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A Perfect Road Trip and Much More

December 26, 2016 by Snigdha

A Perfect Road Trip and Much More

It was a trip to Kedarnath-Badrinath, during the third week of May, 2013, by road from Delhi, in a 12-seater vehicle, that was just right for our group of 10.

A visit to hill towns on the lap of high mountain ranges, especially the Himalayan range, has always been very humbling for me, and I guess, is so for most other tourists! And every time, I have come back a changed person – at least with a deflated ego and a huge sense of gratitude as well as wonderment. Nature simply overpowers! One feels so tiny and meek in front of the many faces of Nature’s mighty expanse – the towering peaks, scenic yet mystical forests, flora and fauna! One simply can have nothing other than a surging feeling of reverence – towards Nature and the Supreme Power.

The first thing that strikes me, as soon as I leave the plain terrains and take to the treacherously tortuous ghat roads up the mountain, is fear. Yes, FEAR !! Especially, if one is seated at the back  side-facing seats, from where you can really see the valley and the gorges and the river flowing miles down, as your car moves up. I almost lose a heart beat at every bend on these winding, narrow or not-enough-wide ghat roads on many stretches. It feels as if, here we dive straight down the mountain. Well, it used to happen during my first-ever trip to Manali. Once you keep travelling through these roads, you get used to it, plus it does not always happen actually with seasoned drivers-on-steering and one eventually courses on, negotiating numerous such blind turns and bends, that too, with traffic moving from both sides, so that many a times on your turns, you are virtually on the edge of the winding road(from where you can fall off at the slightest miscalculation!!)  So, though fear is the first emotion to grab one, slowly one gets over it, I believe, through a deeply honest prayer and complete surrender to the Almighty – at least because you simply have no other option but to keep going up, and at best, because you are a believer in God and love Nature, too.( otherwise, why would you choose such destinations in the first place?) Nature starts casting her spell through her spectacular beauty!!

Speaking of me personally, my fear gives way very soon to some other profound realization, too, that leaves no more space in my mind for fear; though it must be still coursing somewhere deeper down, I do not know.  Firstly, it sobers me down – how infinitesimal a human being is in the supreme order of things that we call the Universe ! Virtually with no control over ourselves, should Nature plan otherwise about our existence- notwithstanding all our limitless knowledge and abilities to tame Nature and our actual success in this endeavour so far!! You simply cannot but feel the surges of infinitely humbling emotions that make you consciously aware of the existence of some Supreme Power, much beyond your comprehension,that you can only surrender to!!

 Ironically, another overwhelming emotion that gets stirred up almost simultaneously in juxtaposition, is a legitimate pride in being a human being – truly, the highest creation of the Supreme Creator. How else would you explain the indomitable “human spirit”?  The realization dawns, yes, God, or by whatever name we refer to the Supreme Power) has created this Universe which is rather unfathomable to any of HIS creations, but certainly, HE has blessed the human species with the ability to comprehend and conquer, ability to make choices with a free and intelligent mind, using all the faculties and intellect gifted to him by his Creator.  All the civilisations and material progress that we have been enjoying till today are landmarks on humankind’s march towards comprehending the incomprehensible Nature and direct Her resources to benefit the human race.  Of course, it is an altogether different issue, whether man has been prudent enough with all its choices about ‘how to use’ Nature.  Goes without saying, in recent days, and all throughout history of human civilisations, Nature has indeed unleashed her fury to make the mankind introspect. We are failing ourselves if we are not picking up the cues, signals and lessons from these devastating natural calamities!

The news, a few weeks later, of Nature’s fury and devastations caused by cloud burst, massive rains and flood around Kedarnath & Badrinath in Uttarakhand during the previous weekend shocked me. The visuals coming on TV channels were simply heart-wrenching. Kedarnath shrine virtually washed away, barring the original small temple  submerged under 6 ft high sludge till cleared later; 6000 pilgrims stranded there, 15000 stranded along way to Badrinath alone; 60 villages washed away, numerous buildings on the bank of the river collapsed, umpteen number of roads and bridges had caved in; thousands were feared dead, , 70000 stranded/missing; Army, Airforce, police, paramilitary – all busy in relief & rescue work, yet  weather, disruption of all communication links via roads and limited capacity of choppers to air-lift people adding to their already massive challenges!!! Kedarnath declared closed for one year now.

Bone-chilling, to say the least!

Are these the same places that we had visited and enjoyed barely a few weeks ago ? Yes, less than a month prior to the dooms day, I and my sister had toured these places along with her friend, friend’s son and uncles and aunts in the age group of 60-70 years. We had hired an AC Traveller Tempo – a 12 seater, good enough for our group of 10, for covering the entire route from Delhi till Badrinath and back- excepting that we had taken chopper service from Phata to Kedarnath, instead of taking the mountain route of about 14 km that most walk up. A special  consideration for the elderly amongst us. Though later, to our amazement and amusement, the elderly actually turned out to be the most sportive and adventurous!!

