At my wife’s insistence, I went for a pedicure one day. She wanted my feet and my toenails to look healthy, and after much persuasion, I agreed to her wishes. I went to a salon located inside a shopping mall and trust me; it was a nerve – wracking experience.
I had stepped out of my comfort zone and entered into a different world. I was the only male customer and a constant stream of ladies flowed in and out of the salon. Some were getting their feet fixed, some were getting their nails done, a few were getting their hair pulled, undergoing all kinds of torture in the name of beauty care.
I felt very uncomfortable in this environment, and tried to make myself as small as possible, even smaller than my usual self. I avoided eye contact with others around me; in fact, I avoided contacting any object with my eyes, as far as possible. I was released from this torture in about 45 minutes and stepped back into the real world.
I learned a couple of spiritual lessons from this powerful experience. First, I learned to empathize a bit more with women who try to live in a man’s world. Things have changed a lot in
the last few decades, but it is still very much a male-dominated world. Women are entering many more professions, but more often than not, they are still in a minority. My daughter did Electrical Engineering in Canada, a couple of decades ago. Even in this advanced country, she was often the only girl in the class, for many of the courses. Things haven’t changed all that much from my IIT days, when there were only three girls in the entire campus.
I can only imagine how tough it must be for women to be so completely outnumbered in the workplace. Some have made it to traditional male bastions like the police and the army, but not in any great numbers. They are doing well in journalism, perhaps due to their natural communication skills. There are a few women priests here and there, but the Pandit ji who comes to do puja is always a Pandit ji, never a Panditain. I have attended lots of weddings during my lifetime, but I have yet to see a female priest do the ceremonies.
The other important lesson was that we have to step out of our comfort zone, to be successful in any field whatsoever. Om Swami ji is a living example of this. He stepped out of his comfort zone when he went to Australia and had very successful career, starting from scratch. Shortly after becoming a millionaire, he stepped out of his comfort zone again and gave everything up. He traded a luxurious lifestyle for a hut in the Himalayan mountains, where he did intense spiritual practices. Then, he stepped out of this blissful world to set up an ashram and give his message to the world.
Most Indians do very well outside their home country. Partly, it’s because of there are more opportunities abroad, but it is also because they have stepped out of their comfort zone. I led a comfortable life in India, with a reasonably successful career and not too many challenges for a simple soul like me. Then, in my middle age, I decided to emigrate to North America with my family. It was a very big challenge for the first few years but then things settled down. Eventually, it turned out well and it was great for our children’s future.
The biggest challenge that we face, as we grow older, is stepping out of the comfort zone of our fixed ideas. We have grown up a certain way and acquired a certain set of values. It is very difficult for us to realize that our children don’t have the same ideas. They want to live their own way, with their own values, or lack thereof. This is the flow of life, whether we like it or not.
Now it’s getting time to step out of my comfort zone again. I have a comfortable government job, but I have to retire from it eventually. It’s a major shift, but it has to be done.
The spiritual path is all about stepping out of our comfort zone and accepting new challenges. It’s not very comfortable twisting our body into funny shapes called yoga postures, but it’s great for our health. The mind is always on the move, even if our body is still. We really have to step out of our comfort zone to stop the movement of the mind. It takes hours of practice, and, perhaps, a lifetime of dedicated effort.
Even in yoga, we have to keep changing our practice, forcing the body to do more and more. If we fall into a set routine, then we lose the intensity of the practice.
I am getting quite comfortable in my body now, in spite of all its aches and pains. Over the years, I have gotten quite attached to it. The time is not too far ahead when I will have to step out of this comfort zone, and venture into the great unknown.