Thank you for sharing…

Chaplaincy has made me more resilient than I used to be – that’s what I think. I used to tear up easily but now, not so much. This should not be misunderstood as if I have become insensitive. I think it is the opposite. I am continually learning to be more present, more attentive, more aware of the feelings (said and unsaid) of those I serve and of course, those who I spend time with. I think it is also because I have learned to find comfort and strength in most cases.

I have tried to keep my thoughts to myself regarding everything around the world. I did not realize how much I was holding in until after the interfaith vigil I attended tonight in honor of those who were murdered by those who hate intentionally. We were walking out of the synagogue when one of the congregants stopped us and said, “Thank you for sharing the burden.”

I could feel my eyes well up with tears and all I could muster to say was, “of course.”

That is ALL I could say. Tears started flowing as we walked to the car. I did not realize how heavy my heart felt. Grief is Grief is Grief.

I am taking this time to thank everyone who has ever listened to me, showed up for me and continues to support me. I also want to thank everyone who goes out of their way to be there for others – no matter who the other is.

Thank you for sharing the burden.

For those who still cannot make up their mind : Show up or Stop talking.

Until next time,

Namaste

“No civilized society can thrive upon victims, whose humanity has been permanently mutilated.” – Rabindranath Tagore 

Freedom To Express Oneself…

There have been such huge gaps in my blog updates – it’s embarrassing. Honestly, the last few months have been a rollercoaster ride. After coming back from vacationing in India, we were thrust right into the routine of our everyday lives. But is there such a thing as routine in the work life of a professional chaplain?

So much has happened in the last few months both at work and personally. There is plenty to reflect upon and each of the major events in the last few months will be shared in future posts. But for now, I am reflecting on the freedom to express oneself. Apt, I reckon, since it is India’s 72nd Independence Day today.

The world of clinical chaplaincy is so fascinating. I’ve been getting to experience what it is like to be the family of a patient due to hospitalizations of a very close family member. It has pushed me more to reflect on how I felt being in a hospital in a state that I am not familiar with and supported by those who I rely on most for strength and comfort.

Does everyone have the freedom to reach out to those who are a source of strength and comfort for them? Is it possible for loved ones to always be there? Is it not gut-wrenchingly difficult to leave a loved one in the hospital overnight? And in some cases, add on a layer of a language barrier. Can you imagine what it feels like to be them?

In a world full of evidence-based outcomes, how do I ‘show’ what it feels like when my loved one is intubated? How do I ‘show’ the sense of freedom that comes with being to express one’s concerns in a language that is understood by both the care-giver and the care-receiver?

So many questions – some rhetorical of course.

Freedom to express – a beautiful thing nevertheless.

Until next time,

Namaste

“If I can’t make it through one door, I’ll go through another door- or i’ll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present.” ~Rabindranath Tagore

 

Let’s Talk – Organ Donation

One of the most gratifying aspects of hospital chaplaincy is being able to witness how families come together in support of their loved one’s wishes – even if it means going against what they would have wanted for their loved one.

Organ donation is a major, albeit sensitive, topic in a hospital setting. Generally, it has not been a major topic of conversations among families and friends since frankly, it isn’t exactly a fun talk. As a hospital chaplain, I get a chance to walk through with patients and families after they have made a decision to donate organs. The entire process is so profound. Receiving feedback on how many people were helped through donation is even more gratifying, especially for those loved ones left behind.

So what does Hinduism have to say about organ donation? Hindus agree that the body is the temporary carrier for the soul and the soul is a priority. Thus, the attachment to the human body is to be negligible, especially at the time of death. With this belief process, the willingness to donate organs is more understandable. Having said that, the ultimate decision is made by the individual and/or their next of kin. Since Hinduism is such an open source faith tradition, Hinduism Today  has some articles that briefly touch upon different perspectives on organ donation.

There is a lot of work ongoing to promote awareness regarding the need for more organ donors, especially those of Asian, South Asian origin. There is a dire need both here in the USA as well as India. There are some fantastic informercials that are being aired and circulated both on television and on social media. Here’s a link to one from Fortis Healthcare:

 

If possible, please agree to donate.