Spectacular scenic beauty apart, a trip to Kedarnath-Badrinath brings with it an experience of a lifetime at physical, emotional and spiritual level for each. For us, it was much more!! It showed me a truly beautiful face of “acceptance” and the miracle it unfolds!!

We had amongst us a mother and her 17 year old son, who is autistic. Looking back, I see that the entire group was blessed, because we had the blessed company of this pure soul.

Our journey by a 12-seater Tata Traveller tempo commenced from Delhi quite on schedule – around 6.30 am in the morning on a warm Sunday in mid-May. All of us were to gather at a meeting point. When I and my sister reached there, 6 from the group had already arrived-including a smart looking, handsome boy of about 16-17 years of age, in bright yellow baniyan and wearing a lovely smile. By the time the introductions got over, the others also arrived and we started on our way to Rishikesh – our first night halt.

After about 3 hours’ journey, which saw us opening up slowly to one another through chit-chatting, we halted at a restaurant called Cheetah on the highway. We were in for our first dose of entertainment – in placing order for breakfast. 10 different things for 10 of us! Well, not exactly as many different choices. But it was real fun observing how some of us would order diametrically opposite things – like Maasiji would have no chilli at all, while auntyji must have lots of green chilli in the dish, while others would like to have it ‘normally’ spiced – whatever that meant! It was also great fun to observe how multiple voices would confuse the poor bearer, till Mamaji finally would take charge, consolidate and finalise the order. Finalise?????? Oh, No! The ordering was never final even at that stage; Mamaji would yell back that bearer at least 3-4 more times to change order before the latter perhaps chooses to vanish!

This humourous ordering pattern became the routine as we continued, at times with some more punches of absolute entertainment when Mamiji would brush aside Mamaji in complete dismissal and would make the final order. Mamaji would pull a long face with the announcement that he would not get into this the next time. But the “next” time never came. He was our last saviour everytime we entered a cafe. I was teasing myself : “Look, what were you thinking when you first saw him at the meeting point? A grey-haired, old uncle in shorts, who might have to be taken care of!!”  As I look back, I find him such an endearing, courageous, able and extremely helping person!! What would have happened to us if Mamaji weren’t with us during those 4-hour ordeal on our return journey ??

My sister’s friend, Dr Geeta, a doctor in the same hospital in which my sister works, was, in fact the arranger of this trip. She wanted to take her 17 year old son, who is very special, to the sacred dhams of Kedarnath and Badrinath, both for pilgrimage as well as sight seeing. She is a great mother and a hugely courageous and positive person.  I would say, meeting persons like Dr Geeta, her son Angad and  Deepak Mamaji during this trip has been the greatest take-back for me from this one-week tour. Each of the others has a heart of gold, too and I truly enjoyed their company. There was a lot to learn from each of the rest, too. But the most indelible marks have been left by the mother-son-uncle trio, as being with them, I could vividly experience my renewed faith in the divine design and the boundless grace of God! The futility of doubt in God’s power to heal and make miracles happen! The pointlessness of trying to explain why something good or bad happens to anyone and the wisdom in accepting as is and putting our soul into making the best of what comes our way!

I had earlier heard a bit from my sister about Angad ; but had never imagined he would touch my heart to such an extent. No it is not pity, nor compassion for an autistic child. It is pure love and unqualified admiration for his talents. It is said, seeing is believing. Staying together for a stretch of time under uncertain circumstances makes you know and understand the real person in others to a great extent.  Initially, it was his bright smile all along that captivated my heart. As we progressed, I observed how obedient he is to his mother and that was very comforting. In fact, the second day, we were sitting together in the evening on the terrace at Rampur guesthouse, after all returned from a trek down to River Mandakini. Angad had also walked down and came up along with others. By then, I had seen him for two whole days, during which I had seen him calm, fully obedient, causing no problem whatsoever in matters of eating or roaming or anything else. Plus, by then, we had also witnessed his extra-ordinary talent for singing and memorizing lyrics flawlessly!!That too,, without understanding the meaning of any of that! I was especially wonder-struck, when he recited “Amrit Bani” flawlessly from memory – a long devotional poem of endless verses, while all else were holding the booklet for reference. He was reciting from memory as he cannot read this. We all were totally dumbfounded.  It is God’s grace and his mother’s dedication- I would call it her ‘tapasya’!

Yeah.. so when we were sitting there on the terrace, I mentioned to Dr Geeta about how nice, disciplined and talented I found Angad to be. She responded, “Yes, ordinarily he is a darling and does not give much trouble. But when he snaps, he just snaps!” I did not understand much then what it means to snap.

