It’s half past 7 in the morning and the air is cooler than I imagined. I’m wearing my patterned churidhar with sandals and I’ve thrown my hair up in a plait to stop the humidity from prying it loose. It’s actually the first time my grandmothers have let me walk to the temple alone. It’s only ten minutes away from my grandma’s house in Trivandrum (Kerala, India) but the fear of a young woman walking alone is usually so deeply instilled within them that my freedom is virtually non existent in these parts.
As I walk, I realise how anglicised I’ve become after all these years, always watching my footing and looking behind me in case a motorbike comes hurtling towards me round an unanticipated bend. A real Indian girl would walk with much more confidence.
I wonder if I’ll cry this time. I usually cry because the feeling is a little consuming. Yet, as the stream of bhajans from the temple’s speakers gets louder and starts to dim the noise of the traffic, I feel myself being increasingly unattached to the entire spectacle.
My relationship, belief and understanding of God has evolved throughout the years and I’ve no doubt that my constant search for meaning and purpose means it will continue to do so.
Like many brought up in the Hindu faith, my understanding of God came largely from familial traditions rather than being derived from scriptures or books. My mother was undoubtedly the greatest contributor to this conditioning and I thank her deeply for it.
She taught me to believe in Lord Krishna. So I did. Fervently. I read comic books of all his stories, my mother would recount them whilst feeding me balls of rice and yogurt and I would pray each day to him. Thus, I developed a close relationship with this idea of God that was given to me. I really believed he was there, that he cared, he listened and that I knew him. He was naughty and manipulative and challenging and though sometimes he let you feel like you were sinking, he would never really let go of you. I was only 7 or 8 years old when Amma told me that the reason it’s good to believe in God is because in times of hardship, people who have God by their side will not resort to measures like drugs and alcohol to numb their pain. I am so lucky to have grown up with such strength and faith.
The questions only really started when I began university. A confusing time for most people in a lot of ways was made even more confusing for me because I questioned my faith for the first time in my life. Surrounded by a large number of Muslim friends, I learned about their religion to greater depths than I had previously understood it and I was wrought with major Qur’an envy. In fact, I wished so much that I belonged to an Abrahamic faith because it felt so simple compared to Hinduism. How convenient for these people to be able to read a book for guidance and answers. My faith came from Amma: one person. These other folk had entire communities of people believing the same thing from the same texts. Variety may be the spice of life but I couldn’t help but feel like it was the downfall of Hinduism.
And in this way, my quest for answers began. I attended my university’s Hindu society learning events, even personally contacting their speakers so I could learn more about my faith. I realise now that what I craved so deeply was validation for 20 years’ worth of belief. I also started reading. I’ve read most Hinduism articles on the net. I’ve read Hinduism for dummies. I read the Gita, cover to cover. Hell, I even wrote an article for the National Hindu Students Forum magazine. Even with all this behind me, I wasn’t any closer to getting answers.
I’m not dismissing Hinduism. It’s a beautiful faith. I’ve even given talks and lectures about it. But the truth is that when I tried to understand it, I found it too complex and abstract; to the extent that even when lecturing I feared I wasn’t knowledgeable enough.
That summer, I met an aunt of mine when I came to India. We connected so instantly and with such depth that it felt like the same blood ran through our veins. It did. She introduced me to a realm of spiritual thinking that year.
As the years went by, I began exploring other avenues. I took up meditation, I learnt about Buddhist teachings on why we suffer and found nontheistic, parallels to Hinduism. I became drawn to its simplicity. I read more books. More articles. In fact, spiritual reading turned into a divine, philosophical obsession (I’m still obsessed). You may be wondering where this left me and my faith (or you may not because you don’t care but since you made it this far I’m going to continue spewing). Oddly, I felt liberated. It felt good not to be so reliant on God and to instead be able to rely on myself when I needed it. I detached a lot more.
The aunt I told you about that summer was the first person who introduced me to the concept of the ‘Law of Attraction’. Now I have my qualms with this term and all the literature surrounding it, but allow me to introduce it as a basic concept.
It’s essentially a universal law that some people believe in. It states that thoughts are things; essentially what you think is what you attract into your life. The law can be used, therefore to attract events, situations and people into your life through what is described as the ‘creative process’ of ‘ask (ask the universe or pray for what you want), believe (trust that it will come to you) and receive (live as though it’s already yours and practise consistent gratitude for it and all else good in your life). It adheres to a concept first introduced to me in 2012 by ‘The Alchemist’, that when you want to achieve something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it.
This is simplified and not all the information; but the point that I’m coming to here is that the sheer power of thought and belief is phenomenal. It can move mountains. It has, for so many people; including my aunt. Most people dismiss LoA as bullshit. But I personally think there’s a lot to it.
We are conditioned to believe that life happens to us, it’s out of our control and we deal with the consequences. Whilst to an extent, we cannot control what happens to us and an element of uncertainty exists, to a large degree I think we can. I think the creative process works. (That’s what’ll happen to you when you watch as much Oprah as I do).
Back to me walking down the street, dodging ditches and vehicles and wondering whether or not I’ll cry.
I see the stairs. I used to know exactly how many stairs there were because I would close my eyes and visualise climbing them to quieten my mind before every medical exam I sat. It became a good luck thing. I thought about how I don’t do that anymore because I know I create my own luck.
I would always wear my orange churidhar to climb these stairs. Today, almost as a statement to myself, I decided not to. No more ritualistic behaviour from me. Also that churidhar may have been the trend in 2007 but I have since moved forward both spiritually and fashionably.
I took my shoes off and began to ascend the flight of stone steps. The smell of oil and incense lingered in the air. I inhaled it so deeply that it diffused through every particle in my body. I walked to the shrine and there he was in all his glory: Lord Krishna surrounded by flowers and lamps and delicious things. As I looked at him, all else left my mind and it was just me and my senses. I broke contact to look around. The stone walls are so cooling and the grounds are covered in tall, green trees. Everything exudes peace. Is it peace I crave?
I looked at him once more and this time I thought. I thought of how I’m a qualified doctor now, all the people I’ll get to help and all the amazing people in my life. I asked for their happiness. I asked for my happiness. I asked him never to leave my side. A lot of this is out of habit but that’s okay. I stayed a little longer (one of my favourite songs came on in the background but then Mr Judgey priest walked out and shot a glance in my direction because I forgot to take money with me for prasadam. Obviously I don’t engage in ritualistic behaviour sir, can you not comprehend?) Anyway, with that, I left.
I think it’s okay not to have answers all the time. It’s okay not to have backing or proof for our belief system because that’s what faith is. And faith (in my mind because of law of attraction) can do amazing things in people’s lives.
I will always read and search and write in order to expand myself. But five years into this spiritual journey, I’m content with the hours I poured into self directed learning. I’m glad I no longer rely on God to such a degree that I need to engage solidly with religion to deal with my own wavering emotions, but instead chose to learn how to control my mind a little more and get sucked into bad thoughts a little less. I’m pleased that my years of childhood conditioning mean that I find places of peace within me and am decreasingly attached to the places outside me. I’m happy. And I’m learning what to do when I’m not.
May the universe bless you like it’s blessed me and a whole lot more.