What is Prayer? A Practical ‘Non-religious’ Guide

Ever made a decision? It could be about going to college, whether to take up a new job or stay at home vs going abroad. Sometimes, it becomes extremely confusing regarding which direction we should take in our lives.

In such situations, we run from pillar to post asking people for advice. The end result is that we get multiple pieces of advice from people who know a lot about the subject. And yet, you may feel discontented …a sense of malaise. None of their suggestions seem to work. People seem to know a lot about what to do in a situation, but somehow nothing strikes you as ‘right’ or ‘true’.

The missing link is you – you have asked everyone but yourself. We need to consider everyone’s inputs as just that…inputs. But the only person, I repeat, the only person, who needs to live with your decision is yourself. And therefore, you need to ask yourself what you want.

But how do you ask yourself? Can you truly see yourself? If you go to a mirror, you can see your reflection – but that is merely your body. You can’t see your mind to split apart the tangle of thoughts that trouble you. More importantly you can’t see your soul to talk to, not in the mirror anyway.

Different people have found different ways to address this. Some realize that inside us exist different energies – the energy of time exists inside us (the Hindus call this Shiva) – this same time energy produces new life through sex (again Shiva). Some see other energies inside themselves – the energy of fertility (we have another god for that), the energy of sustenance (another god) and so on and so forth. For every aspect that troubles us, we can find a god – this was the approach taken by Hinduism and even the Greeks (Zeus, Athena, Dionysus – God of wine etc.). And thus, to help us analyze different aspects of a problem, we try to find the ‘energy’ within us that is causing the problem. But it is often difficult to separate these energies for one who is struggling with self-awareness. Finding and asking this energy is easier if we can have an external representation of this energy.

But how do we create an external representation? The easiest way was to write a story about how this energy had its own ‘personality’, about how this energy was born and grew within us. We find these as stories of how gods were born or created, and how they used their powers to solve problems. The stories of gods are nothing but stories of how the equivalent energies were created within us. Once we have a story to help us understand the energy better, it is important to keep a bookmark of sorts, to quickly refer to the energy – we may even give this energy a name – Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma and the like. And we create a physical bookmark to help us remember the various energies within us – we call these idols.

And so, when we pray to an idol for help or advice, we are essentially asking ourselves for advice. We are talking to our souls.

However, having idols was not sufficient, people needed to relate to their soul in a more ‘human way’. Many of us struggle with the concept of the soul, especially if we are not very abstract-minded. And so, several religions created a ‘human’ manifestation of our soul. Hinduism refers to them as gurus, Christianity calls this person Jesus, Muslims may reach out to a Mullah, and the Jews to a Rabbi. These are human teachers who have been able to talk to their own souls. These teachers can’t talk to your soul – they cannot give you answers and it is dangerous to ever ask them ‘what to do’. Always approach a Guru, or Jesus, Mullah or Rabbi to ask them how YOU can find the answers BY YOURSELF. Seek guidance, not answers.

Realizing this, the Buddhists took it a step further. They eliminated God as a concept altogether, and directly talked to their soul through meditation. Many of us live in a noisy environment where everyone has an opinion on what we should do with our life. Sometimes, the only way to get away was go outside a city where no one knew you and where no one would interfere with your thought process. Today, we travel and take vacations to ‘get away for a bit’. In ancient days, people didn’t have that luxury- all around the city were forests and that is exactly where they went. They left their home and went away to a forest and meditated. What do I mean when I say meditated? It simply means roaming freely outside and inside your mind allowing your thoughts to flow freely, till you find the path that works for you. That is the crux of meditation, not sitting cross-legged and repeating words or chants. Meditation that can’t help you be happy or make a decision produces few results, unless you like chanting as a hobby. Chanting can give you peace, only because you have blocked everything else out. But blocking out the world can never solve your problems; it only exacerbates them further.

Christians created a two-step process – a God that represented our soul, and a teacher – Jesus who died like any other human on the cross. The life of Jesus was only to show that we are all Jesus too – if a carpenter was able to see his soul and be happy, so could you. Muslims looked to their Prophet for guidance in finding God (soul). But the Prophet couldn’t be everywhere and so they created Mullahs, not very different from priests in their function.

The end goal of this system was to help people be happy, not create a ‘religion membership club’ of Hindus, Muslims or Christians. The aim of every one of the original teachers in each of our religions, however small or large, was to help people find peace WITHIN themselves. Many religions realized that they could not accurately describe such abstract concepts in a boring manner. No one would have read a blog on religion or faith, if written like a philosophy thesis. So, they used stories and examples. A collection of these stories and examples became the Bhagwad Gita, Bible, Koran, Buddha Charita and the Guru Granth Sahib. All of these writings refer to the same entity- our soul.