Until next time,

Namaste

Who am I? Not the body, because it is decaying; not the mind, because the brain will decay with the body; not the personality, nor the emotions, for these also will vanish with death. ~ Ramana Maharshi

Taking A Stand For Dharma And The Need For The Rise of Arjuna(s)

One of the best times of year for me as I’ve mentioned before is the month of Shravan. The entire month is filled with daily devotions entwined with deep significance. Then there’s Rakshabandhan and Janmashtami that fall during the month of Shravan as well.

This Janmashtami, like most years, we went to the local Hindu temple and joined the rest of the community in devotional chants as we awaited the birth of Krishna. There is so much beauty in chanting together with everyone. There are so many emotions as one loses oneself in the rhythm of the tabla and the words of the bhajan. The tempo keeps rising and the prayer hall is filled with a multitude of tones all unified in the chant – as the clock struck midnight – Nand Gher Aanand Bhayo, Jai Kanhaiya Lal Ki. My eyes teared up with emotion and suddenly, my mind began to recite the following verse:

यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत । अभ्युत्थानमधर्मस्य तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम् ॥४-७॥

Whenever a decrease of righteousness [Dharma] exists, Arjuna, And there is a rising up of unrighteousness [Adharma] , Then I manifest Myself.

परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम् । धर्मसंस्थापनार्थाय सम्भवामि युगे युगे ॥४-८॥

For the protection of the good and the destruction of evildoers, For the sake of establishing righteousness [Dharma] , I am born in every age.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4, Verses: 7-8

My mind fresh with the news of latest atrocities over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, I found myself saying out loud, “Yes, Krishna – this is the time to manifest. We need you now more than ever. There’s so much discrimination and hate right now – we need you now.” And just as I finished saying it, a response in my mind answered, “Then, Uttishtha, Arjuna. I am here. Rise now, and carry forward Dharma.” [For a fabulous explanation of what Dharma means, please refer to this video and listen to it in its entirety. Please!]

I was now seriously freaked out. What was happening? Why was my mind playing these games with me? WHO is talking inside my head? I thought I am really truly exhausted physically and this inner conversation was proof I needed to get some rest. But I could not shake off the feeling. I could not deny the truth, the fact I was being asked to face now – Stand up, Shama. Take a public stand against discrimination, racism, hatred and bigotry. Stand up, as Dharma would expect you to do.

Those near to me and the ones I engage with in real life already know my stand on hatred and bigotry. But I realize that I represent much more than myself. It is time to take a stand as being Dharmic, to take a stand for nonviolence, acceptance, compassion, pluralism and respect for everyone and everything. Always.

So why now? The answer came : Why not now?

Why me?  The answer came : Why not me?

Sri Krishna says in the Gita, as referenced above, that He manifests Himself. In the Mahabharata, Sri Krishna could have easily said, “Alright, everyone. Here, Arjuna, hold the reigns of the horses, manage the chariot. I got this!” But that is not what happens. Had Sri Krishna wanted to do so, could He not have easily managed to? If He did, how would we learn what it means to follow and uphold Dharma?

What does Sri Krishna do instead? He talks to Arjuna, shows him the path to follow Dharma, to uphold Dharma. Yes, Sri Krishna manifests, but not to fight the battles for you. Instead He is the underlying, constant, uplifting, guiding Presence that nudges you forward. Uttishtha, Arjuna – Go ahead, you’ve got this. Follow Dharma. You’ve got this.

So that night at the temple when I ‘heard’ Uttishtha, Arjuna – it was for me and all the Arjunas today. Rise. The World needs you to step up and rise. I am claiming this now once and for always. As a Hindu woman of Indian origin, I stand with all people of color, for all indigenous peoples, for all those who feel that they have no voice, for all species. I stand FOR nonviolence, acceptance, compassion, pluralism and respect for everyone and everything. Always.

