Spirits to Spirituality
“Courage is the ladder on which all the other virtues mount,” writes Clare Boothe Luce.
It requires enormous courage to acknowledge our deficiencies and make a 360degree change in our personality to be acknowledged and accepted. Normally we live in a state of denial. Man is a social being who is in seek of recognition and positive strokes. Only a sage or a mad person does not require attention.
This piece is on my personality development and various bottlenecks encountered in the path.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says: ” If you can win over your mind, you can win over the whole world”. Body and mind are the precious gifts of nature. And we neglect them leading to physical and psychological disorders.
We torture our bodies through various forms of addictions, be it excessive sex, smoke, substance, alcohol, food, desire for power et al. The mind is cluttered with innumerable thoughts which impede clarity in thinking. On average we receive around 50k to 60,000 thoughts and most of them are negative in nature. These thoughts are either fretting about our past or anxiety of what is expected in the future. We are never in the present moment. Living in the present moment is a state of meditation and almost devoid of desires where nature works wonders. How does one reach being in the present state? There are several techniques and each one finds his or her path.
I became an alcoholic and a heavy smoker. It had a deleterious impact on my mind and body. I was hospitalised, operated upon and put in rehab. Simultaneously relations with family, friends, parents, place of work got jeopardised. One gets categorised as a no- brainer.
My dalliance with alcohol was for more than 15 years. Astrologer friends blamed my fate on planetary configurations. Basically I was at war with myself. I could not pursue my areas of interests that is theatre and had to settle for a job in the government ( Indian Railway Traffic Service). I was selected to the Indian Police Service but was dissuaded from joining that job. This added to my frustration as I lost out on POWER. Slowly I hit the bottle and the situation worsened.
I overcame addiction through various Art Of Living Programmes. The fulcrum of all Art Of Living programmes is the unique breathing technique called Sudarshan Kriya( Proper Vision Process) which has magical curative powers. Today by the grace of the Master, I am an Art Of Living Teacher as well. I am indeed grateful to my Guru. #ThankyouTeacher.
As Sri Sri says, ”Only the presence of the master will bring fulfilment to your life and to all your relations.”
Breathing techniques and meditation are extremely powerful and can harmonise body, mind, thoughts complex. Srinivas Iyengar says, ” breath does not mean air taken in and exhaled, but the Prana( subtle life force) that is the magnetic current of breath."
Astrologers blamed my problem and misfortune on planetary configurations and the stars, clairvoyants postulated theories that it was bad fate- Karma, science opines that alcoholism is perhaps genetic. Well, some relatives had been alcoholics. An uncle fought back through the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. The fact of the matter was that I had a severe drinking problem and like all alcoholics was in denial mode.
Substance abuse, smoking and alcohol have a detrimental effect on the human body, mind and soul. Repair is an arduous and painstaking task which necessarily requires Divine intervention. Science would vouch for professional help. But the addict is absolutely oblivious to any help and is cocooned in his world of self-denial and arrogance, refusing any form of help and closes all doors. I have seen it happening with myself and a few colleagues who sadly succumbed to the lethal disease. When the addict surrenders to Divine mercy, that professional help works like a miracle.
Those struggling to cope with addictions and really desirous of a 360-degree change in their lives should invariably and without any hesitation clutch the hand of the Divine, whose manifestation is a Guru, in order to survive and help themselves and their loved ones.
Today, I recall those wintry weekends of Bikaner, when I hit the bottle after performing a part of my official duties where I was in charge of passenger and freight operations. In fact, railway operations involve a 24×7, 365 days effort. All those involved have to be extremely sharp and alert and here I was mixing my work with alcohol. A typical weekend meant speaking to my bosses at Delhi with a mixture of false bravado but primarily trepidation, over several packets of cigarettes, taking a quick shower, a light breakfast and then settling down with my precious bottle of gin.
