When we have surrendered, there is nothing to lose. For someone who wants to end his life, every single day alive is a bonus. We truly value life when we come to the brink of losing it. The guy up there wants us to come to him naked. A book excerpt:
Abandoned by his parents as a one-year-old, and sent to boarding school at age five, Ajay Kalra’s profound self-alienation separated him from his natural gifts for writing and self-awareness. It pushed him into a joyless career in accountancy and a bitter struggle with addiction. Just when he felt he could not take it anymore, his life transformed. He found the inspiration to lead a purposeful life.
He shares his journey in his new book Thrive with unsparing honesty. Through the acronym PRESENT, he reveals the seven principles for physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being that turned his life around. In the book, not only does he convey complex philosophical and yogic concepts in a simple, engaging, and humorous manner, but his deep insights will also enlighten and inspire you. Above all, he provides practices you can put into action today, to start living a happier and healthier life.
Ajay Kalra is a personal growth writer, life coach, therapist, counselor, yoga teacher, and mindfulness practitioner. Based in Mumbai, India, he enjoys facilitating emotional healing, self-inquiry, and authentic self-expression for individuals and groups. Having spent years aspiring to an extraordinary life, he is now content with the simple and ordinary.
Among the many books that I have read, there is one book that I am not proud of reading. It was a book on how to end life painlessly. When my grandmother passed away, I downloaded it on Kindle and started exploring the easiest way for me to make a final exit. I had thought about ending my life earlier too, but this time the pain was unbearable. This was the first time I started reading a book on it.
Would I have ever imagined in those moments that I would one day live to write a book on how to live a happy life? Never. But here it is, the culmination of my insights on how to live. No matter how difficult my life has been, it has been nothing short of a miracle. A benediction of the divine. The grace of God.
When I was a child, my image of God was that of an old man with a white flowing beard sitting up in a place called heaven. I guess my convent upbringing had something to do with it. My Hindu grandparents were not too pleased when I told them that I resonated with Christianity. I also followed Hindu rituals and festivals. My grandmother, who was an extremely religious lady, had a small pooja room in our already small house, dedicated entirely to the worship of God.
In Hinduism, we have the luxury of choosing from 330 million gods and goddesses. The pooja room at our home had big, framed pictures of Ram, Krishna, Hanuman, Shiva, and Durga. A red round-bellied Ganesha sat right in the middle. Whenever something special was cooked, it was first offered to the deities before I could lay my hands on it.
As a child, I wondered, what is the fuss about? Do these gods really exist? Do they really eat when a halwa is offered to their pictures? Are these stories just products of human imagination? Of course, no one gave me any satisfactory answers. My prayers to God were mechanical. I would stand with my eyes closed and my hands joined in prayer, more to please my grandmother than out of any conviction that God exists.
My relationship with God became deeper when I lost faith in Him altogether. When I felt cheated and betrayed, I not only lost faith in God but in human relationships. I felt that if there was a God then innocent people wouldn’t suffer. Moreover, there would be one story about him. The Christians have their story, the Hindus their story, and the Muslims theirs. Which story is real? And if they are all stories, and the reality of life is pain and suffering, why waste my time on such a God? Why follow any spiritual or religious values? I would rather do what my heart desires!
I lived a godless life for the next few years. It was liberating not to be bound by any authority. And what bigger authority to dismiss than the idea of God? But when my godless life finally led me to the psychiatrist and to the edge of ending my life, I blamed God for all the suffering He had packed into my life. I remember saying, “God, even though I do not believe in you, I am angry with you!” That was the first honest conversation I had with God.
That is when my life changed miraculously! Life suddenly brought me to The Yoga Institute in Sant Cruz, Mumbai. God also started making a reappearance in my life, in the form of my table-top worship altar and weekend visits to temples. All that I questioned others over, I started doing. I no longer saw myself as different from other humans who worshipped God. I was one of them. I could see my grandmother smiling at me from above, while I stood in line at the temple, humbly awaiting my turn to offer my prayers to Mr. God.
Writes Ajay Kalra in his book: “Some people are blessed with faith, some have to lose it to find it. Whatever our journey there is no denying that some unseen force permeates the Universe. Even to disregard or dismiss it is to have a relationship with it. I feel it is not important to believe in God. It is important to feed your heart with faith and love. If you can do that, whatever medium you choose, you have nurtured your soul.”
I believe to have a real relationship with God, or whatever name one would like to give this mysterious entity, one needs to experience vulnerability. Not just any kind of vulnerability but a kind that brings you down to your knees, in total surrender. “You took my family! You took everything! I surrender!! What more do you want!” yelled Pi Patel into the sky with his hands outstretched, as he stood at the edge of a boat that was being ravaged in a violent storm, in the movie ‘Life of Pi’.
