Thursday, August 30, 2012

Restoring Humpty Dumpty

My last post was pretty dismal and some of my friends were genuinely concerned about me. I assure you that there is nothing to be worried about and I am now out of that dark mood. My blog is not really about promoting my business or establishing myself as an ‘ expert’ in any given area – it is simply a means of catharsis. Sometimes I need to just simply put down in writing the connections I make on various subjects such as mythology and history because unless I do they keep swirling in my head and keep me preoccupied. Sometimes I write because I am frustrated at what’s happening in the social and political arena and as an ordinary citizen I put my concerns on my blog simply as a way of registering my protest. And sometimes I write because I need to rid myself of all the negative emotions that are welling up inside me so that I can be functional again.

My strategy of coping with negative feelings is a bit radical. Rather than just try and divert myself when I feel sad and depressed I take that darkness to the extreme. If I am unhappy then I take my unhappiness to the point of sheer misery and once I have worked it out of my system I can then move on to healing myself. As they say once you hit rock bottom there is no way else to go but up. All emotions, good or bad, should be experienced to their maximum otherwise they never truly go away. For good emotions that is not such a bad thing to happen but negative emotions remain with you like that lingering residual cough one gets after a particularly nasty bronchial infection – just when you think you are OK the cough attack comes on to remind you that you aren’t. So my last post was my attempt to hit rock bottom and I’m happy to report that I did and now I’m on my way up again.

After I read my post I realized that I was indulging in self-pity. Who was this whining person? Me? I wasn’t like that and if I was becoming this way then it was time to take corrective measures. So  I went on a little journey of introspection and knocked on doors within me which had been so far kept firmly shut. Most of these doors had bits of benign junk that I found easy to clean up but every time I did the junk kept coming back again, it just refused to go away for good. In the end I figured that the door with the biggest padlock and which I was avoiding for so long held the broom which could clean up all that was behind the other doors. I knew that once I opened that door I would have to pass a test to get that magic broom and that test would be daunting to say the least.

When I finally opened that door I found fragments of myself and the test was to put myself back together again like Humpty Dumpty. I tried for a long time but even though each piece was my own all of them were distorted so that they didn’t seem to quite come together in a neat fit. But what had distorted them so much? Why wasn’t I myself anymore? And then I remembered an old CD I had once left on my car’s dashboard out in the sun and which had become warped just like my own self was now warped. The culprit was an external force in both cases but the blame was mine because I was careless and did not take care of them. The CD was damaged by the sun’s heat and I was damaged by all the negative input I was allowing people to send my way. Slowly over a period of time these minor inputs had managed to chip away at a substantial part of my self-esteem. For someone who teaches other people about self-esteem this was not just shocking it was also shameful. I felt like a fraud – what right did I have to stand up in front of a group and talk to them about a subject in which I had myself failed? But then I realized that this was not really a failure it was a big lesson. I learnt that even if your strength is left untended for some time it will start to weaken. Atrophy is never far behind.

Once I realized this I could use my secret chants and potions to restore all my pieces and assemble myself once again.  Having passed this test I was then handed the magic  broom with which I proceeded to clean all the mess behind the other doors.

Moral of the story? It doesn’t matter how hard you try to improve yourself and it doesn’t matter how many self-development books you read, if you don’t work on improving your self-esteem nothing will work.  Also, while working on your areas of improvement do not neglect your strengths otherwise they too will become weak. And on more thing that I learnt from this experience was that the root of all our problems lies within us. Circumstances and people are neutral, how we respond to them gives them negative or positive labels. I am happy to report that since I started working on myself, even my mom’s situation seems to have improved. Her dementia is not better but now I keep her preoccupied with jokes and light conversations so that she doesn’t keep going around in circles and asking the same things again and again.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Life In A Loop

‘Ground Hog Day’ seems to come to mind whenever I try to describe my life.  Every morning I get up to relive the same day again and again, nothing changes, no surprises. When you are the only person living with a dementia patient there is not much room for anything else in your life. Their life and their reality becomes the dominant factor so that at times you are incapable of anything else but to get trapped in their world and it is a world that plays over and over again in a loop. My mother’s dementia worsens with time and now it seems that there are 4 or 5 questions she keeps asking all day over and over again and I have no choice but to keep answering them over and over again.  The fun and friendship I once shared with this woman is now gone forever – there is no conversation anymore just the same questions and the same answers. So instead I talk to myself.

Being an only child talking to myself is something I have done pretty much all my life but now it is my means of survival. One advantage of this self dialogue of course is that one does not have to hold anything back – you can be completely honest about your emotions and your fears with yourself. No need to keep up the mask of politeness or norms of acceptability. The disadvantage of course is that sometimes you ask yourself questions for which obviously you have no answer and then you try and reach out to someone who might. I find it hard to talk to people so I write instead, in the hope that someone may have an answer.

