A Neocortical Orchard

It was my beloved grandmother, a pious lady who believed in all the Gods- old and new, who introduced my old enough to be curious self to the amazing text that Bhagawad Geeta is. I’ve always loved Mahabharata more than Ramayana. Even as a young kid, I understood that Ramayana is ideal. The stories in Mahabharata felt like they could be applied in real life. And while my grandmother narrated various political plots of Mahabharat, my grandfather, a very frank man who believed in making his grandchildren aware of the kauravas of the real world, gave apt analogies to the plots and characters, much to the horror and disapproval of my grandmother! Each time my grandmother mentioned Bhagawad Geeta, I asked her what exactly is written in it. As a child, I expected concrete answers, word to word recitation from my grandmother who I firmly believed was an expert in all Godly matters. How could she not know a very important part of the story? Mahabharata was always told with a huge part of the puzzle missing.

I found this missing piece of the puzzle in my seventh standard. One busy day in school, the tiny, greasy haired girl in an over- sized uniform that was me, found out that there was a Bhagawad Geeta competition organized by the ISKCON temple. They would be distributing the text to the participants at a discounted price. I only enrolled myself for the exam to be able to procure that text. A text only a few centimeters longer than my father’s palm, had the tiniest print and the longest words and was really thick.

Getting the text in my hands and finding for it a place in my home and heart started a reaction that I can’t see an end to. Nadkarni Sir’s video mentions that rituals are like the outer layer of spirituality. My experience makes me agree. The first time I read the Bhagawad Geeta, it influenced my whole being. The next two years were a whirlwind of coming to believe in a God (which wasn’t the case earlier. Every pinch of haldi- kunku, flowers and rice grains offered was a product of parenting rather than a heartfelt offering.) I performed the puja daily with extreme love and care, not because I believed they reached my beloved, but because I didn’t know a way to express my respect towards Him otherwise.

Somewhere up the journey, all this took a backseat. To be honest, I can’t realize or remember why. I started becoming more empiricism driven and took an immense interest in all things cerebral. Little did I know that the most cerebral part to be discovered is in the text that time put aside for me. In the same period, my aunt started learning the Geeta and Upanishads, too. Seeing her make meaning of the stressors in her life in the light of these texts made me observe what a strong source of coping these texts can be. This was an important takeaway for me from that period, which was otherwise personally quite unspiritual.

Come twelfth standard, I found out that a long lost family friend takes Geeta chanting classes. I eagerly enrolled. I wanted to go back to the road that I couldn’t figure out why I strayed away from. The classes focused more on the complex pronunciation rules than the complexity of application the shlokas have in day to day life. It was a great and a different experience nevertheless. I love chanting the shlokas, even today. It brings a certain calm, enough to sooth the boiling irritated nerves, yet not too much to put me in a state of inaction. I find myself to be very focused, productive and creative after I’ve chanted any one chapter. Yet, I don’t believe this experience to be unfathomable, even if it doesn’t lie in the strict scientific domain. I just can’t wait to be evolved and learned enough to comprehend why and how chanting affects the way it does.

After the class concluded, I strayed away again. That’s right, I’m clearly a baby in the world of spirituality who hasn’t learned to walk in a straight line yet! I remember a day from my chanting class too vividly though. A talk was arranged in the class to discuss interpretations of a few shlokas in the esteemed Dnyaneshwari. I cannot remember the name of the speaker, but I remember his appearance and mannerisms clearly, owing to the amazing experience I had during that talk. Never had I ever met a person so engrossed in the meaning of a text. Never did I know that two lines could hold so much depth in them. He explained a certain shloka where the description of a Krishna idol is given. He elaborated on how it isn’t the description of an appearance but that of care and gentleness. All the ornaments that Krishna is made to wear are significant to his Godliness. If only my writing was fluent enough to contain the magnanimity of the realization that I had that day! It was the day I understood that I needed to read not just the Geeta, but a sea of other related literature.

It was after two years that one of my psychology professors in college, Sagar Vidwans sir made an effort to make us understand how positive psychology and ancient Indian texts went hand in hand. At this point the texts started holding an importance for me not just personally, but also because of the line of education I had chosen and the line of work I would choose in the future. I realized that if I had to become a mental health professional working in India, I needed to dive into the wisdom that these texts offer and learn how they’re applicable to coping with present problems- the very topic Mind FeAst would be dealing with this year.

Today, I confess I’m not reading any text actively. As I said, I chant the Geeta sometimes. I’m in a space where I would like to think I never strayed from finding spirituality suited to myself. I just think the speed varies from time to time, from context to context. Sometimes I sprint my way to absorbing relevant meanings, sometimes I jog my way as slowly as I do at Shivaji Park everyday. I also think I need more sensibility, more depth to my thoughts before I can really get into reading and interpreting something so beautiful. Like you need a certain fertile bed before you can sow something with the intention of growing a beautiful orchard. I have the notion that I’m not yet ready. Though that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t start.

I’m going to pace up again at this year’s Mind FeAst. I can’t wait for two of my favourite disciplines – psychology and spiritual literature to come together. I hope this helps in the germination of one seed in the orchid of my sensibility.

-Ketaki Joshi.

Attaching the links to the video that triggered this journey down the memory lane.
Do find out what Mind FeAst has in-store for by watching this interview of Dr. Anand Nadkarni sir:

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