How to generate a rainbow?

Stepped outside in the morning on 9th November, ready to ferry the kids to school, cool, mellow, autumn sunlight, but a thick stack of grey clouds threatening a downpour in the west. Adding colour, a perfect semi-circle of a rainbow, sunlight reflected at the right angle from drops of water, logic says. But what the humble poet saw was Cupid, the god of love bending his rainbow to shower a rain of love. Raindrops imagined as tear drops of sadness of the heart at world affairs, mirrors reflecting Horus, the Egyptian sun god. Colours to cheer the heart in the gloomy grey skies.

Connecting two unrelated themes of nature and world affairs- Donald Trump, despite his rhetoric, misogyny, bigotry has cleverly ridden the waves he successfully raised in a sea of fear and hatred, to be elected to the most powerful office in the world. Technological advances, social media and easy travel have shrunk the globe into a global village. Is it now possible or is it now the time to build walls and isolate ourselves behind fences of race, religion, caste and creed? Will Donald Trump carry out his threats?

Even though the prospects appear gloomy they need not be! If only we open our hearts, connect from a deep space of understanding of our common origin and reflect each others light, which is part of the divine light, we can create a rainbow to dispel the gloom. Are you with me?

Rainbow.
Cupid stretches his wings,
bends his bow, across the heaven.
Light dancing on tear drops
beautiful, brilliant colours seven.
Horus reflected in a million mirrors
amidst chaos spreading cheer.

Open your heart
let in the rays
with mayhem around
days dull and grey.
Radiate peace, spread the love
drop the arrows and the bow
with enough connected hearts
we can create a rainbow.
Nadeem.
09/11/16
rainbow
Nadeem

25/11/16.

Beliefs and Religion: A personal perspective!

At the end of a consultation after the medical matters are discussed and sorted out, sometimes the conversation turns to various other matters; politics, philosophy, religion, spirituality…., depending on who the patient is and how well we know each other.

On one such occasion recently as he had his hand on the door handle to let himself out, one of my patients, or should I say friends turned round and asked me, what religion I followed? What my own personal beliefs were? Two rather intimate questions, as religion and beliefs are felt to be private matters in western culture. In some other cultures religion is worn as a badge of honour, a mark of belonging to a community and a source of strength.

What gave him the freedom to ask such an intimate question?

Its the understanding built over a number of years, the rapport established during a number of contacts, the willingness to share a part of my own personality, warts and all that gives the other person the liberty to ask questions which could be felt to be uncomfortable and perhaps impertinent.

Nevertheless, I was unable to answer the question straight away due to lack of time, but it set a train of thought in my mind. What are my personal beliefs? How did I get them and what influences shaped them?

Lessons learnt in the lap of a loving mother, sights seen riding on top of stout shoulders of a caring Dad, rituals and rites reinforced by religious teachers and training and knowledge from teachers all contribute to our beliefs and mold our personality.

But do our beliefs remain static?

Not necessarily. The challenges of teenage years with the new found freedom, attempts to fit in with the crowd, add further layers to our developing beliefs and personality.

Add to that the trials and tribulations of adult life, sometimes overwhelming us with the demands on our capacity to provide and protect our own offspring. Often we seek answers and solace in something bigger than us, pray for deliverance. For many of us, even when the prayers go unanswered, the faith in the teachings we have received, that trials and tribulations are a test to be borne with fortitude and patience, for a reward in the life to come and a place in Heaven is sufficient to keep us going.

At the other extreme, reason taken to its limits questions the very existence of God or supreme being. Why, if he/she is all powerful, does he/she create suffering? Why he/she cannot solve all problems? why does he/she not answer our prayers? Science with its demand for objective evidence, leads us to either a position of agnosticism, in the hope that with advances in technology and science we will have  proof of existence or non-existence of God. While others deny the existence of anything supernatural right away and profess Atheism.

Once our physiological needs, need for security, love and self esteem are met we come to the level of self actualization, when we think of deeper questions as to what our purpose in life is and why we have come here? Faith in a religion is enough for a majority of us, but not always.

Beliefs regarding the physical objects and the universe around us are formed by the analysis and synthesis by our brain of the sense data that we perceive through our five senses, augmented by various technological advancements.

Lets consider an ordinary alarm clock placed between two observers sitting opposite to each other. The description of the clock face by one observer completely differs from the other observers description of the back. Makes you wonder if they are describing the same object. Take away the faculty of sight and we are left with the story of the five blind men, each feeling a different part of an elephant and variously describing it as a rope, a tree trunk, a sail etc. If that is the case with two ordinary objects our consternation when we consider the scale of the universe with 4000 stars taking birth each day. Moreover we only perceive 1/10th of a billionth of the electromagnetic spectrum. I am not even talking about the perplexities of quantum mechanics. So how much confidence can we have on our interpretation of reality as we see, hear and feel?

