Shivji, Are You Listening? – Signs From The Universe

There are times in life when things do not make sense. For a person of faith, it feels as if it’s a test of one’s faith. The horror of it might set in when one realizes that one just might not have enough faith in one’s Ishvara.

I used to have those ‘horror moments’ a lot. I used to get really anxious and pray for Ishvara to understand ‘my situation.’ The form of Ishvara that I continue to turn to most is that of Shivji. My prayers range from being thankful to being angry. Most of the time, my prayers are conversations with Shivji. Lately, I have been telling Him about my spiritual journey so far and the doubts that rise in my mind (as if He doesn’t know!).

Those who know me personally are well aware of my innate need to prove that my faith as a Hindu necessitates that I stand for social justice.  This is just how this works (for me). I am unsure why I am like that.  Even if He doesn’t respond as quickly as I would like, today I received signs from the Universe that Shivji is indeed listening.

For a variety of reasons, empowering women is very important to me. I recently had a conversation with a friend regarding this topic and ended up getting really frustrated towards society, including religious leaders, that treat women as second class citizens. I ended up venting this frustration out on my dad and said to him, “I am sure Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi would not discriminate.” Today, I reached the chapter titled ‘Liberation from Patriarchy’ in the book Hindu Theology of Liberation by Anantanand Rambachan.  Then as Shivji would have it – there is a quote from Bhagavan Maharshi in which He says:

“Since jnana (Knowledge) and mukti (Deliverance) do not differ with the difference of sex…[…] Her body is also the abode of God.” 

I was in tears. And to top it off, the local news radio station does a special section titled ‘Star Date’ which talks briefly about a particular topic in Astronomy. Now, again for those who know me, this is a big deal. Today’s section was on John Dobson – the amateur astronomer who developed his own patent telescope that came to be known as the Dobsonian telescope. The best part, for me,about this brief special (and something I didn’t know about Dobson) was that he was an ordained monk in the Vedanta Society!!! Vedanta!!!!  Saying I was elated is an understatement.

Getting confirmation to follow the path of faith-based social justice from the one whom I consider my Guru – Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi – and a confirmation to follow the path of scientifically-enriched Vedanta from the most popular amateur astronomer – John Dobson.  

I got you, Shivji. I know You are listening. 

Until next time,

Namaste

Happiness is your nature. It is not wrong to desire it.  What is wrong is seeking it outside when it is inside. – Sri Ramana Maharshi 

To Speak Or Not To Speak – Being a Minority – Generation 1.5

So, I was browsing through a news article online. One thing led to another and I ended up on YouTube, binge-watching A R Rahman songs. And of course, I ended up on Maa Tujhe Salaam. Now I cannot remember which particular link it was, but I ended up reading the comments section below the video [You know the part you sometimes regret reading].

The conversation revolved around immigrating to another country, feeling torn between wanting to belong to both and feeling left out from both countries. This is too real. As an Indian-born Canadian living the USA, I know what this feels like.

When I moved here as a teenager, I was old enough to have emotional attachment to people in India and the land itself. I was young enough to adapt to living in a new culture, a new society. I feel that I am not exactly first generation and definitely not second generation either. This is hard. I feel like I am Generation 1.5.

Some people on YouTube said that even though they try to get involved in their local communities and enjoy living here in USA, they feel that ‘others’ do not ‘completely accept’ them as ‘Americans.’ Many naturalized citizens tend to feel this way. Not to mention the highly negative reactions that exploded on social media when Nina Davuluri became Miss America 2014. 

One person went to the extent of saying : How can we expect to be accepted while the African-American community [whose presence in the USA precedes any other colored minority] are still struggling for acceptance? <– This really spoke to me. This is SO true.

As the country prepares for the presidential elections in 2016, will they show sensitivity towards the minorities who live in the American society as if it’s their own?

At the end of the day, every human is born with an innate need to belong. I know people don’t see me as Canadian and that I will always be the ‘Indian woman.’ I am perfectly okay with that. I do think that there is a lot of teaching and learning that needs to happen in the larger society so everyone can feel accepted, irrespective of which country they emigrated from.

I look forward to the day when people will not question the fact that India is indeed in Asia, whether I am Mexican or Indian or Pakistani and not doubt my English skills. And that one day, the answers to these questions won’t matter.