They say “good things happen to good people” if this is the case then am I a bad person to have been put through this situation? Some people tell me that this is a “trial from God” and good people are given this trial period as a test of faith. But both these statements seem to negate each other. I you believe the first one then bad things should not be happening and if you believe the second then if life is happy and good you are bad because you are not being tested. Somehow I am not able to reconcile these statements in my head. If someone else can please let me know.

There is another pet statement that most people make in order to make me feel better – that I will be rewarded with Heaven as a result of the care I am giving my mom.  Frankly after a while this statement makes you feel worse rather than good because you realize that nothing good will come from it at least while you are alive - and when you die? Who knows? This may sound heretic to many but when life becomes a living hell your faith in an undisclosed destination starts to falter. At least mine has. Besides implying that you take care of your parents because you would be rewarded makes this act so selfish and greedy. If there was no Heaven or Hell then would we still do the right thing? I think the test of humanity is to try to be good and do the right thing not because you expect a reward for your labours but because you cannot perceive any other course of action.

In the beginning I used to think that I am doing this out of love, but I had to face the harsh truth that it wasn’t love that was my motivator, it was responsibility. The love is there but this person is not the person I once loved – she only inhabits her body. Her personality is gone, she is only half a person – the physical is present but the spirit which made her unique is gone. You cannot love half a person completely. But there is a strong sense of responsibility which has taken over and all my actions, decisions, and will power now stems from this. I wasn’t a very responsible person so that comes as a bit of a shock for me.  I am too shallow and too selfish to really have a strong sense of responsibility. Being an only child I never really learnt to think for anyone else but myself. Perhaps this sense of responsibility is really a mask to hide my selfishness? I realize that once she is no more the house will be very very silent – no one to even ask these 4 or 5 questions. Perhaps that is why I endure this spin cycle of emotions every day.

I go through a daily cycle of resentment, guilt, frustration and remorse. I resent the state of limbo that my life is currently in and I feel guilty about having these thoughts. I feel frustrated that my life is on hold and then feel remorse at allowing these thoughts to come.  Each morning I get up with a resolve to be happy and each night I go to sleep completely spent and drained. Perhaps the one emotion I feel most often is that of loss. What happened to all the dreams I had? Where did all that promise fade away to? Sometimes I feel that my life is nothing more than a utility for my mom. I was sent so that she would not be alone in her old age and I’m of use only till she is here. This thought used to make me feel angry now I’ve kind of reconciled myself with it. The image of a flat lined cardiac monitor comes to mind when I think of my own life. No spikes at all just the same constant flat line. I grew up thinking I was destined to do something big something important so perhaps the hardest thing for me to accept has been that I will probably amount to nothing. There is no sudden bend in front of me which will take my life on another path. I am blessed that I was able to travel and have new experiences early on in my life and perhaps an attempt to recreate those days is futile but no one has ever really been able to control their wishes.

My most important question remains unanswered – why? Is there really an explanation for why this is happening? Or is life just random and we conjure explanations just to make ourselves feel better? Am I good or am I bad? Is this a lesson or a trial? Am I being blessed or is this my punishment? Is the present a consequence of actions in my present life or is it the karma of a previous one? I realize that I am going round and round in circles and perhaps I too am now trapped in a little world of my own like a person in a maze from which they cannot find their way out. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Law of Attraction and Religion

Recently there has been a lot of focus on the Law of Attraction especially since the book ‘ The Secret’ was published. The basic tenet of this philosophy is simple – you manifest in your reality that what you think about most. In other words humans have the power to create the reality of their lives just by thinking about it. This usually causes great alarm to the religiously inclined, because what it means is that the power lies within humans rather than an external force i.e. God and that of course is heresy.

However Law of Attraction is not actually about thinking and manifesting, it is about thinking (stating a desire) and then allowing it in our lives and the bulk of our work is in the allowance not the thinking aspect of this law. But still the question remains, is it contrary to our religious beliefs? When I first started to study the Law of Attraction, like most people I too had many questions and concerns. Over time as I studied it more in-depth, I found that religion actually provided a medium for this law and rather than being at cross purposes, they complimented each other.

The first big question that emerges in everyone’s mind is if all we have to do is think then where does prayer come in? My counter question to that is why do we pray? It is of course to ask God for something – be it a material desire, salvation or just a state of protection. In fact whenever we pray we fulfill the first step of the Law of Attraction i.e. stating our desire – we let the Universe know what it is that we want.  The act of praying or asking God is of no use whatsoever unless you really and truly believe in God. It is our belief that gives strength to the prayer. When we pray in essence we hand over our requests to God knowing that He will somehow make them true for us.

This process of letting go or handing it over to the Universe is critical for desire manifestation according to the Law of Attraction. As I mentioned earlier the bulk of our work is to allow our desires to manifest. To the novice this may seem like the easiest thing in the world but to the initiated it is the most difficult aspect of LOA. You see the Universe does not respond to our words but to our emotions. In other words we don’t attract things in our lives by thinking about them rather we attract circumstances, things, events which closely match our predominant feeling. The most important aspect of allowance is to feel predominantly happy, optimistic or joyous. The longer we are able to maintain this state of joy, the quicker the manifestations will be. Vividly imagining as if your desires have already manifested and seeing yourself enjoying them also helps but on the flip side constantly thinking of when they will materialize actually delays the manifestations because the predominant feeling is that of waiting and the attention is on the absence of what you desire. Waiting and focusing on the lacking will generate more waiting and lack.