Later in the afternoon, I would settle down with yet another bottle of gin. All through, spar with supposedly non-performing staff, quibble with my wife and shout at my children and literally sleep over lunch, while the telephone from the railway control office would be ringing incessantly. The pattern continued. It was a strange fixation with the drink. I vomited only to drink more. One could call it drinking bulimia. As the sun sank in the deserts of Rajasthan, shadows lengthened in our railway bungalow; the prestigious Palace on Wheels chugged along, coal rakes were being supplied to powerhouses, gypsum and food grain was getting loaded and I was trying to handle the second bottle of gin. As a routine, it became one a half bottles of gin on weekdays and over the weekends there were two bottles. Nothing to trumpet about. It was a wretched life to lead, no friends, no social gatherings it was only alcohol. Whenever we were invited for lunches or dinners, my family was absolutely petrified as a drunk and violent person accompanied them for the outing.
This was the scenario every weekend and holiday. My mind was always desperately pining for that bottle of gin. Why Blue Riband Gin? The fact was that I thought gin did not stink. Gin is euphemistically referred to as a lady’s drink, but the stuff has almost 40% alcohol in it.
It is indeed a matter of surprise to me as to how the official establishment accepted and tolerated me. I reckon it was the deep prayers of my mother, grandmother and those of my wife-though she was losing faith in the Divine and lamenting her fate.
Year after year, starting somewhere in 1995 to end 2006, I was drinking like a fish and smoking like a chimney. And this was across all my postings on various railway systems and different places. The consumption was 2 bottles of gin; around 3 to 4 packets of Wills Navy Cut and several packets of Pan Parag (I hoped that it would camouflage the odour). Essentially, I was revolting inside. My body, mind and soul were all tormented and I was looking for elusive succour. Perhaps I was enjoying the pain. However, the guardian angels and almighty God were protecting me.
Sometime in November 2003, my wife registered my name for the Part 1 course of the Art of Living at Jaipur, which I attended. Upon completion of the course that Sunday, I rang up my mother and could discern palpable happiness and gratitude in her voice. After years, her son had spoken in a sober condition over a weekend. Tears of gratitude flowed for the Master (HH Sri Sri Ravi Shankar), who cognate the unique breathing technique called Sudarshan Kriya. She had by then seen Gurudev at a Satsang in Hyderabad, apart from watching his discourses on television. However, I was still to give up drinking.
A few years later, in 2010 when my mother met Guruji, the only questioned he asked her was, “Amma, are you happy?” I had quit drinking by then. This was an Aha moment for my mother, a verily Teacher's Day for her.
It is essential that a participant who undergoes the Part 1 course (now called the Happiness Programme) should attend the weekly follow up of Long Sudarshan Kriya apart from practising the short Sudarshan Kriya every day without fail to receive full benefits of the programme. And also attend various programmes from the bouquet of courses designed by Guruji and imparted by the Art of Living Foundation. Unfortunately, I did not attend the weekly follow up schedule, nor did I attend the Advanced Meditation Course. The organisers of the course were quite considerate in accommodating me as a non-residential participant in a residential programme so that my dependency on Bacchus would reduce. But my mind was transfixed as to how I would be able to survive the evenings without alcohol and the desperation for cigarettes during the day. Primarily these were all self-made barriers which I had yet to overcome.
Though I did not attend the weekly follow-ups nor participate in any other course of the Art of Living, by the grace of the Gurudev continued to practice the Short Sudarshan Kriya at home daily. Why that happened is a mystery! My wife and father took me to a liver specialist in Hyderabad a few years later. The doctor exclaimed and wondered as to how I was moving around given my history of drinking, my answer was that I practice Short Sudarshan Kriya every day( despite consuming alcohol), drink plenty of buttermilk and consume Liv.52. She acknowledged that Sudarshan Kriya did have immense therapeutic value and benefits.
