On Diwali: Glorious, Magical, Bittersweet


Only the best restaurant I've ever eaten at in Bangalore.

Only the best restaurant I’ve ever eaten at in Bangalore.

It’s Diwali, and with that comes so much light and love and happiness for me as a Hindu. I continually learn about elements of my faith with each passing holiday, so I always have a hard time explaining Diwali to other people, but the most beautiful thing for me about Hinduism is that I feel it deep in my soul. I understand it there first, and then in my head. That doesn’t always sit well with others, but its what makes Hinduism mine. It’s why I am Hindu and not Jain or Sikh or Muslim or Jewish or anything else. I am inherently Hindu, deep through my core, and it bursts out of me in the most glorious ways. I am a human representation of the physical aspect of Diwali.

I am drawn, like that cliche moth to its mother flame, toward the light and love that Diwali represents, both in the material and spiritual worlds. But as I celebrate, I miss my mother. I miss India. I miss my spirit’s home. Hinduism and India, in my heart, are one.

So many things have reminded me of Bangalore this past week, even before I began celebrating the festival of light. My roommate bought a new hand soap that I’d used while I was in Bangalore, and every time I wash my hands I feel like crying a little as the scent reminds me of my time there. I watched a few videos of people celebrating Diwali in New Delhi and Bombay and once again felt like crying as I saw the trees wrapped in the most fluorescent lights known to mankind. I miss seeing those everywhere at night, simultaneously blinding and entrancing me. When I was in Bangalore, those lights comforted me even as I felt like dying from E. coli or homesickness for America, and remembering that they exist makes me want to jump aboard the nearest plane and endure 20 hours of air travel just so I can see them again.

India is magic. I miss the old men, laughing louder than I’d ever heard anyone laugh before, burping after they ate a good meal, looking at me like I was just a silly child when I got confused about directions. I miss rickshaws, those sassy little vehicles that simultaneously inspired terror and joy as they careened throughout the narrow side-streets. I miss women touching my blonde hair and telling me I was so tall. Mangoes. Everyone laughing at me. With me.

But in the same breath that I call India magical, I must also call it devastating. The duality of India is not lost on me: rich and poor living directly next to each other. Beggar children with no shoes standing atop piles of trash. Cattle wandering aimlessly, without owners or protection. Wild dogs, all of them with at least one injured limb, begging for food. Rabid. Begging. India begs, often without pride or ego, with the most desperate voice. It’s not something anyone can easily forget or ignore.

But it’s like a lover you can never leave behind. India. She appears in my dreams, calling out, begging me to return. And oh god, I would oblige if I only could. I don’t think I’d ever wept before, but I weep now for my companion. India is a physical representation of my god, my religion, the spirituality I feel deep within. And I need her now more than ever.

Diwali is glorious, shining, happy. I will celebrate and pray and love, of course, because this holiday is perfect. But this year, it is also tinged with sadness as I experience a longing for the home I never truly grew up in, wishing teleportation would hurry up and invent itself, because I’m homesick.

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God Bless You All (Day 3)


Religion in India is a way of life, and the people here practice it with an intensity I’ve never experienced before in America. We went to a Catholic cathedral today and I was almost in tears because everyone there was so focused on their devotion. It was a truly beautiful thing to see. The churches are crowded at every moment of the day, and people sit in silence in front of the many statues, often touching Jesus’ feet or holding their hands toward Mary. These people seemed happy to see us in their place of worship — at first some of us worried we would be obtrusive or invading their sacred space, but when an old man came over and said kindly, “God bless you all” I felt like he truly meant it…it came from his heart. We took our shoes off at one area of the church where people were sitting on the floor praying in front of statues. I want to capture the beauty of these moments better but I realize I’m failing. Honestly, it was one of the most moving experiences of my life, and it had nothing to do with Jesus or Mary or the church’s beauty. It was all because these people feel their religion so deeply, so wholly, that I couldn’t help but feel it too.

