The Rich Vegetarian

An Examined Life

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Take Space

At Tai Chi class last week, while practising the 10-form sequence, I felt a sudden instinct to extend my body farther out. So I began to stretch, lean forward, expand. Moved my arms further apart, expanded my chest fuller, widened my stance, sat deeper, rose higher. I felt larger, grounded and graceful, majestic.

I have always associated grace and beauty with a contained space. Expanding my body in Tai Chi, I thought, would make me look ungainly, awkward. Plus, I have nearly always been told that I am a petite, slender person, so it naturally follows that a person like me would take up less space, literally.

Hmm, I think I have grossly underestimated my body: size, height, width.

I am not a petite person. I take up a decent amount of space. But the truth may be that I internalized the petite-slender narrative well enough to begin taking up less space, literally. Perhaps, I shrank a little. Thankfully, I didn’t develop the habit of slouching or hollowing my chest or hunching the shoulders.

One day, I dumped the graceful walk. Placed my legs wider apart, dropped the shoulders, spread the arms out a bit. It felt good, freeing. I wasn’t swaggering or posturing; it simply felt like I was taking my rightful place, the actual volume of air-space occupied by my body.

I am sure there are all kinds of metaphors hidden (or not) in here, but I am going to leave it at that.

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Love and Neutrality

Love isn’t generally associated with neutrality.

Love is associated with all sorts of positive experiences — joy, cheer, generosity, good wishes, hugs, support. Neutrality seems very cold in contrast. Like a noble gas or a non-reactive element. We want the people we love to respond to us. We don’t want them to be cold or aloof. Or so we understood what it means to be neutral.

When we love someone, we are pretty much in their business openly. When we cannot stand someone, we are in their business too. In our heads, that is. We cannot stop thinking about them. But when we love someone, it is well understood (and expected) that we are connected to them in many ways. This includes providing them with physical/mental/emotional support, wishing them the best, giving them the gift of time and presence, being available to them. Or so the popular understanding of love goes.

Love isn’t meant to be neutral or empty. It is meant to be filled with positive vibes and generosity and blessings.

There is no space in love. We keep wanting to close the space, end the distance. Sometimes, it is impossible to close the distance physically, so we do it mentally. And we project our best hopes and wishes on to the people we love. Isn’t that expected? How else do we love the people we do, if not by wishing them the best? “May you live long, prosper, be healthy.” And so on.

Of course, we also claim that we want space in our loving relationships. Space is a neutral element. Yes, we appreciate space but we don’t much care for its neutral nature.

If we are to stay neutral, what is the differentiation between us and a stranger? None, or so we think.

Imagine a parent remaining neutral towards their offspring. It is impossible! We are so emotionally close to them; there can be no space in question. And if that space exists, it isn’t empty. It is filled with hopes, dreams, and expectations.

All these positive vibes begin to exert subtle control on the loved ones in question. It hovers over their lives like a cloud. Not a grey, ominous one necessarily. Maybe a white, fluffy one. But it persists. It follows them around. And of course, we shrug it off, thank it even. We are happy to be the beneficiaries, the receivers of such largesse. We are grateful for the support, the encouragement. We regard these as the hallmarks of true love and support. When we don’t see them, we think that love has passed. That it no longer exists.

We could never recognize true neutrality for the immense freedom it provides. Indeed, we are incapable of appreciating the gift of neutrality. We crave connection, and we think neutrality is its opposite.

I remember a talk by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar titled “Guru Shishya Sambandh,” translated as “Guru Disciple Relationship.” In it, he explains that the relationship between a Guru and disciple is like none other. It cannot even be called a relationship because it lacks all markers of typical relationships. He issues a gentle warning, do not make this into a relationship like the others. Because that is the perfect trap to fall into, leading to unmet expectations and drama.

Of course, we like to put a spin on this relationship as well. We imagine that the Guru wants the best for us, s/he wants us to grow and progress and move forward.

What if we came to realize that the Guru has an attitude of complete neutrality towards us? That s/he wants neither the best nor the worst for us, not happiness or sorrow or health or wealth or sickness, whatever. That s/he simply lets us be. That s/he isn’t really looking out for our so-called improvement, progress, whatever.

