On Life

From the very beginning, we are made to look at life as a separate entity. As children, we are advised to conduct our life well. We understand it as: There is me and there is my life. I was no exception. Then, in my teens and as a student of French literature, I got the opportunity to study the works of Camus, Flaubert, Proust and I began to think about life in a whole new way. These writers had such a profound effect on me that I began developing a philosophical bent of mind and thinking deeply about life. I became an insatiable reader. Then came Tolstoy, Chekov and Kafka, and in their work I saw the frailties and strength of human nature. It made me realize that it was not very dissimilar from how real life acted itself out. Life became a big idea for me.

So when I got a break to write as a freelance journalist, I chose to write about my observations of life through my encounters with people. For my stories, I walked every place in Mumbai where life throbbed. I walked in political rallies, in slums, in markets, and I met and interacted with all kinds of people- street people, educated people, tourists, artists, children, patients and even famous personalities. When I went to study in France, I traveled to write on the similarities of lives and human nature, irrespective where we lived. Whenever I wrote, I felt like an art-lover in a grand museum who wanted to see everything and know the story behind it. I devoured life every waking moment. And as if the whole universe was enjoying this ride with me, I even got an opportunity to write and anchor a travel show on India for television that put me in close touch with my country and its people. And yet, in spite of all this exposure to life, life still felt like a largely uncharted territory. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but despite all the philosophies I had read and discussed, despite all the people I had met, despite all the work I had done, I knew deep down that something that I had to know about life had yet come to me.

Then something happened, or as I see it now, which is why something happened. I encountered a health problem. It was a rare and debilitating condition called Meniere’s Disease, a mechanical problem in the inner ear. It brought my life to a stand-still because I found myself grappling with incessant vertigo attacks. A full-blown vertigo attack is one of the most fearful experiences to encounter in life and is medically proven to be equal in stress to the fourth stage of cancer. It felt as if the camera had swept swiftly across from a beautiful outdoor location to my bed. I had to give up my work- my writing and my newly started career in television. And I cried from the deepest part of my heart because it meant so much to me. After all, my husband and I had just settled in life after a lot of struggle to make it in a difficult city like Mumbai. It seemed I had a promising career ahead but everything had suddenly gone up in flames and I could do nothing but quietly observe what was happening. All I knew was that I had to get better and destroy this personal invasion. Of course, I went to a number of doctors and tried all kinds of approaches, mainly holistic, because Meniere’s Disease is an autoimmune condition and has no cure in medical books. I found temporary relief but nothing that really lasted. This went on for five years. And then, one day when I was in South India for an ayurvedic treatment, I visited a shrine because it happened to be nearby. I was told it was consecrated by an enlightened Master and a yogi.

I was not familiar with any of these aspects, but when I sat inside that shrine, I felt a kind of peace I had never encountered in my life. I had also never experienced sitting quietly with my eyes closed without a purpose. Actually, I had never encountered a purpose that required me to sit with my eyes closed. And yet, under the dome of that tranquil space, I found myself sitting effortlessly this way for an hour. It puzzled me but inspired me deeply enough to register myself for a program to learn yoga from the Master himself. I learnt a subtle form of yoga called kriya yoga which did not require me to twist or bend. It involved sitting still and working with the breath which I could do comfortably despite my vertigo condition. Once I incorporated this as a daily practice, I experienced a change in my being in just a few months. I instantly connected with something within me that was creating great joy, peacefulness, and also some kind of a distance from what I was physically suffering. Every time I practiced, I would sense something more to me and that ‘something’ of me wasn’t suffering at all. Now I was experiencing life in the raw. This life was not a big idea. I began to see the potential of suffering, how it was providing me a great base to evolve as a person, even transcend my fear and unhappiness of the disease. The word happiness and everything about it stopped bothering me. I did not feel the need to go anywhere or meet anyone to ‘know’ life. I felt it everywhere every time I paid close attention to it, whether it was a leaf or the sky. But I felt it most when I lost myself, when the grip of my identify loosened.

One day, in the midst of a very frightening vertigo attack, when I had lost complete control over my body, I suddenly started to witness my suffering. I felt no resistance towards something that was giving me such a hard time. As everything reeled around me, I held on to something beyond my senses that was bearing the hostile symptoms with some lovingness. When the attack passed, I experienced a great amount of peace in place of the usual fear. And suddenly, there it was, the most basic realization: how I experience myself is what I experience as life. In other words, I was life itself, there was no mistaking this truth. And with this realization in my experience, my health started to improve.

Enlightened Masters have always asked us to see life just as it is; pure, unadulterated, unprocessed and spontaneous. Yet, we can’t seem to let go of our own idea of what life should be and what it shouldn’t. So we chase it, search a purpose for it, design it, amplify it, make it fit in, make it stick out and somehow try to make it ‘the right kind of life’. When it doesn’t turn out the way we plan it, we hold a grudge against it. I have seen people drift and loose their beautiful innate qualities out of sheer bitterness so that when they become angry, insensitive, depressed people, they can say ‘life made me this way’. But life is never against us and it has no thought or judgment. Life is just life. When I think of what it took me to get me here, I laugh at the irony- all this restlessness to know everything there was to life when all I had to do was close my eyes, sit still and allow it to know me.