By Ananda Giri:  In the summer of 2006, I had visited Stockholm, Sweden for a spiritual conference.


Prior to the event, I was scheduled to meet with a well-known author from Sweden. The meeting took place at a hotel lobby by the beautiful Stockholm harbor. I was already in the lobby waiting for the gentleman to arrive. As soon as he stepped into the lobby, he walked right up to me and greeted me with a handshake. It was not difficult for him to identify me, as I was the only Indian in the room. The writer was a middle-aged gentleman full of enthusiasm and his works were mostly contemporary in nature. We were keen to learn from each other and our learning took place, primarily in the form of exchanging views. The most significant moment of the meeting to me however, was when he asked me, “Ananda Giri, would you be interested in sharing with us about love. What according to you is love?”

What is Love?

I had previously never been faced with such a question nor had I asked this question to myself before and so had no immediate answer to that question. I had to first ask myself this question, “What is love to me” before I could respond to him. Of course the experience of love cannot be summed up into one single definition, it obviously meant different things to different people. Therefore I would never be able to ask the question, “What is love?” and find an answer to that question, I could only ask, “What is love to me?” and that is what I did. I followed my thoughts and memories in search of a moment that I could boldly say was “love”.  My thoughts eventually led me to my school days and there I was, reliving all those moments. As I browsed through my experiences of my school days, I found an answer to the writer’s question or may be I should say that I found the answer to my question. I was now ready to respond to him.

Conflict in Student Heaven

The school I studied in was the best any child could hope for; some even called it “student heaven”. We had absolutely nothing to complain about, but what I had failed to observe then was whether heaven or hell was dependent on your internal state and not dependent on your external circumstances. If you are not in a good state you find yourself complaining a lot and that is what I did; I found myself blaming everyone around me for no apparent reason. I was fourteen, only a year since transiting into my teen hood and had no idea what it felt like to be a teen. The early part of my teen life did not have as many high’s as I would have expected but nevertheless guided me to some valuable realizations that laid foundations for a great life ahead. In the end I can only be grateful to all that happened irrespective of the unpleasant emotions attached to those experiences. The first big disappointment in my teen life was when I was faced with my first serious inner conflict. It was the first time I experienced a conflict of this nature and I clearly did not know how to deal with it; should I suppress it or live with it or resolve it. I was not sure if my friends too were experiencing what I experienced or if it was just I. The thought that it could be just me bothered me even more. Although the reasons for my conflict didn’t seem very substantial, still I could not find my way out of it. This was my conflict; I was considered to be one of the very good students of the school, not for academic reasons alone but because my teachers believed I was also a humble and generous kid. The teachers and the principal of our school thought highly of me and on several occasions even projected me as model student. It felt good to be praised and appreciated. I totally enjoyed the status of a model student. As an eleven-year-old boy when I first joined this school, kindness and humility were natural to me. Moving into my teens, I suppose I was not that innocent any longer. I was becoming increasingly self-obsessed and this was not a good feeling at all. I still clearly remember the very first time I was tormented by this self-obsessive thinking, to be thinking and worrying about yourself.  You were worried about what your friends thought of you, what your teachers thought of you. You would look into the mirror and be worried about your appearance and you even tried convincing yourself that you were a stunner. It was not just a passing thought, it had become a preoccupation and that didn’t feel good. It was a lot of strain on the mind and you were a much-distracted person. It felt strange and awkward. I knew that something had shifted in me and that I was no longer that free spirited child living in total oblivion.

From the Frying Pan into the Fire

At this point it would have been easier for me to answer the question “What is not love?” but as to “What is love?” I had to keep searching further before I could respond to the Swedish gentleman’s question with some conviction. Very clearly self-obsession cannot be love for in that state, you alone existed and all that mattered to you is your own pleasures, achievements and significance. This obviously could not be love. It took a while for me to accept my new mental state, one that involved self-obsessive thinking and cunning. Even before I could familiarize myself with this new development in my personality, the conflict had matured and was demanding for an answer. My condition now was like moving from the frying pan into fire itself. This is when you begin to believe that there is a conspiracy going on and you desperately begin to crave for the peace and happiness that you had once experienced.

The truth that I was self-obsessed bothered me. The fact that I was no longer kind or humble caused me to desperately hold on to the previous good-boy image and I was therefore left with no other choice but to pretend. Not that it was hard for me to pretend but trying to be something that I was not, consumed much of my energy. The experience of pretending was becoming less and less enjoyable and I soon found myself in a state of mental bargaining. I guess I was trying to figure out which of the two is more pleasurable; holding on to the good-boy image or letting go of the good-boy image and to stop pretending. This was my conflict. Both the thoughts were equally tempting, holding on and letting go.