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We went to a Sikh Gurdwara later in the day, where we removed our shoes, washed our feet, and covered our heads before entering. The women sit at one side and the men at the other, and we sat on the floor for most of the time. I wasn’t sure exactly what was happening at first, but I realized the man and woman at the front were wearing clothes of matching fabrics and…we’d stumbled into a wedding ceremony. We were welcomed warmly by everyone, and were given some sort of food at the end of the ceremony which I still can’t really identify, but it was a paste of some kind and tasted amazing. I seriously have no idea what was going on that whole time, but I felt a lovely calm in the room. Everything was so bright and beautiful — the gold, the chandeliers, the light, the people. I’ve learned more and connected more by silently observing for the past few days than I ever did back at home blabbering away with other people.

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What I’ve found most of all is that religion is most people’s support system in this country. When you’re born into a religion, you form bonds with the other people at your temple/church/mosque and are supported for life. If you need food, you receive food. If you need help paying for school, you receive help. If you need a place to stay in another city, often the temple/church/mosque will provide it for free or at little cost. And these people spend an amazing amount of time at their places of worship. We’re lucky in America if people make it to church once a week for an hour, but these people come for hours and hours, often multiple times a week. It truly is the backbone of their lives. And the amount of charity work done by most of these places is absolutely essential in this country, because the amount of poor and destitute Indians is so overwhelming that help from these large congregations is probably what keeps a lot of them alive.

The silent beauty radiating from these places is too much for words, but I think it really has changed my life forever. I’ve been practicing Hinduism for the past few years all by myself, because there isn’t a temple nearby at all, and I think I’ve missed out on the bonds and support I could’ve received. Hopefully someday I’ll find my place, but for now I’ll have to be my own temple. I look forward to going to Hindu temples here, because I know it will fill me in a way I’ve not yet experienced.

I Was Someone Else Before


I’ve been thinking about the soul a lot lately. My poetry professor tells us not to write about the soul because he doesn’t know what a soul is — “Nobody knows what a soul is.” As much as I absolutely love him, I have to disagree, because my particular brand of spirituality — Hinduism — is centered around the soul. I don’t find it insensitive of him, per say, but I do think he might want to take a step back and think about the soul a little before he makes such broad nullifying statements.

Everyone has their own view of the soul. There’s soul food, which is comforting and filling; there’s soul music, which fills us up in a more spiritual way; there are what we call soulmates, people who we feel a deep connection with on a basic level. With all this talk of the soul, it’s hard not to believe that it exists some way or another, especially since this particular concept has been around since practically the dawn of time.

I think of the soul as occupying a physical space within our body, which you may or may not agree with, but that’s the beauty of the soul: it’s a little different for everyone, because everyone’s needs are just a little different. To me, the soul exists between the Naval (Swadhisthana) and Solar Plexus (Manipura) chakras, in a realm between orange and yellow (which I find to be the warmest tones, anyway, and why not? Filling your soul makes you feel warm). For those of you who aren’t very familiar with the chakras, they’re the energy centers of our body, and the Naval Chakra is the center of creativity and joy, among other things; the Solar Plexus Chakra governs individual strength and expansiveness, among others.

What I’m getting at here is my belief that the soul is a part of the Self that combines the power of one’s inner light with the joy of the world around us, and when I feel complete, satisfied, and soul-happy, the area just below my solar plexus feels like it’s glowing, like my soul is expanding and trying to reach out to all the other parts of the universe, connecting me to every other entity that exists.

Our soul is everything about us that isn’t flesh and bone. It is who we are. It is all the good, and all the bad, that we inherently are. And as a Hindu, and even just as a person who exists on this planet and contemplates life and death from time to time, I believe that my soul existed before it occupied my current body, just as I believe that once this body dies, my soul will occupy another. Sometimes history repeats itself, and why not? We are the same souls, existing over and over in different times, learning a little each time we have a go at life. We are reincarnated in many different forms — of “good” and “bad” people, rich and poor, different ethnicities, different religions, until we become someone who truly understands the universe and the meaning of existence. I’m not there yet. I am most definitely not there yet.