Until next time,

Namaste

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. ~ Rev. Desmond Tutu

Therapeutic Music – A Gentle Reminder

Those who know me personally are very well aware of my love for music. I inherited this love from my parents. Growing up, I had the honor to spend a few years learning Hindustani Classical music – the tabla, the shehnai, the santoor and the sitar – all these instruments and more hold a very special place in my heart.

To me, music has always been therapeutic. I have turned to music in personal moments of deepest despair as well as overflowing joy. My favorite genres continue to be folk music, Hindustani classical music, Hindi music and so on. Ever since I started working at the hospital, I got to experience a new dimension of music that is played in the background for those, but not limited to,  near end of life with the intention of having a calming effect. This explanation is very basic.

There are many sites that go into a lot of detail about music therapy and therapeutic music.The following definition is from the site MusicTherapy.org, 

“Therapeutic music is music that helps the process of healing and supports movement towards health. The World Health Organization defines health as: “…a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Therapeutic music supports health and the process of healing primarily through the principles of resonance and entrainment, in which the individual is supported by the elements of music: rhythm, harmony, melody and tonal color.”

I’ve experienced the wonders music creates in multiple patients and family encounters. It got extremely personal when my grandfather was in critical care recently. I was sitting in the patient room with my grandmother who was completely stressed out with granddad’s hospitalization. We sat in silence for most of the time except for the constant beeping of machines – something that I’ve gotten used to through working at the hospital. Suddenly, my grandma remarked, “Shama, where is that music coming from?” I turned around to notice the TV was on in the room and was playing calming therapeutic music. After I explained the source and the purpose, she smiled and said, “That’s such a wonderful thing to do.”

I was amazed at how, despite of the stress on her mind, my grandma noticed the soft music in the background and how it brought a smile to her face. In that moment, I felt that something beyond what I could see or hear was manifesting. I will never forget that moment. Maybe that is why I am writing about it –  I do not want to forget that moment.

Music has an ethereal quality about it. I feel bad that I am not able to play any instrument well enough. Maybe I’ll add that to my bucket list.

Until next time,

Namaste

“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!” ~J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, 1997

Celebrating The Month of Shravan

It is that time of the year – the auspicious month of Shravan when Lord Shiva is worshipped in all His glory. Those who have been following my blog for a while, especially those who know me personally, are well aware of the significance of Shiva in my life.

I have been fasting during the month of Shravan for 20 years now. This is my 20th year!! Many Hindus fast during this month and for multiple reasons. I have never really paid attention to why I fast. I guess I feel more grounded when I fast weekly on Mondays and especially so during the month of Shravan. It brings personal and mental comfort to me. It enhances my sense of belonging to the Divine.

As Monday dawned, I woke up in the morning with multiple topics on my mind and some intentions. I am hoping to be more disciplined in the study of Hindu scriptures. That is my goal for this month. I am hoping to make lifestyle changes to be more fit, to be more disciplined and to be more goal-oriented – both personal and professional.  I am also looking to volunteer more. BCC

Having said that, Shivji definitely had an awesome plan for me on Day 1 of Shravan 2017. After 10 months of clearing my interview I finally finally finally received my Certificate attesting to me being a Board Certified Chaplain through the Association of Professional Chaplains. I am aware that I talk about becoming Board Certified a lot but that is because I am still so much in awe of how life unfolds.

What an incredible sign from The Universe – once again reiterating that the ultimate purpose of my life continues to be through walking the path of Clinical Chaplaincy.

I am not completely sure what the future holds, but for now – at this very moment – it feels fantastic.

May you and yours have a fabulous month of Shravan! May you all always be surrounded in Ishwara Kripa!!

Until next time,

Namaste

The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens. – Rainer Maria Rilke

Shubh Guru Purnima!!

Guru Purnima – The full moon day in the Hindu month of Ashadh – is designated to honor one’s Guru, Spiritual Teacher. While I am not formally initiated into any Guru-Shishya tradition, Pujya Swami Dayanand Saraswatiji (Arsha Vidya Gurukulam), Swamini Svatmavidyanandaji (Asha Vijnana Gurukulam), Pujya Swami Chinmayanandaji (Chinmaya Mission) and their teachings continue to inform my spiritual formation.

