Note to the reader: this post was intended as a reflection on the shlokas discussed below, but became much more open and vulnerable, a fuller reflection on how those shlokas fit into my life and consciousness and the questions they are related to. This post is meant primarily for the friends and family who follow my blog as a “life update” and is also a request for engagement around the questions I raise. Please accept it and offer any comments in this spirit.
I’ve just completed three months in Boston. Three months is a short period of time, but the amount of change in my life, both externally and internally, that has occurred since I left Princeton on June 5 is more than I can comprehend. (Imagine trying to locate yourself and your foundations through multiple earthquakes.) On June 9 I started working at The Food Project, an urban farming and youth development organization based in Boston’s Dudley neighborhood. I serve as the market manager for our urban farms, running two farm stands and a CSA each week. I’ve learned about small farm management, harvesting and sales, and some of the tricky business of community engagement. I’ve grown far tanner and more muscular than I’ve ever been, gotten more bruises and scrapes than I could count, and had my heart challenged in deeper and more profound ways than I expected.
My personality has always placed me in tough situations of striving, struggle, and angst, but over the past 3+ months dramatic changes in my external environment have waged war with the increasing stability, peace, strength, faith, courage, and satisfaction I find inside. In college, doubt, my greatest demon, questioned me on whether I was approaching an assignment correctly, whether my ideas or the expression thereof were any good at all, whether I was really doing the right thing in any one of my various extracurriculars, whether I was on the right track at all. Grace is helping me find clarity and satisfaction in my day to day work and life; but now, doubt is challenging my attempts to relate where I find myself now to my goals. I thought my work here is contributing to my professional development, but is it really? What am I meant to do after all, how do I find it, and what if I’ve been pursuing the wrong track all along?
The biggest challenges have been of the heart. Another of my demons is the idea that I am unloved and would not be able to find the love and support I need were I to look for it. Moving to a new city without any friends was one dimension of this challenge. Another significant dimension was the earth-shaking experience of falling in love… and… having my heart broken. As painful as this experience has been, it brought me a profound experience of God’s love and absolute acceptance, as represented in human form, and has given me many opportunities to express love in ways I had never been able to before. Of course, it also provides continued challenges, dark clouds that hover over the hope I try to nourish for my time in Boston, such as – what kind of faith can I have in my beloved? Should I be thinking about a relationship at this point in my life at all? What does it mean for God to have brought me into close contact with a person who embodies the loving partner I never realized I was seeking, yet with whom I cannot share that relationship at this time, leaving me enriched but still alone?
As I wrote in an earlier post, I’ve been sustained through this journey by very emphatic expressions of Grace. The tranquility (and vibrancy and passion and impermanence and accepting-ness) of nature; a yoga teacher’s firm and loving touch; the realization that, by Jove, I do have a few close friendships here in Boston; the daily gratification of my work; the eagerness of several friends from across the country to stay in close and loving contact; the remembrance of love. It’s very difficult to have faith in the ‘big picture’ of where my life is going. In college I found hope by gazing into the distant future at ‘who I would become,’ but now literally all I can do is behold today. How can I find meaning and hope and direction in my life when all I can experience is today, in its richness and its bleakness? (ps. readers, this is an invitation to share your thoughts on this question.)
I’m not yet at a point of being able to respond to these questions lurking within – but I do have tools to help consider them. Lately I have been meditating on a few verses from the Sri Isa Upanishad (Verses By God) that offer faith in the face of existential doubt. (very rough translation/interpretation mine)
oṁ pūrṇam adaḥ pūrṇam idaṁ
pūrṇāt pūrṇam udacyate
pūrṇasya pūrṇam ādāya
om. everything created and uncreated is one supreme whole. everything created by the creator is whole and complete in itself. the creator also remains whole and complete holding all things in balance.
īśāvāsyam idam sarvaṁ
yat kiñca jagatyāṁ jagat
tena tyaktena bhuñjīthā
mā gṛdhaḥ kasya svid dhanam
all things within the universe are controlled by the supreme divine. you should accept what has been set for you and not seek out further wealth.
The first verse has been my meditation for weeks now, but I discovered the second late last night. Although there are other interpretations, it immediately struck me as an exhortation to have faith; accept what God has given; have faith that it is right. The first verse has helped me have faith in my life as it is now, with the falterings and doubts and mistakes at work and relationship drama. The second verse, with an unusual (for the Upanishads) usage of the second person, urged me to not seek more than what has been given.
Can I be satisfied with where I am and what I have now, even if part of that is suffering?
I don’t think that this exhortation or this perspective is a message from God to be lazy. On Sunday night I watched part of a Ken Burns serial about Theodore Roosevelt with my grandmother. For Theodore Roosevelt, an extreme expression of the overachiever culture I’ve known and struggled in all my life, one’s life has meaning or value only when one is constantly striving to do more, be more, have more – to measure up to a bar that is constantly raising. Theodore Roosevelt would not have become Theodore Roosevelt if he had lived by the above mantra. But (I asked my grandmother) can someone still be successful in life if they’re not constantly running from the demons of failure and dishonor?
Can I try to be satisfied with and grateful for what God has given me, or where I am today, and be successful or valuable or have meaning today, or in “the future?”
Can we still “achieve” without the “over-”?
What is the source of meaning in life: measuring my position today against some distant set of goals, or some more immediate metric?
(ps. readers! these are more questions for you.)
Thank you for honoring and participating in this space of vulnerability and questioning. Om shanti shanti shanti.