If that’s the situation with our perception of physical reality how much more complex is it when we consider the metaphysical realm? Can we completely deny it? Our scientific quest has led us to answer many of the questions of what the universe is made of, how it perhaps came into existence and why some phenomena occur as they do. But when it comes to the question of why we have evolved, we hit a stumbling block. Is this question worth answering or not?

Myriad mythologies, multiple philosophies and many religions have tried to answer the question of why we are here, in their own way. The quest has not ended, at least for a number of us.

Comparative religious studies approached with the intention of promoting their truth as “The Truth” only leads to schisms. It will never lead to understanding because for each person his own version of truth is “The Truth”. Quoting from scriptures to score points and scholarly debates to denigrate other views will only lead to ever widening gaps. So how then can we promote understanding, tolerance and peace?

As Tariq Ramadan eloquently argues in his “The Quest for meaning” we need a plural philosophy of not just tolerance to various views but an open honest andmutual understanding and respect is what is needed if we are to succeed as humankind and achieve our potential, god given or evolution driven.

Thus it was that I explored , only a little I daresay, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and Christian points of view. I was struck by the Buddha’s four noble truths- the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the end of suffering, and the truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering. The eight fold path to end suffering, Right intention, Right thought, Right speech, Right action, Right livelihood, Right effort, Right meditation, Right concentration struck me as something that was similar in Islamic teaching. I am pretty certain that if we go deeper into any religion these basic principles we will find are similar albeit expressed in different ways.

Meditating, calming the mind and listening to the silence within taught me the essential oneness of universe.

The concept of Allah as the immanent, omniscient, omnipotent, of this universe and beyond this universe, indescribable being I found similar to the concept of “Brahman” as reflected in the “Shanti Mantra- Om purnamadah, purnamidam….”. The forms of worship completely divergent but the concepts same. Is it not important to seek the similarity of concept instead of chasing after forms?

Imagine a long tree lined avenue stretching to infinity in either direction. Place yourself in the middle of this avenue. In the short distance you will find different trees, Ash,Birch, Cypress…. Mango, Neem, Peepal….all very different, but cast your eyes to the farthest limit that it can see, the trees converge at the origin and end of the avenue! It’s all a matter of perspective. We perhaps need to change our perspective to see that at the origins of “Big Bang” and at the end of this world we meet in “Singularity”- What we call by various names- Allah, Brahman, God, Yehweh in essence are, one and the same.

Once we realize this oneness, what remains is the question, what does this oneness want from us?
It wants us to reflect it in this world , since it is said that we are created in its image.

As the Dalai Lama puts it, “With realization of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world”

And finally as Joseph Campbell & Bill Moyers say in “The power of Myth”
“The ultimate aim of the quest must be neither release nor ecstasy for oneself, but the wisdom and the power to serve others.”

Not all of us can become Prometheus and steal the fire from the gods for humankind but we can light a candle from that fire for others. If we can do that we would have found the answer to the WHY!

How then could I explain my beliefs and religion in a short time?

Communication the key to harmonious relationships.