I do think it makes a huge difference in having found a spiritual alignment. What is even more important, in my opinion, is allowing for that alignment to happen organically. We seek and seek, but the alignment happens when it is meant to and with a path that may or may not have been on the path we had initially been seeking. Personally, it all came together for me when I was introduced to the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi by my dad.  Bhagavan Maharshi did not have any initiated disciples.

In his article on Guru Purnima, Dr. David Frawley writes: “The true guru is a position of spiritual guidance, the illuminating presence of a higher awareness. The guru is not limited to any physical person, however exalted he or she may be.

The guru is an inner institution, an authority rooted in an experiential wisdom, not in any mere human convention. The guru works to awaken us to our own Divine potential beyond the limitations of time and space, fear or desire.

Great souls who hold the position of the guru have a special honour and immense responsibility that can only be served in a selfless manner. The true guru is not conscious of being a guru to others, but of simply sharing the light of truth to dispel the darkness of ignorance.

The guru is a powerful conduit to the universal flow of knowledge. As such, there is only one true guru in all gurus. The guru is the guiding intelligence of the universal and eternal dharma that assumes many names and forms.

The importance of having a guru resides in being able to connect with the transcendent realm through a human representative. We should emphasise the guru’s teachings, rather focusing on outer appearances.

It is the ability to surrender the human mind and its opinions that makes for a true guru. The true guru teaches a path of self-realisation, giving us back our own true nature, not making us weak or dependent.” 

All of this and more, I continue to encounter on this spiritual journey – the opportunity to visit Tiruvannamalai, to witness the Arunachala Hill, to feel the powerful presence of Divinity in Sri Ramanasramam – all coming a full circle back to the starting point of my spiritual journey in my current physical birth. How incredibly amazing is that?

I continue to be in awe of Sri Ramana Maharshi – a mere glance at his image has an immediate calming effect on my mental noise. On this Guru Purnima, I continue to seek his guidance and Divine Krupa in everything I am.

To Shiva, The Adi Guru ; To Sri Ramana Maharshi ; To Arunachala ; To every single person who has been a Guru to me (willingly or otherwise) ; To Life 

May the Grace of The Guru continue to bless your being…
|| Shubh Guru Purnima ||

Until next time,

Namaste

अज्ञानतिमिरान्धस्य ज्ञानाञ्जनशालाकया ।
चक्षुरुन्मीलितं येन तस्मै श्रीगुरवे नम:

Agyan timir-andhasya Gyananjan Shalakaya.
Chakshur-oonmeelitam yena tasmai Shri Gurave Namah.

My Salutations to that reverential teacher, who opened my eyes, by applying the divine collyrium of self-knowledge in my eyes, which had been blinded by the cataract of ignorance. 

Revisiting Gauri Vrat And A Renewed Appreciation For Rituals

Today, I’ve been reflecting on a phase of my life growing up in India. When I was much younger growing up in Gujarat, my sister and I used to observe the annual Gauri Vrat. The Gauri Vrat this year starts today July 4 till July 9, 2017. This particular vrat (fasting with intention) is predominantly observed in Gujarat by unmarried girls and is dedicated to Goddess Parvati (the female Divine – Shakti). The vrat lasts five days and is intentionally observed for one to be blessed with an ideal husband and to bring prosperity in the family.

It was really fun to observe the fast – the highlight of it being the early morning trips to the Shiva-Parvati mandir before school, puja rituals where we grew small crops [multiple mixed grain seeds such as wheat, barley] in a small mud basket that looked something like this:

DSC03336  [Photo Credit]

The end to the fast was indicated by all girl friends getting together and pulling an all-nighter, sharing stories, dreams and visions for our future. The vrat was to be observed annually for 5 years or 7 years which we were able to complete successfully. My sister and I just started talking about our memories of fasting earlier this evening and hysterically laughing at some of the antics. Back then, boys in our school had a blast teasing girls about wanting an ideal husband but more about all the food we could not eat. Definitely some good memories.

