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How to live the Life Abundant

by Suma Varughese
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Abundant life
Living the Life Abundant requires embracing gratitude and positivity in every aspect of our lives. It means finding joy in the simple things, practicing kindness towards others, and fostering a mindset of abundance rather than scarcity. By focusing on what we have rather than what we lack, we can truly experience the richness and fullness of life. This may involve letting go of negative thoughts and limiting beliefs, and instead, choosing to see the world through a lens of abundance and possibility. Through this perspective, we can cultivate a life filled with love, purpose, and fulfillment.

Let us begin by asking ourselves a question we may never have asked before. What is Life?

 Life Abundant

In his book, The Ages of Gaia, Dr James Lovelock gives us a fascinating description of life. He tells us that the whole Universe is governed by the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics which decrees that everything is moving towards decay and breakdown. This process is called entropy.

Entropy is everywhere around us. If you don’t look after your tools, they go to rust and ruin. If you don’t service your computer or air conditioner, it tends to break down. If you don’t dust, sweep, or swab your house, it will soon get filthy. If you don’t brush up your skills at work, then they too will get rusty.
The only exception to this rule is life. Since it began, life has been nimbly leaping from complexity to more complexity. Life started off as a one-cell amoeba and moved on to more complex organisms, culminating finally in you and me. In short, life is the very opposite of entropy, for it grows and becomes, in contrast to decaying and breaking down.

No matter the challenge, life has only become more triumphant. In the polarity of life and death, entropy is on one end, and life on the other. This dance of life and death is the fundamental duality that sustains the Universe.
What this means for you and me is that the more life there is within us, the less power we assign to entropy. Entropy is the force that pulls us down, traps us in the rut of stale habits, stops us from acting, and causes us to recede into indifference and tamas (inertia).

We are torn between this battle between the life principle and the death principle virtually every moment of life. In an old Native Indian tale, life and entropy are likened to two wolves living within us, and every choice we make feeds one or the other.

Don’t you feel that you have become more enthusiastic, loving, caring, giving, nurturing, creative, and active after you moved on the spiritual path? This is the promise of spirituality. More and abundant life!

Choosing Life over entropy every time

In every choice, we opt for either life or death. Turn over and go to sleep, or get up and take that walk? Eat healthy, or wallop down potato chips and pastries? Intervene when you see a woman being manhandled, or mind your own business?

Go along with your friends when they decide to rag a fresher, or step aside and take them to task? Take the bus or jump into a cab because the latter is easier? Yes, each of these decisions adds up to the amount of life or entropy within us. You could say that living is always a matter of life or death!
Depression is a good example of entropy. As anyone who has been through it will tell you, its most common symptom is loss of energy. You just don’t feel like doing a thing. Life seems muffled and far away, and the place that you inhabit feels cold and dead. Sometimes you look within and find no one there.

People tell you things – sad things, glad things, horrifying things, and you can’t feel a thing. You struggle to paste on an expression on your face but fail. You can’t even smile.

Spiritual growth is like water running upstream

But if depression is the epitome of entropy, the spiritual path is the epitome of life. This is because the heart of spirituality is growth. The pursuit of enlightenment requires us to ceaselessly grow and to use every situation and circumstance, no matter how adverse, to become a better and bigger person. Can you see how spiritual progress mimics life in this respect? Life uses all obstacles to grow in complexity, and so too does the spiritual aspirant.

This is why Jesus used to say that seeking the Kingdom of Heaven (his metaphor for enlightenment) was the key to eternal life.
The Buddha likened the pursuit of spiritual growth to water running upstream. A very unnatural process and a hard one. You need to go against your conditioned responses, against your comfort zone and your likes and dislikes.

It is a pitched battle between you and entropy. You want to be selfish because being selfless is hard. You want to be lazy because being active is hard. You want to be unconscious of your shortcomings because looking at your shadow side is hard. Every bit of spiritual growth must be wrested from the clutches of entropy, and in the process, you grow mightily.

In other words, there is nothing more life-affirmative than moving into the spiritual path. Do you feel that you have become more enthusiastic, loving, caring, giving, nurturing, creative, and active after you moved on the spiritual path? I have, for sure. This is the promise of spirituality.

More and abundant life! It happens naturally when we are aligned with the laws of life, when we are freeing ourselves of our conditioning, when we are in communion with the Divine, when we are full of love and gratitude, when we are motivated to serve!

But there are other ways too that we can support the life principle within us.

Comfort and convenience are anti-Life

One of these is to prioritize life as often as we possibly can. Our present civilization is profoundly anti-life because it is focused entirely on comfort and convenience. I cannot deny that comfort and convenience feel nice, but it militates against the life principle. We are meant to use our bodies vigorously.

We are meant to till the fields and water them. We are meant to pound rice, grind our masalas on stone and carry water from wells. We are meant to work rigorously from morning till evening and then rest. It is not just work. It is engaging yourself in creative activity. Cooking, painting, pottery, woodwork.

And then as tribes all over the world do, we end the day in a glorious medley of community song and dance. Spent, satiated, and happy we go to bed and sleep soundly. Not only will this regimen guarantee strong and powerful bodies, but the concept of lifestyle ailments will disappear too.

We will also have strong and powerful minds and hearts.
There have been many instances of mentally ill people in India healing when their guru advised them to go on a padayatra (a pilgrimage with a group of devotees usually undertaken without money or mobiles).

Walking on the road for a few weeks in the company of others, spending time with nature, eating only when you get something from the village folks, and breathing in fresh air will free you of your mental and emotional afflictions.