Now let’s get back to religion. You see the whole point of praying is to let go of things and let God take care of them. If our belief is truly strong then the act of praying should bring us relief from all negative emotions and make us content in the knowledge that our prayers are being answered. However, most people are never able to cross this line of faith. They constantly worry about when and if their prayers will be answered thus actually delaying the allowance and then wondering why God does not answer their prayers. He will if you move out of the way! If you don’t really trust Him then why go through the motions?

Every religion has a set of rituals designed to bring contentment, peace and joy.  Being a Muslim the act of Salaat 5 times a day for me is Allah’s way of ensuring that we not only take stress busting breaks but also that we completely forget our worries during that time and enter into a state of bliss. After all if your faith in God and your rituals do not make you happy then there is something very wrong in your personal belief system – I said personal belief system because religions cannot be wrong, people who follow them usually are.  

If you truly practice religion the way it was meant to be then you use the Law of Attraction to your advantage if not the Law of Attraction will keep working against you. Just look at the state of our country and the Ummah as well. We spend most of our time in blaming, being angry, hating, and being generally unhappy and what are we manifesting as a result? We are attracting and manifesting circumstances which make us angrier, more miserable and helpless. 

Of course even for those who are masters of the Law of Attraction sometimes seemingly random events occur in their lives or they are faced with unforeseen challenges. The avid LOA fan will tell you that at some level of your sub-conscious you attracted these things in your life. However my take is slightly different. I believe that God puts us in these situations so that not only does our resolve and character strengthen, but that our desires grow as well. Life would be pretty boring if we all had the same level of desires, usually a tragedy in our lives provides the spring board for noble and grand desires.  Therefore these events are what is sometimes described as ‘ contrast’ or situations where we can come to a decision as to what we want next in our lives.

It is easy to discard any idea without the slightest investigation, usually because when we are faced with two seemingly contradicting philosophies we become extremely uncomfortable emotionally. The easier route to take is just negate the one that is causing the turmoil. The more difficult and noble approach is to go through this discomfort, examine your own beliefs, find the truth behind both ideas and then build a bridge. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Its All A Myth

All religious traditions have 3 things in common; they all help their followers find inner peace through a path of righteousness, each has its own rituals and they all contain their own specific mythologies. Objectively speaking no one really has a problem with the core essence of any religion i.e. the central message. Every religion teaches its followers to adopt the noblest of human characteristics – truth, serenity, justice, peace, sacrifice and simplicity. I have not come across a religion that teaches anything to the contrary.

Rituals are the identity badges of every religion. It is the rituals that people follow which enables us to differentiate between these traditions, hence they are unique for every religion. When followers of one religion criticize others they usually launch their attack on the basis of the rituals that a religion follows.
Mythologies are stories that are associated with a religion and can be loosely termed as the ‘history’ of that tradition. I would like to clarify here that contrary to popular belief a myth does not mean a lie – a myth is a traditional story usually involving supernatural characters. Many rituals are spawned from the mythology of that particular religion. A number of rituals are designed to help preserve these mythologies so that people never forget their origins. But mythologies are much more than just history passed down through the generations in a narrative form. They embody the wisdom of the ancestors passed in an easy to remember narrative.

Of all the ancient mythologies I find those of the Vedic tradition i.e. Hinduism the most interesting personally, simply because unlike the Greek and the Romans, Hinduism is considered to be the most ancient of all practiced religions and since I am from the sub-continent I find it easier to understand and study. What fascinates me about these myths is the attempt of the ancient people to pass on their knowledge of geography, medicine, history and the arts to their descendants through fascinating imagery.

Take for example the story of the sacred river Ganga. Ganga was the daughter of the king Hemavat ruler of Himalaya.  All his daughters were turned into rivers except Parvatti who became Shiva’s consort. Ganga was taken to the heavens to purify it after the Asuras had polluted it.  She was asked to come down and flow on earth by Bhagirtha. The sins of Bhagiratha’s ancestors had polluted the land and there was chaos and famine everywhere, after years of prayers and meditation he finally managed to bring Ganga down from the heavens. But if Ganga were to come straight down earth would not have been able to sustain its force hence Shiva intervened and Ganga first flowed onto his head and then made her way down to earth through his hair.