The soul drifts — not aimlessly, but with purpose. Sometimes I have these moments — crazy as it seems — when I feel like I existed a very long time ago, in a very different place from America. I have an internal, inherent knowledge that I attempt to tap into sometimes, and though I struggle, I believe it’s all there, just below the surface. Maybe that knowledge exists within my soul, and maybe it’s what drives me to make certain life choices. Or maybe not. I don’t know. But there’s no point in sitting down, declaring that the soul is nonexistent, and not bothering to explore these fascinating avenues of myself and the world around me.

And this brings us, very loosely, to the idea of karma. Karma is complicated and complex, and I won’t claim that I understand it very well at all. Put very simply (perhaps too simply), karma is the idea of action and reaction, but we mistakenly think of it as “if you do something bad, something bad will happen to you immediately because you deserve to be punished by a higher power/the universe.”

But recently, I read a great quote on this site: “There is a tendency to cry during times of personal crisis, “Why has God done this to me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” While God is the creator and sustainer of the cosmic law of karma, He does not dispense individual karma. He does not produce cancer in one person’s body and develop Olympic athletic prowess in another’s. We create our own experiences.”

We create our own experiences. That can be incredibly liberating and also so very terrifying, because while most people will be happy to know they have free will, knowing that your negative experiences were not due to God punishing you can be scary for some people. I know what an oversimplification that last bit was, because not everything is up to us, and bad things don’t necessarily happen because you deserved them. But I think the takeaway here is this: we are responsible for ourselves, and the bad things we do have negative consequences, while the good things we do have positive ones, in the long run. I prefer to think of it this way, since I’m really big on positive and negative energy: we receive from the universe what we put into it. If you decide to be a massive jerk all the time, it’ll catch up with you. Not necessarily immediately, because I know a whole lot of really successful assholes, but I really do think that at some point the choices you make will come back to bite you. Or kiss you on the cheek, if you happen to be a wonderful person. Maybe in the next life you’ll learn to emit more positive energy.
And there are shades of grey here. I don’t know many people who are always good, and I definitely don’t know people who are always bad. Good and bad are relative terms anyway.

Anyway, in an attempt to explain/hash out some very confusing and intricate topics that I cannot claim to be an expert on, I have probably confused most of you or made you all think I’m some kind of hippie nut-job. I’ll probably have different views on life and the soul in a year, in ten years, as I continue to exist and learn about who I am and how the world works. But honestly, I’m embracing my inner hippie nut-job a lot more lately, because I think she has a lot of really interesting things to say. Maybe she’s not so nuts after all.

I love you all, and namaste. The light in me greets the light in you. Positive energy forever!

Please note that, while the article I link to above is very interesting and informative, it does not necessarily reflect all my views on life. There are some interesting ideas about suicide and euthanasia in that article, and when I say “interesting” I don’t mean good. I mean sassy. So I agree with a lot of the info in the first half of the article about karma and reincarnation, but I have some serious issues with the idea that suicide causes you to be reincarnated to a lower karmic plane, etc. Anyway, happy reading!

The Rebirth


It’s been two years, either today or yesterday, since life meant very little to me. Two years since I broke and my mother had to take a plane at 6 a.m. to be with me, to keep me safe and protected. Two years since I started rebuilding.

I never expected any of that to happen, and I would honestly prefer that I hadn’t felt that much pain and suffering and absolute nothingness, because it’s the absolute worst, so don’t start thinking it was a positive experience at the time. But I also know I would not be who I am today without those horrible experiences.

“Everything happens for a reason” is an obnoxiously common saying, and usually I think it’s a bit of a cop out, a way to distance ourselves from pain and confusion. But in a different way, perhaps a more subtle one, I believe it. Life is one long chain of events, each tiny action creating reactions and waves. It’s not just that I wouldn’t attend this particular university on this career path with these friends; it’s that I, as I exist in this moment, would not exist. I wouldn’t understand my inner self in the same way (in fact, that inner self would be very different indeed) and I would not have the same outlook on life that I do right now.