Nature can fill our reservoirs of Life

Even if we can’t go this far, we can still pursue this objective as far as we are comfortable. Can we spend as much time as we can with nature, animals, children, and the working class? The more we do so, the more our reservoirs of life will fill up.

Nature, particularly, is the embodiment of life. The more time we spend under her shelter, the more we will shed our false layers of pretension and wants and imbibe her essential wisdom

Here is a powerful sermon, This is What You Shall do, written as a preface by Walt Whitman for his book, Leaves of Grass, that is virtually a textbook argument for leading the life abundant:

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms ​​to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to ​​others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the ​​​people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go ​​freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of ​​​families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine ​all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own ​soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its ​​words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in ​​every motion and joint of your body.”

Yet another custom we must vigilantly pursue is to let as little as possible come between us and life. Less luxury, less comfort, less frills. The civilization we live in imposes so many filters between us and living, just as social media imposes them between our image and how we actually look.

Thoreau’s book, Walden, is a wonderful reflection on the merits of leaving behind civilization from time to time.

The air-conditioner prevents us from breathing fresh air. At offices, daylight is overshadowed by artificial lighting. And instead of living in houses that hug the ground, we live at stratospheric heights. Instead of eating fresh and homecooked meals, we order out or buy pre-prepared food from supermarkets. Today, the real luxuries are fresh air, and uncontaminated food or water.

Many years ago, when I was editor of a lifestyle magazine in India called Society, I was given a company car. Since I did not know how to drive and considered myself too absent-minded to learn, I hired a driver. I remember feeling how cumbersome my locomotion was as I went around, a threesome of my car, driver, and me.

The burden felt particularly heavy when I was obliged to attend many evening events, and the idea of my driver waiting to reunite with his family would trouble me. I surrendered the car when I left the job, and how carefree I felt as I entered a local Mumbai train, disembarked at my destination, and walked around, free as a bird.
Too much luxury can smother us. We need to step aside as often as possible and plunge where life is. I always advocate going to bazaars instead of malls.

The milling crowds, the noises, the lively exchange with shopkeepers and fellow shoppers, the color, the things to see, can lift our spirits and fill us with life. I remember a train journey to Igatpuri, a small town, two and a half hours from Mumbai. I was going to do a course in Vipassana meditation, but I did not have a reserved seat.

I traveled in an unreserved women’s compartment where I found myself cheek-by-jowl with women and children, and with laughter and life. Food was passed around – I got my share – and perhaps I shared too. Life stories were exchanged, and we all had the greatest fun

When the world is too much with us

Most writers know the value of being in touch with life instinctively. Henry David Thoreau, the American writer and philosopher, left behind the comforts of his home and set himself up in the woods for a full year.

His book, Walden, is a wonderful reflection of the merits of leaving behind civilization from time to time. One of his most famous quotes runs thus:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…”

Do you see the number of times he uses the word life in this short passage?

The princely Tolstoy, who lived a privileged life in Moscow, withdrew from all his privileges soon after a powerful spiritual awakening. Even though the decision caused friction between him and his wife, he retired to his country estate, enjoyed cutting grass and other forms of physical labor with his hundreds of serfs, and eventually gave them their freedom.

Ultimately, the successful life is the one in which our life force continues unabated till our last breath. Regardless of how life has dealt us, can we bash on regardless, rolling with the punches, staggering back to our feet, our smile and vitality intact ? We would then have truly lived.

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6 comments

Gopinath Nambiar November 16, 2023 - 4:49 pm

Engaging with the article proved to be a truly enriching experience. Delving into its insights can significantly contribute to elevating one’s spiritual quotient. Help deepen our understanding of existence and cultivate a heightened sense of spiritual awareness.👍

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Swamini Aaraadhana November 15, 2023 - 4:34 pm

Your speciality Suma, is that you demystify spirituality and convey the metaphysical through the mundane. Through relatable everyday examples, you demonstrate how our outlook determines our choices. Preferring the natural over the artificial is spirituality, choosing open spaces over claustrophobia and mingling with animals, kids and working class is spirituality.
You insights into daily life and lifestyles are rare.
Your reflections reiterates my motto of,”living, whatever time, I have on this 🌎, with jhosh and leaving peacefully, with hosh!”

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Aparna Dedhia November 15, 2023 - 8:44 am

Thanks Suma Ma’m for a wonderful article- very well explained, the examples given make for better understanding.
While living a ‘Life Abundant’ we are constantly oscillating between choices which nurture and choices which deprive. We seek and unearth our vitality in the outcomes of the choices we make.So whether you chose to order your vegetables from Swiggy Instamart or take the effort to go to the local vegetable vendor – every choice we make – makes us aligned with the laws of life.

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Punita Sachdeva November 15, 2023 - 7:26 am

Another supremely uplifting, superbly written and seminally spiritual piece by you Suma!!
Your powerful insights into what truly matters in life shine in this article; a beacon of hope in this rather dreary age we reside in!!
The advice to walk the tough path of spirituality to be truly aligned with life is a reality check which we would be well advised to follow, difficult as it may be!
Thank you so much for sharing your journey and your life lessons with us, ever so generously!!

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Mythily Shivkumar November 15, 2023 - 6:57 am

Loved the write up Suma. Much learning and food for thought. My take home – live life mindfully, with awareness and be fully involved. Thank you.

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Dr. Bijal Maroo November 14, 2023 - 11:17 pm

Suma, this is your best article to date. I loved this description of depression, “Sometimes you look within and find no one there.” The depths of the sadness really comes through. I loved the comparison of the cumbersome car to the freeing journey by train. You have quoted some of the best authors as well. All in all, the life versus entropy principle and the description of spirituality makes this not just a delightful read, it is something I will go to again and again. Thank you for writing this piece.

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