For non-Hindus this is fantasy at its peak, but look more closely and you will find a complete lesson on basic geography. In Sanskrit Hem means snow and hence Hemavat was snow king whose kingdom was Himalaya which means snow abode. All his daughters were fated to become rivers including Saraswati and Ganga, which as any school going kid now will tell you  makes perfect sense as we know that these rivers start in the Himalayas as snow, therefore in essence these rivers are the daughters of king of snow who rules over the snow abode. The river Ganga does not really start as a large river from a single point of origin, although the main river can be traced to Gomukh where the glacial melt water flows down into a stream which down course becomes the mighty river. However there are several streams and rivulets along the Himalaya which contribute their waters to Ganga. So to say that Ganga flows down from the locks of Shiva is a metaphor to describe the hundreds of streams which flow down to the river. A geography lesson narrated with imagery.

The sins of Bhagiratha’s ancestors had brought a terrible plight to his people who were dying of starvation due to famine. Again this is a way of not only making people understand that water is essential to life but that our reckless behaviour can have a long lasting effect on our future generations   a lesson we still haven’t learnt unfortunately). Clean water nourishes the land and provides a balance essential for its sustainability. As with all religions the ritual surrounding this myth has become more important than the real meaning of the story. Each year millions of people ritually ‘cleanse ‘ themselves by bathing in the waters of Ganga which itself is now fast becoming the most polluted river on the planet.  The ritual has become bigger than the lesson and this is not just in Hinduism, in every religion we see examples where rituals are being adhered to with fervour without a real understanding what they are meant to commemorate.  Muslims pray 5 times a day - the ritual is supposed to help focus their thoughts, relieve stress and surrender themselves to Allah but little of this really happens, while the body is postulating the mind is thinking of what one is going to be doing after the prayer is over, all worries, all problems all thoughts are still very much in play and surrender is the last thing on people’s mind.

There is no getting away from the fact that as long as we are alive we will be living in a diverse world. Religious diversity is a fact and those who either ignore this or try to eradicate it are living in a fool’s paradise. We have to understand that to believe in a religion and to respect it are two different things. I may be practicing one religion but that does not give me the right to negate or be derisive of others. If we take a little bit of time to understand the mythology of any religion we will be able to understand the wisdom behind it and no one can really argue with wisdom.

None of us can really deny the essence of any religion because they are the same. We can all respect other religions if we try and understand what their myths are really trying to say. And as for rituals - we can all agree to have the right to be different from each other. Perhaps then the world will become a more liveable, beautiful place. But this is only possible if we all take a step towards understanding and respecting each other rather than running in the opposite direction every time we come across a belief that is contrary to ours.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Nostalgia Attack

When you catch yourself spending more time indulging in nostalgia than dreaming of the future you know you are getting old. I guess I’m getting old. Childhood memories, snapshots of places and people long gone, seem to creep up out of nowhere. My parents were the Partition generation i.e. they were witness to the excitement as well as the ensuing misery as people migrated, got killed and separated from their loved ones. My mom lost everything - her father, her property, her childhood, her joy, so it is not strange that she would spend the rest of her life looking back, saddened by the turn of events and what could have been. As a reaction to her attachment to the past I lived my life with one hand on the delete button. A lot has happened in my life but I really don’t remember things with clarity, I have always looked ahead. So it is doubly strange that suddenly I have become nostalgic.

I belong to a generation that straddles two completely different eras. My early childhood was spent in a time when Karachi was still carrying the vivid impressions of the ‘Raj’, where things were built to last a 100 years and where change occurred infrequently. My adult life has been part of the IT revolution where each day brings a life changing innovation. Perhaps that is why even my earliest memories seem to be like old black and white photographs – slightly faded and tinged with sepia.

Karachi was such a different city back then. One of its most defining features was the tram service which ran right down the middle of the roads of Saddar and  M.A Jinnah road (or Bunder road as it was known then). I didn’t see the trams run for very long as their era was almost at an end by the time I was old enough to notice them. I remember people getting off and on these trams as they slowly made their way up and down and most vividly I remember the clanging of the brass bells as they warned people to get out of their path. The city was filled with the sound of bells and occasional horns rather than the pressure horns of the public transport which took its place. Where Gul Plaza now stands on M.A Jinnah road was the central depot of the trams or Tram Godhi as it was locally known. It was a humungous structure with corrugated metal sheets as roofing and though it was no more than a very big shed, it was still architecturally more pleasing to the eye than the ugly monstrosity that has taken its place.

The 60’s and 70’s saw an explosion of property development where beautiful building were torn down and replaced by eye sores which as time passed by became more than just sores – they became puss infected wounds which unfortunately we have no choice but to suffer each day. The area of Soldier Bazaar had grand stone bungalows, each of which had large gardens filled with ‘peepal’ and banyan trees. In fact these trees were all over Karachi and perhaps the best known characteristic of the city. As we started tearing down the structures we also cut off all the trees barring a few that remained on M.A Jinnah road, and the task of tearing down the remaining ones has been taken up by nature through gale force winds during the monsoon season. We are a nation which is addicted to shortcuts and quick profits, therefore no one ever bothered to plant new peepal or banyan trees since they take a very long time to grow. During the 90’s we started to wake up to the importance of  trees for the environment and massive plantation drives were undertaken. Karachi now had little space and no patience to allow these trees to take roots, so instead of these slow growing trees we saw hundreds of eucalyptus trees  being planted, hence changing the character of Karachi once and for all. The oases of shades in a concrete desert were no more.

