Not Perfect but Complete
I have been really in love with this Carrie Underwood song recently. It goes:
Sometimes, that mountain you've been climbing is just a grain of sand.
What you've been out there searching for forever is in your hands.
When you figure out love is all that matters after all, it sure makes everything else seem so small.
I feel that I have been living these lyrics so far during 2018. It hasn’t always been smooth--it definitely has not always been smooth--but I keep coming to this same conclusion: the world isn’t perfect, but it is complete.
A few months ago I found myself in a pretty common situation. Fresh out of college, not sure what professional path I wanted to take, I was (and still am) working in a high-pressure research institution in San Francisco. But with the commute, the workload, some health problems, and some family and communication struggles I felt burnt out, alone, out of options, tired, unvalued, and stuck in the “Rat Race.” I thought I had to escape this situation. I thought the only way I would be happy would be to leave and go to a place where I could have a slower pace of life.
I dreamed of moving to Hawaii, to a far off island where I could be at peace, where I could slow down and take my time. A place where I could have quiet, and simplicity. It didn’t seem like a very far out idea; I found some job options in my current field, so I felt like I wasn’t going to be cutting off all fiscally responsible options for a 23-year old. But I knew it would be a temporary fix, a place I could go and heal until I felt ready to return.
There was a part of me that felt fractured, unable to commit to this change. While I told my boss I was looking for new jobs, I did not send out any job applications. My head just swirled up with fantasizing over how much better I thought my life would be, but I felt stuck; unable to commit to the life I had nor the life I wanted.
I actually recognized that it was happening. I was off on a two-week long winter break, where I was able to just be at home, and rest. Shockingly, by the end of the vacation, I still didn’t feel rested. I felt like a walking contradiction.
I saw that the option of moving away might not be the right path yet. I realized I needed to change my attitude of my life now, or that same attitude would follow me anywhere I moved to. If I couldn’t relax when I was at home for two weeks with nothing to do, how could I expect to be perfectly content in an isolated part of the world.
I started to think about what I actually wanted (a task I always found hard to do). I came up with a small list. I wanted to be in nature. I wanted to feel like I was a part of a community. I wanted to feel more relaxed. I wanted my partner and my cats to be happy. I wanted to have more space and time to devote to things I loved.
Well you know what I did?
I started walking.
From the concrete and plexiglass structure of my work, I would just walk. I walked up Potrero Hill in San Francisco and found an abundance of community gardens and parks that I would sit in, look at the plants, watch the view of the bustling financial district from afar. I found these little gems of nature hidden in the asphalt-laden streets of the city I was trying to leave.
I started taking different transportation routes to work. I took the transbay bus that passes over the bay bridge. I hid my phone and caught a window seat to watch the sight of iconic San Francisco buildings rising up in the morning light. I took the ferry and watched the blue moon rising while feeling the crisp January wind rushing all around. I found the nature I was looking for; I made myself available to it.
This is not my normal. I usually find myself in self-pity, with no agency, wishing for other people to fix my life for me. And sometimes people do help out. But usually it is Life that intervenes and shows me what I really need to see: that Life is not perfect, but it is complete, and far more abundant than I could have expected.
I started picking up my morning rituals again. Drinking my hot water, watering my plants, feedings my cats, blessing my body with water at my altar, gazing at my hands in the morning and remembering the myriad ways my hands work in the world to give abundance, knowledge, and agency. I started to prioritize the things I loved, the things that bring joy to my life.
I started to to put myself out there so I could interact with my own community, my coworkers, my neighbors, my Oakland. I made myself available, started walking around, started making time to talk and listen to people, to not be afraid of what might happen, to sing while I work, to actually just sit and look at the clouds on the other side of the plexiglass window in my laboratory. I am learning to take off some of the pressures, and give myself room to make mistakes, to be seen, and to pay attention to my own life so that I can course-correct. Funny enough, while I have reduced my total workload, my efficiency and the quality of my work has improved drastically, now that I am not loathing my repetitive tasks.
So in one sense, I am still in the “Rat Race.” I am still commuting in the busy transit, working at the same high-pressure job. But I am not racing anywhere. I am learning how to simply be in the world, and in my peace. My negative thinking still gets in the way sometimes: Ugh I don’t want to do that work, or AHH I missed my bus. But I am beginning to more often take accountability for my thoughts, words, and actions. I start thinking new thoughts: Well I have nothing better to do, so why not enjoy that work, or It’s okay, there is another bus on its way. This process is taking me time. But instead of moving to the geographic place that I thought I wanted, I am using what I have learned in the Vedic Spiritual Studies program to move to the mental place that I truly wanted: a more and more consistent feeling of relaxation, acceptance, and appreciation. I am thankful for that. I feel supported by Life. That is more than I could have ever asked. And it is surprising, I am very happy to see that people around me have been so much more receptive to this attitude than I thought would be. Rather than overcommitting, getting overwhelmed, freaking out, and not saying anything to others, I am beginning to just say “Yes I can do that,” “No I cannot do that,” or even “I do not know if I can do that, but here is what I can do.”
I learned in the Vedic Spiritual Studies Program that the Vedas are all about awareness; about first recognizing, and accepting the world as it is. As my teacher, Acharya Shunya always says, we live in a world that is half-half, full of opposites. Half day, half night; sunny days and cloudy days; kind people and hurting people; flowers and weeds. It’s easy to find ourselves fighting against this, wishing for warm days during winter and cool days during summer. So much of the Vedic teaching centers around learning to give ourselves space so that we can take a step back, and watch as things come into our lives, stay in our lives, and leave our lives. As I begin to accept this, I am learning to appreciate the bad with the good, the dark with the light, the workdays with the weekends.
The World isn’t perfect in the sense that I don’t always get what I want, how I want it, when I want it, wrapped up in seasonal wrapping paper and topped with a bow. But the present inside is always exactly what I need. And I am starting to see that that is the beauty, that is where the perfection of Life lies. While the World doesn’t always give me what I may want, Life is complete. It is interconnected, full, enough, purnam (or complete) as the Rishis (ancient Seers and Teachers) say in Sanskrit. And because it is purnam - it carries all the opposites in its fold. It is full of beauty and destruction, rainbows and tornadoes, loved ones and frustrated ones, heartache and love, suffering and peace. As Shunya ji teaches us, it is my duty to take a step back, and keep Life in perspective. My wish, and the daily commitment I am taking up, is to nourish and maintain a lifestyle that can remind me of my peace so that I can course-correct my thoughts through my mistakes, and see the beauty and the potential that is working through it all (the good the bad and the ugly).
I am very thankful for this, because I do feel like I am slowing down to become a more positive person, and a more complete person. This is what I have been growing in my inner garden through the Vedic Spiritual Studies Program. There are still weeds, hard times still come, but as soon as I remember that there is beauty and God hidden there, I start to feel more peaceful. So maybe I might move one day, maybe I might not. But either way I am happy to be working on my bhaava (attitude) first, rather than getting caught up in my feelings.
Each of us have a unique journey, a different path to follow. All I can say is that what I am learning here at Vedika, with Acharya Shunya ji, is how to be strong and kind so that I can keep on walking, through the mud and through the asphalt, remembering all along that while the World is not Perfect, Life is Complete.
And it is far more than Enough.
The author Shreyas Derek Cousineau is a student of Acharya Shunya, and serves as the Kitchen Coordinator, creating and offering delicious Ayurvedic meals to our Vedic Spiritual Studies classes and Vedika Global events.
Learn more about how you can study Vedanta with Acharya Shunya in her Vedic Spiritual Studies Program.