Until next time,

Namaste

Our hearts where they rocked our cradle, Our love where we spent our toil,
And our faith, and our hope, and our honor, We pledge to our native soil.
God gave all men all earth to love, But since our hearts are small,
Ordained for each one spot should prove Beloved over all.
~Rudyard Kipling

On this day…to the mothers

To the mothers.

First, the biological mother or the adoptive mother (The Mata, Maa, Mommy): the one who gives birth to you. She is the one who bring you in this world and looks after you until you no longer need her (or that’s what you think!)

Second, the Mother Land (The Matrubhoomi): the country, the land that you are born in; The one who gives you an identity beyond your family.

Next, the Adopted Land (The Karma bhoomi ): the one that you move to; the country where you live, earn and settle.

Finally, Mother Nature (The Shakti, The Creative Power of the Universe): the power, the energy that allows all of the above to exist in herself.

It’s such a big deal to be a mother: To be the one to conceive, to give birth, to create another life form. Inexplicable.

Appreciating parents is a major part of the Indian culture. How honestly are we doing so is something that is a debatable topic. Either way, hailing from this culture, I know what the status of biological parents is in a person’s life.

The idea of Matrubhoomi was introduced to me when I was a lot younger whilst watching Mahabharat on Doordarshan. A person owes loyalties, has a duty towards the land that he or she is born in. To me, this is India – Bharata, Hindustan.

The same is true for Karmabhoomi. One also has a duty towards the adopted land. Moving to another country has its perks. So if you intend to enjoy the perks, you should also make sure that a sense of duty is also involved. It is part of ethical living. To me, this is North America – I have deep ties with both Canada and United States of America.

And of course, there is Mother Nature. Most people think of Mother Nature when there are storms brewing or something out of human control occurs. When everything is running ‘normally’, no one seems to think about Her. It is not news how majorly humans have messed up this beautiful blue planet. I think it’s high time, we show some appreciation in this aspect as well.

Having said all of this, I don’t think just one day is enough to show a mother how appreciated she is. So make sure, the next time you see or think about any one of these mothers…say a little prayer of gratitude. She deserves it.

Happy Mother’s Day!!!

Original Post here

Being Broken-Hearted

Being heartbroken. Sounds familiar, right?

A life situation : She loves him, with every essence of her being. She believes he loves her the same.

“I’d never leave you.” He promised her. “I’d rather die.” He said.

He left – but did not die. 

Since then, she died a different death. 

A different life situation:

He had kept his promise to wait for her when she moves to his country. She said yes and married him. 65 years later, he died before her. 

She looked me in the eyes and said, “You know, I loved him with everything I am. Do you mind if I cry? I am so heart-broken right now.” 

My personal grief story : A heart-break that threw me into the deepest end of darkness I have ever known in my life. Being dumped, especially in a way that I was, has had major repercussions for me.

There was now suffering. A suffering that reflects a loss of meaning, a loss of purpose, a loss of hope and a loss of love.

A suffering that is so profound that it inhibits one’s ability to think clearly and to care for oneself. A suffering which questions why are you even alive without your loved one.

Thus, begins the journey through grief.

Until next time,

Namaste

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.  ~William Shakespeare

I Am My Parents’ Daughter

If you’re of South Asian community, then I am sure you’ve heard the following phrase said to you by some one at some point in your life in at least one South Asian regional language. The classic one that some parents of daughters tend to use. It goes : Yeh to mere bete jaisi hai [She is like a son to me] or Mere liye to bete se bhi badh kar hai [She is more than a son to me]

I understand the sentiment behind saying this. I get it. But what I don’t understand is the inherent hierarchy that these phrases seem to highlight. To me, these phrases tend to imply that if a daughter can do all the jobs/tasks/chores that a son is supposed to do then she is “like a son.” I object!

Clearly, that’s why I am writing this post. My parents, thankfully, have never used this phrase for me or my sister. They’ve raised us in a manner they think is the way in which daughters should be raised.

They’ve raised as family-oriented, culturally-aware, women who can think independently and sometimes tend to argue with the parents. Cliché much? I don’t think so.

