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 

Native Languages and Communication – The Spiritual Need to Belong

During my very first unit of clinical training, we were taught about the spiritual needs that are part of being human. One of them is the need to belong – Of belonging to something, to someone, to a community, to a nation, to the Universe. And of course, the sense of belonging and what it looks or feels like is different for each individual.

As the clinical training is geared towards exposing oneself to one’s own self, I went through (at times voluntarily, most times involuntarily) the journey to explore my sense of belonging. What makes me feel that I belong?

I began to walk this path and began to pay attention to what made me feel comfortable. To do this, I had to think of what made me feel uncomfortable. How did I express myself? This led me to really realize for myself that I enjoy talking. A lot. Even though I talk to a lot of people on an everyday basis, I felt something amiss. 

When I brought this to the attention of my supervisor, he insisted that I explore this more. While this is in no way a comprehensive list of my feelings, here’s what I discovered for myself: 

The last two years have highlighted major personal losses for me. It’s been very hard to realize that two people I was very close will no longer be a part of my everyday life. It’s been very hard to realize that I can no longer pick up the phone and talk and share my love for the latest Hindi song or a beautiful piece of writing in Hindi or Gujarati or the most random thing that happened at work today. Of course, I continue to miss their presence in my life but, thanks to CPE (sigh!), I’ve had to explore this further.

I miss talking in my native languages (Gujarati and Hindi). I miss having friends my age with whom I could converse any time of the day about anything in my language. I miss sharing my emotions through Hindi songs and knowing that the person will understand. I still do this with my family but I do not have anyone outside my home that I can share my time with.

I realized how much I love my native languages. Someone shared this video by Patricia Ryan (a long time English teacher) titled ‘Don’t insist on English’ on Facebook. I was in tears as I watched this video because I realize the importance of being able to communicate in my own language. I also realize that everything that Patricia Ryan states in this video is very true. A quick example was when I talked about puya in my theological reflection paper. I realized that there is no English word for it. Puṇya is a concept that does not really have an exact word in English. The explanation turned into a paragraph. 

This is just one word. The thought about how many world languages currently exist and how many concepts cannot be translated in to English really boggles my mind.

Yes, I am very aware that I live in North America. Yes, I have friends who are not Indian and do not speak Indian languages and I do love them. But, as my supervisor insisted me to explore, I am finding out that this is a huge piece of my sense of being that I miss in my daily life. At times, I think it feels like limited living. How can I even translate the Hindi lyrics of a Gulzar song or a poem in Gujarati by Narsinh Mehta to English and still expect that its soul remains intact?

This realization helped me see that there are so many instances in my daily life that innately feel as if I do not belong. A reason why I just cannot relate to certain type of music or writing or conversation.

So, how does this translate to caregiving as a chaplain? 

  • A person’s native language is important. The language brings with it a sense of our-ness, a familiarity, and yes, a sense of belonging. This helps me understand the limited conversations with a patient whose first language is not English and the unlimited talks with a patient who speaks a mutual language.
  • It makes me aware that I need to find more language appropriate resources as I am able to ensure that my caregiving can be as rounded as possible.
  • It brings me to realization that I may not always come close to helping a person feel that they belong but at least I can relate to the person in knowing how it feels to not belong. 
  • It shows how much a language impacts perception. For example – the anger and rude behavior from some English speakers towards people conversing in their native language amongst themselves. The angry response is probably due to a heightened sense of not belonging, not knowing. And we know, not knowing is scary. Right?
  • It reminds me how important and vast the need is for native languages speakers, especially as it relates to the larger South Asian community who predominantly speak Hindu/Urdu, Gujarati, Punjabi, Tamil, Bengali and other major languages as spoken in the Indian subcontinent.
  • Another reminder that grieving is complex. Grief is complex.

Losing someone (in any way or form) has many layers of feelings and emotions attached to it. It is very painful. It is very hard. And most of all, it is very lonely. Being able to truly communicate all of those things is definitely the first step towards accepting this loss. 

My question to you : What does belonging look like for you? Let me know.

Until next time,

Namaste

One can translate an editorial but not a poem. For one can go across the border naked but not without one’s skin; for, unlike clothes, one cannot get a new skin. ~Karl Kraus, translated from German by Harry Zohn

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

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