Losing my religion

Losing my religion

Radha lives in a small Indian town in the foothills of the Himalayas. She is a trained classical musician, and a really good one at that. She moved into this town 20 years ago along with her husband just after they married, and looked forward to her life with hope and curiosity. In particular, she hoped to remain immersed in her music. 20 years on, she is largely frustrated on this front. She is teaching music to some kids at home, but she finds herself increasingly unable to cope with the small town mentality around her.

Very few people are interested in classical music and dance for starters. And amongst those few who come to learn or send their children to learn from her, most refuse to see what she is doing for them and their children beyond a commercial transaction. All they want is a certificate of achievement to include in a resume, or else they harbor completely unrealistic dreams of themselves or their children participating in one of the many reality TV talent shows. For Radha music is not just a nice-to-have party trick. It is deeply entwined with life itself. She fervently believes that in its purest form, Indian classical music and dance are a form of divine worship. And so it frustrates her even more to see that the other classical music teachers in this town are mostly mediocre in their level of learning, but yet predatorially commercial. They fleece students by over-charging them, and not teaching them properly either. And yet they have many more students than Radha.

She has also tried in the past, to organize community concerts for the benefit of the people of this town, and out of a sense of the town’s history as one of the foremost places of spiritual learning in the country. She has reached out to the other teachers and also to her students and their parents to help her in this selfless and noble quest, but no one has stepped forward. In fact she feels that quite a few of them have gone out of their way to hinder her efforts, let alone help her.

She is now at the cusp of simply giving up, and reconciling to a reclusive life with her family. Worse, some days she feels she is losing interest in music itself, and she is frightened at the prospect of life without music.

You have recently arrived in this town for a year long stay, and you come across Radha. You feel like you must help. What do you do?

The untrained mind’s response

You hear her out with sympathy. You love classical music yourself and hate to see a good musician and teacher in this state of mind. You have organized community concerts before, and so you convince her to take another shot, this time with your help. You also feel that perhaps with some cooperation and publicity around that, you can help her get more students. So you plunge headlong in planning and conducting these workshops and the concert.

But the deeper you get involved, the more you find that she is right. People in this town are inherently unreliable and even deceptive. You are coming at this from the point of view of contributing something valuable to this town but they are coming at it purely from a selfish point of view of “what’s in it for me?”. You meet some of the other music teachers in the hope of enthusing them to participate in this community concert but don’t get anywhere with them. They either refuse to help (sometimes rudely), or say that they will help but don’t follow through.

Through sheer determination you and Radha organize a reasonably successful community concert. While you are encouraged by the generally positive reactions of the participants and the audience, you are dismayed by the huge effort, chaos, and lack of help you have experienced.

At the end of all this, you sit back exhausted, fairly sure that you don’t want to get involved again.

The trained mind’s response

You hear her out with sympathy. You love classical music yourself and hate to see a good musician and teacher in this state of mind. You are also dismayed that a town that is this country’s foremost centre of spiritual teaching does not have an established classical music and dance scene whereas the two have gone hand in hand throughout history.

So you decide to do something to redress this situation, which you feel will also re-energise Radha by giving her a greater purpose with her music. You have organized community classical music concerts before, and so you convince her to take another shot, this time with your help.

But before you plunge headlong in planning and conducting these workshops and the concert, you pause. You take a step back and contemplate why Radha may have encountered the obstacles she did in the past. Could it really be that she is right, and that nobody else in this town has any sense of ethics, altruism, community spirit and passion for classical music and dance? When you contemplate upon that question, you feel it is unlikely. There must surely be people who are like her, ready, able and willing to help. You wonder if Radha’s past experiences with them could well have been a result of some miscommunication? Or perhaps her approach to them hadn’t been well thought through leaving them confused about her intentions, or doubting her capability? As you have calmed your mind over the years through regular meditation, you have found a surprising reservoir of strength, resilience and also goodwill towards all. You are willing to trust people and your instincts about them.

