In India, Saturn is a dreaded planet, for it is capable of bringing obstacles and misery. People fear the arrival of the Saturn cycle in the horoscope. I don’t fear it. I embrace it.
Misery is important. It is painful. It is difficult. But it teaches you and evolves you. Makes you a better person. And if embraced wisely, it can even award you an enlightenment.
I went through several heartbreaks, neglect, loss and betrayal. I suffered from anxiety, panic attacks and depression. I took several trips to ER because I thought I was dying. I was convinced I had medical issues with my heart. My cardiologist didn’t think so. So he wrote me a prescription for anti-depressants and referred me to a psychiatrist. I threw the prescription in the garbage and canceled the appointment with the psychiatrist.
I thought he was an idiot, so I went to a neurologist. He gave me a prescription of umm…anti-depressants? and a referral to a psychiatrist…again! These folks are crazy, I thought, and I threw the prescription in the garbage again. In a hindsight, I’m glad I did that. I developed a bruise mark on my back from the constant rubbing against the wall I sat against during depression that people thought was a birthmark. I even peed in the same bottle I drank water from because I could not walk to the bathroom five steps away. Years later when I saw Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie The Aviator, confining himself into his theater and peeing into his milk bottles when he was depressed, I realized I was not the special one. I suffered a nervous breakdown when tears couldn’t stop flowing through my eyes while I screamed in agony. None of it is exaggeration, but precise facts.
Begged for love
I prayed to Gods — of all religions: Shiva, Allah, Jesus and innumerable saints. “Give me happiness,” I would ask. I begged for love. I begged for happiness. I even begged them to make me rich at one point, because I thought money could buy happiness. I went on shopping sprees to buy happiness and heal my depression. Amazon loved me. They called me Amazon Boy at work because I had a tower of Amazon packages beside my chair that would only grow. It did work, for a few days, but when the excitement of “new” faded away, I was back to square one, sad and depressed.
When that failed, I bought a load of saffron from across the world, because someone said saffron heals depression. The internet said Kashmir saffron is the best. So I bought Kashmir saffron. Someone said I must try Persian. So I tried that, too. And Moroccan, and Spanish and…whatever gave me hope. They suggested a pinch, but I used a spoon to dump the saffron in my tea to expedite the healing. I don’t know to this day how the saffron overdose didn’t kill me already. I severely lost my appetite and turned into a living skeleton that could be used for Halloween decorations. At one point, I weighed 86 pounds at 5-feet, 10-inches tall.
Travel would help, someone suggested. “Eat, Pray and Love” lady had done that before and it apparently helped her. So I traveled…to Vegas! I stayed in suites, drank all night long, gambled my paycheck away, took a helicopter ride to the beautiful canyons, watched the most expensive shows, visited the best bars in limos. This was the life! I had snapped out of my misery! Or so it seemed. The hangover of festivity lasted a few days and I was miserable again. It didn’t work.
I was going through upheavals. My life was like a boat in the middle of an infinite ocean with a never-ending storm. My emotions were all over the place. I was unstable and extremely volatile. I feared I was going crazy. I had started questioning my own sanity. And on top of this, I had a full-time job to manage that I couldn’t afford losing at that time, since I had already burnt half of my life’s savings in the stock market collapse. I was almost fired from my job. Every equation was set up against me. It was a true manifestation of “when it rains, it pours.” I was left an incapacitated and broken man.
In the middle of the 19th century, Benzene’s structure was a mystery. It is said that Kekule thought about it so hard and for so long that his dream revealed the structure symbolically in the form of a coiled snake. Sometimes your subconscious knows what you want better than your conscious self does. I spent countless days looking for a solution to my misery. I read a ton of books and articles, watched a lot of documentaries and virtually dug into the whole internet for a solution. Nothing seemed to help, because my conscious self was too logical, skeptical and clouded by external influences to accept it prima facie. It needed evidence. I needed someone who had gone through what I was going through to validate it, but there was nobody around. I had to go through my own trial and error.
Then one day it happened.
I do not know if it was a logical deduction of my consciousness through trial and error or guidance of my subconscious; maybe it was a mix of both. It occurred to me in a flash of wisdom that I had created my own sorrows. I understood that the reason for my sorrows was the expectation that things must go the way I wanted them to. That I was trying to be in control. That I was clenching too hard. And then…I opened my fist for the first time, to let go of control. My ever-stiff body suddenly loosened up and my breathing changed from forced to an involuntary free flow, just the way it is intended to be. I had surrendered to the Universe.
Right at that moment, a flashback occurred. “Happiness lies within,” I remember the Buddha had said. And another flashback, “My own prison,” a Creed song that I used to listen to back in the ’90s. Then another, “Nimitta Matram” and “Aham Brahmasmi” from the Bhagavad Gita. There were flashbacks over flashbacks. Suddenly all the dots connected and everything started making sense. It was a moment of profound understanding and revelation.
I had just experienced something that I had only read about in books and heard in documentaries but never understood what it meant. I had experienced a state of pure bliss, a state of partial enlightenment. All noises in my mind died an instant death and my mind went thoughtless. All my emotions were replaced by this newfound state. All my desires had vanished into thin air in that very moment, all except one. The desire to preserve this bliss eternally. Everything else seemed like a fallacy. I felt peace. Absolute peace.
Then came the harder part. How to maintain this state? It was a challenge.
It wasn’t a rocket science to figure out that the most obvious threat to this peace was the noise I had created around me, the constant worry I was living in. The more things I possessed, the more I had to maintain or worry about.
