A DEMON CALLED HOPE

cc56cbb87382e2c7f74faf1c64cc03f7A long time ago in Manhattan, a wise friend caught my attention with this sad story—he claimed that hope too can be a demon, when used by the ego as a tool to keep us locked into demeaning situations. As an example, he explained that almost a quarter of a century ago, his beloved twin sister had married a charmer who had swept her off her feet. Everything was hunky-dory until their first child was born. Then the trouble began: he began to subject her to a mix of physical and emotional abuse, played around with other women on his business trips, and to top it all, told shameless lies about everything from the trivial to the profound.

Since they belonged to a fundamentalist Christian community down south that frowned on women standing up to their men, no matter their low caliber, his talented but quiet sister, who could have made something of herself in the art world, had stayed in the marriage. This despite my friend’s loving offers to support her if she left the creep. The guy was so wily, my friend added, that he could easily tell when his wife was getting to the end of her rope. Then he would turn on the magic and convince her that he had seen the error of his ways and was ready to transform. And so the years rolled on, and she lived on with him in the hope that TOMORROW he would change. Two more children were born, and by this time, she was too dispirited and beaten down to make a fresh start. If the guy had not died in a car collision a couple of years ago, my friend said dryly, she’d probably still be pandering to and defending him.

Until I heard this tale, I had not realized how the ego can co-opt a beautiful emotion like hope for its own sinister purposes. Besides, although the details were different, I had gone through a similar experience. Fortunately I had had the guts to cut loose when the discomfort of living with someone whose values were so divergent from mine outweighed my fear of being penniless and ostracized as a divorcee. And yes, in my case too, hope had played the role of demon—for I too had hoped for years and years that things would get better, and so I moved heaven and hell and did everything I could to make our life harmonious. Since I was an asset in many ways, and made life interesting for him, it served my partner to allow me to believe he was ready to change, when in fact he had no such intention. (Come to think of it, I don’t think he could have changed, because transformation involves possessing integrity, courage and a willingness to see that we are wrong and causing damage to others. The three steps of change: first awareness, then acceptance, and finally action). And so I too had remained trapped in a claustrophobic and demeaning situation for too long.

7293fc79f579a35ec9fc884aa6b3cadf-2In the end, words are only labels we slap on to experiences and events because we are unable to communicate effectively without them. (Only the true sage who has transcended duality can radiate wisdom in silence.) But it is not necessarily hope we have to guard against, but our own egoic fear of breaking free of a matrix that, while painful and disturbing, is paradoxically also comforting and familiar. This man’s sister, for instance, hoped for decades that her husband would change, against all evidence to the contrary, and lost her youth and vitality in the process. Who knows what she might have been able to do in that quarter century had she been bubbling with joy and vitally alive?

We live in a dualistic world where everything has at least two faces. The bright side of hope is uplifting and constructive; its dark side is when we hurt ourselves by remaining in unhealthy situations or relationships, all the while hopeful that things will change, despite knowing deep down they won’t. What is it that keeps us in the stew of passivity? Fear, in one word, for a known devil, as the old saw goes, is better than an unknown angel.

On the path to moksha, liberation from all desire and fear, it is critical that we face reality head-on. True, we might mess up from time to time, but we can always make amends. But the one thing we can never get back is the precious time we fritter away hoping things will be different, that our partner or whoever will eventually see the light. Instead, once we are certain we are being played by a callous trickster who cares nothing for our happiness and everything for his, we could put the lid on the situation, no matter what we have to go through in order to do this, and invest our energy in forging a happy and constructive life for ourselves. To rely on others for something as precious as our happiness is nothing less than foolish and cowardly. (And this of course works both ways: some women do the same to their men).

Dwell, Guatama Buddha said more than two thousand years ago, you are the light itself. Do not depend on others; the Dharma (your highest calling) is the light; do not depend on anything other than the Dharma. Advaita assures us that our essence is One, but in relative reality, we are made differently and must therefore find our own way to grow into spiritual warriors.

Featured Image -- 9732Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who helps us to get rid of all unnecessary baggage, so we can walk free and confident into the blazing Spiritual Heart!

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Me & Bobby McGee…Live!

That spooky stage....

That spooky stage….

This post fits bang into the “mundane” aspect of our blog title…but it also deals with the greatest foe we each must duel on the long and winding road to freedom — voila, Monsieur EGO! 

I made my debut as diva at the age of four. Garbed in virginal white, I stood brave as a soldier on the auditorium stage of our lovely school in Bangalore, run by British, Scottish and Indian nuns. I resisted the urge to flee backstage as the curtains rose and the spotlight focused on my terrified little face—and, according to my mother, burst into a faultless rendition of an old hymn known as Immaculate Mary.

Other kids followed my opening act with a variety of performances—for an audience comprising a vast throng of parents who clapped and cheered decorously at the end of each piece. This was Parents Day, and obedient kids that we were at the time (I changed radically), our chief desire was to impress our anxious elders.

10270747-high-jumpI was also the top athlete in my class: high jump, long jump and the hundred meters sprint. Never a team player, I did not succeed at playing basketball or any sport requiring cooperative effort; today I suspect my debut on that dark stage spoiled me—after that, nothing would do but to shine as the lone star in my own constellation. Continue reading

A Goddess Mandala: Kali, Aghori & Unconditional Love #1/6

image-1During my post-divorce years in Manhattan, I grew close to a band of unusual women ranging in age from their 20s to their 50s. Some were freelancers or regulars at the posh corporate law firm for which I then worked; others I’d bumped into at some cheese-and-wine affair that trendy Manhattanites throw in order to compensate for a crazy work-week; still others I’d encountered through the 12-Step program, whose meetings I attended in order to eradicate the insidious smoking habit slowly but surely draining my life force.

Going to AA to deal with a smoking addiction, you demand incredulously? But AA’s for folks with alcoholic dependency, ain’t it? True, AA was originally designed for the alcoholic, and yet liberal Manhattanites were open to a wider definition of addiction. In those often dark and stuffy spaces where addicts and alcoholics of all ages and backgrounds converged in order to keep each other sober, I found myself welcomed, sponsored and loved—until—as the popular saying goes—I was able to let go of my crutches and begin to love my unique self. Continue reading

The Impermanence of All Things – Samsara’s Seven Flavors – #5/12

impermanence-cartoonFlavor #1: Impermanence. Great sutras teach us that all people and things inevitably vanish, like dewdrops evaporating in the radiant morning sun; however, while intellectually we may accept that all that is born must eventually die, in our daily lives we ignore the stark fact that not just our intimate relationships and material possessions, but also our bodies and minds, are hurtling inexorably towards destruction.

Let’s say my lover presents me with an exquisite magenta orchid in a delicate porcelain bowl. I are aware that all flowers die, and yet I simultaneously perceive this orchid as having permanence. When I wake up next morning, my precious orchid is wilting, and by evening, it’s dead — bursting the bubble in which I first saw it as solid and permanent. Continue reading