I am from a deeply religious house, each member of my family has pledged their allegiance to either a religion, a saint or has reinterpreted spirituality to fit their personality.
The head of our house, my mother, is a highly religious person and does not conform to one religion – she likes them all. Our house is a mishmash of various religious figures and totems. My mother has cherry picked elements that she likes to custom make her “version” of religion. As expected my aunties and cousins mimicked this trend.
As a child I gained exposure to multiple religions through Buddhist festivals and yearly Hindu pilgrimages. I have even been to church for mass.
My grandmother had baptised my mother as a child. As she approached her late 20s, my mother had been increasingly fascinated by Hinduism and its multitude of collective practices and celebratory festivals. In her early thirties, she married my father, a Buddhist. My mother is also committed to several saints from India such as various incarnations of Sai Baba and Gurus in India.
We routinely celebrate Vesak in May (this is a Buddhist festival that celebrates the birth of the Lord Buddha), Deepavali in November (the triumph of good over evil in Hinduism) and Christmas in December. We also joined my mother’s best friend to break fast during Ramadan.
As a result of all these religious practices, I learned to develop my spirituality from a young age. Being religious and spiritual are completely separate for me. Spirituality is the relationship one has with god. It is quieter and more personal – it is an act of deep intimacy. On the contrary, religion is the translation of spirituality into physical actions, practices or routines. The practice of religion does help a person connect to their spirituality more strongly.
As a result of my spirituality, I had intuitive rumblings and dreams from a young age. I get intense feelings around certain people – they are signs that trouble is ahead or our personalities are incompatible. Once I get these feelings, I start paying close attention. I have sought refuge in my spirituality since I have been an immigrant since eighteen.
For my third year of university, I moved to Scotland. The change in seasons from late summer to autumn impacted my sleeping schedule. From then, I had constant fatigue and intense depression. I joined several clubs and societies that asked me to make several tiresome commitments. My sense of dislocation and disconnection did not help either – no one could understand my cultural dilemmas.
Eventually, I became unable to sleep completely and had a deep fog over my mind.
I had to leave to get some space and much needed perspective. I had no family to take care of me and I was responsible for looking after myself and my mental health. My family sought refuge in temples during times of trouble (be, it emotional or financial). Similarly, I yearned for spiritual healing.
I escaped to a Tibetan Buddhist monastery called Samye Ling in the Scottish highlands. I had to travel 2 hours by train and another a 30 minutes by a bus just to get there.
I co-shared a room, had vegetarian meals and had to time spend meditating and gardening. I also had the freedom to go on hikes to nearby villages and see local monuments. I really loved seeing the sheep, the red hills (the hills changed from green to red in autumn) and the cooling mists – it felt like the heavens has descended to bless me. The pressure and expectation suddenly vanished.
I also spoke to other people that had been burned out by life’s several demands and learned about their experiences and their use of spirituality to heal their minds and bodies. Their lessons helped me cultivate practices that, in turn, helped me.
My spirituality really helped my intense fatigue, calmed my mind and helped me organise my thoughts for my upcoming exams.
Once I returned, my friends noticed that I appeared calmer and more together. I could also feel more deeply connected to my friends.
I used the lessons I learned at the monastery daily. I have set times during the day for praying. I constantly practice non-attachment to ideas, situations, people and places. I meditate once I get up and stop to breathe if life is too intense. I also recite mantras (in either Sanskrit or Tibetan) to overcome any mental blocks.
To boost my self-belief before the start of a big project, I pray for guidance and good luck. Sometimes I lack motivation to cross the finish line for a project and I pray again because it helps to realign my mind and releases any self-inflicted pressure.
I learned to treat my mind and my body compassionately. I also learned to relinquish my control over situational outcomes. These lessons are ones I have had to relearn over the years but once I relearn them, my mind instantly feels centered, my focus increases and my enthusiasm for life intensifies.
As my life has been scattered across several continents, I have constantly experienced dislocation and ennui. I felt like I lacked a reliable connection and had no particularly trusted family or friend to provide guidance. Through all of this, my spirituality has been like an anchor. It has helped me reorient my mind and stay grounded. My calm mind has made beneficially decision and found connections to re-root myself in each territory.