As we spent more time together, I started understanding a bit of the real problem faced by such children.  Autistic children are slow learners and cannot communicate properly what they want to convey. And there lies the challenge! As they grow up, and their need to express increases, they tend to become snappy, angry and at times violent when they fail to express. The good thing is, they can learn provided you devote time patiently and use special techniques for training them. What is more, these children usually possess some specific talent in abundance. Your challenge as parents and care-givers is to identify that and encourage that, just as Angad has a great singing talent with an amazing memory for lyrics. Hats off to her mother in particular, and others in the family – Angad gets to groom and bulid on his talent. His mother explained: every day, she sings Amrit vani and Angad sings along. Similarly, she makes him listen to chosen songs on YouTube again and again, and he picks up. She makes him remember things by regular and repetitive practice. Patience is the watch word! It takes a lot of faith and unconditional love to inculcate in oneself that kind of patience in handling and guiding these children. The more I saw and knew about how Dr Geeta handles all this, together with her job as a doctor, the more I started admiring her.

The most challenging part about a mother of such a child is perhaps trusting the child’s ability and letting him do certain things on his own. We all pick up life skills only when parents let us come out of their parental shield. But with a special child, parents- especially a mother- would tend to be extra protective. But true courage lies in not shielding to the point of choking. Hats off to Dr Geeta! She has been raising Angad in a manner that is simply exemplary. She makes it a point to take him to all sorts of places – for touring, pilgrimage, adventure, social gatherings…..everywhere just as one would take a so called normal child!! She trusts, hence he becomes trust worthy. There is something else I admire Dr Geeta for. You would not observe even a trace of embarrassment or stress in her face when she moves around with her son in public, or even when she knows that people have already noticed something strange about her son.  A great lesson there! She has accepted her child as he is and makes her best of efforts in the situation. Most of the times, it is the parents who, at the heart of their hearts, cannot accept a differently abled child, thereby becoming the worst impediment to the special child’s development and emotional growth. Your vibrations, when you do not “accept” someone as they are, does all the damages, and leaves you wondering, “ Oh..why nothing is changing for better even if I am doing so much ?”. Doing things without first accepting the ‘as is’ and believing that it can get better with conscious efforts becomes self-sabotaging and leads to precious nothing. This is something we all must always understand virtually in every context. There are some others, who bring in the theory of Karmic Debt and unnecessarily try to explain why something “bad” happens to anyone, although nobody can ever tell what is bad and what is good, ultimately!

The best way to understand this is to know that sometimes, God just checks on us to see how much we trust in HIS grace, justice and powers; and in ourselves, our own innate goodness and strength!! Special children are in fact the angels sent by HIM – to test us, to challenge us only to make us stronger and better human beings. These angel kids require more love, more care and more understanding than any other so-called normal child. When accepted with open hearts, without doubting God’s incomprehensible powers for healing and miracles, miracles do happen! My beliefs got reinforced: God gifts these challenges only to a chosen few who, HE knows, have the courage to accept such challenge! To the people who believe that if HE brings you to it, then HE will bring you through it!! Ultimately, it is your belief in yourself that gets activated and strengthened. Then who gains??????

I also believe in Karma, but I try to remember only the present karma. That accumulated bad karma of previous births brings sufferings in current life as a “punishment” is a theory that I trash. Because it does not gel with a concept of God who is full of love, kindness and mercy. Karma is reformative and transformative, not punitive. My belief is simple. We earn karma every moment in life. The more the challenges in our life, the more the opportunities the Universe/God has blessed us with to earn more of good karma. If we take these challenges in our stride with courage, conviction and good-hearted action, we will add to our good karma and would move towards getting deliverance from a negative karmic cycle, if any, sooner. The best reason for doing good is perhaps that it feels good…….forget about all other things!

The right aspect to explain, therefore, is not ‘why do bad things happen to some’, but ‘what does a good and courageous person do when faced with something bad or challenging”.

Yes, God chooses special messengers to deliver special messages – of courage, dedication and surrender to the Almighty as you go about doing your job impeccably with love, peace and harmony.

Coming back to our road trip, it went on really well, all of us enjoying every bit of it, including one another’s company that brought out so many interesting facets of each of us. The scenic beauty of the Himalayan range as we coursed along the gorgeous rivers – Ganga, known by different names at different points, needs no mention. Sheerly captivating and engaging! To add to it, I still relish the memories of having aloo ka parathan on way virtually everyday ( told myself I have had these for a lifetime…never going to have again once I return….LOL!), the fresh cucumbers and watermelons in hot daytimes, the pokodas in the evenings and the hot and yummy suppers just when you start feeling the hunger pangs !  But I will mention two specific experiences, that sort of have got etched out in my permanent memory.