Following one religion over another is merely a choice of PATH. In reaching a destination, some may prefer to take a train and enjoy the view. Some of us may be disabled and may prefer flying. Some may prefer to sneak into a cargo ship and hide till the ship reaches the port and then escape to our destination when the captain isn’t looking. These different methods are effectively the various religions today. Sometimes, it is not possible to reach a place purely by flying. You may have to get down at an airport and then take a cab, for instance. Similarly, Hinduism or Christianity may not answer all your questions, you may have to refer to Buddhism or Islam for part of your journey. And then perhaps transfer to Zen for the last mile- and vice versa. We need all our teachers; we need all our religions, to complete our journey. One teacher alone cannot provide all of our answers, just like one single friend or just your spouse can’t fulfill all your emotional needs. We need many friends, we need many teachers, we need many religions to find our path to our soul.

With the help of these teachers, we can talk to our souls. We need silent spaces where no one will disturb us – we call these temples, churches, mosques and well, even ‘sitting under a tree’. Sometimes, our homes can be the most silent place we know – then our home becomes our church or mosque or temple or gurudwara. Every place on Earth (and even the universe or Milky Way) is a religious place of worship. And when I say worship, it does not mean putting your soul on a pedestal because it is superior, it simply means listening. You can’t talk to your soul; you can only listen. Hence, we call this worship – we listen and understand and follow our soul’s path.

And thus, when we worship, we pray. When we say prayer, it simply means listening. When we say listening, it simply means we seek guidance, not to fulfill some higher magic purpose of a revengeful god, but for the simple down-to-earth reason of being happy and at peace. Only our souls know what can make us happy, at work or at home. All we need to do is learn to listen to our souls, hence we look towards teachers or scriptures. But often, we pray.

How to choose what will make you happy?

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“Try it! Unless you try it, you will never know the pleasures it will give you!” I hear this repeated regarding a number of decisions we are forced to make by an unconscious society – they force us to ‘try’ educational choices, ‘try’ career options, ‘try’ marriage, ‘try’ drugs, ‘try’ unhappiness.

Indeed, how do we know what makes us happy, before we even commit to an action? How do we know if something will drive us crazy before we commit to it?

Some people jump off a cliff and enjoy bungee jumping. Some step back in aversion (I say aversion, not fear).

People who force you to do things usually judge your happiness by their own. They judge your sadness by their own. They find it difficult to accept and understand that you may be different, that you may have a different life purpose, a different calling in life.

They fail to realize that certain decisions like marriage, drugs or alcohol are life changing, one-way paths to a prison for your soul. They fail to realize that you can have different thoughts from they. They fail to accept you as an individual, for they do not realize themselves as individuals. People who have never completed their own process of individuation and separateness can never see the same in others.

It is not commonalities that bind us to others, but our isolation. The more isolated we feel from our friends, family, peers and society, the more we learn to accept and appreciate our unique differences.

And we come back to our original question: how do we know? Who is telling us we will be unhappy?

We can either learn from our own mistakes or the mistakes of others. Those who listen to external voices and pressures seldom experience bliss. Such foolish people ask questions such as if five people jump off a cliff and die, how do you know you will die too? They encourage you to jump off the cliff too. They encourage you to look at one side of the equation- the joy of jumping and ignore the death imminent below.

Such people lead unconscious, shallow, artificial lives and fail to see the truth in others. They fail to understand that what make our lives are not situations, but how we respond to them. Since they live lives running from the truth, they close their own eyes and encourage you to close your eyes as well.

They see freedom as doing what everyone else is doing, not in trying something new. They see happiness as following others’ paths even if they lead nowhere, for they know no other path.

Thus, we arrive at a few critical questions:

  • If a path is right for everyone, why is everyone not equally happy on that path? (Education choices, marriage, drugs, alcohol, food, living situation)
  • If that path is not right for everyone, why should you not choose another path?
  • Will a new path guarantee that you will be happy? Not really.
  • If so, why choose a different path, when there is no more guarantee of you being happy, compared to the standard path that others have taken?
  • What is different in the sadness you experience on your own path, as compared to the sadness you experience on another’s path (that you were forced into)?
  • The only difference is that on your own path – you have the ability to accept what comes your way.
  • Experiencing sadness on another’s path leads to blame, regret and suffering. Experiencing happiness on another’s path leads to you manipulating others and forcing others to follow that path, just like you were forced earlier. Suffering inside you creates more suffering in others – passing it on from generation to generation.
  • The only way to cease suffering, sorrow and unhappiness is to break free of forcing others to follow the path you choose. The only way to stop forcing others is by choosing your own path. The only way to choose your own path is by finding yourself.

