Finding spiritual reserves: A discovery in distress

From being awed by the moods of nature and resorting to prayer to healing relationships and gratitude, six students of life detail their transformation in a year that kept them locked in.

CHENNAI: Before the novel coronavirus extended its sinister clutches to Chennai, 25-year-old Srikanth Kannan, a freelance content writer, was an agnostic atheist. “My grandfather was also an atheist. While I was growing up, he had a great influence on me. My grandmother prayed to multiple gods, he did not believe that one existed. How can one believe in something when they’ve not experienced? It’s an unknown principle.

My thoughts and beliefs that a higher power did not exist were shaped by what I learned from him and what he used to preach. In hindsight, I didn’t argue with his beliefs but merely followed a path that I was exposed to. My family supported my decision too. I never faced resistance or had the need to rethink my choice,” he opens up. But in June, when his parents tested positive with the virus and were taken to the hospital, Srikanth found himself vulnerable.

“When I learned that they weren’t responding well to the treatment, I began feeling a certain weariness in my heart. Almost a week after their admission, when I received a call from the hospital, it snowballed into a sinking feeling, where nothing mattered anymore. The virus had taken appa’s life,” he shares, his voice quivering. As Srikanth ran from the hospital to the vicinity of the crematorium, wearing his mask and shield, he recalls feeling suffocated.

But suddenly, it wasn’t the mask that made him feel breathless anymore, it was the unanticipated situation. “As I waited to see the final remains of my father in ashes, I was overcome by a metaphysical thought. ‘If the body is nothing but a mere shell, what happens to the energy after we die?’ I thought. In its wake, something did matter to me — my mother’s life. I was afraid that I might lose her too and was desperate to do something to save her. Perhaps, for the first time in two decades, I felt a yearning to connect with something greater than myself and my being.

But I didn’t know what I was exploring and how to seek it,” he opens up. Finally, in the edge of despair, a few words spilt out of his mouth. ‘Whoever is listening to this...appa, if you are listening to this, please save amma’, he prayed. Tears trickled down, his mask had become wet and his shield, misty, but he felt his heart open a little and a sense of peace enter into it. “I would be lying if I told you that I wasn’t confused. I had a certain existential crisis of who I was.

But what I was or who I was becoming seemed trivial. I continued praying to the universe, to all the gods that my friends prayed to, and to the ones that my paati offered flowers to every day,” he shares. In a year that has been tumultuous for many like Srikanth, coping with loss in isolated circumstances during a countrywide lockdown has been an intensely real experience. In the suddenly altered pace of life, tapping on prayer, reflection, introspection and considering self-discovery enquiries using the erstwhile neglected lens of spiritual reserves seemed to offer an opportunity of relief from existential dread.

The greatness of gratitude
For Mamta Mukne, a Mumbaibased entrepreneur, who has been walking the path of gratitude since the lockdown, her life, she says, has been elevated in the process. “Though I had everything I needed, I never felt any sense of content. There were constant internal comparisons; I zoomed my lens on things that I lacked, and that sapped my energy,” she shares. Despite having her own house, a full-time maid, a job and working staff, Mamta admits that she took life for granted. But one day, amid the lockdown, as Mamta looked outside the window, she found the power of gratitude.

“The government had set up a rehabilitation shelter for the homeless near my house. Every day, observing the residents of the shelter waiting for food and provisions from the government, as part of the COVID-19 relief measures, made me realise how ungrateful I had been — for my life and everything that it encompasses. I slowly started valuing what I have, and found peace and contentment in being grateful,” shares Mamta.

Like Srikanth, Mamta too lost a loved one during the lockdown. “My favourite aunt passed away during this time. Her death taught me to value relationships,” details Mamta, who, in the new year, wants to focus on healing all her relationships. What is the point, she asks? Taking these learnings on a serious note, she now has a daily morning ritual of thanking her parents for gifting her this life. Also on her gratitude list is the Indian army for the peace and protection they offer us, the farmers for the abundance of food, and doctors for renewing lives.

But, these are all lessons and guidance she receives through her spiritual teacher Sri Balagopal Ramachandran during his monthly sessions called Ekatva Gita, where she studies the Bhagavad Gita through the teachings of Sri Amma Bhagavan, the founders of Ekatvam. The classes, she adds, have opened up the possibility of living a life of unconditional happiness and eternal freedom.

Nurturing relationships
With college, a parttime job and music gigs taking up a huge slice of his life, Arjun Ganesh, a 22-year-old had very little to no time to spare for his family. Being the only child, the MBA student recalls how he would prioritise his friends over family on any given day. “In the initial weeks, I used to lock myself in my room and step out only during mealtime.

Within a few days, frustration crept in. I saw my friends posting pictures with hashtags #qualitytimewithfamily. Until then, it didn’t dawn on me to check on my parents. I decided to open up,” he recounts. Gradually, Arjun took responsibility of the household chores. A few minutes is all it took to realise the effort required to run a household and be a parent. “I started panting after sweeping a portion of our apartment. I couldn’t comprehend how my mother, an asthma patient, tirelessly prepared three meals and a snack for us every day without complaining.

Given her condition, she had to be more careful during this time. When the realisation happened, dad and I decided to involve ourselves in household work to lessen her burden. We started cleaning, cooking and eating together as a family. The satisfaction on mom’s face was priceless,” narrates Arjun. Now, on the bed of empathy, he has been learning every day to be thoughtful. For the first time, in eight years, Arjun celebrated his birthday at home with his family.