Of course most people will wonder why I am not reminiscing about the peace, and tolerance of the city. I too miss those qualities of the city but then the city itself has gone through a physical metamorphosis or I daresay, mutation. And this new city has a personality befitting its new looks. A city that looks harsh and scarred has a personality which is hard and enjoys scarring others.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Death Wish

It has taken me a long time to accept the fact that I’m not really an ambitious person. For someone who has spent most of their life in corporate corridors training people who can’t wait to get to the top, it is no easy fact to accept. For a long time I felt there was something wrong with me – some form of mental illness perhaps? I look around at the people I know and they all seem to be in a hurry to get somewhere, to gain something, to be something, and I seem to be the only one just strolling down this path, having no burning desire to achieve anything specific in my life. I could find nothing in my life to which I could attach my happiness – when I get …I will be happy, when I become…I will be happy or when I go ….I will be happy. No such statements really spring up in my mind. It’s not that I have achieved utter bliss, there are a lot of things wrong with my life but somehow I know that in spite of all the imperfections I will survive and I although I want things to change, I can’t really find the fire within me to make an all our effort to do so.

Since this ‘condition’ was not normal I tried to analyze what exactly was the root of this problem. During this psychoanalysis I discovered one thing – I really believe in my immortality. I believe that the soul is eternal and I’m currently on a journey in this physical body. Since this is for me a transient phase I don’t really have the pressure of getting things done within my lifetime. I’m a tourist and as such I’m just soaking in the experiences of this journey, I am not putting the pressure of an itinerary on this trip. Having made this discovery about myself I realized that I was lying when I said I had no ambition – I did, but not one for this current physical life.

Now some of you may think I’ve gone all religious and have started to collect reward points which will get me to Heaven. Not really. I want 3 things to happen when I die. First I hope that there will be that moment of clarity when I can finally understand what my real place in the Universe is and why I was made to undertake this journey. The second is a free pass to roam the Universe. I wish my spirit could journey through the vastness of this Universe and witness its wonders. I want to see galaxies spiraling in space, I want to see a nebula where new stars are being formed, I want to see a Quasar in action in short I want to see first hand everything that I cannot while I’m in this physical body. The last thing I would like to happen when I die is to be able to answer questions which have been baffling scientists for so long – what are the other dimensions which exist other than those of time and space which we experience? What was before the beginning of the Universe? What happens after the end of our Universe?

Most people would say that I should be more concerned about making it to Heaven and making sure I don’t end up in Hell, but perhaps my definition of Heaven is a bit different. Sitting in a garden eating and drinking all day long is not really such a motivator for me, my idea of Heaven is knowledge. There are those who would be quick to term this as heresy or blasphemy since the religious texts specifically mention a garden as the final destination of the good and pious, however, I have a different take on this. We spent years trying to understand poetries written by masters and yet we are stupid enough to think that a text sent down by God himself can be understood at a literal level? If as we Muslims believe that Allah himself has promised to preserve the Quran till the Day of Judgement, then isn’t it obvious that as our civilization evolves we would understand the depth of the layers that each word contains?

The success of a religion is dependent on the validity of its message through the millennia and its ability to speak to mankind as it keeps evolving its level of knowledge. For people who lived 2000 to 14000 years ago in an arid and barren land an incentive of lush gardens ample water, milk and honey would be the best to entice them towards good – that is what they could relate to, what they could understand, hence that was the description of  Heaven. However that doesn’t really mean that Heaven is a particular location somewhere up in the skies. For all we know, we may just end up as pure consciousness in another dimension, a concept we are only now beginning to marginally understand. Anyway, this is not really about Heaven or Hell, this piece is about my desires.

So my life is without ambition, but I have a few desires for after I die. Having said that I realize that to say I have no ambition is not entirely true. My ambition or burning desire is to get to the truth and that perhaps is not possible while we are in this physical existence.

Lead me from untruth towards the truth
Lead me from darkness towards light
Lead me from mortality towards immortality

This is a beautiful prayer which perhaps defines my desires very well. The fact that it is in Sanskrit will make some squirm, as they will immediately jump to the conclusion that if its in Sanskrit then I’m leaning towards Hinduism. However these lines do not really mention any god or goddess, in fact it is a plea from a student to his teacher. Besides, belief in a religion and understanding other religious texts are 2 separate things. Surely if just by reading about other religions your own belief starts to waver, then your faith was weak in the first place.  The Sanskrit version is:

Asatho Maa Sad Gamaya
Thamaso Maa Jyothir Gamaya
Mrithyor Maa Amritham Gamaya

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Greatest Gift

I’m back after a long period of silence. It’s not that I didn’t have to say anything for so long – but rather too much. All the ideas were fighting for supremacy and the result was complete incoherence – just chatter. There was no shortage of subjects but I couldn’t find the words to give those ideas any form. Everything was getting jumbled up inside my mind, leaving me bewildered. It was a strange feeling, perhaps the closest analogy I can find is that of someone in a coma. They say comatose patients can take  inputs from their surroundings but they are incapable of reacting to them. Such was my case. I knew what I wanted to say but felt helpless when it came to actually finding the words to give form to the idea. This phase made me realize that words are really magical. Human beings are alchemists who turn the ether of their thoughts into the base metals of comprehensible ideas through words. Without words what are we?