Firstly, it was the flight by chopper from  Phata to Kedarnath, instead of walking about 14 km up the mountainous terrain. There were a lot of dislocations and confusions regarding whether or not the choppers were flying that day due to some local bandh by the priests of Kedarnath or something, even after booking the tickets; which helicopter to board ( in fact, we boarded one, then were told this one needed re-fuelling, so go board another, then again told to stay back…. one can imagine our apprehensions and disappointments then!) All confusions and delay notwithstanding, it was a fabulous feeling when our chopper actually took off. Words would always fall short to describe the captivating experience of flying literally through the Himalayas, looking at the breathtaking mountain ranges, lush green forests around, river flowing down and images of settlements below …….!  In our chopper, we were 5 of us from our group – I, my sister, Dr Geeta, Angad and Mausaji. All of us, including Angad, were soaking in the experience, as if.  It was a short, sweet and smooth flight of a few minutes, but springs back to memory with a jerk ( Ohh… what could have happened to us , had Angad got scared!) when we look back at it in contrast to what happened later with Angad on our return journey.

Everything was fine till we were on our way back to Rishikesh. Dr Geeta started talking about her plan to go for rafting on the way back to Rishikesh the following day. She had good contacts who could have arranged for it. The suggestion was welcome; but we wanted to be sure that Angad would not have any problem with rafting. Dr Geeta was confident that he would enjoy it, as he had enjoyed it earlier once during their stay with her parents. Or rather she thought he had ‘enjoyed’ rafting the first time! We decided that those who do not go for rafting, like badi Mamiji, Santosh aunty etc. would carry on with the journey in the vehicle and make themselves comfortable in the hotel at Rishikesh; while we – Dr Geeta, Angad, Mamaji, Mamiji, Mausaji, my sister & me – would go for rafting and then join the rest at Rishikesh hotel in the evening. That evening, Dr Geeta started “talking” to Angad to mentally prepare him for the rafting next day and how much he would enjoy it just like the last time. As we got to know later, Angad had not slept well that night and had actually showed recurring signs of anxiety through the night and also in the morning. Dr Geeta actually had not been able to figure this out then.

As planned, once we started our journey, Dr Geeta called up her contact and told him to arrange for everything. We all then got immersed in excitedly chatting about it. Slowly, Angad started showing signs of getting restless… Suddenly he would say “ Rishikesh”” Rishikesh” and would start jumping off his seat , or lightly push someone in front. Dr Geeta and some others would start pacifying him, saying , “ Yes… we are going to raft. Would not Angad like rafting? “  etc.etc.  But things started getting serious soon …and risky, as it could have been quite sudden and unsettling for the driver, for the vehicle running on full speed on ghat road with dangerous bends over a ferociously flowing River Ganga! It was also quite visible that Angad was gaining strength physically and had started becoming violent with each push becoming a shove. Mamaji & Mausaji, the two other males in the group had to keep him physically pinned down on Mamaji’s lap. By this time, everyone had come to realise that it was anxiety… Angad was actually scared about rafting; that he never enjoyed it the first time. So in anticipation, he had already become stressed since the previous evening, but was unable to express himself. Dr Geeta immediately called up her friend and cancelled the rafting plan, in a voice audible enough to Angad and then started convincing him that we were not going for it. It took time to sink in for Angad; but after quite some time, he seemed like cooling down slowly…….

What an experience! But believe me, it was not fear for ourselves, though the risk of a fatal accident was staring us in our face. It was a kind of flowing love for a helpless child then and a prayer to the Almighty for His grace,  that was all in our minds. God is great. We reached safe. The first thing Dr Geeta did was to let Angad have a glass of water and get relaxed. It was only there, after we actually reached the hotel in Rishikesh, that we could see a calm, relaxed, but really drained out Angad, now actually believing that the ordeal was over! My heart went out to him, and Dr Geeta, Deepak mamaji and Mausaji.  And my heart also felt abundantly grateful to the driver of our vehicle, who maintained his calm in the face of real provocations and steered us all to safety! Yes, hardships during journeys reinforce our trust in other human beings as well.

It was for me an experience of nothing less than a miracle. A miracle that unfolds when we radiate only pure love and do our best with unwavering faith in God and best wishes of others around us.

Finally, we reached back Delhi after a rough time in traffic. It felt it was all so wonderful! And it was all so worthwhile.

When after precisely 3 weeks, we heard about the Uttarakhand cloud burst tragedy, we knew, how blessed we had been! For me, it was a road trip that could not have been more enjoyable, more enlightening and more humbling! While I enjoyed the lighter moments with all and thank God for giving me this opportunity to visit these holy shrines and other beautiful places, I also got back a changed, wiser and humbler person, meeting some beautiful souls and picking up a lot many insights on larger issues of life.