Several medical practitioners agree that this unique breathing technique increases the level of prana (chi), helping it to virtually permeate into each cell of the body. And the weekly long Kriya session imparts a tremendous boost to the immune system and totally detoxifies the human body. There have been studies conducted in AIIMS, NIMHANS and several other hospitals which corroborate this point of view.
During my stint at Guntakal Division on South Central Railway, I happened to visit the mutt of Raghavendra Swami at Mantralayam. The alcoholic mind smuggled a bottle of gin and a few cigarettes into the precincts of the holy shrine. After paying obeisance at the shrine, I was desperate to consume liquor in my room at the mutt. I was shocked to see the bottle absolutely empty. There was no crack in the bottle nor was the seal tampered with or broken, yet the entire alcohol was spilt outside on the carpet and my clothes. Only my Puja material and the notes of Part 1 course of Art of Living which I had jotted down at Jaipur were spared. To me, this was a strong signal. This was no hallucination, but a clear message sent to me by Raghavendra Swami and Guruji that enough was enough! I had to quit drinking. The seeds of change were being slowly implanted.
Some months later, as the winter chill was setting in, November 2006 to be exact, I started having apparitions of HH Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Satya Sai Baba virtually every day, exhorting me to give up alcohol. Now, these are things which science would turn down outright. But those nights were quite miserable. I was drunk and kept dreaming of Gurudev and Baba. Through all of this every morning even though I was literally a zombie I practised Sudarshan Kriya. And then quite suddenly, by the grace of the Master, I stopped drinking in early December 2006. And it is once again purely his grace that I have not touched alcohol despite all provocations. It is now nearly ten years of sobriety.
Thereafter I did various Art of Living courses including the Teacher’s Training Course and have become a part of the faculty. I recall during one mega Advanced Meditation Course, Guruji met all the participants. I broke down and thanked Gurudev for pulling me out of the morass, the quagmire I was in. So did another youngster sitting next to me, from the IT field. We did not know each other, yet happened to sit together at Vishalakshi Mantapam (at the Art of Living Centre Bangalore). Interestingly we both had given up substance addiction and were at the feet of the Master. I think that is what Gurudev does when a person surrenders unflinchingly. One has to surrender, bow down and leave all the impressions gathered over a period of time, and then the magic works!
Guruji asked me to share my story with the whole world in order to motivate them to take to this path of Happiness. By his grace, several railwaymen have done the course across the length and breadth of this country with startling benefits. We have testimonials of drivers giving up smoking, drugs and alcohol. Similarly, loco pilots who could barely sleep and only saw signals in their dreams, now enjoy a sound night’s sleep. This has been video graphed by a former Divisional Railway Manager of Trichy. Similarly, the office staff of Divisional Railway Manager, Bangalore had to undergo a lung function test. Smokers, who had undergone the part 1 course of Art of Living, were surprised to observe there was no trace of tobacco in their system, unlike smokers who did not participate in the programme. Such is the power of the Sudarshan Kriya. If the Indian Railways is the lifeline of the nation, Sudarshan Kriya is the life force. Regular practice of Sudarshan Kriya and surrender to Gurudev has transformed the lives of millions across the globe. Let everyone experience his grace.
In February 2014, I travelled with Guruji by a special train– SRI SRI Express. Anugraha Yatra travelled across the then undivided Andhra Pradesh. The moment we crossed Kurnool, Guruji gave me Prasadam from Mantralayam. I was taken aback and reminded of the incident at Rayar’s Mutt (Raghavendra Swami’s Mutt), where I had carried liquor into the holy precincts. I thought to myself if Rayar taught the theoretical aspects of the science of breath, Guruji provides the practical explanation. It is only divinity which transcends body, mind and spirit.
Guruji spreads waves of happiness and transforms the lives of millions through the unique breathing technique called Sudarshan Kriya. His grace should keep flowing across the globe. I am indeed indebted to my Guru H. H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Thank You, Teacher. Jai Guru Dev - That is Victory to the big mind.