I used to think that when various religious traditions talk about humans being God’s supreme creation it is because He gave us free will – the right to make choices and consequently change our life paths. However there is one more thing that makes us different from all other creations of God (at least the creations that co-inhabit this planet with us) and that is the gift of words. We have hundreds of languages and each language has thousands of words and each word is important for self-expression.

Without language we are nothing. We need words not only to communicate with others but with ourselves as well. If we didn’t have words how would we think? How do we ascertain how we are feeling unless we give that emotion a name? How do we reflect on our  lives without words?  How do we plan for our future? How do we contemplate on all our mistakes? We need words to know our selves. Some would ask what about the deaf and mute people? Even though they cannot speak to us through spoken words they do use sign and even those who don’t use sign I’m sure they have developed an entirely unique language for themselves, the meaning of which is only known to the individual who created it and through that language they understand themselves and others.

In fact if God hadn’t given us languages He could not have sent us any messengers nor any religious books. He needed to give us language so we could get to Him. We tend to think of ancient man as being primitive but actually our ancestors were closer to the truth than we give them credit for. Since the dawn of mankind ritualistic chanting has been an important aspect of religious ceremony. Be it the tribal chants of the jungle tribes, the hymns of the ancient Aryans or the current practice of reciting out loud  the Quran or other religious books and hymns. When ancient man heard the ‘sacred’  words and felt their power, it was not because of what words were being recited – rather it was the awe of the sound of words i.e. the reverence of words, of language itself.  Over the years, like with everything else, the core truth got ignored somehow and the rituals honouring those truths have taken centre stage. We are caught up in fighting over who speaks which words - we have forgotten that the very fact we can speak is the greatest gift of God.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My Epic Struggle

The most epic struggles of human beings are those in which we battle ourselves. When the conflict is between not just the heart and mind but also that of what we feel is right and what the world tells us to do. I was recently involved in one such battle.

For years I have been teaching my participants that one’s personal values are the compass by which one should take decisions. Any decision one takes contrary to their values, no matter how sound it may be on face value, will eventually result in unhappiness. Of course in order to have this compass one needs to take a very long and hard look at themselves and find out what their values are. What defines them? What principles do they hold dear? Over the course of many years of introspection I have come to the conclusion that the one value which is of utmost priority in my life is ‘Independence’. Everything I have done or not done has been to protect this value.

I was recently offered a job and on the surface it would have meant that I would have been free of the pressure of self-employment. It seemed like a good offer and my friends suggested that I go for it. But for some reason I felt a constriction in my chest every time I thought about accepting this position. I knew that this meant violating my value and I was not happy about that. However if the situation was this simple I would have ended the dilemma there and then. But there were other more important underlying questions for which I was struggling to find answers.

Was this offer a signal from the universe to move on to another level of my career? Was Law of Attraction at play here and this had been manifested as a solution to my problems and stress? Or was this a test from the universe to see if I have the power to remain true to myself? How would I ever be able to stand and deliver my message with congruence ever again if I myself was going against it? The more I deliberated the more confused I became.

I have always maintained that growth requires getting out of our comfort zones and since I was getting uncomfortable with this situation perhaps this was the next chapter in my life’s education curriculum. Logic dictated that I say ‘yes’ but the heart said ‘no’. For every answer another question popped up. And each day I became more and more miserable. I felt as if a heavy weight was bearing down upon me. Each time I imagined myself in that office my heart started pounding.

Being a student of NLP for over 20 years, I have developed a fairly strong bond with my sub-conscious and I’m usually quite receptive to the signals it gives me. When my discomfort wasn’t helping me arrive at a decision, thankfully my sub-conscious took the matter in its own hands. During one of my meetings with my potential employers I suddenly got a massive headache. That headache lasted for over 24 hours and no amount of medicine had any affect on it. It was the worst headache I have ever suffered in over 25 years! Our sub-conscious is much more powerful than our conscious mind. It is always a step ahead and I believe the statement from the Quran that God is closer to us than our jugular and if this is the case then I think He communicates to us through our sub-conscious. Many people unfortunately have become very adept at ignoring this communication. The communication comes as ideas, thoughts, flashes of images but when we pay no heed to these then it resorts to more tangible means like a child saying ‘hear me, hear me’ and when we don’t he tugs our shirt to get attention. The sub-conscious does exactly that…when we do not hear what it is trying to say it sends its message as a physical sensation. The more ignored it feels the harder it tugs i.e. the sensation becomes painful just like my headache.