A perfect road trip, indeed! And so much more!!!!!!!

 

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Things do not happen to us; they happen for us!

November 4, 2016 by Snigdha

Things do not happen to us; they happen for us!   

Everything happens for a reason; that too, to serve our own purpose.

When we live in awareness and reflect in depth whenever we find ourselves in an extra-ordinary situation – could be a challenging situation, or a traumatic situation ,or even a simply bewildering situation that we fail to make sense of, or too happy a situation, we see there is always an underlying design behind what happens to us.

Some situations test us and reveal US to OURSELVES. Our true character surfaces – whether the values we profess, the beliefs we propound are the ones we really live by, or merely lip-service.

The issue with having strong moral/ethical values is that you get tested for them again and again; and one of the best tests of your belief in certain higher principle is whether or not you can apply that in cases with which you have the least sympathy. For example, you think you value woman’s dignity and hence, treat prostitution as something condemnable in that context. But if you truly respect the dignity of women, then you shall also sincerely condemn all rapes- even that of a prostitute!! If you, instead, start creating the thought – “Well, why should she be sympathised? In any case, she has already been selling her dignity, so what more she has lost by getting raped??”, then are you the person you thought you are ?? If, in this case, you cannot bring yourself to look at her with the same pair of eyes as you would see any woman whose person has been violated by force against her wish, it only reflects that  you lack conviction in what you think you strongly believe. If you truly value women’s dignity, then you will never miss out on the crucial difference between doing something ( here, prostitution) out of own decision(or some compulsion) and getting raped(i.e. violated by force), notwithstanding the fact that that something( prostitution) is detestable! For all you know, she might have been victimised and forced into prostitution in the first place! Well, how she got into that is beside the point here. Point is: if you are true to what you profess, then, you will always uphold: every woman, even a prostitute, has a right not to be raped! Because, it is the act of rape that you will despise and condemn, not the victim, that too selectively!

 

It is said, and rightly so, everyone is honest till temptation knocks at their door! So if you can actually stare at temptation or adversity right in the eye and overcome them, then only you know that honesty and courage are the hallmarks of your true character. Not until then! Thus, difficult situations give us the much needed opportunity to see clearly at ourselves, our deep seated beliefs and values, and open our eyes to the splits and chinks in our own character, where we must work on ourselves.

Some situations grind us hard, so that we develop our “muscles” – hone our talents and strengths towards our best potential, so that we keep doing better and better, until we do our best and be our best in any situation. Need no elaboration. Ever tried learning how to play a stringed musical instrument? Has anybody learnt playing it without hurting their fingers at first? Have you ever learnt to ride a bi-cycle without falling down a couple of times and most likely hurting yourself ? Without falling and getting hurt, we don’t even learn how to walk! What to speak of the higher and tougher things in life – acquiring knowledge, skills, talent, competence and great human qualities!!

Some situations strike us hard and torture us literally to make us learn the lessons that we need to learn; and teach us how to rise above pain to power, and ultimately leave us better and stronger, ready to evolve to a higher level of being. Especially, the two most important qualities for a spiritual transformation – gratitude and compassion– are best learnt in the process of actual passage through pain, intense pain!!

All that happens to us happens because the Law of Karma is indeed reformative, not punitive. At each moment of the present, our past comes as a situation that gives us an opportunity to settle our past karmic debts, while on the other hand it is an opportunity to create good karma that will create our destiny in future! We go on settling past karmic debt, if we choose to gracefully accept responsibility for our current suffering ( loss, hurt, pain etc.) as consequences of our own past bad karma, without creating further bad karma in terms of resistance/retaliation. At the same time, these same situations give us an opportunity to create new good karma, by transcending the bad energy via creation of new good energy in return!! (Yes, it is possible, when we genuinely wish well for our tormentor moving out of the zone of revenge.). As we do that, we also grow stronger and evolve higher on our spiritual journey.

Yes! It serves us the greatest good to remember every moment that the ‘present’ is an opportunity to earn new good karma for fruition at a later date on maturity.  That is why it is so called – ‘present’, a gift! Past karma was our fate or pre-destiny, which we must face in the present and endure with grace to settle it once for all; but what we do in the present is our present karma which creates our destiny every moment that we are going to face as fate/pre-destiny in future! So every situation that we may find ourselves in the present because of our fate/pre-destiny is also an opportunity to create our destiny for future.

 

But whatever it may be, a common thread runs through all situations: Things do not happen to us; they happen for us!

 

Especially the so-called “bad” things! Because we learn a lesson the best when we actually experience it in our life!!

