This is part of my column One-Eyed Mama where I share the everyday miracles I encountered in my life while dealing with vision loss and an empty nest – both at the same time
Days after both my kids finally vacated our home and began new lives in different time zones, my body began to show signs of separation anxiety.
Though I knew in my head that I was dealing with the empty-nest syndrome, the body has a mind of its own.
Like a drug addict, it craved the one thing it was habituated to for 25 years, but could not have: the presence of my babies. There was a sense of ‘nothing to look forward to’, an emptiness that stretched far beyond the mind’s eye could see.
Of course, it did not help that – at the same time – one of my physical eyes too decided to take a break from its biological functions and began to view the world the way Claude Monet would have painted it.
My entire vision for my life and my purpose suddenly paled and lost colour. I lost motivation to work. I developed severe asthma. Sitting in meditation, I realised that most of the actions I had taken in the recent past had directly or indirectly been led a desire to be a role model for my kids.
What is my life’s purpose now that the kids aren’t here?
Who do I have to strive to be my best for?
Mind you, this is not coming from a woman whose life revolved around her children. On the other hand, I was an independent mother – busy in my own passions and pursuits, taking my kids along for the ride, and expecting an equal level of independence from them. Our communication was wildly open, and our lives were occupied and full. I thought that by investing in our careers, we were future-proofing ourselves from emotional loss later.
So, it came as a greater surprise that I of all people could still have these pangs of separation anxiety, to the extent that they shook up the entire foundation of my life and left me bereft, almost like a physical hole in the centre of my being.
Reading informative articles on the empty-nest syndrome helped me realise that almost all the symptoms I was feeling are fairly common amongst parents at this stage. Fortuitously, I came across an online spiritual workshop titled ‘Waking Up from Slumber’ by Dr Monica Gulati, which became a turning point. She shared Sri Aurobindo’s teachings about all suffering arising from three root poisons: attachment (desires, likes), aversion (resistance, dislikes) and ignorance (of the true nature of things).
Attachment – to my kids, of course, but also to my identity as a mother. Aversion – to change and to a new sense of purpose for myself outside of my roles. Ignorance – to the truth that I am more than this identity, that there is more to this existence than what I perceive.
Dr Monica, who holds a PhD in auto-immunity and is a cancer survivor, addressed the issue of attachment in her class: “The seeker soon realises that the family can’t give me lasting happiness. Whenever I try to make anything my ground, it is taken away. Clinginess to anything leads to suffering. The true nature of the world is impermanence. The true nature of all material objects is change.” I felt as if she was speaking to me.
I unmuted my Zoom mic and asked Dr Monica, “How do I change my mental patterns? How do I stop worrying or obsessing over my loved ones? It is causing me health issues.”
“So, keep on worrying,” she replied, jovially. “It is only when your suffering becomes so intense as to be unbearable that you will take action to change.”
When the suffering became unbearable, I set out to heal.
I followed Dr Monica’s guidance of meeting all my thoughts and feelings with “equipoise and disenchantment”. “Don’t follow the habituated impulse of running away from discomfort. Notice it but don’t run away. Meet it in the body, stay with the breath. If we meet the discomfort in the body, we realise that we can go through it, too,” she said.
So, I sat with the breath and I watched my worry born of my clingy love for my kids and my strange, irrational fears for their wellbeing. Even as I watched, my worry disintegrated into a chaotic cloud of thoughts, as fleeting as the wind, as noisy as a typhoon in my brain.
Remembering that I can find sat (truth) and chit (consciousness) through ananda (bliss), I decided to follow joy in my life, by following my heart. I met people and had conversations that filled my days with meaning. I learnt new philosophies and re-applied old ones. I began giving the precious gifts of my love, attention and blessings to those the universe sent my way.
Miraculously, I healed almost overnight. I didn’t need my asthma medication any more. I could breathe again.
But Dr Monica’s class had also taught one more thing: to persevere. “It is easy to slip back into ignorance,” she had warned. “Be like a sentry at the gate of the temple. Do not allow unawareness and ego to creep back in. Be ever-vigilant.”
One of the techniques she advised was to rest the mind. “Dip your mind in the Ganges inside your being. Each time you take a dip, you get liberated for a few seconds from ego.”
I have been doing daily pranayama for the past two years, ending it with shavasana before starting each day. Now I decided to go deeper, into an altered state of consciousness.
A state when thoughts split, fragment, and one falls into an infinite abyss of unconnected visions and memories that come from inside and outside. Complete darkness. Dots of light. When breath is negligible. That sort of state.
Today morning, I lay there for what seemed like days but was an hour, roused only because my family wanted to have breakfast. A realisation arose: If I am awake now and that was a dream, then what if this life (or what I imagine to be my reality) is a dream in God’s mind and I will wake up eventually with but a fleeting impression of it?
A few minutes later, Dr Monica sent this quote by Buddhist master Dilgo Khyentse in our Whatsapp group: “Enlightenment is like awakening from sleep. All the perceptions and phenomena experienced during the day are made by grasping mind. All that is experienced at night is made by sleep. When awakening from sleep, there is nothing left of the dream. When the perceptions and experiences of deluded grasping mind have been completely purified, there is nothing left of these present confused experiences. When phenomena manifest, they are a display of rainbow light. If there is no manifestation, it is simply the space of primordial purity.”
The group’s name is Waking up.