My parents have not said to us : You cannot do this task/chore/job. Be it picking our college degree or shoveling snow. Be it assembling the oh-so-interesting Ikea furniture or driving solo through North America. Be it making concrete plans for the future or lack thereof. And most importantly (to me anyway) : Be it studying scriptures of the Hindu Dharma or questioning some traditions and practices of the culture.

I will never forget the day when I was offered the opportunity sign up for Clinical Pastoral Education and train as a Chaplain. My parents, who were just as clueless as I was at the time about this whole chaplaincy deal, did not say :We don’t know anything about this, so don’t do it.  Their actual response was : We don’t know anything about this but from what we are reading it sounds like a great way to be a Hindu. Go for it!

These are my parents. They’ve brought us up to believe in ourselves and supported us in ways I never thought possible. Their advice to us is clear – If you’re going to take up any type of commitment, make sure you give it your all and leave the rest to God.

My parents raised their daughters as daughters. They do not need to compare my life events, my achievements (or lack thereof) to anyone else. They realize, being strong people of faith themselves, that they give it all they knew in how to raise daughters and really, left the rest up to God.

We’ve had our share of friction. I think friction between parents and their children is probably inherent to the relationship. We do not always agree on issues or ways to do things. But we communicate clearly. If they’re not happy about something, they make it clear.

So why am I sharing this? I want to be seen as who I am. A woman. A woman is amazing not because she can do/act/achieve just like a man. A man’s achievement is not a standard or a bench mark for a woman. I do not want to have to be compared to a man. ‘Cos frankly, ain’t nobody got time for that!

I am my parents’ daughter. And proud to be one.

Until next time,

Namaste

Do you not know I am a woman? When I think, I must speak. ~William Shakespeare, As You Like It

The Power of Personal Story-telling

One of the most amazing aspect of being a chaplain is the opportunity to hear people share their stories. It does not cease to amaze me every time someone shares something so personal, so emotional and so moving. There are lessons in these stories – for both the story-teller as well as the listener.

People share stories for a variety of reasons. Some share truly personal experiences where as some choose to share a third-party version of a story. When I say story, I do not mean something fictional. By saying ‘story’, I mean a personal experience that a person can recall and share in as much or as little detail. The details that we as chaplains listen for are expressed through feelings and emotions or even lack thereof.

I have learned over time that every time we share an incident or experience with another, we pick and choose how we phrase things. This can be an indicator of where a person is emotionally in dealing with that particular event.

There are so many powerful stories I have heard are the ones where the story-teller is the person thriving after experiencing a horrific loss or been a victim of an atrociously abusive relationship or experienced racism, religious prejudice, human trafficking and so on. These are major social justice issues – issues that should not have a spot in the 21st Century. Nevertheless, these are the times we live in.

When individuals share their story of surviving and eventually thriving after going through a terrible event/incident in their personal life, they create a brilliant space to inspire others to rise against atrocities, just as they did. All that is truly needed to start a movement is for one person to stand up and say – It cannot go on like this anymore. That moment, that clarity brings with it immense courage. And that courage is what inspires a positive change.

Until next time,

Namaste.

You are never alone or helpless. The force that guides the stars, guides you too. ~Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar

It’s 2015. Innit?

It’s January 26th, again. I always amaze myself at how quickly time flies by and I am left wondering where did all the time go?

It’s not as if we haven’t paid attention to the dates and all but there are some feelings that seem to have stayed, irrespective of how much time has gone by. It’s India’s 66th Republic Day today. I stayed up late last night watching the parade live on TV. It’s an annual tradition but this time was even better because our current US President, Barrack Obama, was the guest of honor (a huge first in itself).

January 26 has a separate anniversary personally too and just found out today that is also Michigan’s birthday! Special date, indeed.

I hope to write more often. I was going through my archives and I realized I’ve been blogging off and on for nearly a decade now. I did have a blog before that I did not save. So technically, over a decade of blogging had I saved my first one.

There’s so much happening both professionally and globally. I realize that it’s time to put in more effort to get these words out.

Chaplaincy is going well and God-willing, it will only get better. There is a huge list of events/incidents, since my last blog post, that need to be committed to memory through writing them down. I intend to do just that.

More updates later.

Namaste.

“Reach high, for stars lie hidden in you. Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal.”
― Rabindranath Tagore

For the love of the world…

This past week has been filled with a lot of emotions related to the Delhi Rape Case and as of today, Shooting at Navy Yard. The presence of just senseless violence really does affect thoughts about every day ‘normal’ life.