 

An anecdote from the great Indian epic “Mahabharat” goes like this:

The very first lesson the Pandava boys received from their Guru in the Ashram was: “Satyam vada, Krodham maa kuru !” which means “ Speak the Truth and never  get angry!”  All the brothers, except Yudhisthir, confirmed the very next day that they had remembered the lesson. But Yudhisthir said that he had learnt only the first half, i.e.“Satyam vada”  and not the other half  “ Krodham Maa kuru”.  The Guru patiently made him repeat the words “Krodham maa kuru”, “ Krodham maa kuru” a few times. Next day, when asked whether he remembered it, Yudhisthir gave the same reply – he had learnt “satyam vada”, but had yet to learn “ krodham maa kuru”. Though the teacher was taken by a little surprise, he nevertheless made Yudhisthir repeat the words multiple times to make him remember the teaching. And this went on for quite a few days. Finally one day the Guru lost his temper and shouted in anger at Yudhisthir: “Why is it that you can not remember three simple words Krodham Maa kuru, despite repeating multiple times for so many days, while your younger brothers learnt it the very first day? How can you be so stupid??” Only after a few moments, Yudhisthir clapped his hands in joy and declared,” I have now learnt the lesson!”.  Surprised, Guru asked, “How come only a moment ago, you were unable to recall the words, and now you are so sure that you have learnt them??”  Replied Yudhisthir humbly, “Guruji ! I always speak the truth; so it was easy to remember the first half of the lesson, which I have already mastered. But I was not sure of the second half that says “never yield to anger”, until and unless someone got angry at me and  in return, I remained calm. Today, I actually found that about myself. So I can truthfully say now that I have remembered this part of the teaching as well.”

 

Yes!  Life’s lessons are not to be copied from others, nor memorised; they are to be “learnt” and then only they can be remembered!!

 

Perhaps this is why the greatest achievers also happen to be the ones who have seen great failures; the most respected are the ones who perhaps have risen above the bitterest humiliations, and the greatest healers are the ones who have been through the most painful situations themselves!! Just remember, Jesus Christ, Gautam Buddha, Ashoka, Mahatma Gandhi, Dada Vaswani …to name only a few!

Life’s challenges, in the process of making us learn our lessons, strengthen and fortify us still further so that we can cultivate the right attitude to everything in life and be our best, notwithstanding the adversities.  Ever seen even a great saint not going through physical sufferings and other hardships? Success in the affairs of life often serves to hide one’s abilities, whereas adversity frequently gives one an opportunity to discover them.

“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, has strengthened me. You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”
Walt Disney

 

 

Ever looked thoughtfully at a lotus?  It is born out of, and surrounded by mud and muck and water; yet no spec of mud or water can ever settle on or stick to it!! What is more, it always, always rises and looks up to the Sun – the source of Light!  Similarly, our ultimate motto in life ought to be a progressive movement towards “light” – that is, end of ignorance and stepping into the realm of knowledge, wisdom and spiritual enlightenment. Adversities smite us and give us the much-needed awakenings towards this end.

 

A blacksmith, who loved God with all his heart and soul notwithstanding his poverty and many a hardship, once was asked by a non-believer in God: How can you trust and love a God who sends you so much of sufferings and sickness??  The blacksmith answered with a calm smile: I am a blacksmith and I know when I have to make a tool, I take a piece of iron, put it into the fire, and then strike it hard on the anvil to check if it will take temper. If it does, I know I can make something useful out of it. And if not, I just throw it away as a useless scrap!! Having been sent to this wonderful world, I wish to be of use and value; and so I always pray God: Please pass me through the fire of sufferings as much as YOU want, but pray, do not throw me on the scrap-heap.

 

Adversities are the best opportunities to make us learn to see the positives even in the heap of negatives and help us cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

 

There is this story of two people, whose ship wrecked and they found themselves on an uninhibited island. For temporary shelter, they built a cottage of branches and leaves of trees available there. Every day, both would go to the sea shore and shout or wave their hands or clothes for help in the hope that they would get sighted by some ship afar and get rescued. But no help came for quite a few days. One of the two survivors was a strong believer in God and always thanked God for everything, while the other one was a non-believer. As days passed, the second man’s complainings knew no bound. On the other hand, the first person always kept up his faith, counting their blessings: “We still have so much to be grateful for! We are alive; we could have drowned to death. We are on an island with some shelter at least. We are having our eyes, hands, legs and other body parts intact and still in our good senses, with which we are able to work toward our rescue. Thank you, God!” One evening, as they were returning, they found their cottage of branches and leaves burning and getting reduced to ash. The non-believer started cursing the God, even as the believer still maintained that there must be some good in this!  The next morning, they saw a small rescue boat waiting for them at the sea shore. The captain explained that the previous evening, he had noticed some smoke rising from the island and hence thought that there might be someone here who might need help.  The believer thanked God as usual, with stronger belief in Divine design. Did the non-believer see the good in the apparent negative incident of fire and change? Well, that crisis was certainly an opportunity for him to learn the lesson in positivity and gratitude.