Thus, you transform your consciousness to a higher state:

  • You break your family and peers’ cycle of suffering and choose your own path, consciously.
  • You accept the choices you made and own both, the happiness you receive and the sadness you receive.
  • The peace you achieve by accepting the path you have chosen through separateness will help you encourage others to find their own path, and not create any further ‘first-hand’ suffering.

True peace does not come from the ability to choose our life path, but from the ability to accept the rewards and consequences of our life path. When you blame no one for your choices, you achieve peace. Peace is responsibility, responsibility is freedom, freedom is choice, choice is listening to your inner voice- your soul.

Why do we become Conscious?

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I sat asking this question to myself, for even if you awaken spiritually, and become fully conscious, it is not sufficient to satisfy our mind. It wants to know why we are conscious too.

Given that my mind is the instrument I use to talk to my soul, it is a circular question – effectively becoming equivalent to my mind asking why it has done something. It is similar to you picking up a cup absent-mindedly and wondering, why you picked it up.

Upon pondering this further, we come to the realization that if we have ‘woken up’, we must have been asleep. And if we had been asleep, our minds must have been working in the background, and thus we must have lived a dream until now. Therefore, our entire life until now was a dream. And we merely awoke.

What woke us? Was it an alarm of sorts? Yes – but the alarm was inside you – the voice of your soul. Your soul is the alarm that keeps ringing for 2 hours, while you keep pressing the snooze button trying to go back to sleep. Ah, isn’t sleep wonderful? Society’s job is to keep you asleep. Society is your personal sandman, built by you to keep you asleep.

Then what woke you up now, and not earlier? Well, for some of us, it takes time to listen to our soul alarm, some of us are deeper sleepers. Some of us are too tired to hear the alarm, and prefer to ignore it and remain asleep. Some of us are in pain, similar to being caught in a fire and suffocating to death, but have no energy to get up and get out of the fire – in short to wake up. So, we have remained asleep until now, remained unconscious so to speak.

Why did we fall asleep then? Perhaps we arrived from a long journey, from another plane. Time is relative – on this plane, we may sleep for hours at night; but from an existential perspective, we have slept for lifetimes. Circumstances have changed around us, civilizations may have risen and fallen and yet we slept through it all. Such was our exhaustion, lethargy and the compelling nature of our circumstances. Perhaps our mind, body and soul were too injured in our journey to this plane and needed to recover. Unconsciousness was the only way it could gain rest. And rested it has, for eons.

Waking for us, becoming spiritually conscious, has thus been a struggle similar to waking up from sleep. We resist it at first, happy in our dreams. Until we begin to feel our body tossing about on our bed. But we roll over and go back to sleep. We prefer our dreams to the reality that awaits upon awakening. But soon, our dreams turn into nightmares, we suffer. There is no escape from this suffering, the nightmare seems to have no end.

That is when we realize there is no way to end this suffering, this nightmare, except by waking up. Sleep seems to be a poor choice to the light streaming through our windows from the sunlight of our soul. Our soul urges us to wake up and we finally listen to our alarm, gratefully this time and wake up.

Once fully awake, we wonder- how anyone could ever have fallen asleep when a beautiful morning is beckoning us from outside. We wonder how we never heard the birds chirping before, caught up in the mists of our unconscious state. We look around us and see our world still asleep – we try to wake our peers but realize only a few stir.

We write blogs, give sermons, conduct seminars on awakening, yet no one seems to want to awaken. Everyone is able to hear your words, but they seem to be present physically and mentally and absent spiritually. All you are able to do is hope that something of what you said has penetrated their dreams.

Why? The only thing you can hope for… as an awake, conscious person is to help others realize they are sleeping when their nightmares begin. For all of us have uncomfortable dreams, even the best of us. Those who don’t realize it is a dream suffer, those who do quickly jump up on the bed and glance around wide-eyed. We realize we cannot make others conscious, only help them know they are dreaming when ‘they’ decide it is time for them to wake up.

We realize consciousness was our solitary journey – everyone wakes up at different times. Our waking is not in our control, our sleeping was not in our control either. We can only wait for others to join us, as we plod to our spiritual kitchen and get ourselves a cup of coffee.

Will we fall asleep again? Very possibly, for we may get tired being awake forever. Thus, we realize consciousness is not a goal, but an interval for us to enjoy before we gratefully embrace sleep again at the start of the next leg of our spiritual journey to the nothingness we came from.

