I know I often mention how much I appreciate the pervasive spiritual focus in India, which is lacking in the west. It’s such a general statement to make though. So, today, I’m happy to be able to give an example of what I’m referring to. Today is Guru Purnima. A day that’s devoted to acknowledging and giving thanks to a special spiritual teacher (if you have one), or anyone who has taught you important lessons in life.
Even if you don’t follow a spiritual guru, you can still celebrate Guru Purnima by simply spending time reviewing all the knowledge you’ve acquired in the last year, and the way it’s transformed you.
So, what am I thinking about today?
Further on from my recent ponderings about Individual Vs Collective Culture and which one might be more suitable for me to live in, I’ve come to the realisation that it really doesn’t matter!
I recently read a new spiritual book called Seeing, Knowing, Being by John Greer. While the concepts in weren’t new to me, the way they’ve been brought together and presented prompted me to refocus my thinking.
The premise of the book is that we need to awaken ourselves and learn to see in a different way. This means detaching ourselves from our society’s version of reality, our cultural conditioning, and the identity that we have created for ourselves. The goal is to develop awareness that we’re all part of the same greater whole, unlimited by conceptions of who we are. When we gain this awareness, it enables us to see everything as divine creations of life, without being distorted by attachment or aversion, or coloured by preferences and opinions.
Put this way, “it’s our way of seeing the world that causes suffering, not the world itself”.
What I really liked about the book is how it lays out the human spiritual experience as a progression of “exile” from our true being to “return” to wholeness, and the concepts it involves. Poignant metaphors are used to help the reader understand the concepts better.
As the book explains, our “exile” starts from years of perceptions and conditioning, which creates a world of endless divisions. From an early age, we’re taught to see the same reality as everyone else in our family and our community. This leads to us as seeing ourselves as separate from other people. Racial stereotypes, religious fundamentalism, and nationalistic fevour result.
Yet, what’s worse in western individualistic society, is that we’ve replaced the feelings of safety and connection from close relationships, with anonymity and independence. We constantly want to be ourselves and seek out an authentic life, but never seem to find lasting satisfaction. We see ourselves as alone and incomplete. We feel like our lives are missing something, and we yearn for wholeness.
From here, many people are prompted to embark on a journey of seeking and transformation. A journey that necessitates letting go of fixed ideas and beliefs to rediscover our true selves. That is, the source from which we came.
When I moved to India, I wondered — like some of my friends and family did — if I was “running away”. However, as mentioned in the book, we must relinquish the conventional image of our self in order to realise the wholeness of our true nature. And, what better way to do that than changing our environment. Our entire lives revolve around the entity we believe ourselves to be, and what others believe us to be. We have so many attachments that control us, from beliefs to habits to material things. For me, immersing myself in an unfamiliar culture has facilitated them falling away and the gaining of new perspectives.
Very little of my old self exists in India, including my previous profession (did I really once write reports on public sector corporate governance, and government finances?), what I wear, and what I eat. And on a deeper level, being surrounded by people with a very different set of beliefs and behaviours has challenged my way of thinking. I identify less with who I was. At times it’s been a painful and lonely, but necessary, process to get rid of my self centered view of life. At the same time, it also feels so liberating, to no longer be restricted to my own narrow cultural conditioning.
As part of the journey to awareness, the book discusses various spiritual paths and their practices, and how they facilitate our quest for spiritual truth. It distinguishes between religious doctrines that seek to translate life’s suffering and problems into a form that gives meaning and hope, and other esoteric forms of spiritual expression that act to transform the individual and bring about insights into the nature of life and existence.
This has helped me see why I’ve never wanted to be a part of mainstream religion, especially religion that promotes itself as being the best path, to the exclusion of others. To me, following religious dogma and the set ideals of right and wrong is not going to help me progress spiritually. However, learning to see things a different way and breaking down illusion might.
Studying Reiki, experiencing past life regression, practicing Vipassana meditation, and even taking a huge leap of faith and coming to India, have all brought huge shifts in my beliefs. I’ve grown to realise that like everything in the universe, we’re all energy vibrating at certain levels, and we come to earth in many varied identities over many lifetimes. With this realisation, even the prospect of fear of death recedes (in fact, sometimes it even feels appealing, to discover what the after life and next life may bring).
Maintaining such a level of awareness is really difficult though. My mind reverts to the logic and conceptual thought that’s emphasised in modern society. Much of the time, I fear my death and everyone else’s. I still fall prey to the illusion of myself as separate and isolated. I compete and compare myself with others. And, I still find myself readily getting wound up in life’s everyday problems, rather then viewing them neutrally as a part of life to be experienced.
Fortunately, reading the book has given me a nudge back in a more enlightened direction. Really, it doesn’t matter where I’m living, as long as I’m working on my spiritual development. While India is a more inspiring and supportive place to do this than the west, the challenge is to not be overwhelmed by the difficulties of day to day life but rather use them “as a way to help motivate us to turn our attention within towards our Soul, where true fulfillment lies”. (Thank you to one of my readers who contributed this little bit of wisdom in a comment on another post).
Happy Guru Purnima everyone! I’d love to know what you’ve learned this year.
Photo credit: Two paths by Renaudeh.
© 2012, Diary of a White Indian Housewife. All rights reserved. Do not copy and reproduce text or images without permission.
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