So you suggest to Radha that as a neutral newcomer, you would be happy to approach these other people and request them to get involved in conducting the concert for the benefit of the community. You find that as you approach them, you have a good feel for who will step up and come through and who won’t. Some surprise you (and a skeptical Radha) with their genuine enthusiasm and willingness. But eventually enough people come forward and meaningfully contribute, making the community concert a great success. You are surprised to see nearly 200 people at the concert. And the common refrain from them is that they have been waiting for such a concert for so many years!

At the end of the concert, you are no doubt exhausted from all the running around and on-your-feet-in-quick-time problem solving that is a characteristic of such events, but you sit back happy in the knowledge that you have helped start something positive in this community.

The master-mind’s response

You hear her out with compassion. You know that each individual has infinite potential and the best and perhaps only way you can really help anyone is to help them (re)discover their life-purpose. Once that happens, they seem to find their own path forward and the energy to keep moving along it.

In Radha’s case, you feel that her life-purpose (at least for this phase of her life!) is intrinsically linked to the restoring of classical music in this historical town given its position as this country’s foremost centre of spiritual teaching. And so the best way to help her would be to somehow channel her energies in this direction. And then the idea hits you – “Let’s organize a brilliant community concert, but with active cooperation of like-minded people in this town”. Your somewhat hidden agenda (in a nice, wholesome way) is that the concert should act as a benchmark for what is possible when people cooperate, and a catalyst to kick-start things in this town.

You also realize that it is perhaps no coincidence that you of all people, with your passion for music and experience with organizing community concerts, happen to be in this town, and happen to have come across Radha! You thank your destiny for giving you another opportunity to be of use and of service.

But first there is work to do with Radha. You know that her frustrations can (unfortunately) only ever be of her own making. The seemingly hidden but in-reality-very-obvious law of cause and effect (i.e. “karma”) is exact and unfailing. It ensures that the present reality of any individual is a sum total of that same individual’s past thoughts, words and deeds. So whereas before you started meditating, it was always “he did this to me”, “she said that to me”, when you started meditating, you gradually realized, “maybe it’s 50/50?”, but now you know for sure that “it is 100% me”. No one can do anything to usurp, thwart or prevent what is your due (both good and bad!) based on your thoughts, words and deeds in the past, and every single moment that we experience is a direct result of a past action. In fact, there are specific correlations between the “effects” and “causes”. For example, if you see yourself being unselfishly charitable, you have set in motion a “cause” whose “effect” will be that in due course, you will be the recipient of unexpected, self-less charity. In Radha’s case, if the “effect” is that “people are untrustworthy, unhelpful and unreliable”, the only “cause” for this is that she herself has been untrustworthy, unhelpful and unreliable to someone else. If she realizes this for herself, and fixes this behavior, she will find that people around her transform into trustworthy, helpful and reliable people!

You gently explain this principle to Radha who is a bit shocked by the insinuation, but reluctantly agrees to try it out – go out of her way to be helpful in a situation where she wouldn’t have otherwise been so. With small but sure wins, she comes to accept this way of thinking. Armed with this new “weapon”, you suggest to Radha to start re-approaching these other people and requesting them to get involved in conducting the concert for the benefit of the community. You help her out with the first few approaches, and to Radha’s surprise, a lot of people step forward to help with genuine enthusiasm and willingness.

The community concert itself is a great success. You are surprised to see nearly 200 people at the concert. And the common refrain from them is that they have been waiting for such a concert for so many years! At the end of the concert, you are no doubt exhausted from all the running around and on-your-feet-in-quick-time problem solving that is a characteristic of such events. And people are coming up to congratulate you on the success of the event. But you know that greater success was achieved in putting together the concert. There is now a team of people that has experienced the warm glow of cooperative success in the face of stiff odds. That team has learnt well from this experience, and is itching to have a go at the next one, with the bar raised a notch. What you have helped create is a sustainable change.

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