Travel light. We are exhorted to limit the size, the number and the weight of our baggage wherever we go on our travels. We are charged great sums of money by airlines for each kilogram over the limit. Now, in America, many airlines have abolished the policy of permitting any free luggage. Each bag, including the first, carries a hefty fine. Extra baggage is an indisputable impediment to any journey we make, near or far, for business or pleasure. It injures our backs, our wrists, and our wallets, and causes both delays and headaches at check-in counters, security points, and baggage claim. Imagine how much time we would save at airports around the world if we neither had to wait in line to check our bags in nor wait for them to arrive on the carousel. These days, entire product-lines of expensive luggage and travel products are focused on one theme -lightweight luxury!
Imagine, however, if in order to travellighcly we didn't have to purchase the most expensive 'ultralight' suitcase, but rather could simply leave most of it behind? Imagine the ease and convenience we might find if we could move through the world unencumbered by heavy purses, bulging briefcases and rollerbags. Then, imagine the very-bearable lightness of being we might find if we let go of not only unnecessary possessions, not only the extra three pairs of shoes we'll never wear, or changes of clothes for each hour of the day, or the gifts inevitably put by their gracious recipients into a closet and forgotten. Imagine if we let go of not only the external baggage but also the internal baggage. In travel, we can always find a coolie or sky-cap to help us, but who will help us carry our grudges, our pain, our anger, our resentments, our jealousies, our unfulfilled expectations? Who will share the burden of our insatiable desires or our paralysing fears or the rage that festers within us? Unfortunately, there is no coolie available for that.
What is the answer then? How do we 'travel light' and ever 'lighter' in life? The same way we travel light in airports: leave the baggage behind. As we must leave behind tangible, material baggage in order to make our physical journey easier and more peaceful, so we must leave behind the emotional baggage that weighs us down on the journey of our life. In her insightful articles, Suma Varughese speaks frequently of the importance of letting go. This is the only way to live and it is certainly the only way to live with ease, comfort, and peace. It is important to realise, though, that letting go does not mean we condone or appreciate all actions and all happenings in this world. So frequently we hold on to our pain, anger and grudges in the illusory and fatal belief that the Law of Karma is depending on us to keep the balance sheets straight! When people lie, cheat, abuse, abandon, injure, and kill, they will reap the fruits of that karma as surely as planting an apple seed will lead to an apple tree. As Suma says in the 'Seven Comforting Truths about Life', 'we live in an ethical universe'. The law of karma is perfect.
We are not required to hold on to grudges in order to ensure that perpetrators get their due. When we refuse to let go, we merely lock ourselves up in the same jail as those who injured us.
There is a wonderful parable told of attempts made by the citizens of an Indian city to rid themselves of a monkey infestation. Rather than killing or poisoning the monkeys, they hollowed out coconuts and inside each coconut they placed a scrumptious sweet or fruit. The beauty of their plan was that they made the holes in the coconuts only big enough for an empty monkey hand to get in, and too small for a closed fist to come out. So once the monkeys reached inside the coconuts and grasped the treat, they could not remove their hands. Thus, they had two obvious choices - either be handicapped with one hand stuck in a coconut or simply let go of the sweet and pull the open hand back out. Since Darwinian evolution says that the apes are our nearest genetic relatives, we would certainly like to believe that these monkeys had the intelligence to free themselves quickly of the trap. However, none of them did. All of the monkeys continued to clasp at the prize in the coconut, fighting futilely to remove their closed fists from the too-small hole. When you have four limbs and one is stuck in a coconut, it's nearly impossible to run, to climb trees or to feed yourself properly. Therefore, these monkeys were then quickly and easily picked up by the monkey catchers and removed from the city.
I love this story because, yes, there is indisputable, compelling evidence that primates are our closest genetic relatives, and it is so easy to see ourselves in their silliness.
So much of what we hold on to handicaps us. It prevents us from moving forward in life, from accomplishing anything. Yet, despite the fact that we are obviously stuck, obviously incapacitated, we continue to hold on. We hold on to our expectations of how people should behave, how they should treat us, how we should reap the fruits of certain actions. We hold on to our grudges, anger, and pain because it defines us. We have constructed our entire identities around the problems we face or faced decades ago, the wrongs done to us, the way the universe is not living up to our hopes and dreams. To let go of the roles we play, the facades and masks we wear, the identity based in acts of omission or commission we suffered decades ago would be to let go of much of what we identify as 'self'.