 

Yes, it is a story. But look around! Don’t you see many such people in real life all the time?? In fact, many of the so called common, ordinary people are like this, living with an attitude of gratitude which is why, we find them lead a “happy” life even in circumstances like poverty, sickness and daily challenges!! We have never bothered to look at them, or we evaluate their happiness quotient by our own parameters and so fail to assess it correctly; then show the audacity to pity them thinking: how miserable a life they are leading!

 

Even simple episodes of worsening situations/inconveniences teach us the lessons in contentment and gratitude for what we already have.  An insightful tale from Mullah Naseeruddin is in order here:

 

Naseeruddin’s neighbour one day lamented, “I am really having trouble fitting my family into our small house. My wife, three children, my mother-in-law and I, all share the same cottage. Mullah, you are a wise man. Do you have any advice for me?”

“Of course,” replied Mullah. “Do you have any chickens in your yard?” The man replied, “Yes. Ten.” Mullah ordered: “ Put them in your cottage.” “ But,” the man protested,” our house is already so cramped.” Naseeruddin urged: “ Just try it.”

Desperate to find a solution, the man followed Mullah’s advice, but the next day said,” Mullah, with the chickens in the house, things are even worse now.” “Don’t worry.”, replied Mullah. “Now take that donkey of yours into the house.” The man resisted, but Naseeruddin convinced him to do it. The next day, the man, more distressed than ever, grumbled, “This is terrible! Between the family, the chickens and that donkey, there is barely any room to move!”  “ Hmmm.” went Naseeruddin, “ any other animals in your yard?” The man hesitated, “Well…we do have a goat.” Mullah smiled: “Perfect! Take the goat in your house, too. ”The man was aghast and raised a fuss again. But Mullah, wise and clever as he was, once again convinced the man that it was for his best only. The next day the man virtually exploded, “ My family is really upset now. Everyone is at my throat complaining about the lack of space. Your plan is making us miserable.”  Mullah nodded, “It’s time to take all the animals back to the yard outside.”  The man was too relieved to follow this advice and did as he was told. Next day he dropped by Naseeruddin and declared, “Mullah, you are wise indeed. Your plan has worked like a charm. Our house now feels so spacious that none of us can help but feel pleased. No one complains anymore.”

 

Very often we tend to grow too discontent and forget to value what we already have – good health, decent means to live a life of dignity, stable relationships for support and emotional security etc., which we commonly take for granted. At these junctures, the Universe (or call it, God) plays a Mullah Naseeruddin  and sends us situations in which we lose even what we had till now, so that we are vitually shaken awake to the  value of what we had; and get driven not only to restore, but further work on them with a new-found perspective of value and loss!

 

At the other end of the spectrum of people living in gratitude are the genuine saintly individuals, the “mahatmas”, the enlightened ones, who also lead ordinary lives of simplicity and sufferings, but actually do extra-ordinary service to the humanity through their inspiring personal examples, teachings and compassionate action! Are they “suffering” ?  NO!! Their physical bodies only suffer, not their mind, heart and soul. Come what may, they hold their head high, spirit indomitable, heart full of love, peace and compassion!  Soul in absolute harmony personified!! So they never “feel” misery. Rather, they are the real wealthy ones on this earth at a peak level on their spiritual journey towards self-actualisation, or call it salvation !

 

Actually, we tend to mix up “suffering” with outward difficulties like not-enough riches, or physical burden and sickness. One truly “suffers” when one “feels” miserable at the deepest core of heart. It is never the “load” that breaks us down, but the way we carry it!  Every human being, good and bad, is given their share of “load” in this world. But a good person always carries the load rightly and hence, never “suffers” in reality.

 

Suffering is a good teacher to those who are quick and willing to learn from it. But it becomes a tyrant to those who resist and resent. Suffering can teach us almost everything. Its lessons urge us to develop discrimination, self-control, non-attachment, morality, and transcendent spiritual consciousness.
—Sri Paramahansa Yogananda

This is a true story of Dashrath Manjhi, a simple, poor, low-caste( so called) youth in an obscure village in  Bihar who lost his beloved wife to illness and lack of timely medical treatment only due to lack of easy access to the nearby hospital. The villagers had to walk down about 70 km around a mountain to reach that only hospital in the vicinity. This tragedy, instead of crushing Dashrath’s spirit, impelled him to chisel away at the rock-hard formidable mountain, single-handedly, for long 22 years, even despite public ridicule till the result showed up, only so that his village could gain easy access to the hospital and no other fellow villager should suffer a similar loss of life. And he did it finally – unbelievable, but true! The tragedy only brought out his true mettle – a good soul with unwavering faith, grit and determination – a never-give-up spirit.