Understanding Peace

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Peace is one of the most difficult needs to explain to another, for people in general do not understand peace. People who do not understand peace, seek refuge in noise – the noise of crowds and relationships. Such people who do not understand others’ need for peace will never understand the concepts of privacy, space and calmness.

Why do unpeaceful people not understand peace? For their souls are filled with suffering and noise. The only way they can drown out their own noise is by clanging objects and people around them. One who has terrific noise within, can only achieve silence by creating a greater noise outside his mind to distract him or her. It is best to never form a relationship with such people, for their noise within will create noise within you as well.

Thus, you realize that the only way to be ‘happy’ is to have peace. Peace is the subtext of all happiness, sorrows, ups and downs of life. We do not desire happiness for that is merely a fleeting high. We do not desire freedom from sadness, for every time you try something, you will either get what you want or not- which will either make you happy or unhappy. This is natural.

Thus, we replace:

Achieving Happiness and Sadness, with

Wanting something, getting it or not getting it,

Accepting what we get, and accepting that we may not get everything,

This acceptance is peace.

Those who aim at happiness or only achievement live a half-life, and never truly accept both sides of the coin above. Their half-life results in deep un-peace. Their un-peace translates into our suffering. The question we need to ask such people is: “Why are you not at peace with the way I live my life?”

Their answer will most likely create more noise and suffering within themselves and within you.

When you try to explain peace, unpeaceful people cannot understand it, for peace cannot be explained, only experienced. Peace only has a negative definition, not a positive one – peace is the absence of noise.

Happiness, on the other hand, has a positive definition – it involves goals to achieve, things to do, places to see, people to meet. But peace underlies the success or failure of these events. If you succeed in finding what you want, you will be happy and at peace. If you fail in achieving what you desire, you will be sad, but very much again at peace.

Peace is the constant beneath it all. Peace is silence. Peace is nothingness. Nothingness can only ever be explained by the absence of ‘things’. The absence of sadness is peace, The absence of happiness is also peace.

Once you pursue peace as your overarching goal, every other aspect of your life falls into place and begins to make sense.

  • You need boundaries to achieve peace
  • You need to give up the concept of right and wrong to achieve peace
  • You need privacy to achieve peace
  • You need truth to achieve peace
  • You need silence to achieve peace
  • You need financial independence, but not necessarily riches, to achieve peace
  • You need contentment to achieve peace
  • You need a spiritual backbone to achieve peace
  • You need emotional intelligence to achieve peace
  • You need to die internally (ego, false self) to achieve peace
  • You need to accept bodily death to achieve living peace
  • You need to accept others’ lives and life paths to achieve peace
  • You need to respect others’ boundaries to achieve peace
  • You need to respect others’ privacy to achieve peace
  • You need to help others achieve peace, if required, to achieve your own peace
  • You need to make peace with the fact that others may never understand you
  • You need to make peace with the fact that others may never find peace
  • You need to make peace with the fact that you may be alone (but not lonely) in your peace
  • You need to make peace with the fact that some relationships may fall away as you seek peace
  • You need to be alert to relationships that can teach you more about peace

In the end, you will find yourself making peace with the last frontier, all forms of noise and un-peace.

Realizing your True Self- Understanding the Meaning of Surrender

One of the hardest or shall I say most difficult concepts to understand in spirituality is surrender.

Most people view surrender as just giving up their life’s duties and trusting it all to God or Life or Nature or the name they prefer for a higher power. Surrender is not abdication of your responsibilities. Which brings us to the next question- who are you responsible for? And equally importantly, who are you responsible to?

We are born with our bodies and minds. Some of us are born intelligent, some of us not so. I shall be straightforward here, but it takes intelligence to know you are intelligent, but a far greater intelligence to know you are not the most intelligent. Only an intelligent person can know how dumb he or she is, how little he/ she knows. It is therefore easy to get caught up in an appreciation of our intelligence, for who better can appreciate the vastness, diversity and uniqueness of our intelligence than ourselves? Some of us are given parents who constantly point out how intelligent we are, in school and college – this adds to our misconception that our intelligence is ours – that our intelligence belongs to us.

Let us go into this delusion further and see where it leads us.

Intelligence is not just about our minds but about our bodies too. A beautiful woman is born with a body that is ‘intelligent’ enough to realize the power of attractiveness. Her looks help open doors to jobs, relationships and networks that others may find more difficult to access. This is no less true for an intelligent man, but given the role of biology as it plays out, a man may likely create or pursue a persona of power, as compared to a persona of vulnerability and trust that a woman may pursue. Again, all of us are both male and female to varying extents and a woman can rely on her masculine side to obtain power as much as a man can rely on charm (his feminine side) to get ahead. So, we see that our bodies are intelligent too, not just our minds.