Oh look, a credit card with cashback offer — take it!
Balance transfer offer at 1% interest rate — take it!
25% off coupon with $100 purchase — Shop!
Oh no, now I need to keep track of monthly payments, too many credit cards to handle, return the shoes because they were an impulse buy to meet the $100 mark. I and only I alone was responsible to add the unnecessary fuss and complexities to my life and I had to simplify it! So I started cutting down on the unnecessary and got rid of the redundant, so much so that my whole apartment could be packed in two suitcases. Just two. I had turned into a minimalist.
For three years in a row, I did not buy a single piece of clothing or shoes and I slept on the floor without a mattress. I wasn’t practicing extremity though. When I needed something, I bought it. I just started avoiding redundancy. This was simplification. And this was not limited to things but extended to people, too. Less number of names, birthdays and anniversaries to remember, right?
While simplification helped tremendously to cut down on noise, it did not completely eliminate it. Why? Because I was still meeting and interacting with people, I had to hear their opinions and judgments and I had to form mine to carry on a conversation. Sometimes those conversations weren’t so pleasant and often they messed up my peace. Besides, in this internet era with an explosion of information, the world seems too chaotic to give a piece of your mind to every affair that’s going on around the world. At least, I could not afford to do so. I had to protect the silent state of my mind.
What could solve this problem? I asked myself. A neutral stand.
Neutrality! I was evolving.
Simplification was easy to achieve but neutrality wasn’t. When I was home, I was secluded with nobody around me. There were no subjects to discuss, there was nothing to hear, nothing to see except internet and TV, but I always had an option to switch them off at my will. It was noiseless, peaceful. But as soon as I went out of my home, I was in a noisy and chaotic world. After having experienced peace, I could give away anything to maintain it. So I decided to cut off my ties with the world and lived in solace, for a while until I realized that to maintain that peace, I was only running away from the world. I was like that ostrich who would dig his head into the sand and think, “I can’t see the world so that means the world can’t see me.” I was only being indifferent and it didn’t seem right. Then what’s the right way to handle this? I wondered.
A Eureka moment
“Seek and you shall find,” and I found the solution in Buddha’s words.
Be the lotus that is surrounded by mud, muck and dirt, and yet pushes itself to grow beyond all of that into a beautiful flower.
It was a Eureka moment that made complete sense. But how do I do that was the question. Practice was the key. And I had to train my mind to practice it. So I did.
People want you to form opinions. They want you to take a stand. They want your reaction. For some reason, they were confused or bewildered by my neutrality. A date walked away from me because I refused to take a stand on who was a better candidate, Trump or Hillary. I didn’t care, I really didn’t. To me, it was neutrality.
I had become extremely selective about where to use my mind and what to remember or respond to, which was reinforced by a blog I read in a scientific journal that estimated human memory capacity to be in a few petabytes. There can be only a finite number of neurons in the brain? That means the human brain has a limited memory. Limited! Being a computer engineer, I immediately understood what that meant and that I had to become extremely selective about what I wanted to memorize and grasp to avoid an override of my existing memory cells.
I stopped paying attention to everything that was happening around me, or around the world. Again, I never took the path of extremity, because extremity is never a good idea. I was still on the top of current affairs, but selective. Taunts about not remembering important events, anniversaries and birthdays of my friends and family became regular, but it didn’t bother me because it didn’t matter anymore. I had found my Kryptonite. My neutrality was mistaken for indifference so many times, but on the contrary, I had still maintained my kindness.
Being neutral made me non-reactive, focused, agile and resilient. Reactions arise from emotions. Since I did not care about most of the stuff around me, I had no emotions attached to them and I had nothing to react to.
Bruce Lee, not just one of the greatest martial artist of all time but also a philosopher and spiritual master, had once said this in an interview:
“It is like a finger pointing a way to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; you put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; you put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Running water never grows stale. So you just have to keep on flowing. Be water, my friend.”
That happens to be one of the highly influential lines in my life to help me cultivate agility, focus and resiliency.
Back in the ’50s, when the world faced a tough call to choose a power bloc during cold war, a few countries got together to form the Non-Aligned Movement. They did not join any bloc but remained neutral. This not only helped them stay away from the conflicts but also allowed them to focus on their own development and progress. This reaffirmed my belief that I was on the right path.
We human beings rarely learn from others’ experiences. The experiences become a part of us only when we experience them ourselves, sometimes repeatedly. Part of the reason is because we resist change. We change only when forced to by circumstances. There are hundreds of books, motivational speakers, gurus and saints out there to teach, to preach. Some of us learn, understand and practice, most of us don’t — and I was one of them.
Born and raised as a Hindu in India, I was taught the stories of dharma, karma, righteousness, spirituality, enlightenment and nirvana as a kid. I have had access to abundant wisdom texts since toddlerhood. But did I learn? Yes. Did I practice it? No. Not until I faced those circumstances and they forced me to. Theory and practice are very different things. I had learned them in theory, but it became a part of me only through practice.
Peace, the ultimate destination can be attained through several paths. I attained mine through simplification and neutrality. Some may attain it through Yoga or meditation, others may discover an entirely new path through their own journey. What path you discover or choose is immaterial as long as it leads you to your ultimate destination. I transitioned from a believer to an atheist and then to an agnostic during the course of my evolution. I realized that the universe does not have a special cradle designed for any of us. We are not born special. We become special. Until this day, I do not know if God exists, but honestly, it doesn’t matter anymore, because I discovered what I needed the most: my path to Peace.