That other person, that child who existed pre-December 2011, would have been lovely too, and I know that wherever she exists — perhaps in an alternate universe — she is absolutely striking. But she is not who I was meant to become.

I’m so happy with who I am and the path I have chosen. Something inside me — some slumbering beast of peace — awoke two years ago and has been struggling to the forefront of my consciousness ever since. I surprise myself lately, in the most exciting and breathtaking way, by how at peace I feel. Every discovery I have made — in Hinduism, in my daily life, in understanding myself — existed in that beast and absolutely exploded into being these past few months.

I am so perfectly flawed and so determined to work through the knots I hold inside, and I honestly gasp sometimes when I realize…I am fulfilling this destiny of sorts. I am becoming me. I never realized I didn’t know who I was until I met myself — I wasn’t lost until I was found.

I will question “why me” in the future, I’m sure, when something terrible happens and I feel broken again. But never again will I look to the past and see tragedy; it was only opportunity of the most brutal nature that allowed me to feel so utterly free.

This earth is so much, so gorgeous, so overwhelming. Sometimes I drink it in and realize I can’t stop and I drown a little, blinking into the sun and choking on the cold. I remember a time when even the heaviest downpours felt like nothing, just another burden to bear. Now, I welcome the sleet as another excuse to feel every nerve in my body vibrate.

“Namaste:” the light in me greets the light in you. Now I have found my inner light.

Champa


If words were fragrant
my poems would smell like champa flowers.
Heady, deep and sweet,
they smell like —
The moment I knew I would grow up
My daydreams of adventure
The dark room I adopted in my adolescence
The isolation I felt as I became someone no one else had known
The reason for my faith
My future.

If fragrances were words
the champa flower would be Shakespeare.
Songs to Krishna
carried on the breeze like soliloquies
depicting his lotus eyes
whispering softly —
I could feel you before you were real
I looked for you and found nothing
I waited for you, and you came
I love you like I’ve loved no other
I’ve seen you, but I was blind to all else
I know you like I know myself
I carry you deep inside
I thank you.

There ends part 4 of my childhood poetry series, which describes more my adolescence/early adulthood and less my childhood, but which is a huge transformative part of who I am today.

Make Me Accountable


I was going to do all these things to be more spiritual, well rounded, and happy. And I started over the summer when I had time to focus on them. Now I have time, but I’ve become scatterbrained and keep forgetting/being lazy. Make me do these things, dear readers!

– Start learning Hindi. I bought a Rosetta Stone course which cost a pretty penny and started practicing but…alas, I haven’t even opened it in 2 months. I want to go to India in a few years and I need to not suck at speaking their language. Also it would honestly just be cool to read the Bhagavad Gita in Hindi and feel closer to the text.

– Meditate every 3 days. I was meditating for 20 minutes a day over the summer but I live in a sorority and need to find a closet or something to be alone in.

– Write more. This includes blogging, but mostly includes the poetry I was writing over the summer. I went to poetry readings, y’all! I read poems about love out loud and it was brilliant. Make me do this again.

– Send my short story in for publication. It’s actually good, and I want people to read it for real.

Anyway, this is less on you and more a way of making myself think about what I want in life. So cheers, and thanks for helping me be a productive member of today’s society. Seriously. Otherwise I will just sit in my room and read books about Diwali and never do anything real.

Lightness


I feel particularly wonderful today. You know when you feel like there’s light inside you and you’re laying in a field of soft grass and…everything is sunlight? I have that. I have renewed hope in the world, and it feels like the universe is balanced, and I could do math homework for 10 hours and be okay with it.

I have so much to do next week. So many tests and papers and outreaches for my job, and it doesn’t matter. I’m. Not. Stressed. It’s not like “I’m avoiding doing the work I have to do,” its like “I don’t need to be stressed — I can do this.” How did this happen?

It’s that mantra I wrote about a few months ago: gobinda hari. Appreciate your successes, and understand that you have the strength to do what it takes to continue succeeding. How did I not always do this? I’ve accomplished a lot, bounced back from a lot, and truly felt what it is to be alive. I should’ve always appreciated this.