Our protagonists above are often ignorant of this fact and attribute this intelligence to themselves. They begin taking credit for all of their social and professional success and thanks to magazines that idolize success, social media that encourages likes and shares, this is not difficult. This goes on until they age. Death comes to us all, not just in bodily form (where we leave our bodies) but also to our minds (say we get Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s). Sometimes, our minds simply age, our memories begin to fade, our hands are not that steady any more, our skin begins to wrinkle. We rush to combat these through medication, Botox and any other boosters we can lay our hands on. But over time, skin that is Botoxed begins to harden into ugliness, minds that are ‘boosted’ through drugs begin to atrophy into rigidity.

Our creativity begins to decline, whether we fight death or not. The only difference is, when we do not fight death, our bodies and minds age gracefully – our bodies become softer and warmer to look at (our grandparents?), our minds become less ambitious and easier to live with once they are free of ambition. In short, surrender to death makes us beautiful, makes our journey worthwhile. Fighting death brings to the surface the ugliness that we so desperately seek to hide.

Does surrender to death make us less ugly, less unattractive? Hardly. Just as milk boils and releases cream, our bodies release beauty to balance our ugliness as we age. But putting a lid on boiling milk, we only cause spillage and a mess, and lose our appetite for the vey milk that we boil. Then we can ask, if we are boiling milk and see it as an analogy to aging and the fight against death, who is boiling us- our bodies and minds? We realize the presence of something outside us, or perhaps inside us that seems to have the master control over our lives. This realization is one part of surrender.

We can take this a step further – for if death is indeed releasing us from our bodies and minds by an act of God, surely the same God had attached us to our minds and bodies during birth. This takes us to the natural questions – what do we mean by ‘us’? What is this ‘us’ that our bodies and minds are being attached to at birth, and what is this ‘us’ that our bodies and minds are being detached from upon death? It is to be noted here that we see our minds as separate from ourselves, our we would never use phrases like ‘my mind is not working today’ or ‘my legs are troubling me lately’. Clearly, we subconsciously realize that is something else separate within us, beyond our bodies and minds, beyond our physical power and intellect. We can call this our soul, our deepest true self, our primal self.

Different religions make an attempt to describe this – Hinduism tries to help you realize the existence of your soul through renunciation – giving up possessions, wealth, eventually your food, air and the body itself. During this process, you come to realize that however much you give up, something inside you refuses to die – that is your soul. Christians are shown this path through Jesus dying on the cross – Jesus decided to show a path rather than giving too many steps like the Hindus – he has essentially said ‘Try out death for yourself, and you will see what doesn’t die’. Now, death here does not mean suicide, but the experiencing death in the form of loss of our families, relationships, jobs, careers, possessions and the like. Any loss feels like death – it pains us, rips our heart apart. As the Buddhists say, when something is dying, let it die. If your job is being taken away from you despite your best efforts, let go. If your marriage is failing despite all you are doing, let it go. Let things die around you.

When you let things die around you, you master death. For now, death instead of being a force acting against you becomes a tool that helps you wash away the old and ring in the new. Death is a shower; death is a bath with soap and shampoo after a day in the sewers. Death cleans you. You begin to make friends with Death, you embrace change.

You then realize, Death is not always available at your command. True- you can kill things on your own through divorce, a job resignation or a yard sale of unwanted property. But often, Death comes calling when you are not ready or have asked for it. Who has asked Death to come to you? Who decided you needed a shower for you were stinking from not having taken a bath for years? Just like you can’t control when it rains, you also can’t control when Death decides you need a cleansing shower. Death is God in disguise, cleansing you, closing doors you no longer need, opening doors you don’t have the courage or foresight to open on your own. Death is your best friend, and sometimes Birth (of the wrong relationships, jobs, families or friends) can be your worst enemy. You realize you trust Death. This is surrender.

We now reach the next level of questioning – how do I know what I should do, and what I should trust to God in the forms of Birth and Death? You will never know – think of God as your boss who never interferes in your work but allows you complete freedom to make a mess of things at the office. He/she steps in only when you are messing up in the wrong way. Messing things up is perfectly fine as we now understand, for if we are going off path, we experience corrections in our life by either getting things added to our life or removed from our life. So, if we need to allow God to be our boss, we need to allow things to be added or removed. Let us remember, Death is our best friend, not the friends we talk to everyday. If Death decides to remove our friends because you want to marry someone against their wishes, let it be. If Death decides to allow you to start your own company by sacking you from your job, let it be. Therefore, the only way Death can be our friend is through keeping our other relationships on earth ‘loose’. We call this detachment, best explained in Buddhism. Detachment is what helps us prioritize the main relationship in our life, with God, allowing him to do his work. God does his work anyway – the difference is whether you accept his (her) decisions with understanding or you accept his/ her decisions kicking and screaming. Accepting God’s decisions comes through understanding- this understanding reduces our suffering when Death comes knocking. This is surrender.