How did I even know that I was pretending? That is another story. In one of the classes, a fellow student received some praise from a teacher for his act of humility. I told myself that this kid was just pretending to get some attention. The kid continued to demonstrate such acts of humility and was found winning frequent praises from more and more teachers. I felt disturbed. I of course knew the reason for my disturbance, but I did not want to believe that this kid was the reason for my bother and tried looking for other reasons. When I was forced to consider the possibility that the new humble kid could be the cause of my disturbance, I would immediately resist that thought and tell myself that I was bothered because he was not being genuine.  How could you hide the truth from yourself and even if you managed to keep it hidden, for how long can you do it. And so I had no choice but to confront the truth of the matter. If I was truly the good boy that the school believed, why do I feel threatened by an act of humility instead of feeling proud and accomplished? I felt threatened because I saw a competitor. I was afraid of being displaced from my long held position of the model student. It was not about humility any longer but a race to win the humility award. It was a struggle to retain my significance and a fear of not being significant any more. After learning this truth about myself, how could I still believe that I was this humble kid? What do I do with this truth? Should I speak about it? Should I reveal my true character to the school or should I hold on to that good-boy image? I was not sure what to do and so was lost in bargaining. I finally made a resolve to put an end to this conflict. In order to put an end to this conflict, I believed that I had to pick a side. I picked a side and it was to let go of the good-boy image.

Letting go of the good-boy image

I decided to approach my school principal and reveal to him my true thoughts and feelings. I picked my school principal to do this for two reasons, firstly because I thought he was the most understanding of all the people I knew at the school and secondly because he was the one to portray me as a model student to the school. I decided that if I must break my image, it has to be with the person who believed in me the most. It was with him that I felt most vulnerable and so I thought it would be most appropriate to shed my image there. It was not difficult to make an appointment with the principal, as he was quite approachable to all students. Approachability was not an issue and therefore could not be offered as an excuse not to meet him. I was now compelled to act on the decision I had made. His office was not far from the dormitory where I lived and everyday I would tell myself that I would meet him the next morning. This went on for a couple of weeks as I procrastinated out of fear. The next decision I had to make was to stop procrastinating. To let go my images was my voluntary choice and there was no need for me to procrastinate. It was about time for me to make the bold move and so I did. The next morning I walked up to his room and raised my hand to knock on the door. No matter how strongly I willed I still could not land my hand on the door and it remained a few inches away from the door. It was as if some one was forcibly holding my hand back. Of course that someone holding my hand back had to be my own fear. I felt sad and embarrassed that I did not even possess the courage to knock on a door. I felt terrified. I had never imagined I could be this afraid.

What was I afraid of?

What could a boy of my age be so scared about? Well, there is no rationale to fear. All kinds of scary images are projected and your reasoning eludes you in that moment. As I raised my hand to knock on the door, I felt terribly scared, scared like I was going to loose everything. I wasn’t raising my hand to kill someone, just to knock on a door, but the mind in that moment had lost its power of discretion. Of course I knew my fear was irrational but I was totally helpless and could do nothing to stop that fear. All I could do was retreat from the door and my fear would stop. Although my first attempt was unsuccessful, I was not disheartened and I refused to give up. I tried a second time and everything appeared to be fine until I raised my hand again. It felt like an exact replay of the previous morning. I could not believe this was happening to me all over again. I had failed in my second attempt also, however I decided to try again a few days later. This time the ‘gods’ were with me; even before I could raise my hand to knock on the door, the principal opened the door and was surprised to see me outside. What prompted him to open the door, I do not know. May be it was pure coincidence but I would like to believe that there was a higher intelligence in action. I had no escape this time. He welcomed me in with a smile and I walked inside the room and sat on the carpet that lay on the floor.

Facing the Principal and My Self

I was feeling nervous and at the same time ready to tear open my mask.  I did not want to miss this opportunity. I told myself it is now or never. Postponing again meant I would never do it and so I seized the opportunity that presented itself before me. The principal briefly left to an adjacent room and returned back with a newspaper in his hand. He sat down on the cane chair that lay in front of me. He began in his usual style, “So what is it? Is there something that you wish to speak?” I responded by saying, “Nothing Sir” but then immediately corrected myself and said, “Yes Sir, there is something that bothers me and I need your help”. He grabbed his newspaper and said to me “Go on”.  I was certain that he would be very disappointed with me if he heard my story. That however did not stop me from speaking, although that thought made me a little nervous. I started to speak and spoke so fast and almost without any pause. I was afraid if I paused, I would change my mind and walk away from the room pretending that everything was ok. I did not want to trust myself on this occasion and so went on without a break. I unmasked myself before him, revealing to him my every thought. I told him how much I had changed in the last few years, how angry, greedy, selfish and lustful I had become. I shared my thoughts in all their ugly detail. I was not embarrassed speaking them but felt scared thinking as to how he might respond listening to my ugly truth. I expected to be judged and mentally prepared myself for such a response.

To my utter shock, he listened to my story with the same calm and eagerness he would have shown if I had mentioned to him that I ate pancakes for breakfast this morning. I could not believe that there was not even the slightest sense of disappointment, let alone judgment. It wasn’t like he was being inattentive or indifferent to my talk; there was total acknowledgment of every word and emotion of mine. At the end of my story he smiled to me. There was so much kindness in the way he looked at me. He then spoke to me saying, “Well, now that you know who you really are, why don’t you go sing a song about your ugliness”. He was really meaning it. He even pointed to a specific rock at a distance and told me that rock would be a good place for me to sing my beautiful song.