But “should’ve” isn’t necessary anymore. I had a beautiful talk with a friend yesterday and he said he doesn’t regret anything, any of his past “mistakes” because all of that forms who he is  today. It’s not a particularly novel thought, but it meant a lot to me. I’ve done dumb stuff, stuff that’s hurt myself and the people around me, but every moment is a new beginning, and we can always turn our lives around. Besides, it’s hard not to appreciate life when at one point you didn’t want to live. I don’t wish that anything in my life had gone differently. Sure, I wish I hadn’t been a jerk to that guy I dated in high school, or I wish I hadn’t yelled at my dad a few times, but we learn from everything we do. And every crappy thing will bring good someday, if we work for it.

What struck me most was this, though: My friend said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that we need to understand each others’ suffering because then we can truly understand and connect with each other. And that got me thinking: why do we hide our suffering from others? Shouldn’t we be more open with one another and show each other how we truly feel? Instead, we hide our true selves from the world because we’re embarrassed that we suffer.

News flash, y’all. We all suffer. Suffering sucks, duh, but if we all show it, the playing field is level. Sometimes I want to scream out my window, frustrated, and tell everyone to stop faking it! The world isn’t as beautiful and bright if you haven’t seen darkness. You can’t feel bliss without hurting first. I truly believe that the farther down life pulls you, the higher you’ll eventually climb.

So today I feel light, feel sun streaming out my every pore, because I feel like life is going to be amazing. Every day is a gift, and I’m going to treat it as such. Whenever darkness falls, I’ll know that (gobinda hari) I can pull myself toward the light again. I’ve found purpose, and I feel love, and there’s no way I’m letting this lightness go.

Gobinda Hari, or I Now Understand Obnoxious Christians


Most of you know that I’m on a path of self discovery, and that I’m learning about and utilizing Hinduism on that journey. Most of you know, also, that I do not really identify as Christian even though I was brought up Episcopalian and still occasionally go to church (mostly because the people there are my family, and the dean of the cathedral is one of the most brilliant men I know and his sermons are thought-provoking in a way that transcends religion). As such, I have typically felt incredibly uncomfortable when certain Christians suggest that I pray when I’m distressed because “God is with you…blah blah.” Incredibly uncomfortable. I don’t like talking about Jesus, and I don’t like conversations that make me feel like I’m being “saved.” I, at times, wish I could wear a sign around my neck that says, “Please do not approach me about your religious beliefs. I will wet my pants from discomfort, and nobody wants to see that.” I get really dismissive and try to escape the conversation as soon as possible. One time my dad suggested that I just talk to Jesus when I’m upset because it can be really comforting for him. And while I understood that it was valuable for him, I really didn’t want to “talk to Jesus” because to me, Jesus isn’t important, not in a religious sense. Sure, I believe that he existed, but why should I talk to the “son of God” when I really don’t think a Christian god exists? Of course, there are a million little exceptions and nuances that I won’t be able to get to in this post, so please understand that I haven’t written anything off completely because the world is full of mystery and I’m sorting things out my own way. I just feel more of a “spirit” than a “god,” and maybe that’s the same to some people. As I write this, it’s incredibly difficult to put my conflicting and confusing feelings into words. There’s just something there with Hinduism that isn’t there with Christianity. Maybe it’s more the practice of Hinduism that I connect with. Maybe God is the same no matter what the religion.

But. I might’ve accidentally become a version of The Obnoxious Christian. That person who suggests meditation to those who struggle. The person who talks about Krishna and “the higher spirit” (I literally said that) to her friends. The person who, when reading more about the mantra “gobinda hari” wants to print out the article to share it with her sister. The person who blogs about Hinduism and its benefits. (As a side note, the mantra gobinda hari can be used as a self-reflection mantra that aids us in connecting with our accomplishments and what the world has given us, while acknowledging that we were an integral part of our self-improvement. It also allows us to thank the world for the help it brings us and the bounty it produces. Or something like that…it gets a little complicated and sounds incredibly hippie, so I’ll spare you. Just know that it’s valuable to me, as I tend to forget what I’ve done well in life and continually put myself down for not “working hard enough.”)