In the end I listened to my sub-conscious, I went the way of my heart and refused the job. The immense relief I felt let me know that I was right. I had passed the test life had thrown my way and in the process I had validated everything I had been teaching for so long.  Some people may find it strange that a simple employment offer could trigger such a conflict, but I believe that every major decision we take in our lives requires us to take a long hard look at ourselves. This whole episode taught me one very important lesson – sometimes temptations come into our lives masked as opportunities. We should definitely avail opportunities in our lives but not at the expense of our selves.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Celestial Beings

If there is one sight that brings out emotions like awe, peace, inspiration, curiosity and humility in us regardless of our age, culture or religion, it is a starry sky.  It has the capacity to evoke pure and positive emotions in us. No matter how tense we may be, how angry or hopeless, the night sky soothes us, makes us realize the insignificance of our problems and fills us with wonderment.

Our fascination with the night sky is as old as the history of mankind itself. When early man looked up at the glittering universe it was perhaps the first instant when humans became aware of Divinity. When we realized that there was a Higher Power. As our civilization evolved we developed mythologies to explain our relation with the stars, we became fascinated with astronomy and religions from the earliest times to the present day allude to God, hell and heaven all being ‘above’.  From time immemorial humans have always felt a sense of connectedness with the visible universe, it has always been for us the place where we ‘go’ after we die. Somehow the thought of returning to the universe after death makes it easier to accept the finality of our physical existence.

What is surprising is not why we feel this way towards the universe but that for thousands of years we have instinctively known what science has recently confirmed – we are celestial. Every element on this earth including every single molecule in our bodies comes from stars in their death throes – the Supernovae. We are literally made of star material.

The glory of a night sky is all but hidden for all of us who live in cities. The light pollution prevents us from seeing the stars. Our opportunities to look up and gasp in wonder are non-existent unless we go out in the wilderness. The layer of pollution not only blankets the planet it also stands as a barrier between us and our true selves. Just like we are unable to see what is above us, we have become unable to see what is within us. The more we lose touch with the universe the more we are losing touch with all that’s pure and good in ourselves. The more light we have the darker the night sky appears. The more ‘advanced’ human civilization becomes the less visible human beings are becoming to each other. The haze within us is that of intolerance, greed, fear, manipulation and compromises on values and principles. We find it difficult to see people as they really are only as how we want to see them.

We are celestial in our composition and therefore connected with all that is in the universe, and by the same logic we are also all connected to whatever there is on this planet – especially other people. Just because we can’t see the stars doesn’t mean they have disappeared and just because we refuse to see good in people doesn’t mean that people are not good. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Thank You Life

After spending nearly half a century on this planet, hosting my non-physical self in this physical body, it is perhaps time to take stock of some of the lessons I have learnt so far along this journey.

Perhaps my greatest lesson has been that what you shun most has a way of manifesting itself in your life. Whenever I have been judgemental and by that I mean having put a negative label on anything or anyone based solely on ‘instinct’,  life has somehow thrown that very thing in my path and invariably I have changed my initial opinion. It has been life’s way of teaching me to be non-judgemental and open to perspectives different from me. I take this as a blessing – for indeed only a good teacher will make such an effort to teach an important lesson rather than just giving up on the student. So thank you life saving me from bigotry and fanaticism.

My life has been mostly magical. I have traveled extensively, met a multitude of people and have had many exciting experiences. So it is no wonder that when I hit a bad patch it seemed like the end of the world and many a times I really wanted it to be so. But this was another important lesson that was slowly unfolding. At the end of this chapter I learnt that in the scheme of things a rough ride for a couple of years is really insignificant no matter how bumpy it may have been. The most important thing I learnt is that there is always a solution to the worst of problems, one just needs to keep searching and if you do not give up when you hit the point of desperation, the solution will come to you. So thank you life - for teaching me that even when I have nothing else, if I have my will-power and wits I can survive. And another thank you for introducing me to the strength within me – it will always remain my most cherished possession.

Most people find it unusual that I am single. They think there must be either something wrong with me, or that I am nursing a wounded heart or there has to be some dark secret behind this state of affairs, many even feel sorry for me! Let me dispel all doubts once and for all – I am this way because I choose to be so and believe it or not I’m happy. This has been another lesson life taught me – the difference between romance and marriage. Like most people I have been ‘in love’ many times but none of these relationships seemed to materialize into marriage. At first like most women are conditioned to think, I too started wondering what was wrong with me? Then I took a long hard look at all the people I was ‘in love’ with over the years – and you know what? They were all wrong for me – every single one! Which means that I was deliberately seeking out people with whom I knew sub-consciously that there was no chance of getting into a life long commitment. Upon further analysis, it dawned on me that I really did not want to share my entire life with anyone. Being an only child and extremely independent from an early age I was too selfish to really allow so much space to anyone in my life. I am not saying it is right, but it is me. So thank you life for having given me the wisdom to realize my own limitations and preventing me from making a mistake which would have had disastrous consequences not only for me but at least one more person.

