By the time I was 18 years old, I had moved 19 times. No, my family was not in the military, there was just a lot of upheaval and constant shuffling from place to place. Stability was not a part of my childhood journey. My parents, who divorced when I was 5 years old, were experiencing troubling times. They themselves had endured less than ideal childhoods. They were young. They used the tools they had at the time and did what they thought was right.
My mind did what it could to weather the storm. With no control over where or with whom I lived, I started to weave a story around why all this was happening to me. In much of this story, I was the villain. Deep down in the core of my existence, I believed that all the chaos and instability was due to some fault within me. While these beliefs allowed me to feel some level of control over my existence, they did leave scars. By putting it on paper, I could begin to understand that while my story feels unique, the anguish is unfortunately rather common. Like Leo Tolstoy said:
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Swamiji once said to me, “We all have to go through certain pain in life.” I am beginning to see what he meant. My experiences in childhood planted these thoughts deep in my consciousness that I was somehow a flawed person. This belief, like the main branch of a tree, had many offshoots, such as low self-confidence, drug abuse, suicidal thoughts, and other
Luckily, I had the wisdom and strength to seek professional help.
It was in my early 20s when I first turned to psychotherapy for help. I soon began to see that irrespective of the type of therapy you are seeking, it’s the relationship to the therapist itself that is essential to a successful outcome. In that regard, it’s extremely important to find a therapist you like and connect with. Trust then begins to flourish and only at that time can the real work begin.
It’s still a long and slow journey, with few road markers to know that you are making progress. In this way, psychotherapy is similar to the spiritual journey. Like flying in an airplane, you feel you are hardly moving at all, even though you may be travelling at breakneck speed. Progress is felt when you take off and when you land, but not during the bulk of the journey.
In fact, it’s taken me a solid decade of weekly sessions with the same therapist (the wise and compassionate Dr. Scott Perna), but I have made remarkable progress in this time and it has laid the groundwork that has enabled me to embark on my spiritual quest. Those shackles that once bound me down, seemed so strong, even unbreakable.
Now I see the irony of my situation — I’ve actually had a death grip on the chains binding me; all I needed to do was drop them to be free. The trick is to shift your perspective and see that you are the one holding the chains.
There are some spiritual benefits of having challenges in childhood. Because you don’t necessarily feel at ease with life, it stimulates the search for what binds oneself to negativity and forces you to think about how to free yourself.
David Richo, a psychotherapist whose work emphasizes mindfulness and loving-kindness said:
“Our wounds are often the openings into the best and most beautiful parts of us.”
A stable psychological base is needed to drive deep the pillars of a spiritual life. Like erecting a building with a weak foundation, contentment, truth, and right conduct cannot flourish unless you’ve done the work to strengthen the bedrock.
In this regard, I’m very happy to say that I have now lived in the same city for 13 years, by far the longest I’ve lived in any city at a stretch over my life. I have three young kids (ages 3, 5, and 7) who are growing up in a stable, two-parent loving household. Providing this stability to my children is incredibly healing to me as I’m able to provide them something which I yearned for but lacked growing up.
This would not have been possible had I not addressed the trauma I experienced as a child. And that, too, was just the start. It was a type of unlearning, or learning what not to do. Replacing theses old habits, I’ve learned to use more functional tools that foster a healthy home life and the chance at spiritual progress.
Creating and maintaining stability in my spiritual practices has been one of my highest priorities over the last two years, and the single most important ingredient that has helped me to do that is self-discipline.
B.K.S. Iyengar said this about stability:
“When stability becomes a habit, maturity and clarity follow.”
In a 2012 blog post by Swamiji titled The Art of Discipline, He highlighted a funny aspect about self-discipline;
“Paradoxically, discipline sets you free. It gives you the freedom to do anything, to accomplish anything, to be anything you want.”
I used to think that freedom was doing whatever you wanted whenever you wanted. Lazing around, eating pizza and playing video games all day! Those days have their place, but like He has said, they won’t take you very far.
I try to maintain self-discipline so that I’m physically, mentally and spiritually healthy. In this state of equilibrium, we are in a much better position to enjoy what life has to offer. That pizza tastes so much better, and, don’t worry, I still play video games. What I love about the path of awakening is it has forced me to be self-disciplined in every aspect of life.
To be able to sit and meditate, I’m finding physical fitness to be a
non-negotiable necessity. It helps me in maintaining proper posture, and releasing excess energy through exercise also results in less restlessness during meditation. As usual, going hand in hand with exercise is a little bit of self-control with my diet, which can be challenging given my sweet tooth (teeth!). My wife would affirm this for you, as she has the uncanny ability to see all my shortcomings, which make a rather long list, though I hope it’s getting shorter!
When I first connected with Swamiji and embarked on the spiritual path, I was captivated with the process of sankalpas (resolutions). I started out by giving up a few things: no sugar for 40 days, no coffee for two months, no alcohol. As I succeeded in each sankalpa that I set, my willpower and confidence would inch forward, slowly but surely. I started to apply the same process to my mediation — I began with a 40-day vow of 10 minutes a day, and slowly intensified my routine.
Today, I am 72 days through my sankalpa to meditate for 2 hours every day (except Sundays), for a 90-day period. One of my major hurdles has been back pain that can be really excruciating. I do some asanas and stretching along with various modalities of body work (massage, chiropractic) to address the pain, but it is really pernicious. Sometimes the pain is
super-intense and I feel that my body would split in two if I kept going.
My wife asks why I wouldn’t just sit in a chair, and then I’m reminded of Swamiji’s journey; what He went through during his intense sadhana in the Himalayas. Those who have read his memoir, If Truth Be Told, would know: his knees were in so much pain that he thought he may never walk again. Still, he persisted, even though that might be the end of his walking days.
I’ve taken multiple of these 90-day vows consisting of two hours a day of meditation, knowing that at the end of each, I’m likely to take on another one. Somehow breaking up the sadhana into these smaller chunks is easier. Maybe because it allows me a chance to celebrate my success, and 90 days seemed like a palatable, doable and logical amount of time to strive for. So far, it’s working and is creating the psychic heat needed for transformation.
This sadhana is physically and mentally demanding and has been the most challenging task I have ever committed myself to, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’d like to close my first blog post by thanking all of you who have read it. Isn’t it so awesome that Swamiji has opened this venue for us? I feel a great sense of camaraderie and acceptance with all my spiritual brothers and sisters out there and am so grateful we have this ability to connect. Thank you Swamiji, for everything.
Also, a thank you to my wife who always supports me in my spiritual adventures (and keeps the list accurate).