In the age of instant connection, broadband internet, smart phones, WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Facetime and no doubt a few more that I have no knowledge of, we feel we are connected with our friends, family and loved ones all the time no matter which corner of the world we live in. There is no denying that technology has indeed made it easy for us to feel a sense of nearness. We update our Facebook timeline, post photos, tweet even the most trivial happenings which gives us a false sense of camaraderie. But are we truly communicating?
What is communication?
Webster’s dictionary defines communication as ” : the act or process of using words, sounds, signs, or behaviors to express or exchange information or to express your ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc., to someone else”.
However Business dictionary defines it as ” Two-way process of reaching mutual understanding, in which participants not only exchange (encode-decode) information, news, ideas and feelings but also create and share meaning. In general, communication is a means of connecting people or places.
The crucial difference in the two definitions is the sharing and mutual understanding that is highlighted in the second, which I feel is the most important string that binds two people in true communication.
The long distance connectivity that technology provides, even though convenient is inadequate as a lot of non-verbal communication through which empathy and kindness gets expressed in interactions is not conveyed even with Skype.
Aristotle is regarded as the first proponent of a model of communication in 300BC. The model has five elements
Speaker— Speech—Occasion–Audience–Effect!
Primacy is given to the speaker as the aim is to influence and change the audiences perception and thought.
His model focuses mainly on communication at a collective level, the speaker trying to understand his audience, conveying suitable thoughts to the audience and attempting to convert them to his/her thinking.
But, it is perhaps not the goal in interpersonal communication and relationships. Interpersonal communication is not a power play but rather an attempt to understand and find “common” ground. This quest to understand, to find “common” ground should form the root of interpersonal communication. Etymologically communication is derived from– ” late 14c., from Old French comunicacion (14c., Modern French communication), from
Latin communicationem (nominativecommunicatio), noun of action from past participle stem ofcommunicare “to share, divide out; communicate, impart, inform; join, unite, participate in,” literally “to make common,” from communis”.
Note the last term “communis” literally “to make common” in other words to find commonality!
So, what are the ingredients for “communication”, for understanding, or finding common ground?
Presence, Listening and Responding are the tripod on which communication rests!
What is presence?
It is being focussed, aware, alert with all the senses alive and open, attentive in the “moment”, to the words spoken, the expressed and non-expressed feelings and emotions of the “other” and the self.
Being present is very difficult if not impossible, as it needs moment by moment consciousness, a high degree of emotional intelligence and a constant checking of the Ego. It’s especially difficult when facing seismic anger when the Ego senses danger and is looking to either “flee or fight”. Old habits learnt over a lifetime are difficult to overcome. The mind wanders off, seeking half baked answers to misunderstood questions, searching for retorts or rebuttals opening further rifts.
In a dialogue between two people with different perceptions, feelings and thoughts, as no matter how close we are, there are bound to be differences. At such times a calm, cool appraisal of the situation is required and focussing on the breath, the inspiration and expiration might calm jangled nerves and soothe the seething brain.
The second element is Listening! Conventionally what we hear with our ears is considered listening but as Deepak Chopra points out in
“The soul of leadership” listening is more multidimensional. Its necessary not only to hear the words at a physical level but gauge the thoughts behind them with the mind, connect with feelings and emotions with the heart for listening to become effective listening. Personally I am far from achieving it, but it is an aspiration, a goal!
Finally responding rather than reacting, as our lower brain would lead us to do is the final leg of the tripod. The chimp in us is still alive and is constantly on the look out for threats, real or perceived and before our cortex can figure out a rational solution our amygdala will trigger a lightning reaction perhaps causing more harm and hurt feelings. So as the Buddha said 2500 years ago!

image

“Do not learn how to react, learn how to respond”

And as the Prophet Muhammad’s Hadith states “whoever believes in Allah and the last day let him speak good or remain silent” (Bukhari and Muslim).
Perhaps if we heed the wise words above and rest our communication on the tripod of “Presence”, Listening” and Responding” we can have better understanding and find common ground which will surely lead to harmonious relationships. This concept by extension to groups, sects, communities, religions, nations ….. perhaps could lead to peace which is sorely missing in the world today!

Attachment and Letting Go!

” Its natural for us to experience intense emotional pain due to the link, the bond of love we have” said Liz on reading one of my blogs!

There is no denying that. But what is this attachment, why do we love someone or something? How can we accept  to let go of this attachment?

Gregory Mize, PhD, mental health advocate states ” we become attached to people and things because it serves a perceived need which, we think, if attained will complete us somehow”.

So who is getting attached and whose needs are being fulfilled and completed?

It’s the “I”, “Self” or “Ego” in each one of us which is seeking completion and fulfillment. Does it ever get completely satisfied? Does it ever feel it has attained everything?

2000px-Maslow's_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svg

Our needs move up a hierarchy as Anthony Maslow stated in 1943, from the base of physiological through the need for security, love and belonging, esteem to reach self actualization at the top of the triangle. The more needs a person or thing satisfies from this hierarchy, the more valuable it becomes.

A mother provides for elements of our needs from the physiological, safety and love and belonging layers of the hierarchy! Perhaps at least in the earlier years of our life in case of the first two layers and throughout our life’s from the third step. The value most of us consciously or subconsciously place on this entity- our mother, is so great, that it leads to the strong bond and attachment.

The value of a thing, like money or possessions, which fulfills our need for security depends on individual perceptions. How much does an individual need to feel secure?

Trapped in this desire to satisfy our Ego’s needs, we move up the hierarchy and feel a false sense of an inflated self esteem, based on our possessions. Driven by materialistic media machination and sycophantic “friends” who massage our false Ego’s, we hanker after more and more. But then, the Ego is a bottomless pit, which we find, no amount of riches or material comforts fill completely. We feel a sense of emptiness inside. The slow decline of religion and spirituality has left us with no other avenues to help us come to terms with this conundrum.

