One evening last year, I experienced an intense realization that seemed like a voice, which said, “You are not selfish; your baseline is to serve.” The next morning, we discovered that my mother had shed her body.
The avalanche of feelings I experienced during the next six months took me by surprise. It felt like a river was rushing by, washing everything I had known away. My only job was to pick up from the river what was important, which brings up the question of what is important from the perspective of death. I kept moving from task to task, but something else in me felt like it was coming undone.
As the oldest child and only daughter, I had experienced my mother from my childhood as my ideal – stunningly gorgeous and deeply immersed in the Indian culture. Playing baby Krishna in her Bharata Natyam (classical Indian dance) performances, I shall always credit her with my deep unwavering love of Sri Krishna, though I know now that she watered a seed that had already been planted in me.
Clearing up file cabinets prior to selling the house, I came across her documented but unfulfilled dreams – of spreading the love of Indian culture through the medium of dance. Perhaps she was too early a pioneer and the renunciation it would take was not in her makeup. Over the years, she abandoned her dream and I saw the layers of ego crusting over and dimming her once-present shine.
In my teens, struggling with my own womanhood and at odds with her drive to have me fulfill her dreams, I promised myself never to be like her. That vow, coupled with my father’s untimely death, led me on a long spiritual quest, first to Western thinkers and then finally back to my own roots, to teachers of Indian thought based on the scriptures.
But now my mother’s death turned everything upside down and I had to go deeper within. Having known Acharya Shunya for over two decades, I enrolled first in her Ayurveda course and then, resonating deeply with her opening lectures on my beloved Bhagavad Gita, in the Vedic Spiritual Studies program. Wasn’t it perfect that I had come home to an Indian female teacher spreading a deep understanding of my own culture?
Now as I go deeper within and ask “Who am I?”, I discover that my internal promise not to be like my mother helped me become someone else. In other words, I exchanged one personality for another. With her death, my “opposite” personality cracked. Is it necessary for me to be anyone but myself? Don’t I deserve to discover who I truly am and stop trying to be someone or not someone.
Just knowing that I am not defined by parameters – a “this” or “not this” – is enormously freeing. I no longer accept my smallness and each day expand my light and energy around myself, our family, our home, our town, and around the victims of the recent Santa Rosa fires, so close by. I am learning how to let go of arranging the pieces of my ego to appear synchronized and harmonious so that they too can wash away in that river rushing by. Freeing yes, but unnerving, for the old familiar landscape is gone. But the gift is coming back tenfold, as I am starting to find within me that original light I once caught a glimpse of in my mother.
The author Niramaya Nalini Ramji is a student of Acharya Shunya in the Vedic Spiritual Studies Program.She volunteers in support to the organization with the AV team.
Learn more about how you can study Vedanta, Yoga and Ayurveda with Acharya Shunya in her