Most people know that my mom suffers from dementia and anyone who has to deal with such a person also knows that living with them is an agonizing experience. My mother has transformed into a person who is so far removed from the person who raised me that at times it is like living with a total stranger. In my worst times when I wished nothing more than to end the whole thing the one thing that prevented me was my mother. Without me there would be no one to take care of her, and that one thought gave me the courage to keep on fighting.  So thank you life for teaching me that no matter what the circumstances may be parents are always a blessing for their children. They don’t just give you life they protect it too.

The say ‘when the student is ready the teacher appears’. I am ready and I know my teacher will continue to teach me many more valuable lessons.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My Defining Books

The most important book in my life is ‘Noddy’s Car’ a picture book which my father gave me when I was three years old. Since I hadn’t learnt to read at that time I badgered others to read it aloud to me and soon I knew the story so well that I could just flip the pages,look at the pictures and follow the story.  Nothing remarkable about that – but then one day magic happened. As I was flipping through the pages I started to read the story, at first I didn’t realize what was happening but then suddenly I realized that I WAS READING! That instant of realization, that moment of wonder is frozen in my memory as if it just happened.  I had acquired the single most important skill which would shape my life forever in that very moment.

Over the next few years I became an avid reader. Being an only child I found companionship in books. Perhaps the single most important influencer in my life other than my parents was Enid Blyton, whose books I grew up with, and many of the values I carry to this day came from her characters. Of all the books I possess my most cherished collection is the Enid Blyton books which sit at the top couple of shelves encased with a glass door.  There was a book shop near the house we lived in at that time and I was its most regular customer, in fact after a while I didn’t even need to go to the shop myself I just sent the money and the store keeper knew which book was next on my reading list. The characters of those books became my friends and I spent hours talking to my imaginary friends. You could say that books saved me as a child, if I did not have them in those early years of my life I wonder how lonely my childhood would have been and what effects would I have suffered as a result of that solitude.

The next milestone on my significant books journey is a book on social anthropology entitled ‘Faces of Mankind’ which I was given at the age of 9. I became fascinated with the different races and tribes that I hadn’t ever encountered before.  I came across the term ‘Neanderthal’ for the first time and found that humans evolved out of ape like creatures. That was the time the history bug bit me for the first time, I wanted to know more, I wanted to uncover old bones and go on digs, in short I announced that I wanted to be an archaeologist.  However my parents had other ideas for their little princess and certainly did not want her digging up old skulls – so that career choice never materialized, but my love for ancient history is still going strong.

Over the next few years I read many books, mostly fiction and management titles Then one day a book was recommended to me by a mentor ‘The Road Less Traveled’ by Dr. Scott Peck.  It is a book on psychology and discusses love, values and spiritual growth. This book opened a completely new path for me. A path of self discovery. I started to examine myself and my relation to my world view, I understood my own emotional fracture points, I realized that life was so much more than mere ambition.  In short I started understanding myself and examining my relationships – a journey which still continues. This book enticed me to read more self-help and spirituality material.  Paolo Coelho’s ‘AIchemist’ is definitely one of my favourite books, but I cannot categorize it as a milestone since it was ‘The Road Less Traveled’ that brought me to it.

Then one day I stumbled upon Robert Bauval’s ‘Orion Mystery’ in which he describes how the Pyramids of Giza are a depiction in stone of the Orion’s belt and how the ancient Egyptians were in fact emulating the cosmos on earth. My love for ancient mysteries and especially Egypt started with this book. Subsequently I started reading anything and everything I could find not only on Egypt but books on a multitude of topics concerning ancient civilizations including the Judaic history and the Ark of the Covenant, the Christian search for the Holy Grail and other ancient mysteries. I read about the Knights Templars, the Illuminati, and other secret societies. In short by the time Dan Brown came out with ‘Davinci Code’ I had already read the background research material on which it was based.

It was but natural that having my mind saturated with history of the rest of the world, I would start looking closer to home i.e. the Indus Valley and Vedic civilization.  Many people find it strange that I have the Upanishad, Rig Veda, Bhagwad Gita on my book shelf. Some have tried to let me know in not so many words that it is ‘not right’ but for me they are a source of knowledge and history. My focus is currently on the myths of Hindu religion and trying to analyze how they may have emanated and what historic events could have over the years snowballed into such fantastic tales. To study a religion does not mean one has converted to it.  My grandfather used to say “if you do not study other religions, you cannot appreciate your own completely” wise words indeed.

I have no idea what the next pit stop of my knowledge journey will be. Which book will take me on which path next is anybody’s guess, all I know is that books have been my surrogate parents thus far. They have played as important a role in my character development and life choices as my real parents. But one thing is for sure from ‘Noddy’s Car’ to ancient history the journey has been not only exciting but also one of expansion and extreme satisfaction.