It’s entirely up to us which entity, our family, our relations on the one hand or the material comforts and riches on the other we place a higher value on!

Coming round to the question of attachment, the more precious the entity in our opinion, the stronger the attachment, the harder it is to sever the bond, accept the loss and let go! When we have let go of an entity, accepted things as they are, trusting the universe implicitly we have attained heaven!. Perhaps that’s the moral of the parable ” It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matt.19:24).

Buddha says “The reason that we experience suffering comes ultimately from our mind. According to Buddhism, our main mental problems or root delusions are: attachment, anger and ignorance.”

root-of-suffering-is-attachment-570x377

Human relations do produce attachments, but it’s the perspective that needs to change from a clinging on to acceptance and letting go. Each and every religion, spiritual teaching, philosophy and psychological system prepares us to do that, through rituals and rites, funerary observances and prayer for the departed soul. Ultimately we all have to work on our psyche, find an inner strength and acceptance. We will deny reality, resent the situation and get angry, will stumble and fall, grope in the darkness, shed tears and will slip and slide back many times: till finally time will heal the wounds and we find acceptance!
A few days back my friend Chandrasekhar sent me a quote from Thitch Nhat Hahns book ” Old path and white clouds”-” It was autumn and the leaves were falling. I asked a tree whether it was not afraid of falling as it’s turn will come soon. The leaf replied, I have been on this tree for the whole of summer and worked hard to nourish the tree and much of me is in the tree”.
A timely reminder and an apt analogy. There are lessons to be learnt in nature if only we have eyes to see. Surely a sign of divinity in nature as it says in the Qur’an.

“Fabi-ayyi ala-i rabbikuma tukaththiban”

Then which of the favours
Of your Lord will ye deny?

If only we can become like the leaf and with great trust and faith let go, we can find peace and acceptance easier.

image

One step forward, two back!

Grief is such a personal thing! Acceptance of loss is such a strange jigsaw. I had, I thought completed the puzzle, beautiful it looked. I was about to stow it away in the attic of my mind to gather dust unaware of the missing pieces and the dark gaps. A kindly counselor shone a torch and what I had thought was acceptance turned into attempts at hiding behind a facade. The wound had not filled, only a thin weak scar had formed over a festering sore. The foundation on which my acceptance had been built crumbled and landed with a thump on the lower floor of depression and despair, making me realise that there is much work to be done.

” Lost her three years ago” she said, perhaps rightly so.

What is death?

Isn’t it a being, relinquishing a vehicle, a cover, a body to step into a different dimension? We have neither seen this dimension, nor experienced it nor have a we got reliable consistent proof. But does the absence of proof mean non-existence?

It is rather rare and difficult to contact the departed. Skeptics would dismiss off hand any claims of mediums and seances. But is there a grain of truth in such claims?

Logical Positivism argues for acceptance only of observable facts as perceived by our five senses as the only positive evidence of proof. But do our feeble senses, despite our attempts to improve nature with marvelous technological advances, give us all the knowledge of everything out there?

” There are more things in the heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”, says Shakespeare in Hamlet.

Recently driving to work, with melodious classical music on the radio, dreaming and fantasizing I was rudely brought to my senses when the brakes failed! Fortunately the brakes finally responded to the frantic pressure of my shaking foot, and the car rolled to halt without a mishap. Later a colleague on hearing this said that whenever she is in her car she feels the presence of her dad protecting her. Was my mother’s spirit looking out for me and saved me on the day? I believe she was!

Is it an irrational thought, a delusion?

At other times, meditating, especially at times of great mental turmoil, I have strongly felt the presence of my dad, who died 25 years ago, calming me, guiding me and showing me the way. My logical mind fights against this, pointing out that it is only my mind playing tricks on me. But how do I account for the peace I feel, the guidance I get?

I feel that the departed ones are not completely deleted but the echos of their presence are felt if only we can trust our intuition, feelings and emotions and not dismiss off hand our experiences. They have only stepped out of a vehicle to perhaps journey in another dimension.

Did I lose my mother three years ago?

Distance, physical and emotional, diminished communication and demands of work and my own family did certainly create a gulf and perhsps I did not make enough effort to bridge this gulf. So it is true that it was a partial if not a complete loss. Regrets now, are of no avail.

It’s better not to fall into this trap. It is rather hard if not impossible to connect with our loved ones after they have departed and are off on their own travels in unknown dimensions. However it’s not difficult to connect and strengthen our connections and communications while they are still alive. It’s easier when we are travelling in the same dimension than in parallel worlds.