We now come to the final part of surrender. If we decide surrender is the only way to live, it becomes a religion and cult, rather than a philosophical guide. Our ultimate act should be surrendering surrender itself. Do not accept surrender as the true way, do not force others to surrender – instead surrender yourself to their lack of knowledge. Do not force yourself to accept or apply this article, you are free to surrender this article too.

Thus, as its final parting gift, surrender teaches you that the only person you can control, the only person you can make decisions for regarding surrender is yourself. No one else. By allowing you to surrender everything, including surrender itself, it leaves you with the greatest gift of all- complete, personal freedom of the soul.

Learning to Die Gracefully- Everyday

I have seen this occur to many people I know. You get a new job, and you fear leaving what you have. You get a chance to relocate, and you fear what lies ahead. Cliched I know, filled across the web with advice on stepping out into the unknown, bridging your fears….yawn, I know.

But if you are the first in your circle of friends or family doing something untried, be assured of resistance. Not from the outside, but first from within you. You might begin to feel like a part of you is dying. Your ego has become too attached to what you have. You know that feeling of being stuck- you ARE stuck, or more precisely, your ego is to something that is no longer you.

The beautiful thing is….yes, a part of you is dying. You just need to let it die.

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There can be no new life without death.

You feel scared primarily because you have defined yourself as only your past. When you realize you are also your present, and your future, you realize that you haven’t lost anything- you were only aware of one part of yourself.

Now, you might ask, why is the present and future part of me, when I have not lived it yet? To answer that, you need to understand things beginning with your birth. Before you were born, who were you? Did you have a past before you were born? If so, you are currently living the “future” of your past life — you think your life’s movie started only when you were born, but your birth was merely an intermission in a far longer life. Your birth was merely a gateway to what you are living right now. So, there is no more getting over a “past” because you are already living a “future” of sorts. If you don’t believe in reincarnation, I suggest you read “Many Lives, Many Masters” by Brian Weiss, and his experiments with regression therapy.

But, I shall also offer one more perspective. When do you fear “losing” something? Only when you have it in the first place. You didn’t have your past earlier- it has only now become your past. Tomorrow, this post on Quora will be part of your past and you may fear not finding it. So, fundamentally, you fear losing the past because you think it “belongs” to you.

Your experiences don’t belong to you, they are already part of you. Let me give you an analogy. Think of yourself as a meal/ curry — earlier you were the vegetables in your childhood, over time life has added a bit of oil, some butter, some spices and you have become a complete curry now. You are not the vegetables, you are now a curry. Letting go of the past is the only way for life to convert you into a curry, a meal, something nice and appreciated. Now, thinking you are no longer a vegetable is truth, but realizing that life has made you into a lot more is also truth.

Now the question arises, what is my true nature? I was a vegetable earlier, now I am a curry. Or a better analogy- you were a caterpillar earlier, then you were a pupa in a cocoon, and then you became a moth/ butterfly. Does the butterfly miss being a caterpillar? Maybe. But is it also the caterpillar? Yes. So, your true nature is the past, but it is also the present. And soon, your true nature will also be the future, for today’s present will become a part of you. Life ADDS to you, it doesn’t exchange your past and give you a new present- it BUILDS on your past and gives you a present, and then a future.

You become more complete as you move through life. But what you miss is the feeling of incompleteness, the hope that you would one day be complete (which you had in your childhood). And now that you are more complete (not fully, for that is an ongoing process), you wonder, now that I am complete, I have nothing more to look forward to. My advice, stop looking forward to anything and life will present you with something to excite you- a child never looks forward to growing up, and he/she is happy. You miss that feeling of incompleteness which you had as a child. But when you realize you are still incomplete, you have a lot to look forward to, you attain peace.

Fear is felt when you lose something, but you neither lose nor gain anything with time. You merely see different versions of yourself. And one day, when you move on from this world, your future of today will become an “intermission” of sorts before the next act begins. Your life movie was incomplete before you were born, it will remain incomplete tomorrow however much you try to “complete” everything in this life.

So I leave you with this…it is only once “you” as you know yourself die, that your real true self can come to life.