I’m okay with becoming that person. I’m learning more every day — about myself, about the world — but I’m also uncovering more questions, and I like that too. So if I’m reaping these amazing benefits, why should I not try to share them with the world? I led a meditation workshop before finals week at my sorority, and it was absolutely brilliant and everyone liked it and I felt accomplished, like I’d shown them something they would never have found without my help.

I’ve been to hell and back: I contemplated suicide a year and a half ago. I had a panic attack every day, and was in the darkest place I have ever been. I sought therapy and saved myself, by myself, and I don’t think I have God to thank for that. I was broken, and I fixed myself (with the help of many people around me) but God was not involved. I don’t feel abandoned, and this does not come from a bitter place, but I just didn’t feel anything with me or around me or anything as I clawed my way back to reality, to normality. But as I learn and grow, maybe my opinion will change. Nothing is ever definite.

Until then, I feel connected to the earth and the universe in a way that has nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with my soul’s movement between bodies a thousand times on this earth. I sound like such a nutcase as I say this, and I can practically hear you all scoffing through the computer, and that’s fine. I believe what I believe (that our soul never truly dies, just moves from body to body for eternity) and you can believe whatever you’d like (that I’m insane, that heaven exists, whatever). I know now, at least, why those obnoxious Christians that make me so uncomfortable do what they do, say what they say. They’ve found something valuable and helpful and wonderful, and it makes their lives richer and more meaningful, and they want to help me find that. And good on them. I appreciate the sentiment.

I will continue to look to help others who seek guidance in this really, really, really difficult life we all live. But I do promise this: no matter how great I feel, no matter how much I learn, I swear I will not try to “save” anyone. Because everyone is fine, nobody’s going to hell, nobody’s going to bleed for eternity if they don’t “know Jesus” or “understand the ways of Hinduism.” The minute you look uncomfortable or bored, and believe me I can tell, I will send you on your way without judgement. Pinky swear. What works for me doesn’t have to work for you. Guaranteed it won’t work for most of you. Besides, forcing people to accept something doesn’t work. Typically, they need to realize things in their own time; had I been bothered with spirituality when I wasn’t ready, I don’t think I would’ve made the same strides I did on my own.

I feel like I should end this post with some sort of profound statement, but to be completely honest my shoulder is cramping up and I can’t focus on much else. So I’ll leave you with this: anything we find that allows us to learn more about ourselves and others, whether it be religion, exercise, music…anything at all, is worth spending time developing. So go forth and question the world, my friends! And namaste.

The Sound of the Universe, Permanently ॐ


Om. Spoken as three syllables. Symbolizing the beginning, duration, and dissolution of the universe. Representing Brama, Vishnu, and Shiva. The vibration of the universe. The most beautiful sound and feeling in existence, all-encompassing and absolute.

I’ve never felt more from one symbol in my life, but as I became familiar with the om symbol, I realized how much power it holds. So, yesterday, I made it a permanent part of myself. I had drawn it out several months ago, a flowing om representing the flow of the universe, and now it has become a part of me.

photoYesterday, as I sat in the shop, I was so afraid — my first tattoo hurt so much, and I was worried I was making a mistake. But as I felt the vibration of the needle, heard its pulsing sound so close to my ear, I felt very little pain. During the more uncomfortable parts, I chanted the word, ‘aauumm’ in my head and relaxed, and I felt so peaceful, I practically forgot that I was feeling any pain at all. At one point, I felt on the verge of sleep. It was a beautiful few minutes.

I don’t want to make it more significant than it was, but I really think I had my first truly spiritual experience in that tattoo shop. As I write this, I cannot help but make the connection between the sound of the universe — the vibration of the om — and the sound and feeling of that tattoo gun.

There are so many reasons that I chose the om, more than I care to explain. But I know now how right I was in my decision.