In 2006, at the height of my career and living in Knightsbridge, I took a three-month sabbatical to meander off the beaten track in India. The reason was that I was earning in excess of £100,000, yet I never seemed to have enough money to treat myself. And all around me, I was surrounded by equally “poor”, discontented, superficially successful professionals in their 30-40’s who were in the same boat as I. I didn’t want to wake up one day to find out that a large chunk of my life had passed me by and that I had spent it being discontent and searching.
I had no fixed plans about where I was going, but I ended up in Rameswaram, the holy place for pilgrimage, and here, by the temples, I found a beggar who taught me the Sutras. I just sat beside him on the pavement reading from morning till noon, and passers-by would give us coins. At night, I would return to my simple digs and whenever I was hungry, I ate what the temple volunteers fed pilgrims: mainly watery dhal and chapati. My sweet treat of the day would be the flavoursome little bananas that were found here.
And I was happy. I was away from my comfortable life, beautiful home and lovely family, but I was happy. I came back and wrote a book about being happy with nothing; it was more like a diary, really, about the thinking humans’ time-old quest for that illusive something called happiness.
The book became modestly successful and I returned to Rameswaram to find the old beggar. To my great joy, I found him! He was still begging in the same spot. The open sores in his legs had not gotten better. Nor had they gotten any worse. Everything was same-same. I wondered if he remembered me. I tried to give him money – spoils from the book – but he didn’t want it. For a while, I felt awful for exploiting him. I promised myself that someday, I would write a sequel to this book about the noble man in rags who had more wisdom in his little finger than the learned professionals I surrounded myself with.
I am revisiting this old road, this old topic, because I recently met a kindred soul on life’s rich journey. She – a businesswoman and mother of two – and I got to know each other when she came to the island I am currently living on for a week of peace, soul-searching, meditation and yoga.
We spoke about many topics. It started with the usual. Oh, how tough it is to achieve that work life balance. How difficult it is to keep everything together. The whole world is going crazy being overdosed on adrenaline. we don’t pause enough to connect with ourselves. We lose ourselves. We neglect our spiritual side.
This was when it got interesting for Nicola and I. What is spirituality? An overwhelmingly large number of people do not know (or can’t be bothered). “God”, “New Age”, “mung beans and lentils” or “sandals and socks”?
We talked animatedly round the subject, circling it, and coming back to it again and again. What is it? it’s the part of us that needs to be acknowledged, the knowing that there is something beyond the smallness of our everyday life. It could be something as ubiquitous as a beautiful scenery in front of your eyes or a piece of music that stirs your soul. Holding the hand of your loved one and feel the connection in your heart centre. In Nicola’s case, sitting on a boat with lots of tourists on a cheap day trip, with a bunch of folks eating potato crisps and a boy puking into a paper bag as the boat rocked her towards an island filled with tourists. Happy and at peace, despite the cacophony and mundane happenings.
For within that bustle and humdrum of living is to be found that nugget of bliss. Nicola told me about the book she is currently reading, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations by Thomas L. Friedman about the author’s gratitude for being kept waiting for it gave him the opportunity for reflection.
It reminded me of an enlightening book I read a long time ago one freezing winter in New York City with the imaginative title Shovelling Snow With Buddha by Billy Collins.
So, where does one find one’s spirituality?
Travel. Be on your own for days on end. Embrace growth and don’t be afraid of where the growth takes you. Take the time to meet yourself without the excuses, old pain, conditioning, past histories. Yeah, go shovel snow with Buddha.