The Beginning- Listening to your Soul

Every one of us begins our childhood with a recognition of our needs. A recognition that our feelings matter. What we think matters. What we say matters.

Over time, we lose touch with this deeper self. Our family ‘teaches’ us to respond to them first, and ignore our feelings. These are done in subtle ways- guiding you as a baby to come to them, increasing your attachment to them which in turn is reciprocated.

However, attachment is not affection. A dog that you keep as a pet is dependent on you for food, and thus becomes attached to you. We perceive this as affection – but this is little more than dependence of the dog on you for sustenance. A baby is no different from a dog in its attachment- it is born cute to attract others to it, highlight its vulnerability and thereby survive. Endearment that results is of usually two levels – one at the attachment level that helps the baby survive; and the second at an affection level that respects the baby’s needs to eat or not eat, poop or not poop. A baby is thus protected and also respected.

As we grow older, we are encouraged to ignore our feelings of self-respect. Society beats us down. Our parents, friends, teachers, colleagues beat us down. They insist that your feelings are not as important as theirs, your goals (however subtle or unformed) are not as important as theirs. This results in a significant contradiction – it is only a person who can feel his or her feelings who can actually create or visualize what kind of life he or she wants. A person who is encouraged not to feel his/ her emotions can never move to the next step of visualizing his or her ideal life. All vision is born of emotions.

It is surprising that while vision is naturally born of our emotions, we are asked to be ambitious, have goals to travel to far-reaching places – but paradoxically we are asked to let go of any self-respect we have for our emotions. Family and friends urge us to aim high, but settle low. The soul can only ask, it is not capable of shouting. Our souls whisper to us through emotions – emotions are the language by which our souls talk to us one way. We cannot talk back to our souls – our soul was here first.

This leads to the next obstacle. The moment we abandon listening to our emotions and respecting them, the moment we stop listening to our soul, we have effectively begun using our body to accomplish the desires of another soul – one belonging to your peers or friends or family. I say that the ‘soul belongs to another’ but in reality our bodies were given to our souls. You were made your soul’s keeper, to listen to it and nourish it and respect it, to acknowledge it and help its deepest unspoken needs flower and flourish.

Our soul’s needs are simple and they rarely differ from one person to the other. Our souls simply ask for freedom and space to grow, and be unique. Our job as the gatekeeper of our soul is to use our body, our senses – our sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing, to honor our soul. You are the only one your soul can talk to – if you don’t listen to it, you are doing it a great disservice. This is your sole mission in life- to listen to your soul.

Mark our language earlier – we said our job is to be the gatekeeper of our soul. We are the listeners and executors, our soul is the speaker and expressor. Thus, we realize we are of two parts- we have a soul, we have a gatekeeper inside us, and we have a set of tools – our body as a container, our senses as receptors and our mind as a processor to help us achieve our soul’s asking.

This is where we have to take care and execute with wisdom. Freedom can be achieved by peaceful means – a live and let live philosophy; or freedom can be achieved through war and bloodshed. The second method makes you no better than our previous aggressors who asked us to abandon listening to our souls. By choosing war and bloodshed (this may be emotional or physical war, a domestic fight to coerce someone to do what you want or an inter-country peace process), we become the very enemy we are trying to escape. If you recall, we started listening to our souls because others were trying to make us listen to theirs. If you listen to your soul and try to achieve freedom and space by making others listen to your soul (instead of their own soul), we transform into the very people who were attacking us earlier and end up tyrannizing others.

Each of us has a soul – a separate soul and it behooves us to listen to no other soul than our own. It also behooves us to encourage others to listen to their own souls and no other. Thus, we realize the concept of boundaries – of separateness and individuality that is so essential for inner harmony (with our own souls) and outer harmony (coexistence and mutual respect of different souls side by side- what we call live and let live in the truest sense).

Thus, we begin our journey to peace, happiness and fulfillment by one simple act of listening – not to the noise outside us but to the silent voice within us that urges us to greatness. Does greatness mean becoming the President? Hardly. Greatness for the soul is just being true to what it asks. You are great if you are a carpenter, you are great if you clean the sewers, you are equally but no greater if you are the king. Our souls are equal – it is our execution that lends to our lives’ different shades and flavors. Some of us execute freedom in the material world, some within our families – nourishing children, some as travelers seemingly seeing all and achieving nothing in a material sense. All of these lives are equal for all of their souls are equal in value – it is only their external manifestations that differ.

