My nephew was born on May 2, 2007. I was pacing up and down the hospital room, rocking him gently in my arms as his mother, my sister, lay completely exhausted on the bed. The lights were dimmed so both mother and child could rest.
While approaching one end of the room, I yawned absentmindedly. Just as I finished and looked down at him, I caught the tail end of my nephew’s first yawn. It felt like he had just said to me, “You’re tired, I’m tired too.” It was overwhelming, breath taking – a primordial connect.
Yawns are supposed to be infectious, and someone yawning through your yawn, a sign of empathy. I looked into his eyes, and he looked right back, knowingly. It was love at first sight.
Relationships are not always like this one. They may be just as exhilarating in the beginning, but soon enough most relationships transform into power struggles, ego-matches, full of fears and insecurities, taking each other for granted and losing sight of who you really are and what you really want out of this connection. It could be your best friend, a partner, a sister or a parent. Hurting and getting hurt seem to form the basic universal nature of relationships. I have always wondered about why we like creating these connections, and why we need this social network.
When I was growing up, I remember my mother talking about moh (Punjabi word meaning love of and attachment to worldly things). I recall her talking about how attachments to materialistic things and close family like your own husband and children can keep you from achieving moksha (in Hindu philosophy, moksha refers to the emancipation or release from the cycle of rebirth).
She was possibly obsessed with the concept, or maybe she talked about it just once and that was enough to scar me for life. I imagined my mother leaving behind my sister and me one day to begin her own journey to moksha. Her continued active presence in our life felt like we were an impediment to her otherworldly aspirations. In my youthful, self-centric way, I felt unwanted.
I see now what she had really meant, and how I took her innocently candid conversation a bit too personally. Thanks to her, I can now see the freedoms a moh-less life could offer.
I imagine a life without attachment would mean a life without feeling pain or causing it to others. Detachment would help us accept death more easily, a struggle we all go through at some point or another.
When I think of detachment, the image of the widows of Vrindavan comes to mind. A large number of women flock every year to the holy site of Lord Krishna’s birth. They are considered inauspicious by their families because of their widow status, and often find themselves unwelcome in their own homes after their husband’s passing. I imagined them living pious, detached, blissful lives in the pursuit of moksha until I recently got to know some of them through documentary interviews conducted by a filmmaker friend.
It was clear that all the women interviewed had had tough lives before arriving on the ghats (a series of steps leading down to the river) of Vrindavan, and were seemingly better off in their new homes. Their love for Lord Krishna and their happiness at being away from their families was quite evident.
What surprised me was that these women often visited their children and grandchildren back home. Many were even deeply embroiled in land or property ownership disputes. A constant struggle for their survival in Vrindavan brought feelings of resentment toward each other. It seemed that even though these women had created a space for themselves, despite all the odds being against them, they had ended up creating a microcosm of the society that they had left behind.
Detachment seemed like an ambitious plan, even for these women. Are we naturally inclined to creating connections and attachments? Human beings are creatures of habit. But it has to be more than that. Why suffer through something just because you’re used to it?
What if relationships are an alternate path to moksha? What if we are supposed to experience the world around us in its entirety, and fearlessly go through life in its full rigour?
While there is a lot of joy in companionship, some relationships seem to be meant to test our strength. They torture us only till we find the honest core inside our being, till we find our breaking points, our true selves. Going by this logic, the process is supposed to be purgatory for us, meant to make us all better people. We should just rejoice in our misery of loving and losing, meeting and parting.
But maybe what is needed is an in-between path, a suspended existence, where we are attached yet detached – a state where we are sensitive and affectionate, and at the same time always aware of the temporary nature of everything and everyone.
In a world where our connections and relationships often dictate our status in society, it is hard to let go of moh. The ‘highlight reels’ from the lives of our social media friends make us forget who we are and what we want for ourselves. We find ourselves constantly measuring others and ourselves against misplaced perceptions of success. This leaves us with a perpetual feeling of dissatisfaction, and a desperation for a happiness that is not our own.
My grandaunt, a very wise woman, once told me about the fundamentals of living out our time here. I believe that she was on to something. While admitting that the world had changed far too much for her to comprehend, she said there were still some essentials that one could live by. “There are only two principles”, she said, “always be honest with yourself and others; and don’t harm anyone. That is all.” This meant that there was no need to detach. No need to give up my worldly desires. Just be honest and be nice. That is all. Moksha will come in its own time.
Image credit: li.fe fotografie, (CC BY-SA 2.0)