Meditation- The art of quietening the mind!

It’s a heart warming feeling, a boost to continue writing when words touch someone’s heart, inspire and intrigue others. Enthused by the endorsements of a few friends I wonder if that is what happens if you follow your heart and allow universe to guide your hands and show you the path!
“Meditation…. How do you learn to do this. Is it too late in later life, is it ever too late to learn something new” mused Val!

No it’s never too late. There is nothing to learn in meditation, it’s just relaxing and letting it happen! ” You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is such a defeatist, negative axiom.

I took up meditation a couple of years ago after not finding the inner peace, ” Home” through prayer and organised religion. Initially floundered, struggled and got frustrated, gave up on several occasions and started again till it became a habit. The days I ignored the routine of meditation were the hardest. At first sitting down doing nothing was hard and appeared pointless. A lifelong habit of keeping busy, chasing after deadlines, goals and dreams is indeed hard to break. In our quest for happiness we chase after money, position and everything that satisfies our Ego! But the Ego is never happy, it seeks after yet more money, yet higher position and yet more plaudits. Only by realising this and putting things in perspective and not merely chasing phantoms can we gain contentment and inner peace. Meditation helps with this!
But breaking the habit was not going to be easy I knew, but I hadn’t imagined that sitting down even for five minutes without doing anything, quietening the mind would be so hard. My mind would wander into lanes and alleys, along dark labyrinths which I had closed years ago trying to escape from the harsh realities of life. Then I chanced upon the teachings of the much misunderstood, maligned Acharya Rajneesh, who has the innate capability to speak in a language that resonates with modern, busy people. Meditation according to him, is becoming aware, being conscious of the serene blue sky and not getting distracted by the clouds that drift across it out of nowhere. Our thoughts are like the clouds, drifting across the mind like clouds drifting across the sky. To enjoy the serene blue sky or the quite mind we neither have to follow each cloud nor chase after each thought. Let them drift across as is their nature.

Mindfulness is a fairly new concept in the West, but it’s said that by practicing mindful breathing the Buddha attained enlightenment more than 2500 years ago. Is it possible for mere mortals to attain enlightenment? Yes, according to Buddhist tradition, Buddha nature is present in each and everyone and we can aspire to that state.

What is the most precious thing in the world?

Would it come as a surprise if I said that it is our breath?

We cannot live for more than a few minutes without the life giving oxygen unless we are trained yogis who remain in suspended animation for prolonged periods of time! This act we perform unawares throughout our life. If we can become aware of it and just concentrate on our most precious gem even for a few minutes, we can feel the bliss that we seek. How to bring this act into consciousness, how to develop concentration on our breath without being drawn away by our monkey minds? How to become mindful of our breath? Seems like a insurmountable mountain but practice byte size daily should eventually reward with reaching the apex of the mountain and the beautiful views from the top. Technology if used wisely could be a faithful servant and there are apps out there to help. Two particular apps I have found useful and have recommended with good results are Breathe and Qi Gong Meditation Relaxation. The first attempts to teach how to become mindful of our breath and the second guides us through beautiful vistas through visualization. I have found them very useful, hope people reading this blog would find them helpful as well.
Happy Meditation and peace to everyone!

Memories!

Memories are all that are left after a dear one departs on their journey.. be it a worldly one or the final journey.

Is it only the number of memories that denote the closeness of a relationship?

A day after we buried our mother we sat reminiscing, trying to hold on to her as long as possible if not in the material dimension at least in the ethereal mind dimension. Everyone recollecting pleasant conversations, actions and past events. Even the insignificant events gaining a certain gravitas by the richness of recollection. I had nothing to contribute. Having left  home, aged 18 and progressively moving away in the physical realm did I also create a gulf emotionally. In  later years this gulf widened due to her failing speech and our inability to communicate. How difficult it is to connect with someone if the non-verbal cues are missing. We tried a few times to see each other through the marvels of technology through Skype and even though we could see each other, there was still a lack!

Our memories are a play back of our experiences as we perceive them. Without the experience of relating how can we  have memories?

I was left with a feeling of lack, a void! Oh, how good it is to have experienced the bitterness and sweetness of a relationship! As, what I noticed was the recollections were mainly of sweet pleasant experiences. A conscious effort to erase all unpleasant, negative and bitter experiences or at least embellish them or distort them to make them appear positive and pleasant.

