Suma Varughese’s personal journey in faith and self-empowerment began at 16, when she left a protected home environment in Odisha to live in the hostel of one of Mumbai’s premier colleges, Sophia. Unsure and self-doubting, deeply shy, and above all, having no access to God after turning agnostic at the age of 14, she fell into a low-grade depression that more or less haunted her for the next 16 years.
It ended in a massive spiritual awakening when she was 33, while she was the editor of the renowned Society magazine. It led her to quit her job and embark on a second highly successful stint over 21 years as editor of mind-body-spirit magazine Life Positive.
We speak to her about her personal and professional journey as a seeker of truth.
Why did you choose to move from a lifestyle magazine to a spiritual one? What triggered the switch, and how did that decision change your life?
My awakening at age 33 introduced me to my life purpose which, in a broad sense, was that I wanted to heal the world of its misery (having been so miserable myself for so many years). I didn’t know how I was going to do this, but I was sure this was what I was meant to do. But I was also given to understand that I could not leap out of my present job at Society. I had to work my way through it instead. The next three years were greatly enjoyable as I buckled down to address my craft, become a good editor, writer and team leader.
The last year at Society in 1995 was a hard one for me. I had awakened to the realization that the capitalist ideal of infinite growth could not possibly be sustained in a finite planet. I was horror-stricken and decided that I could not possibly work in a magazine that promoted aspirational living. That is when I decided to quit Society.
Miraculously, Parveen Chopra called me the evening after I quit my job to tell me that he was starting a body-mind-spirit magazine and was looking for a bureau chief in Mumbai. To date, I count my shift into Life Positive as the biggest miracle of my life. I joined in 1996 after spending five and a half years in Society, and it set the stage for a most satisfying career.
It was so wonderful to do a job that was aligned with my values and which did not militate with my conscience. It was also marvelous to find kindred spirits in almost everyone I interviewed. That first year itself, I made a mountain of friends and in the 21 years I spent there, I was privileged to meet and befriend some of the finest people I have known.
Finally, for a seeker, working with Life Positive was totally a sadhana. Every article I wrote benefited me personally. Any question that came to mind could be converted into a story. The alignment between me and Life Positive was so total, I could never distinguish where one began and the other ended. That kind of connectivity with one’s job is a rare privilege and I never took it for granted.
Working with Life Positive was the biggest gift I have received in life, and for which I will be grateful every day of my life.
When I left Society with nothing in hand, I felt that I was saving my soul with that act. Working for Life Positive nourished my soul immensely and helped me evolve immeasurably.
Tell us about your childhood, and the values your parents instilled in you.
I was born in Bangalore as the youngest of six sisters in a Syrian Christian family. My parents, AK Varughese and Aleykutty Varughese, were wonderful human beings with great values. We learnt the values of honesty, integrity, thrift and love through their example. Despite the fact that money was always scarce in our large family, my parents were never obsessed with money, and in consequence, neither were we. In retrospect, I guess that is what gave me the courage to leapfrog out of my editorship of Society with nothing in hand.
When I was eight, my father, who used to work with HAL, was transferred to a tiny hill station called Sunabeda in Orissa. I grew up in a township from the age of eight to 16, and these were easily among the happiest years of my life. Township life is like living in a vast extended family. You ate and played in other people’s houses, and all the other “aunties’ were foster mothers. I am still very close to my Sunabeda buddies.
After my BA at Sophia, I did a diploma in Journalism from Bhavan’s.
Your editorials in Life Positive were always intimate and candid. How did you develop such honesty in your writing, and how does that help in self-empowerment?
I am a huge votary of Truth, and I believe that abiding by the Truth in all things is the lifeline that will guide you in the quagmire of life. That apart, I was grappling with my conditioning and I was horrified to see how faulty I was, partly because my 16 years of depression had done terrible things to my mind.
My focus, concentration, memory, discipline, self-control and self-esteem were all shot to bits. As unpalatable as it was to absorb this, I was given to understand that in order to heal, I had to share these truths with the world and not suppress them.
Consequently, my writing became both honest and vulnerable. Readers related to my writing and it also built a deep bond between us. As editor, this sort of writing was what I promoted and what Life Positive became known for. These are also some of the principles I teach at my writing workshops.
I guess, this is an example of the fact that if you walk with Truth, your life expands.
How can journaling be a tool for self transformation?
Journaling is an extremely powerful tool for self-transformation and I would recommend that all seekers adopt it. The amazing thing about writing down anything is that you bring it to the conscious level, and that makes it easier for it to dissolve.
I have understood that no matter what the path, there are only two processes governing self-transformation. One is awareness (which journaling facilitates) and the other is acceptance of that which you are aware of.
These two processes are all that we need to heal our wounds and dissolve our conditioning. Simply saying or writing, “I am angry, sad, hurt, or jealous” will immediately reduce its intensity. It’s a tiny miracle that what you write on a paper can transfer from you to the paper!
Secondly, journaling brings clarity to all the muddled thoughts and feelings that flood us when we are emotionally overwrought. It will therefore help us discover the root of what we are feeling and also enable us to arrive at what to do about it.
I would also recommend that everyone keeps a gratitude journal. I do! When we practice becoming aware of and writing down all the things that we are grateful for on a daily basis, we begin to shift our focus to what works, instead of brooding about what does not.
Being grateful for this helps shift our vibrations to a higher level. Ultimately, all we need to be happy everyday is to focus on what works and ignore what does not. So please write your way to happiness!
What kinds of workshops do you take these days? Please tell us about your upcoming ones.
I have been holding writer’s courses for the past four years, called the Zen of Good Writing Course. These courses are uniquely designed in that they consist of a one-day workshop which gives you an overview of the writing process, and then continues for a month over Whatsapp.
My next workshops are in Bangalore on November 10th and in Delhi on November 24th.
Contact Suma on 9819030781 or at email@example.com.
First published in eShe’s November 2019 issue
Syndicated to CNBCTV18