Well, the fact that I am unmarried and as single as can be, I am left to wonder about such rituals. But then, the fact is to do rituals with unwavering faith – Śraddhā. When we did the vrat rituals at the temple, we are constantly asked to have faith. And that is what keeps everything in perspective.

Some years ago I had moved away from rituals as I studied Advaita Vedanta and thought it was unnecessary to participate in rituals because all that is, is Brahman. But then the more I studied Vedanta, the more rituals began to make sense and most of all their importance in developing and maintaining a focus on Brahman. I now have a renewed appreciation for religious rituals.

As the month of Shravan is around the corner, I am hoping to be more intentional in my fasts and ritualistic worship of Shivji. In words of Shri Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi, everything will always be through Isvara Krupa [Divine Grace].

Until next time,

Namaste

“Know that the eradication of the identification with the body is charity, spiritual austerity and ritual sacrifice; it is virtue, divine union and devotion; it is heaven, wealth, peace and truth; it is grace; it is the state of divine silence; it is the deathless death; it is jnana, renunciation, final liberation and bliss.” – Shri Ramana Maharshi

You Are Here…Now

I love the universe – and everything in it. I truly just do. Those who know me are very well aware of my love for the starry night sky. 2017 has already been filled with a lunar eclipse, a solar eclipse, a comet sighting and the discovery of seven exoplanets only 40 light years away! Also, Indian Space Research Organization launched 104 satellites in one go. One hundred and four satellites!!

you_are_here

Perspective  (photo credit)

Though visibility was questionable in my geographical area, the possibility of being able to see a comet was too tempting to ignore. I did try to look for comet 45P but was unable to do see it. I am not disappointed because it reminded me again of my deep love for astronomy and astrophysics. It was timely too.

Being reminded that I am part of something much bigger and more intelligent than humans continues to be comforting. Time and again, star-gazing puts life in perspective for me. Be it a rough day at work or a personal disappointment, a glance at the moon reminds me of the Higher Intelligence continues to encourage me to Be. Here. Now.

Until next time,

Namaste

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures. It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers. It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death, in ebb and in flow. I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.  – Rabindranath Tagore

 

I am a Board Certified Chaplain!!!

During the last week of September 2016 on a windy day in the windy city, I dressed up to go and meet my Board Certifying committee. I was nervous. Very nervous. A lot had gone into the journey leading up that day. A lot of tears, a lot of random bursts of laughter and lots and lots of writing.

Here I was walking up to this glass building giving out vibes of corporate environment through and through. I touched my parents’ feet before I entered the building. And towards the end of the interview, I was told:

“We would like to say – Congratulations, Shama. We are recommending you for Board Certification through the Association of Professional Chaplains.”

I’ve been wondering how to express my feelings over becoming a Board Certified Chaplain.

Should I talk about the rush of emotions I felt when the committee said that they will be recommending you for Board Certification or when I finally got THE letter informing me that recommendation has been ratified and that I can use the initials B.C.C. after my name?

Or should I recount the numerous obstacles I had to overcome to even be eligible to appear in front of the committee? The amount of times I broke down and cried my eyes out because a particular hurdle just appeared to be too big to clear? Or the times when I was completely disillusioned?

Should I talk about the times I practiced introducing myself? Board Certified Chaplain of the Hindu faith? Board Certified Hindu Chaplain?

I have been really excited. But repeatedly, my heart keeps circling around one emotion: gratitude. I am so very grateful for every single person who stood by me from the very start of the chaplaincy journey to Board Certification. My family. My friends. My educators – formal and informal.

To those that understood exactly what this is about. To those who were clueless but supported me anyway. To the ones I get to serve. The lessons I continue to learn. The amazing people I have met and continue to meet as I choose to walk this path more consciously. To learning to recognize the Divine handiwork.

To my Gurus.To Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi. To Shivji.  To learning that it is all Brahman.

The adventure has only just begun…

Until next time,

Namaste

Your right is to action alone; Never to its fruits at any time. Never should the fruits of action be your motive; Never let there be attachment to inaction in you. – The Bhagavad Gita 2:47