I am an American-born Indian, with roots in California and twenty-five years of memories in Florida. I went to public elementary, middle, and high schools, all situated in suburban fast-developing cities. I attended college in the tropics of the U.S., better known as Miami. And so of course, everything in my life has been tinged with tourism.
While growing up through blending cultures, the originality of my own has been a bit tough to hold onto. Being surrounded by other American-born Indians who have to varying degrees “lost touch” with their Indian heritage doesn’t make things any smoother.
Many of my friends in different cities have complained how difficult it is to cultivate a strong bond to spirituality when there simply aren’t enough resources for it. Oftentimes, our generation just doesn’t care enough to go out and make the extra effort in between exams to go to a church, temple, or mosque.
I, too, am guilty.
A funny thing happens when you grow older; you and your friends begin to realize the importance of things that were so accessible, but were never taken advantage of. You find yourself tackling challenges, learning the ropes, achieving the impossible, while losing some of your connections to your roots. You’re just going at it, year after year, in waves of success and failure. You taste life as an adult and never turn back. We go after the fame and fortune that’s sung about in every other song on the radio we listen to on our daily commutes. Growing older brings so much cacophony to the table; it’s no wonder after a while we all get accustomed to it, learning to accept it as white noise.
And in all that noise, I found an email one day inviting members of the community to attend a seven-day spiritual discourse by a great guru named Swami Mukundananda at my local Hindu temple. I decided to give it a shot.
All seven days.
I couldn’t help it– I was hooked. The best way I could summarize what the swami said would be that spirituality is a constant part of us and everything around us – the connection never really leaves us, but our minds become closed off. How we take in our surroundings is completely dependent on our attitude. He connected one’s attitude with spirituality, and our minds as vessels to accept “divine grace.”
Swami Mukundananda expressed over the seven-day lecture series how important the concept of “doing one’s duty” is to Hinduism. He illustrated how when you attach your mind to the eternal being and carry out your day-to-day activities, the stress of your results vanishes. A lot of our stress triggers from anxiety about the results of our labor. Our school admissions, job interviews, performance reviews…the list goes on. But when you focus all of your energy on just the task alone, you end up trusting the process and forget about the end result.
“Do your duties truly and without thinking of expectations,” the swami had said to us. Another point he brought up was how all stress isn’t necessarily bad. “Life without stress is like a class without exams,” he joked. What differentiates stress from being beneficial versus harmful is the “attachment” we have to the end result. Hence, if we learn to work and perform our “worldly duties” without this attachment, we’ll find that we oscillate less dramatically between joy and sadness. He demonstrated how to correct how our mind perceives things, hence changing our attitudes.
“Take a deep breath in,” he said, “staying aware of your mind. Breathe in, ‘Hello moment,’ breathe out, ‘I am here.’” Live in the present, do your best, and let fate handle the rest. He went on to state, “This is the essence of spirituality, of Hinduism. We live in both the material world and our self-made inner world. We must practice learning the technologies, so to speak, of both worlds because this is how balance and harmony are achieved.”
The thing I loved most is how universal this concept is to most cultures. And, if you think about it, a person doesn’t need to be heavy in religious practice to apply this theory to everything they do. I attempted this way of thinking for the next week or so after the Swami’s presentation. A mini-experiment, if you will.
As I drove to work, I stopped stressing about the one or two minute difference each traffic light would make, and just focused on the act of driving instead. As I studied, I stopped stressing about missing questions I hadn’t even attempted yet, and just concentrated on enjoying the material I was learning. At the gym, at work, even out with friends, I stopped worrying about what everyone else was thinking and just lived in the moment – enjoying the inner peace that came with it.
Maybe stopping to smell the roses, or in my case reading an email invitation, is what makes all the difference. Spirituality and connecting to one’s roots doesn’t mean veering off the road to success. It’s not a detour to explore your origins, your culture, and your heritage. If anything, it helps pave the road.
Breathe in, Hello moment. Breathe out, I am here.
Nisha Jani attended the University of Miami for college and graduate school, leaving with a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and Sports Medicine. Currently an athletic trainer in Miami, she is devoted to the study of exercise and kinesiology. Nisha also has a passion for creative forms of expression including dance, design and motivational reading and writing.