All I could do is to explore, dig deep inside my mind for scraps of experiences that I could recollect as memories. My box of memories had a meager hoard, whereas my siblings had a rich tapestry of memories as they had more experiences with her, both bad and good.

Chasing after our own happiness we sometimes ignore the importance of our close relationships. Departed loved ones don’t come back, we have only one life and one chance to relate with our close ones, we should take this opportunity to relate with compassion and love, so that we can  have material to recollect and connect to them after they have gone!

Lacking the experiences, which I could recollect and reminisce I prayed and meditated to find inner peace and “HOME”

Do our prayers and meditations help us to connect with the departed soul? Do they help the departed soul on it’s onward journey as many religions state? Or do they only help the ones that are  left behind? Does it really matter who it really helps!

Rituals and Rites!

Acceptance,  inner peace and coming “Home” after the loss of a loved one are not easy. Culture, tradition and religion seek to provide a path to follow, rituals and rites to perform and prayers for the departed. But do these rituals, prayers and the funeral rites help us find peace or are just a blind person’s stick to help steady us during the initial period of loss and confusion?

What is Ritual?

According to the Oxford dictionary ritual is defined as “A religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order:” However if we are just following the prescribed actions without the intention or thought of what we are hoping to achieve from it, it ends up being an empty, hollow, useless physical exercise.

My friend Seani says and I quote him “For me ritual is the practice of tuning in to a more meditative space and then using that space to access different states of consciousness. This can be for grounding, or self-awareness or emotional release.” Further he elaborates “Rituals are probably the best way to tune into spirituality. Most religions have quite empty and shallow rituals that don’t really touch the magic or the spirit”.

Nearly every religion and culture has got rituals and rites of passage at birth, coming of age, marriage and finally at death. I hadn’t realised the importance of ritual in the grieving process. However I am not sure we understand the meaning of these rituals. In our tradition we bathe and clean the body and bury it in a particular manner. I presume its the same case in other traditions. I am sure each religions priests can explain the meaning far better than me. I am not sure how much of the compliance to these rituals is due to fear of causing displeasure to a vengeful god, but as long as the rituals fulfil a basic human need for honouring the dead they are valuable!
What I can’t understand is why if we show such respect to the dead, we do not show the same respect and honour the living.

Prayer another ritual, If not just a mere repetition of chants, verses or hymns and is a true communion with “Spirit” can be transformative and bring peace. It’s said that the prayer of the prophet Mohammed and his companions was such a communion. Is our prayer like that now? If not why not?

However is there only one way of prayer and are one set of rituals better than others? Let alone the conflict amongst the various religions, I found such diverse opinions even in our own family regarding beliefs and rituals related to death and burial. One insisting that we recite the Quran daily and not confine it to set days, that we do not follow certain rituals as they are “unislamic” and another suggesting we follow some rituals that are perhaps a bit tainted by the influence of the prevailing culture of India! Doesn’t religion get influenced by culture? Is any religion an exact representation of the founders teachings?

Perhaps its more important that instead of debating what is authentic and what is not, creating schisms and conflict, violence and death, blindly following “a series of actions performed according to a set order” as the Oxford dictionary defines and follow my friend Seani’s line of thinking,” touch the magic, tune into that deep meditative space and use these rituals for gaining self awareness, emotional release and spiritual growth” and learn compassion, they would help us more in finding that inner peace and come “Home”

Everyday Saints and Martyrs!

Do saints and martyrs still walk among us? Who do we consider  a saint and who do we think of as a martyr?

Interesting questions triggered after coming across someone whose strength of character and resilience was worth emulating. In human interactions each contact leaves an imprint, some barely perceptible while others are deep and profound. If only we soften and are more receptive, allowing freedom for the other person to express without clouding the interaction with our own prejudices and preconceptions, we can gain a deeper understanding.

A few days ago, one such interaction has left a deep impression. A woman in her forties who seemed to have finally woken up to her own needs after giving so much of herself to others.

Born in a close knit, traditional catholic family in the USA, she spent a few of her childhood years, scarred by a chronic disease with frequent incarcerations in hospital and several operations, in a Muslim country when her father was posted in Iran. This was before the Islamic revolution of 1979, yet the call for prayer reverberated in her young years and she saw her friends praying five times a day. Deeply traumatized by the events of the revolution and saddened by the loss of life, she still recollects her earlier years with fondness despite the fact that she was uprooted and had to return to USA. Its hard to imagine the impact her struggle with her own illness and the trauma of witnessing violence left on her young mind. Did it make her bitter or give her the strength to face the hardships she had to endure later in life.