My thoughts and emotions on these maybe in a different post on different day.

For now, here’s a poem that I had saved for personal reference : For Love of the World by Charlotte Tall Mountain. (No copyright infringement intended. More info on the author and source here)

This poem speaks to me about the power of a woman – something that society appears to ignore.  Revisiting this poem brings me some measure of empowerment. Hope it does the same for other readers.

For Love of the World
by Charlotte Tall Mountain

For the love of a tree,
she went out on a limb.

For the love of the sea,
she rocked the boat.

For the love of the earth,
she dug deeper.

For the love of community,
she mended fences.

For the love of the stars,
she let her light shine.

For the love of spirit,
she nurtured her soul.

For the love of a good time,
she sowed seeds of happiness.

For the love of the Goddess,
she drew down the moon.

For the love of nature,
she made compost.

For the love of a good meal,
she gave thanks.

For the love of family,
she reconciled differences.

For the love of creativity,
she entertained new possibilities.

For the love of her enemies,
she suspended judgment.

For the love of herself,
she acknowledged her worth.

And the world was richer for her.

Until next time,

Namaste

The horror of being a woman in India…

Today is the day that the country that I consider to be the spiritual center of my world let its women die in the hands of idiocy,cowardly,heinous savages and demons.

I AM SO ANGRY!!!!!!!! SO SO ANGRY!!

India, you let me down BIG TIME. India, you took away my pride in being able to defend you in front of non-Indians. India, my head has hung low in shame, sheer embarrassment. India, you took away my pride in cheering for you on an international stage.

I no longer see a point in trying to explain to the people who run the country why it is imperative that a woman should be protected on every level, in every street of the country. Why? ‘Cos they’re thick-headed. They just DON’T GET IT!

My defenses used to come right out whenever someone said anything against India. Not anymore. Now, I will think and rethink a thousand times before saying something in India’s favor.

You know, while I write this, I erased a sentence. It was to say, “India and her people…” but I stopped. It says, India and HER people. It’s a female reference. Geez, I am afraid they are going to rape the country. No, wait, it’s already raped every day. Every single day.

I am sorry, India. I am so very sorry. I feel like I am grieving and mourning the death of my pride in my country of birth.

Today, I am in tears. I am crying so hard. Not only because, the Delhi Gang rape victim died, but also because I realized my sense of security in my country, my beloved country of birth died with it.

Today, I mourn. Yes, still and always, my motherland. I am sorry, Mother. I truly am sorry.

Merry Christmas!

With so many atrocities going on around the world, it’s difficult to remain unaffected. There’s only so much one can avoid listening to the news or reading something on the internet that will not refer somehow to the ongoing events around the world.

The challenge then becomes to not become angry or upset or worse, hopeless.

It’s so hard to not get upset when a 20-year old man kills 27 people out of which 20 are 6 or 7 year old children. Details here. How can I not be upset?

It’s so hard to not be angry when a young medical student is gang-raped ruthlessly, in the most monstrous manner and thrown out of a moving bus in the capital city of the world’s largest democracy. Details here. How can I not be angry?

I realize a single person cannot change the whole world. The only world I can change is the one I create for myself and everyone around me. It took a lot of talking, and arguing whenever any of these topics came up. It’s personal. How can it not be personal? Am I not human? Are these people not human?

What did I do to remain hopeful and to not lose faith? Something absolutely ridiculously obvious. I went out to the mall on the last Sunday before Christmas. Yes, there was absolutely no place to park and the mall was uber packed with people. People rushing last minute to get their shopping done, kids playing in the small play area carelessly, and some more kids and adults waited in line to take pictures with mall Santa Claus.

As I stood there observing, I felt joy within myself. The smiles that the mall Santa Claus brought on the children’s faces was overwhelming. I let myself get drenched in the excitement that resonated throughout the mall. It was necessary for my own sake.

I walked out from the mall (yes, I did cave in and shopped a bit) with a much lighter heart.

It’s Christmas time. One of the best times of the year in North America.

I will pray. I will hope for a miracle. I will keep the faith. And I urge you to do the same.

Merry Christmas!

Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. ~ Luke 17:21