Our tender hearts would be broken. We’d feel let down, all hopes dashed. “You are the one I trusted completely, I thought you’d take care of me.” How can the Master be neutral?

I wonder if we can even begin to comprehend the immense freedom granted to us by neutrality. Freedom to be (or not) whoever or whatever. Freedom from love and projection, support and bonding, ties and expectations.

Really, do we even want such freedom? Ahh, I think not.

We like to be supported. We want blessings from loved ones. We rely on their best wishes and positive projections, laden as they may be with subtle expectations. We cherish those connections. We cannot bear to hurt the ones who love us. We don’t want freedom. In fact, I doubt we can handle it.

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In Pursuit of Goallessness

To tell you the truth, goals scare me.

Picture me in one of the volunteer team meetings. “How many people do we need to bring in?” “200, no 300!” “500!” And so on it goes.

And I’d shrink inwardly, willing myself to go along with the energy and adrenaline. Don’t put a negative vibe into that soup of joyful enthusiasm, okay? Be a team player. Dream big, reach high, shoot for the stars.

And all that crap (sorry).

Okay, let me break this down in a more practical way.

I think goals serve two purposes. First, they help you make a plan, and that, I can completely get on board with. I have a goal to get to work between 9:15am and 9:30am each morning, so I plan to leave home around 8:30am, or a little earlier. Kriya+meditation takes me 45 minutes, so I have to factor that time into the morning schedule. Breakfast, dressing, lunch prep… you get the drift. A rough plan/goal helps me get started. Now, I miss my goal almost every morning, but I am happy that it exists. It serves as a baseline of sorts, and it keeps me tethered to the original idea. Of course, I can tweak it each morning, if needed, and that’s part of the goal setting.

Now here is the second purpose of having a goal. I think Purpose#2 is to stay motivated. And that hardly ever works for me.

I find it virtually impossible to be motivated by a goal. That ticking number only makes me nervous. Or it used to make me nervous when I was younger. These days, I stuff the goal into an imaginary trash can, and get on with my day, life, whatever. Seriously, I am unable to make myself care.

Two weeks ago, I bought a beautiful Apple Watch. It is a piece of beauty! But it became clear to me within a couple of days that this gorgeous device was wasted on me. I didn’t care about the # of calories I hit (or didn’t) each day, or the number of minutes I spent in active exercise. These targets felt meaningless to me, so the tracker was wasted.

I think back to my childhood, youth, early days of career. And it all feels the same. I had no goals to achieve, no real targets to meet. Perhaps I never wanted anything bad enough?

(When I met P, I knew that I wanted him in my life. But that process had an energy of its own, and I was happy to follow along. Well, perhaps it was a subconscious goal that led me towards him?)

Recently I had a conversation about yoga practice and doing a headstand. Somehow, I have never been motivated to expand my yoga practice by way of learning new poses. I feel very content to take a class or two periodically, improve my personal practice, develop a keener awareness into my own experience of the postures, body alignment, aches and pains in weird places, etc. I don’t feel a particular fascination to do a handstand or headstand, whatever. Perhaps one day, I will arrive at the point of doing one of these poses. And I am perfectly okay waiting for that day, whenever it comes.

To me, the practice of Hatha Yoga is the goal. Today, I have a lot of love for Hatha Yoga practice; I feel naturally pulled towards it. So, I have reached my so-called goal, because I have discovered the love and devotion that keeps me glued to the practice. I have hit my goal, many times over.

Some days I think, what a loser you are. Look at your peers, how successful they are! But then my wise partner tells me, dude, you don’t want it, and that’s the prime reason you don’t have all that “success.”

I think that probably explains it.

Knowingly or unknowingly, I have been led forward in life by my heart. I am led by the things I love, not the ones that make sense, necessarily. I fought this flow of energy a long time, thought of myself as a drifter, a non-achiever.

However, the truth is that I have always lived for the drift. I have enjoyed the views, the fellow passengers, the people waving on the shores. I have breathed in the sunset colors, sipped warm chai at passing homes, shared gifts and stories.

I have never made a plan, and that’s probably why I have drifted in strange ways, landed up at unknown shores.

To put it plainly, the drift has always been the goal for me.

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