Struggling to stay in an abusive relationship with an alcoholic husband. Finding strength to be there and care for her own mother during her struggle with the pain of cancer and its treatment. Acting as a pillar of strength to her younger siblings following the arrest, prolonged legal battle and final imprisonment of her father. Yet not a single bitter word came on her lips during the entire consultation.

What gave her the strength to bear the cross of so many misfortunes? Was it her Catholic upbringing which made her remain in a dysfunctional marriage as divorce is frowned upon? She was afraid of the disapproval of others including her parents. However when she finally divorced her husband, her father expressed a sigh of relief. Was it the meditation which she learnt during her frequent incarcerations in hospital as a child. We are complex beings and our beliefs are a result of so many influences, myriad teachings, experiences and upbringing. It is hard to single out one factor or one influence as the formative one.

Standing outside someone’s life, their struggles and heart ache,  we sometimes are tempted to be critical of their choices and condemn them for putting up with hardship and violence  for such long periods. However unless we have walked in their shoes for a few miles, stumbled and risen, developed callouses and accepted them, how can we pass judgement on their choices. To each soul it’s own path! All we can do is to keep our eyes and hearts open, our minds clear and our ears receptive. Then we will be able to recognize the saints that walk among us and learn compassion and patience from them!

Home Coming

Two deaths….Two Journeys!

Two deaths 24 years apart, almost to the day, of my parents…

Two journeys— One—-In the physical realm, travelling twice to be at the side of my parents, to walk the final few steps on their last journeys on earth.

The second, a more profounder, inner journey. Can the deaths of our loved ones teach us anything about ourselves? Death, a subject most of us either avoid or fear, but exalted beings like the Dalai Lama consider a natural process. Can we attain the level of understanding of the Dalai Lama. Is it possible for us ordinary beings to reach the level of enlightenment of a Dalai Lama. How does one become strong enough to take it in ones strides as a matter of course?  Its a long and arduous journey, but if we believe in our own “Ruh”,”Inner Light”, “Atman”, “Buddha Nature” or “Christ Consciousness”, it is worth treading the path to realization and enlightenment.

If death is a natural process why does it cause such intense emotional pain? Why do we close our eyes when we have intense pain, physical or emotional?

If only we can keep our inner eye open despite our reaction to close our outer eyes and look closely at our thoughts, feelings and emotions that arise from the death of our loved ones, the very grief and pain we feel can teach us something about us and our relationships with others. It’s this inner journey to find “Home”, the inner peace and serenity that is harder.

Casting back my minds eye to 24 years ago, trying to recollect the thoughts, emotions and feelings of that first journey, brushing aside the cobwebs and dust under which I had buried them, trying to escape the reality and lead a normal life. Only scraps of memories resurface. Travelling with eager anticipation to a long awaited wedding, oblivious to the suffering of my dad, who I was aware was in hospital, fighting to stay alive, perhaps to be part of my happiness. How in our self absorption we ignore the obvious! A few alarms ringing in my mind on landing at the small airport and not being met  by the entire clan, which was the norm. The small talk of the few relatives who had come to get me, irritating me. Finally arrived to a mourning house, my dad having departed on his own journey to the nether world a day before. If only my request to travel a day earlier was not declined by the authorities in Saudi Arabia. Anger, guilt and  sense of utter dejection.

Mum was devastated. It is not easy to let go of a decades long relationship, which I felt was very close not withstanding the arguments and altercations which I had witnessed.

Marriage, under such circumstances? But does life stop or does it go on?

Anger at the unfairness of it all, at my dad for departing at such an inopportune time, God for playing dice with his life and my plans. Feelings of guilt at the anger. A turmoil of emotions, a larger than life dilemma!

Counselled by the patriarch of the family, my dad’s elder brother, a father figure to both my father and my mother; she was brought up by him and his wife(her elder sister). Grieving should be subdued and we have to accept Allah’s will. How we interpret religion to suit our thinking and  to meet our own needs! Where is the logic in the convoluted argument that if the wedding did not go ahead, it would tarnish the name of my bride to be? And what did I really want? To grieve properly or accept?

Capitulating-  To my own selfish desires or to the demands of culture and religion? I went through the motions. Normally weddings are joyous occasions. Some ceremonies, perhaps designed to break the barriers and boundaries between the two families, as marriages in India are not just between two individuals but two families. One particular ceremony on the eve of the main wedding day comes to mind. The bridegroom, while avoiding raps on his knuckles from slender sticks covered with flowers, wielded by his future sisters-in-law, has to break a pie and find a coin hidden in it. The tussle that ensues can be a lot of fun, but was it for me? My heart was not in it. A fear, an apprehension that having agreed to go ahead with the wedding and betrayed  my Dad’s memory and trampled on my Mum’s emotions, how could I be joyous and happy. The days that followed were a medley of sorrow and joy. Soon after two births in the family. More happiness, Life’s Roller Coaster goes on!

