By Manvi Pant
Puerto Rico-born and Miami-based spiritual writer and author of three bestselling books, Sharon M Koenig’s English translation of the book Los Ciclos del Alma (2011), titled Seasons of the Soul (Pan Macmillan, Rs 399) has recently hit Indian shelves. Especially relevant to current times, as Sharon mentions in the prologue, the book is more of an “instruction manual” and presents a guide on how to attain “spiritual divinity”.
“In my book, I go through a simple process to help us live in the present, connect with divinity, and see everything anew,” reveals the author.
For the longest time, a certain curiosity has revolved around spirituality. Many people have tried to establish and discuss a connection between spirituality and religion in a subjective framework. And, a lot of people have questioned it too. In a lucid tone, Sharon presents clarifications to many such confusions in her book.
According to her, “Spirituality is the universal need and search to transcend yourself. Religion is the individual language and physical means to attain it – practices, metaphors, and rituals that help calm the mind to connect. Everything is spiritual when you believe a divine force sustains the material world. You can be spiritual without practising a religion. Having said that, I am not against religion because different cultures have different ways to connect with what lies beyond our senses.”
Neatly divided into four parts and written in a pellucid manner, the book also offers its audience a more balanced approach to survive in this far more polarised, fragile and vulnerable world. The readers will witness several personal anecdotes and learnings of the author as she tries to establish a connection with them.
For instance, in the first chapter, Sharon describes a forest walk in Puerto Rico and how she found the invincible strength of Tabonuco trees worthy of a lesson.
She writes, “On the surface, the trees appear to be isolated and separate from one another. Yet, we have discovered they are all holding one another by their big roots – like the long arms of a giant octopus. They embrace each other forever connected in a chain of love.”
Love, especially self-love, is another element that sees a lot of prominence in the book. “We love ourselves by paying attention to the quality of our thoughts, words, and actions. Traumatic experiences can affect our minds, such as a recent loss, chemical or hormonal imbalances, and other disorders. Do not blame yourself – feelings of hopelessness are not your fault,” writes the self-proclaimed change catalyst.
Indeed, if one has closely followed Sharon’s journey, one would know how far she has come by overcoming some of the most painful childhood experiences. Born out of wedlock, she was more like an ‘unwanted child’ surrounded by hate and shame.
The sense of abandonment and rejection affected all areas of her life. The emptiness resulted in an insatiable void that she proceeded to fill with outside means by love relationships, accomplishments, and material comfort.
Soon, she realised that trying to find happiness this way was unhealthy and was giving her even more pain. Nevertheless, the negative beginning inspired her to seek answers to the most critical question: who am I?
Before becoming a ‘change catalyst’, Sharon had a successful career as a fashion designer and manufacturer, but who knew the professional path she had taken would introduce her to an entirely new world within? Sharon got the opportunity to study world religion under the tutelage of great spiritual leaders, including a Buddhist lama, a guru from India, and a priest.
How did she find them? “I believe they found me. I met my dear teacher Dada JP Vaswani through a family from India that I had met in the buying and manufacturing business. They were also clothing manufacturers. It was a beautiful night in Puerto Rico, and when I saw his (Dada’s) eyes, I was never the same and immediately knew he was a saint. I met my Buddhist teacher on a trip to California, and the special priest in a church right across the street from my apartment building! Being open to God, seeking Him, led me to these unexpected encounters,” she shares.
Sharon also volunteers her time and leadership for various wellness and faith community-based projects representing mothers and children. All this began 23 years ago, when she gave birth to her daughter, Gabbie.
“I began to learn about mothers and babies and how we disrupt the natural birthing process. At that time, I got involved with UNICEF’s Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative and participated as a board member for some years in the US chapter. I also wrote a breastfeeding guide for mothers and babies given free by the Government of Puerto Rico. This year, I plan to expand this project on social media.”
Since the original publication of Los Ciclos del Alma in 2011, several editions have been printed and distributed in various countries. “You never know where a book will take you, and Seasons of the Soul has certainly surprised me with an unexpected journey,” she says, adding that she plans to continue translating books she has written in the past that were successful in Spanish and to write a new one on the spirituality of the East and West. She is also simultaneously working on a children’s book.
After having practised spirituality for so many years, what is Sharon’s mantra in times of stress to help her through a particular situation? “I use a mantra I learned from the dearest spiritual leader from India, Dada JP Vaswani: I am not alone, God is with me, and I added another, I am not alone, God is within me. There are various practices that I do and recommend in the book. Still, one that I do frequently is that I stop and maintain silence for a few minutes, remembering that God is within me, that nothing is missing, that He is all-loving, that everything will be alright. From this state of awareness, everything else flows easier. That I rest in His Being. Taking our eyes away from worldly troubles for a few moments and placing them in God during the day creates miracles.”
First published in eShe’s April 2021 issue