Thus, listening to our souls provides us not just individuality and separateness, freedom and peace but also equality in its deepest sense. You rest in the idea that you are equal – no more superior or inferior to anyone else. And when you realize the inner equality you share with every human being and animal and plant on this planet, you cease to evaluate by external appearances. You cease judgment and embrace universal acceptance. When I say acceptance, it is not to make you feel ‘ high’ temporarily for that is merely your ego; but it is to help you realize acceptance in the truest sense of not expecting anything from others around you. Acceptance does not mean pitying others whom we consider have inferior manifestations/ lives or idolizing others whom we consider have superior manifestations/ lives (for that would go against our realization that all of us are equal).

Acceptance means simply knowing that we are all equal in our efforts to simply listen to our soul. Acceptance means respecting others’ needs to listen to their own soul and not yours, or vice versa. Acceptance means respecting your need to listen to your own soul and gently push away those who try to impinge on us. Acceptance means realizing we are all on our individual soul journeys, some of which appear bright on the outside and some of which appear dull on the outside. Dull is no less than bright – gold however beautiful cannot be used to construct your home, and iron however strong is rarely used in delicate jewelry. Each of us has our place in the world and this acceptance, respect and peace comes to us by one simple act – when we listen to our soul.

That one act constitutes the beginning.

Finding Yourself Through Boundaries

Photo by Nick Tiemeyer on Unsplash

Babies learn to set boundaries naturally- you step out of their sight, they cry. You feed them too much food, they expel substances all over you. You don’t leave them alone; they aim a few kicks into your sternum.

When those babies grow up, they undergo societal amnesia. They forget how to say no. They learn to please everyone at their expense. They learn to bully others at others’ expense. When these adults have their own babies, they restart the brainwashing cycle- shaping their babies to be obedient citizens or chaos in motion. Having observed these patterns in many around me (not to forget myself), I felt it might be time to run a refresher on why we need boundaries:

1. Boundaries define what you do

This applies to how we relate to authority- be it our parents, employers, spouses or even our lawyers. If you are in a relationship- personal or professional with someone, you need to know what each of you is going to do. Granted that a lot may be ambiguous not clean cut- say who is going to drop off the kids to school next week, but boundaries help define what you bring to the table. More importantly, they help define what you do not.

Which brings me to…

2. Boundaries help express who you are

If you do all of the work in a relationship (at home or work), then you don’t need the other person around except as an ornament. Sure, there are relationships where your partner may not contribute intellectually or physically, but might provide emotional support. If you are managing every aspect of a relationship by yourself, you might want to (genuinely) ask if you gain any value from the relationship.

Which means…

3. Boundaries give you purpose

Yup. Romantic relationships have a purpose. Friendships do, however casual they might be. Work has a monetary goal. You might not like taking a cold hard look at your relationships, but if your best friend suddenly starts criticizing you every chance he gets, or shows little interest in your life, you have reached a stalemate. If your relationship is in the dead zone, you don’t need boundaries. Conversely, if you want a healthy relationship (without being a doormat or bully), you need boundaries.

Which implies…

4. Boundaries are an investment

Boundaries don’t count if there is no one on the other side. You can put up all the fences you want, but if you don’t have someone (or something like a cow) that is trying to barge into your garden, building a fence will be a wasted effort. Set boundaries when you are sure they will be respected. And remember, when you set up your fence, it marks your neighbor’s property as well. Your boundaries impact others’ as well- you might do well not to stray into their pastures.

5. Boundaries help you focus, not compromise

If you enter a relationship passively, from a place of fear or insecurity, you might focus on keeping the other person out of your space, than defining your own space. This is rarely sustainable. It brings to mind the story of the boy who plugs his finger into the dyke to keep the sea from flooding Holland- you will have to keep your finger in that hole constantly, without being able to move away. If you spend your time fighting to maintain your boundaries, you won’t have much energy left to enjoy your space. Focus on what you need and maximize it, rather than minimizing what enters your space.

6. Boundaries evolve as you grow

As a child, you might have wanted little from the world, the adult ‘you’ seeks a larger playground. Your boundaries will, and should, change in sync with your evolving self. This means that your relationship will undergo changes as both of you seek different things from each other and the world around you. This means that if you and a partner (again personal or work-related) do start traveling in different directions, there may no longer be a need for boundaries. Boundaries are only essential when you are traveling the same path and exploring the same space.

A few final thoughts…

Learning to set boundaries is not natural for many. A great book that can help you get started is Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud . Boundaries are everywhere. You have the freedom to read, comment and (not?) disagree with this article because I respect your boundaries. It is easy to allow people in to make them happy. It is easy to trample over others and make everyone around you miserable. We need maturity and a balanced ego to find and hit the sweet spot.