“We played board games, watched a film and ate simple home-cooked dinner. This lockdown has taught me the importance of my family. It has nurtured my relationships. I’ve realised that you need to put in the effort to sustain any kind of relationship,” says Arjun, looking forward to the new year with the hope that he has time for everyone who matters.

Unlocking energies
When C Kumar, a financial consultant, moved from Mumbai to Chennai five years ago after opting for a voluntary retirement, the surplus time and changing priorities pushed him to feel the heat of the midlife crisis. A racing and agitated heart and a sleepless mind became his daily unwanted companions. While Kumar made progress after aligning himself with spirituality, the magnitude of the virus and its effect on the society pulled him back to square one.

Kumar began searching for ways to find his inner peace. “The first few days were scary and I kept following the news 24X7. The market crashed, people were suffering and regular life came to a standstill. I felt agitated all the time and even lost sleep,” he notes. After a week, heeding to his wife’s suggestion, Kumar began writing Sri Rama Jayam and meditating twice a day. “I also started watching Balaji Bhagavathar Periya Puranam lectures, and spending two hours a day in spiritual activities.

I have, ever since, been able to channel my energy positively. I go for walks on the terrace, my average television time has dropped to one hour a day. I feel more at peace with myself and my surroundings. Meditation has increased my concentration and eased my breathing difficulties. I don’t believe in making New Year resolutions but 2021 is going to be more towards self-awareness, mindfulness and working towards inner peace,” he reveals.

Art of listening
Quietness, they say, can expose us to the discord in our minds. Who knows this better than Mumbai-based Jayanthi Sunil, a homemaker. What was once a life of deep unhappiness, chaos, dissatisfaction and inner turmoil has now taken a turn for this student of Ekatva Gita. “With the global pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, the Ekatva Gita classes that I enrolled into this year were pushed to a digital medium. Despite the transition to the virtual space, the classes kept me going even during the toughest of times,” says Jayanthi, who has spent the last ten months in contemplations and confronting life lessons that were earlier buried in the dark corners of her head and heart.

“After learning about the sadhanas (daily meditation practices), the first change in me was an increased sense of gratitude. I understood the true meaning of wealth. It is not always associated with material acquisitions, but respecting small things such as health, family, education, friends, knowledge and our support system,” she explains. It is this diligence that has helped Jayanthi transcend from being a problemhoarder to a solution-maker. “Even a small change in my daily routine used to turn me off. But now, I’m able to take charge of my situation and respond in a better way.

I have understood the art of listening to myself and others with an open and non-judgemental mind. Seeing the changes in me, I can also see the changes in my family,” says Jayanthi, who is looking forward to bringing in the new year with these key lessons in awareness to become a more refined human being. “There’s so much positive energy and I want to spread this happiness to others as well,” she shares.

Minding nature
While finding solace in prayers, mindfully practising gratitude, compassion, letting go of past hurts, forgiveness and rebuilding relationships have helped some cope and find the immune response to uncertainty, for others like Supraja Pravesh, it has been simple yet often overlooked acts of living in the present that has healed her “sick soul”. As a child, Supraja loved looking up at the sky and guessing which animal or object the shape of the clouds resembled.

It was her favourite pastime. “I wonder why we stop looking up after growing up,” ponders the 35-year-old social media analyst. The lockdown presented her the opportunity to go back to those moments of awe, and she began noticing sunsets, sunrises, the multihued drama in the sky as nature repaired herself with all the humans confined to their homes. “This started in the second week of the lockdown. I was tired of looking at the computer screen.

So, I went to our terrace for the first time in several years. The sky, the cityscape and the pigeons that flocked our terrace allowed me to breathe without any difficulty. It was magical. It made me realise how we take nature for granted. It’s omnipresent and yet, we are blinded by our lack of the ability to appreciate and never thank it. Now, I have become more present,” she describes. Such has been the impact of mindfulness that Supraja decided to spread the joy.

Finding meaning in the daily humdrum of life in a lockdown seemed like a remote possibility, but not for Mamta, Arjun, Kumar, Supraja, Jayanthi and Srikanth, who used their predicaments to pay attention to the details of their inner struggles and reframe the situation. “Amma recovered a few weeks later. She didn’t know of appa’s passing until she came home and surprisingly, she remained calm. ‘Was it the years of prayers that she offered that made her resilient? I thought.

How is praying considered a sign of weakness when you are reaching out for help? Aren’t those who reach out for help strong? They are ready to show their vulnerability to the world... Now, I am a former atheist. I don’t know what I believe in yet, but I now gather energy from things that are beyond me. I am ready to learn,” elucidates Srikanth, giving us a moment to pause, think and find what anchors us in adversities. Here’s hoping that we find our kernels of self-discovery through every season and reason in 2021.

My favourite aunt passed away during the lockdown. Her death taught me to value relationships.
Mamta Mukne

Even a small change in my daily routine used to turn me off. Now, I’m able to take charge of my situation and respond in a better way. Jayanthi Sunil

From being awed by the moods of nature and resorting to prayer to healing relationships and practising gratitude, six students of life detail their journey of transformation in a year that kept them locked in

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