It’s the question that drives me. It always has and always will. And it drives me toward true realization of my self. It's a natural calling that I have cultivated ever since I could think. For so long I was confused about who I was and what I was to do in this world.
If I had to pinpoint one moment where this inner journey began, it would be when I tried to convince my grammar school friends that the ant they were about to crush under their feet was ‘God’ or maybe a god or maybe one of God’s blessed creatures.
I didn’t really know and I didn’t have much of a chance to explain my confusion since they were still rolling in laughter. I was embarrassed but amazed that I was bold enough to say what I felt. I inherently believed that the ant had a purpose and that it deserved to see it through. I was a critical player in this ant’s environment and I had a choice to be a constructive or destructive piece in it’s universe.
I wanted to be constructive; a conduit for its journey. This experience gradually opened up in me a yearning to know more and be more than I was. I believed my journey culminated when I came across the deeply profound spiritual teachings of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami in college.From these teachings I felt I got a deeper balance that has endured in my life.
After all, I survived childhood. I overcame the trappings of college life. I made my way into a decent career. I married a good woman. I even found spiritual fulfillment. Not a bad shake out of the quagmire of existence, especially at 31. Sure I could be richer, better looking, taller, more athletic, more popular, and have better digestion. But other than that, things are pretty good.
Yet I am afraid about something. What’s the deal? Why am I so afraid? Where’s the balance I thought I discovered? What is gnawing at my insides? Maybe too many bad headlines. Maybe too many doomsday movies. Maybe the economic pendulum is swinging way too fast. Maybe…I just can’t seem to get a grip on it.
And that is scaring me more than anything else. It’s coming from so many directions. But my thought process refuses to stop there and be satisfied with that. My incessant hunger to get to the root of my pre-midlife crisis melodrama usurps any gravitational pull to stick to the status quo. What is messing with my internal stasis?
I got a clue one fine Monday morning as I was headed to work. Like most mornings, as I was rushing down the stairs, strapping on my shoes, and grabbing the car keys, I hurried out the front door. I opened the back door of my Honda Accord and left my things in the back seat. Settling into the driver’s seat, I realized I still had to wait for my wife to come. I thought to myself, “Ok, you’ve got a few minutes to relax.”
But as I situated myself, I was feeling unusually uneasy. And I was uneasy about feeling uneasy since this was a pretty typical weekday morning. It definitely wasn’t the breakfast because I didn’t have any as I usually don’t so early and I certainly wasn’t feeling sick. So while I was introspecting on the source of my psychological nausea, my attention shifted towards steering wheel. I noticed it was made of leather. I thought, “Hmm, some poor cow probably suffered a lot so that I can have this nice steering wheel.”
My thoughts continued towards the other facets of this contraption. The tires, windows, door knobs, engine, seats. What did it take to make this car? The emissions from the multitude of cloth, steel, glass, plastic, and rubber factories required to produce every inch of this car would be astronomical. I started to feel guilty.
Growing up, I was always taught to have a grateful attitude, as so many are much less fortunate than myself. As I explained before, life is pretty good. But for the last post-college decade, I am observing gradually and increasingly that I am somehow and in some way I am responsible for the lack of good fortune for many of those less fortunates.
How did I come to this? Why is this true? Well, the statistics are out there. Article after article highlighting how our planes, trains and automobiles are killing this planet. How my consumption is unsustainable for billions of its human and non-human citizens. My mind was wandering to every facet of my life – my home, my work, my play.
Ok, I get it. I am becoming an eco-activist. Al Gore is my eco-shepherd and I love to garden. Right. Right? I care about what we have done and are doing to nature for the sake of a ‘better’ life. However I was being nagged by a pain that went deeper than the soil of the Earth. I wasn’t satisfied with just being Green. It somehow seemed to address only the external problem even though it is such a massive one. My intuition told me to dig deeper. I haven’t hit the root yet.
I knew this was getting philosophical. And if you know me, I have a penchant for metaphysical conclusions and assertions. But unlike other times when I try to intellectualize the problem to simply understand it better, this time I was feeling something. My Honda’s steering wheel made me cringe and squirm in my seat. It was an emotional and painful burst that swung through my body. But WHY?
As my wife got into the car, I continued to behave as if it was just another morning and drove off. But my mind was back there, immersed in those few moments of deep contemplation. After some time, prayer and introspection, it hit me that this whole matter was getting awfully personal. And there it was.
It was personal. A clear connection between my needs and the impact those needs were having on every facet of this world illuminated before me. I didn’t want to say it. I didn’t want to think it. I didn’t want to believe it. But, I was responsible. In playing my role as a trusted consumer of all that can be mined, manufactured and consumed, I was an active participant in the transformation of the planet and its citizens.
Now, many would argue that this ‘transformation’ is a good thing. A progressive step in evolutionary chain of being. Survival of the fittest. However, the statistics say otherwise. And so does anyone looking at the reality of it all will say otherwise. While Al Gore and eco-activists make strides to reshape the way we consume, I wonder how I got into this bubble in the first place. How is it that it took so long to notice that my behavior has such a direct and indirect influence on so much of this world?
While on one hand I am quite eager to unravel this mystery right away, I am also quite satisfied. I’ve ventured into myself in a meaningful way to begin mapping out the blockages to deep, spiritual fulfillment. And ultimately that is what I truly want. That is what I am chasing endlessly and sometimes fruitlessly through my TV, my MP3 player, my car, my friends, my family, my life – a communion with creation. Therefore, I am grateful for the introspective question that is like a spotlight on these profound experiences that unveil a beautifully challenging reality. And this is but only the first leg of an exciting journey.
Palak Shah contributes for us as the eco-columnist of the Spirit Matters staff.
A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, and currently a recruiter for a major IT consulting firm, Palak is always on the hunt for a good discussion on philosophy, the human condition, and society's spiritual evolution.