Our school campus was a beautiful one with lots of trees and rocks.  All I had to do now was to go, pick my rock and sing my first original song. I left the room feeling relieved and grateful. I climbed the rock and started to sing at the top of my voice. Every line of my song was authentic, describing the ugliness of my thoughts and feelings. I called this song, my beautiful song of ugliness. Although I called it “my song of ugliness”, I felt very auspicious singing it. Even as I sang these words, I experienced an inexpressible sense of joy and freedom.

How could there be so much Freedom in being Ugly?

Is freedom in the transformation of ugly to beautiful? Is freedom the experience of moving from ‘bad’ to ‘good’? Is freedom a resultant experience of a mind that is free of all so called negative thought?

Is freedom not possible for a vulnerable mind that permits all thought, both ‘good’ and ‘bad’? Is freedom not possible for you and me then? If we are obsessed about a mind that is totally devoid of any form of jealousy, comparison or judgment and believed that only such a mind can result in freedom, then we must question the possibility of both, such a mind and such a freedom.

If freedom is only for those who have attained such a ‘pure’ mind, then certainly such a freedom is not for you and me and I don’t know if there is anyone eligible for such a freedom.

Is the experience of joy and freedom sourced in the thought itself or is it in our ability to observe the thought?

Meditation is not about the ending of thought

Meditation is not about replacing one thought with another thought. To meditate is to observe thought in action. To be aware is to be Free.  As the well-known philosopher-teacher J. Krishnamurti often said, “If only one can live in total observation of one’s actions and reactions, it is possible to live a conflict free life”. In total attention to the “what is”, there is freedom.

This was the freedom I experienced that morning as I sang standing on top of that boulder. It was not a freedom arising from the absence of my so called negative thoughts but a freedom arising from being totally alive to my thoughts and emotions. I didn’t even know if this freedom would be there the next moment but I didn’t care to know it either. The question if this freedom would last forever was immaterial in that moment. I was happy, I was free now and that alone mattered. I could trust this freedom because it didn’t demand anything from me. It was not a ‘freedom’ born in cultivated virtue but a freedom experienced in total awareness of “the what is”. I could trust this freedom because it gives me a choice to be free; I could choose whether to live a life of awareness or live a life of un-awareness. All I needed to do in order to be free is to be aware.


In that total attention to the activity of mind, there was no more that conflict. There was a sense of deep peace with myself. There was an acknowledgment and acceptance of myself. I was for the first time being attentive to the truth of what I am, without indulging in any justifications. I felt a new found compassion for myself. It was a sweet feeling. It was a big day for me. I realized that no thought in itself carries any pain. It is when you resist that thought or when you make a desperate effort to move away from that thought, you experience an uneasiness and discomfort that you call pain. A movement away from the “what is”, is conflict and therefore paying attention to the “what is”, is the end of conflict. Much of our struggle is in trying to be something that we are not. I would not say that I was forever free of all conflict but I was not afraid of conflict any more. I had seen and understood the nature of my conflict, which in fact is the nature of all conflicts, a conflict between “what you are” and the idea of “what you are supposed to be”.

I guess it was the way my principal responded to my ugly truth that pushed me to a place of observation. I learnt to observe myself instead of denying or fighting the truth of what I am. I was no longer afraid of my thoughts. I discovered that I had stopped complaining about myself. It is around this time that I started to experience something new and different.


One afternoon after completing our meal, I was hanging out with my friends who were engaged in an animated conversation. I was watching them as they argued and debated over who could possibly be the best Indian movie actor. My participation in this chatter was different from usual. I was listening to every word they spoke, observing their emotions and enjoying the expressions on their faces. It felt as if I was seeing their faces for the first time. There was nothing for me to complain about, either with myself or with my friends. As I remained there enjoying the company of my friends, a thought passed through my head, “ may be this is what people speak of as love”; A feeling of total freedom to be yourself and freedom to allow the other to be himself. It was for the first time I truly felt that I had permitted my friends to be themselves. There was no manipulation of any kind. It was an incredible moment. It is my belief even now, “ to love is to allow the other person be himself/herself ”. Love is freedom in relationship.

Ask yourself the following:

Can I really love another if I am in a conflicted state myself?

Can I really accept another if I have not accepted myself?

Can I really stop complaining about the other when I have not yet stopped complaining about myself?

Can I be really comfortable with my surroundings unless I have become comfortable with myself?

Can I allow the other to be himself or herself if I have not yet allowed me to be myself?

How can I be myself, if I have not yet accepted myself for what I am?

How can I possibly accept myself if I am not even aware of what I truly am in this moment?

How is awareness of the “what is” possible if I am all the time in the “what should be”?


Source:  Ananda Giri Senior Faculty Teacher at One World Academy

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