24 years riding on the roller coaster, peaks of joy, three kids of my own, troughs of misunderstandings and arguments. Did the circumstances of our wedding impact our later relationship or were the troughs  an outcome of our own inadequacies? We evolve with time and the experiences we go through. Becoming aware of our feelings, thoughts and emotions, owning up what is “Inside” is the only way we can evolve.
24 years and 4 days, once again on a plane. Yet another journey in the physical realm, to get a last glimpse of my dead mum’s face, to walk a few steps, to carry her, like she had carried me many times, years ago. A different person with different belief’s. Our beliefs are dynamic- an open mind, a non-judgmental attitude and a willingness to change is the only requisite.

If the first death was unexpected, untimely and unfair and the second half expected, at a ripe old age. Yet the loss was real and the grief was palpable. After all it was my mum who had birthed me, nourished me with her blood and milk and nurtured me and made me what I am today, that had passed away. Age and a quest to seek peace and find answers to the problems of life had taken me on different paths. Questioning some of my previous belief’s, discarding some and accepting answers that resonated with my own soul. What is religion? Why do we need a god? Is there a life after death?

Nine and half hours confined in a metal can 35,000 feet above Terra firma is a long time for contemplation and more so when there is sadness. Sleep was miles away from my eyes, even though I had hardly slept the previous night. Despite trying to meditate my mind was in a turmoil, buffeted by thoughts and fears. At such times most of us think of god! The marvels of technology, listening to the Quran, some soothing music and meditating.  The passages of Quran from the 30th chapter, in Sayyid Qutb’s words” Wake up! Look around you! Think! Reflect! There is god! There is planning, trial, liability, reckoning, reward, severe punishment and lasting bliss!” I needed a balm for my raw, gaping and bleeding wounds, not exhortations and warnings. Not a reminder of the reckoning at the end of life and the torture of hell! When grieving do we really want to be reminded about the judgement day and the torture of hell? These exhortations to do good deeds in this life for a reward of eternal life in the hereafter maybe better at other times but not when your heart is squeezed by the wet hand of grief.  So by  meditating, letting the clouds of thoughts pass by without judging them, listening to the inner silence which are the Sufi’s way, I finally was able to get a little bit of peace.

On arrival, a spanking new and bright airport, the early morning drive home, and the arrival home were less dramatic than the previous occasion. Mum lying inside a cool  box, serene and peaceful in her eternal sleep. This loss accepted more easily, perhaps  because of the circumstances of her death. I had visited her only three months earlier and had a premonition that she would not be with us for much longer. She seems to have come to terms with death after seeing me.

Is there life after death?

The belief that life ends with death is rather limiting . What can we make of the various near death experiences? The singular similarity of these experiences of a being of light give hope to many. The concepts of heaven and hell, karma and rebirth are all human attempts to fathom the unfathomable.  Even if as the atheists contend, we do not need a God to give us moral and ethical values, or we accept that we don’t need a designer to create the universe and it is all a culmination of random events, is it not a beautiful concept that there is a life after death. It is a comforting belief, a light at the end of the tunnel. A solace to an aching heart and a soothing of the jangled nerves of someone who has lost a dear one!

So both parents gone to the other realm. I am certain that their souls will meet as they are but parts of the same” One Soul” as we all are!

Life does not stop when we lose our beloveds, it goes on and it is a roller coaster. With all the troubles and tribulations we seek to evolve into human beings, don’t we?

Guilt, anger and turmoil of the first loss repressed and buried in the depths of the psyche. Years of struggle, periods of depression later, did the realization dawn that only conscious awareness of our thoughts and feelings and an examination of their causes is the only way to evolve, to accept loss and move on.

Death———-4 days——Marriage——2 Days——Death.

Bitter————————–Sweet—————————–Bitter

Life is the greatest teacher, especially the pain that wrings the heart and shatters it into a thousand pieces and each piece reflecting a part of our truth. Teaches us the duality of this dimension- The profane and the profound, the low and high, the mundane and the spiritual and the bitter with the sweet.

Sweet tastes even sweeter after tasting the bitter, try it for yourself if you wish. Would life be the same without the sweet and the bitter, without the highs and the lows?

We can only find peace when we can accept both these aspects as one. Then we would have evolved into “humane beings”!