The only way to let go of so much is to have faith that there is something else, something better; waiting for us if only we can free our hands from this coconut! When we remember, as Suma writes, that 'the universe is on our side ... God loves us,' a happy ending is assured, we are able to take that leap of faith, to let go of so much that weighs us down, and to move forward on our own journey, light and free.
In the article on 'The Spiritual and the Mundane', Suma speaks about the importance of not suppressing desires, how vairagya is not something to be forced. This is a subject so frequendy misunderstood; I'm glad to see the way that Suma has addressed it. Vairagya is not something one can wake up one morning and aim for. It is not an end in and of itself it is, rather, a gift, a by-product one might say, of the path of devotion.
Here it is finally - Travelling Lighter, the second edition of Travelling Light. When we first brought out Travelling Light, I was unsure about its reception. When all was said and done, it was a compilation of columns from Life Positive. The received wisdom was that columns did not do well. To my surprise and delight, however, the book was received with considerable appreciation, and even gratitude.
Many readers wrote and shared how the book had helped them. Some told me that it had changed their lives. Many have shared that they keep it by their bedside and read it before going to sleep. Others say that, in challenging times, they open any page and find in it an answer to their problems.
Perhaps the most endearing response came from someone who said that had he not been gay, he would have liked to get married to me! This was perhaps almost too much information packed in one sentence.
I am so happy that Travelling Light has been a support to its readers. During all these years of de-conditioning, there was not much I could give the world because my energies were too absorbed in simply being present to my inner world. During this time, these columns and other articles.
I wrote for Life Positive and elsewhere have been my only contribution. I am glad that they have played their part and enabled more optimism, understanding, hope and happiness to permeate the world.
The columns compiled in this edition span the time frame from 2006 to 2013. There is some overlap between the two editions for the earlier one spans the time frame from 2001 to 2009. That is because keeping in mind the possibility of another compilation; I had used only a few Volumes from the last four years.
So what progress have I seen within myself since I last parted with you in 2009? I have come to the conclusion that, in the spiritual race, I must be ranked among the tortoises of the world, and not the hares. My progress is slow, but nevertheless steady. Insights come, I convert them into affirmations, and I repeat them until eventually they yield a new insight, and so it goes.
Sometimes, I am often hobbled by doubt. Has anything really changed - the insights seem to come and go so quickly? But somewhere inside, the changes are happening. I am becoming more solid, more steady, more peaceful. Where once I perceived myself to be volatile and hyper, there is visibly more calm.
What is true is that we are all made up of innumerable facets, like the diamonds that we are. And for each of these to take shape and sparkle takes time. I have noticed visible strides in my sense of order, organisation, and neatness. I am much more capable and efficient than before. My memory is getting better and more reliable at a time when my friends are despairing of losing theirs! I am more loving and compassionate and my relationship with the other, is far better these days. My self-confidence and capacity to cope with life have increased. My self- esteem is far better now than it ever was. My capacity to accept my feelings, thoughts, and reactions has increased considerably. An active sense of self-love and self-appreciation fills me. Still, I have to make strides in transcending anger, fear, worry, and anxiety. New challenges come and they form the curriculum with which to work out not just my karma but also my remaining conditioning. Soon after the launch of Travelling Light in July 2009, my mother fell ill and soon suffered from a stroke which resulted in complete paralysis of her right side and deprived her of the ability to speak or eat.
A number of my articles in this book deal with the massive challenge that this unfolded for me, and of course, the manifold learnings as well. Soon after her passage, other learnings came - coping with loneliness but even more, a difficult health challenge in the form of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It has been a long and hard journey, especially as no solution lasts for too long. And yet through this problem, I have had to acutely confront my tendency for worry and anxiety, which in turn is affecting my solar plexus and causing the problem.
I deduce that once I get a grip on my fear in its related forms, the condition too will disappear. I am learning though, to be grateful for this ailment, for it has led me to try out new therapies, compelled me to eat carefully and moderately, and taught me to take care of myself.
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