My grandfather was a self-made and successful businessman. He was also the backbone of our big joint family. Every day after dinner, he used to go for a long walk, really long…and I accompanied him sometimes for the ice-cream on the way back.
While walking, he often narrated his future plans, “I will soon retire and hand over the business to your father and uncle. Then I will buy a farmhouse to grow fresh vegetables and fruits, or I might buy some land in the mountains and stay peacefully there for the rest of my life.” But, business and family tension kept him occupied and after 10 years he suddenly died. Despite wanting so much to retire, why did he not do so?
The effortless effort
Narad was a celestial sage. For many years he meditated on the mountains and in the jungle. One day after great penance he boastfully said to Lord Vishnu, “I am your greatest devotee in the three worlds because I never lose focus on you, not even for a minute.” Lord Vishnu put him to a test. He asked him to take a full circle around the mountain carrying a pot of oil over his head. The condition was to not drop the pot and spill the oil.
Narad took upon the challenge and after much difficulty, he managed to complete it. He happily returned to lord Vishnu, again bragging about his success. God congratulated him and then asked, “How many times did you remember me in the middle of this job?” Narad realised, not even once.
I loved this story, and read it many times. The daily struggles embroil us in such a way that we don’t realise when the day started and when it ended. There was no doubt left in my mind that this simple idea of ‘relaxing in the middle of our daily responsibilities’ is in fact not so simple. Even if so, the relationship worries steal away our remaining peace of mind. It got crystal clear in my head that it demands effort to be effortless.
Balancing the extremes
In the year 2012, I decided to get initiated in Kriya Yoga by Per H. Wibe and wanted to attend his residential retreat. It was not easy to cut myself off for a few days; six-year-old child, house chores, my classes (job) etc. had to be looked after. But Life helped me and everything was taken care of. The retreat was so relaxing, I forgot everything. There was no tension of the past or future. We had meditation sessions four times a day, ate simple food and rested our bodies. Being by myself, I went for nature walks and used the phone as less as possible. I came back home with new life energy but missed being at the retreat.
The effect of the retreat remained with me for some days, but soon I was back to rushed schedules, restlessness and anxiety. I could feel the big difference between home and retreat. I promised myself to meditation every day and continued my sitting practice. I enjoyed it so much that I was eager to go back to it each time I got up from it. The problem was that I had lost interest in the daily activities. Any activity or chore other than the practice looked boring and inferior in comparison. Now, I was on the other side of extreme imbalance. I kept wondering why this was happening? Why do I get carried away by outside impulses so much that sometimes it is impossible not to react?
Thereafter, I attended many retreats and Life supported me each time. I discovered that the rush to complete tasks is the cause of restlessness. “Rush is another name of the devil,” my grandfather used to say. I comprehended that if I slow down while cooking, cleaning, teaching, dealing with people, and at my job then everything will become meditation. It was a big discovery for me but it was not so easy to achieve and I often failed.
Unnecessary talking and skirting around necessary discussions steal energy. Spending too much time on the phone, watching television, and playing with gadgets increase restlessness. Altogether, the challenge feels something like walking on the razor’s edge.
The juggling game
During the time of writing this article, I lost my loving friend Kusum. She was also my landlady and only five months ago she had made this beautiful house. She managed her job, home and property-related issues, had good relationships with family and friends, and maintained her beautiful garden. She did them all with utmost perfection. She always worried about her children who were settled abroad. She looked fit, smart and healthy. And suddenly she died.
When she woke up that morning, did she have any idea that it would be her last day? She went for a walk, and hurriedly came back home to get ready for office. While working in her office did she have any clue of her oncoming death? Or while making the evening tea that she would not get to sip it? The next day I messaged her in the morning but never knew that she wouldn’t ever reply.
What is this? How can someone disappear like this? Who should we fight and whom should we complain about? It was suffocating and I felt helpless. Everything around is the same; the celebrations, the noises of the world, but someone is gone.
This incident made me realise that we are not carrying just one, but two, three, four or more oil pots on our heads and are rushing to hit the target when we can’t hold even one pot properly. Is it not better to walk slowly as we have no control over the pots?
The challenges of daily life are demanding, difficult, and can sometimes make us cry. But it might be a good thing to realise that inner work is needed. On a strong base, multiple building floors can be constructed. This base is our inner stability and silence.
After having been to many retreats I learnt how simply one can live. The need of life is one small room, a bed, a table, a chair, a few pair of clothes, and good food. This experience itself slows us down. Even if we have some targets, sooner or later, they will all be achieved if we are sincerely working towards them. It takes only a minute for God to decide and for us to get them. But most of the time, it is about the journey towards it. And this journey could be beautiful and enjoyable if we are not rushing.
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