 

This is also exactly why we must never question, why bad things happen to good people. The correct question should be: what do good people do when bad things happen to them.  They continue to live in gratitude and go on doing good ! They emerge stronger everytime they pass through a storm. Similarly, never ask: why do good people suffer?  Because they actually do not “suffer”, as they have learnt to rise above the (physical) pain to (spiritual/mind ) power !!

 

Confucius is known to have said once: Life is really simple, but we make it complicated ( by not learning our lessons early). We may acquire wisdom by three methods – first, by reflection ( i.e learning from own inner compass) which is the noblest ( but the honesty required is often missing); second, by imitation( learning from others’ experience and examples) which is the easiest ( but almost rarely heeded); and thirdly, by experience, which is the bitterest ( but perhaps the most effective, as it gives us no option other than to reflect, evaluate, even look at others’ examples and develop insights that are necessary to learn the lessons we need to learn.).  But if, even after given an opportunity of learning from our real experience, we do not learn the lesson it had come to teach us……, then we stay in the same orbit of ignorance to face similar bitter experiences again and yet again.

 

Adversities clarify our true beliefs and faiths.  For example, there is a huge difference between telling “I believe in God” and actual faith in HIM. Ever heard this story?

 

The story tells about a mountain climber, who wanted to climb the highest mountain. He begun his adventure after many years of preparation,  but since he wanted the glory just for himself, he decided to climb the mountain alone. He started to climb but it began to get very late, and instead of preparing his tent to camp, he kept climbing until it got very dark. The night felt heavy in the heights of the mountain, and the man could not see anything. All was black. Zero visibility, and the moon and the stars were covered by the clouds. As he was climbing, only a few feet away from the top of the mountain, he slipped and fell into the air, falling at a great speed. The climber could only see black spots as he went down, and the terrible sensation of being sucked by gravity. He kept falling… and in those moments of great fear, it came to his mind all the good and bad episodes of his life. He was thinking now about how close death was getting, when all of a sudden he felt the rope tied to his waist pull him very hard.

His body was hanging in the air.. Only the rope was holding him, and in that moment of stillness he had no other choice but to scream: HELP ME GOD!!

All of a sudden, a deep voice coming from the sky answered: “What do you want me to do?”

“ Save me God!!”

“Do you really think I can save you?”

“Of course I believe You can”

“THEN CUT  THE ROPE TIED TO YOUR WAIST….”

 

There was a moment of silence; and the man decided to hold on to the rope with all his strength.

 

The rescue team tells, that the next day a climber was found dead and frozen… his body hanging from a rope. His hands holding tight to it… ONLY  10  FEET  AWAY  FROM  THE  GROUND…

 

Had he really had faith in God, he would have cut the rope  and landed on the ground hardly 10 feet below and had survived! Listening to God is nothing but listening to our own higher Consciousness. Had he heard that, he would have realised in a moment of surrender that if he stayed attached to the rope even after its full stretch, he would have had to suffer the freezing cold in any case and die; so why not take chance with the only other option of cutting the rope and allowing himself a free fall so that there could still be some probability of survival!!

 

Many of life’s trying situations are like this. They come to test what you say and what you do. If you are wise, you will observe the design, learn the lesson, if any, or just stand your ground with your innermost values and beliefs remaining unwavering and walk your talk. Again and again you would be able to do so, no matter how many times you find yourself in similar trying situations. Hanging on to your rope, or, cutting the rope would depend on the specific context. But it is sure that when staring at an adversity, you will first see your true self! Whether you would mind changing yourself for better or not is the second stage, and is your choice.  

Every significant situation contains a lesson that we need to learn on our journey of personal and spiritual growth. Until we learn it, it will keep coming back to us in some form or other.  Immediate reaction to a challenging situation usually leaves us without learning the lesson and that is why, we will have to face similar challenges again and again.  But give time to the issue and yourself, step back, think through the overall situation in its totality:  you will learn the lesson hidden in it!  In terms of Karmic Account, the debt gets heavier if not paid off when the universe gives you an opportunity. So better to settle it the first time itself.

 

As we go on learning lessons that we need to learn (i.e. do not repeat our earlier mistakes), we grow from strength to strength.

 

Once we realise that things really happen for us, and are in a position to see the “purpose” therein, will it not be much easier for us to maintain our inner stability and accept every situation with all its pain, pleasure and lessons with gratitude?

 

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