and turning them into living realities.
Spiritual organisations are very well aware of the need to harness the potential of today’s youth. ‘Harnessing youth potential through dynamic spirituality’ is how CHYK defines its goal. It is a pioneering organisation in the field of youth spirituality. CHYK assists in moulding the personality and harnessing the energies of its young members along constructive channels. “We turn our potential into performance through physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual development,” says Nidhi. One of their unique initiatives is the study groups where young thinkers meet in small groups for weekly discussion, getting an exposure to the scriptures, and its relevance in their lives. They also organise adventure tours, camps, workshops and cultural shows to keep young minds constructively engaged. Social initiatives like blood donation camps, tree planting and relief efforts in times of natural calamities instil a sense of social responsibility in the youngsters.
One of the unique programmes offered by CHYK is the Youth Empowerment Programme. Targeted at the ‘Yuva Veers’ or the dynamic Indian youth, it is a unique course wherein ancient wisdom is combined with modern methods of teaching. It engages trainers from across the country belonging to different professions, right from monks to management gurus. The course consists of four months full-time residential training where the youth are trained to conduct workshops on a variety of subjects like attitude, stress, time management and many more. Exposure to select portions of the Bhagavad Gita and other philosophical books ensures a firm foundation for their training. After four months of training, the ‘Yuva Veers’ serve in different parts of India for twenty months. They work with youth from schools and colleges by conducting workshops and camps.
In fact, the importance of spiritual insights and techniques in channelling the energy of youth is being recognised and implemented all around the world. San Francisco-based MBA project is a great testimony to this new awareness. The Mind Body Awareness (MBA) project is dedicated to the health and well-being of at-risk and incarcerated youth. It provides instruction in awareness-based techniques, including meditation and yoga, to facilitate mental health, stress reduction, anger management and self-discovery. Isaiah Seret, a 29-year-old independent filmmaker in San Francisco who travelled to India for movie projects and meditation retreats, co-founded the MBA project in 2000.
The idea for the project came to him when he found himself grappling with questions such as, “What if every young person was aware of their intrinsic value and dignity as a human being? What if they knew how to respond to life’s challenges with a calm, clear mind and an open heart? How different would our communities be? How different would our world be?” Today, this nonprofit organisation sends teachers to juvenile halls to teach adolescents to meditate, so they can learn how to control their impulses and see that they have choices about how to react – or not react – to their thoughts. This project connects with youth in juvenile halls, detention camps and aftercare programmes.
“The youth are turning towards spirituality to find meaning in humanity’s ultimate concerns that are not adequately answered by any other system of thinking: what is the meaning of life, suffering, death? Spiritual and religious beliefs provide the framework for addressing these ultimate concerns,” says Dr Ann Marie Yali, associate professor in the department of psychology at The City College and Graduate Centre, New York. “Specifically we tend to see a spike in turning towards a spiritual path under times of stress. My own research also showed that college students made several religious attributions for the events of 9/11, and found meaning in life through their spiritual beliefs in the wake of this tragedy.”
So what drives our young seekers to revamp their lives? How have their lives changed and what do they gain out of this path?
Rochie has found a new sense of grounding and a platform to share her life with others. She says, “I have gained peace and a sense of tranquillity within me as I started my practice as a therapist. My life has changed in such a way that I feel like a sponge; no matter how many people I meet in my life, who may carry negativity, I feel capable of absorbing it and try to pass on a smile to them. I feel ready to embrace life with open arms every single day I wake up. I have learnt that God is love, so therefore I have learnt to love better and unconditionally.”
Meenakshi concurs, “Following this path has helped me focus on things that are really important to me. I feel a sense of gratitude for all that life has given me and I try to see even the so-called negative circumstances as gifts. I ask how they are helping my growth and development. This helps me see myself as a co-creator in my life rather than a victim of circumstances.” She adds, “I have started noticing and focussing on the simple pleasures in life, like the birds outside my window and the breathtaking beauty of the moon each night I look up at the sky. In this world of speed and technology, I feel my attention on my spiritual centre helps me be more attentive, calm, and unhurried.”
Sudhindra finds fulfilment in sharing his path with others. Positive energy has engulfed his life ever since he took a plunge in the realm of his spirit. Shaurya has seen a significant improvement in the quality of all aspects in his life. For him spirituality is a technology that enables him to do the same work with an altered attitude. “My attitude is definitely much more positive than others or even myself before I got into this.
At work, I believe my output shines as I am able to produce my best even in the most difficult situations. I am more open to love others and be loved too. I owe it all to the spiritual support system I have,” he says. Nidhi has become more proactive and positive in her attitude towards life. She says, “I have gained more confidence, joy, a sense of peace and fulfilment, and most importantly, a direction in my life. Situations in daily life have become easier to handle.”
New v/s old
Do the young approach spirituality differently from the way the older generations do? Says Shaurya, “Spirituality is the same for all.
But with age on our side, the potentialities are unlimited.” Nidhi adds, “It is to do with applying spirituality in tackling our problems 24×7 rather than making it an half-an-hour practice.”
Meenakshi sees an atmosphere of openness and self-orientation in the inner quest of the young: “I find we are starting to ask these questions very early in life. Instead of waiting to fulfil our social obligations and start living when we are nearing retirement, our generation is weaving their spiritual quest into their daily lives and the kind of work we do.”
Rochie adds the final word: “We no longer believe that to gain spirituality, we have to let go of the material aspects of life; instead we are learning to strike a balance between achieving inner peace and materialistic success,” she says.
Drawing its strength from our rich traditions while maintaining a healthy appetite for questioning its own presumptions, the new brand of young spirituality is revitalising the lives of all those who wish to partake of its many gifts.
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