When we have surrendered, there is nothing to lose. For someone who wants to end his life, every single day alive is a bonus. We truly value life when we come to the brink of losing it. The guy up there wants us to come to him naked. As naked and raw as the day we were born. Until we are ready to do that, he waits patiently while we play our mind games.
It is not that my life has been a fairy tale after realizing the wisdom of yoga. I continue to grapple with my inner demons, except that I am more aware of them. I realize, no matter how strongly I feel that the fault lies with the other person, that the cause of my turmoil is only me. No one else but me! All I can do is follow my daily practices so that these demons do not devour me completely, and keep my energy channelized in the direction of my swadharma.
But most of all, I have realized that I am helpless. Without the grace of a higher power, there is little I can truly do. This is not to say that I become passive and give up. I continue doing my duty, knowing fully well the results of my actions are not in my hands. Without doing my part in life’s drama, there is very little any God can do for me. “Trust in Allah, but tie your camel,” says an ancient Arabic phrase.
During one of my difficult phases when my inner demons took on the shape of a depressive feeling that lingered longer than usual, I felt low and sleepy. As though a vortex of lethargic energy was pulling me down. I tried various ways to pull myself out of it. Walks at the beach, talking to a friend, and painting. Everything helped for a while, but the tamasic energy kept pulling me down.
A friend suggested I do japa – chanting a mantra. I took a mala – a string of 108 prayer beads – and chanted the Hare Krishna maha-mantra aloud. I did nine malas, which means I chanted the mantra continuously 972 times. After I was done, my dull-lethargic feeling had vanished completely! My life situation was still the same, but my mental-emotional state had changed. It seemed miraculous! From that day I decided to chant 16 malas every day. This took at least two hours of my day.
Initially, I thought, to devote two hours of my day to daily spiritual practice over and above my asana, pranayama, and prayer practice would be extremely difficult. Now those two hours have become integral to my life. I wouldn’t mind skipping my meals to fulfill my commitment of two hours. Over time, the chanting transformed into meditation-chanting practice, but not a day has gone by in the past few years when I have not sat in front of my altar with a burning lamp and devoted myself to two hours of practice.
One of the practices that nourish me more than anything else is kirtan – devotional chanting. It does not matter which god’s name I am chanting, it just opens my heart like nothing else. It is a medium by which I express my longing for the divine and seek his grace. It is a way of saying, “I am your child, please bless me with your love.” After I am done chanting I feel bathed in bliss! Sometimes I chant on my own to the accompaniment of recorded music, at other times I sing with a group. Bhakti – devotion – nourishes my soul! “Devotion is a way of being, it’s not something you do. It’s dedication to finding awareness and love. Chanting is like asanas for the mind and the heart,” says Krishna Das, the kirtan guru of the Western world.
Another development during this depressive phase was a recommendation by a Vaastu consultant. He asked me to replace a random painting in my living room with something inspiring. Since I was chanting the Hare Krishna mantra, I decided to buy a Krishna painting. I got a small spotlight fixed above the painting to brighten the figure of Krishna with its warm yellow glow. Looking at that painting I felt as though a divine entity had entered my life. I felt my living space being sanctified by the presence of this celestial being.
I didn’t feel alone anymore. Krishna had come to stay with me. As I felt Krishna’s soft gaze, I developed a bond with him. I spoke to him, sought his guidance, and sometimes was raging mad at him! It was no longer a painting. It was Krishna. In the mornings the first thing I did was wipe his image and wish him. He was the last person I saw before going to bed. When I entered my empty house, which was no longer empty, I greeted him. If it was cold, I placed a woolen cloth around him. Before I ate anything, I first offered it to him. Krishna became my friend, philosopher, and guide. A real person. The very name of Krishna brought love, joy, and purity into my heart. I had found faith.
Elie Wiesel, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, talks of his loss of faith in God and humanity through his experiences in the Nazi concentration camp. “Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes. Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never,” he says in his book ‘Night’, referring to the sight of soldiers throwing truckloads of babies and small children into burning flames.
He used his suffering as a message for peace, atonement, and human dignity, by campaigning for victims of oppression across the world. After many decades he reconciled with God because he could no longer live without this relationship. “Master of the Universe, let us make up. For the child in me, it is unbearable to be divorced from you for so long,” he wrote in a newspaper column.
Some people are blessed with faith, some have to lose it to find it. Whatever our journey there is no denying that some unseen force permeates the Universe. Even to disregard or dismiss it is to have a relationship with it. Personally, I feel it is not important to believe in God. It is important to feed your heart with faith and love. If you can do that, whatever medium you choose, you have nurtured your soul.
Indus Source Books is a niche, independent book publisher in Mumbai passionately committed to publishing good and relevant literature. It celebrates the diverse culture, history, and spiritual traditions of the world and presents content to its readers in a contemporary format that retains its essential flavor: “Indian Spirit, Universal Wisdom.”