by Ananda Giri: It was June of 1996 and after ten days of talks and seminars in Argentina I was due to leave for Tampa in Florida where I would be conducting a weekend seminar. This was my first time in America and I was very excited as I boarded the flight to FREEDOM LAND. I felt very inspired to be visiting a country founded on the idea of liberty and freedom for all.
I had to clear immigration and customs at Miami airport before I transferred to a flight for Tampa. I was warmly greeted and welcomed by the immigration officers at Miami. After clearing customs, a young man assisted me with my luggage and walked me to the connecting flights area. I appreciated his help but did not know that I had to tip him. I had never tipped before and it was not a custom we practiced in the region of the country I came from.
However, observing others at the airport, I quickly understood that tipping was a common practice here. Right away I ran after the man who had assisted me with the baggage and made sure to tip him handsomely. I explained to him the reasons for not tipping him earlier. He was surprised to see me back. He looked happy and appreciated my sincerity and effort, which made me feel good as well. I made it in time for my connecting flight, an American eagle that took me to Tampa.
A seminar in Tampa
I was happy to be in good weather after a harsh winter experience in Argentina. The Florida weather made me feel at home and I was all ready to conduct the seminar.
On the first day everyone in the group actively participated and many found the work fairly intense. I had observed during the session an elderly East Indian lady who had appeared to me to be a little worried. After concluding the sessions for the first day, I approached the Indian lady with the intention of helping heal her pain, if there was any in the first place.
I did not want to assume that what I saw was certain and so I politely enquired with her how she was doing and asked if she needed any help. Without much hesitation she started to share the reasons for her sadness. She confessed to me that her husband had passed away recently and that she was finding no meaning in a life without him. She mentioned how hard it was for her to imagine having a good life without her husband being here. In a sad tone the lady said, ” I cannot imagine myself being happy anymore.”
While I totally empathized with her pain, I had to however express my disagreement with the view that she could no longer enjoy the happiness that she once experienced.
And so I said to her, “Madam, it is possible for every single person in this world to enjoy inner peace and happiness no matter what their life circumstances are. You can be free of all the suffering you carry inside you. You can be as happy as you were before, even if your husband is not here with you any longer. In fact you can find even greater happiness if you desire and pursue it.”
I did not see any kind of reaction from her to what I had just mentioned. I thought maybe she did not understand me well and so I repeated it all again emphasizing that she can be free and happy if only she desired it.
Still no reaction from her but on a closer look I realized that she was angry, in fact very angry. She stared right at me and in a very loud voice yelled “HOW DARE YOU SPEAK OF FREEDOM!”
She tried to rise from her seat and for a moment I thought she was going to slap me. Since I was much younger to the lady, I could swiftly excuse myself with a quick apology before any serious trouble got unleashed.
As I walked out of the room, I kept asking myself, “What could I have done so wrong to have angered the woman to this extent?”
I could find no satisfactory answers. I had been kind to her, respectful of her age, with noble intentions and sincere effort. Maybe, since the culture here was new and unfamiliar to me, it was possible that I could have conducted myself in a manner that upset her. In order to understand the situation better I discussed it with the seminar organizer. I narrated to him the entire episode and he appeared as baffled as myself. He clarified to me that there was nothing wrong or inappropriate about the way I had conducted myself. That put me at ease but still I had no clues to the women’s irrational behavior and so I decided to reflect deeper into the situation.
What was the reason?
Why would anyone react the way she reacted? Why would anyone be so deeply disturbed with the idea of happiness? Why would anyone not embrace the thought of freedom? These were some of the questions I pondered over.
Every form of human relationship, whether it is a parent, child, spouse, teacher or student relationship, is clearly defined and must fit into a specific framework. What was the definition of a “noble wife” that this East Indian lady would subscribe to?
She comes from the same region of the sub continent that I come from myself and so I had a fairly good idea about the socio-cultural conditioning that she would have grown up with. A noble wife is one who deeply grieves the death of her husband, who sees no joy and meaning in a life where the other half is missing. A noble wife is one who has renounced all the joy and pleasures of life in honor of the missing spouse. She is someone who loved her husband dearly.
What happens is that sometimes this self-imposed suffering can be misunderstood as love for the other.
It is possible that our very idea of love and nobility can become a block to our freedom and this could have been the case with the East Indian lady. From her reactions, it appeared that the thought of a life filled with joy, challenged her idea of a noble wife. Any ideas of freedom led her to question her love for her husband. Every suggestion I made in regards to finding inner happiness and freedom challenged the image she carried about herself.
Accepting a life of peace, happiness, love and freedom meant that she would no longer be a ‘noble wife’ in her eyes. All she could accept was some sympathy for her loss. She had firmly decided to continue her life with that sadness and grief.
What was her definition of love? Did she equate love with sacrifice and self-imposed misery? Or did she equate love with a renunciation of all joy and pleasure?
If only the lady had for a moment become more conscious of her reactions and the beliefs that caused her to react the way she did, then maybe… just maybe… she would have embraced the possibility of happiness instead of fleeing from it.
Maybe her life would have changed indefinitely.
The lady did not show up the next day or the day after to complete the seminar. Instead she left a small note in the seminars feed back form to say that the seminar was not for her. That she was content living in the memories of her deceased husband.
Examining what is true for us
I had never imagined before that some one could feel so threatened with the idea of happiness. It is understandable that we all experience sadness when we lose someone whom we loved dearly. We will surely miss them, but does that mean that we have to stay in emotional pain for prolonged periods of time or forever even?
We have to question for ourselves whether this is really a true symbol of love, to be in everlasting pain or grief over losing someone, for a reluctance to live a life of joy is certainly irrational.
Surely suffering cannot be the purpose of human existence?
In such situations we must learn to enquire into our irrational reactions and the beliefs that cause us to act irrationally. An absence of living mindfully can cause these beliefs to drive us into a place of conflict and misery.
We at One World Academy believe it is possible for everyone to live free of suffering and that this freedom is possible when you choose to live a life of awareness.
It is the right of every individual to find peace and happiness for themselves. In order to do this, one has to make that choice first and then make every effort in that direction.
Living unconsciously might make us immune to our suffering but will surely not bring us happiness. Unconscious living serves none, neither you nor your environment.
This life is too precious to be lived in misery. One should make every possible effort to live in peace and joy.