I grew up in Bombay, which, in the 1950’s, was a vibrant mercantile city of about 3 million people. It was a city of neighborhoods. The one in which we lived was a mish-mash of old Colonial bungalows, crumbling plaster houses, low concrete buildings and hole-in-the-wall shops. One corner of our neighborhood, which everyone called “the village”, was a small enclave straight out of Old Goa. This seemed a wildly exotic place, to us kids, who only went there when invited to visit our Goan friends in their tiled-roof cottages. We played hide-and-seek in an open courtyard, summer’s heat and dust rising off the pavement, until the sun quivered scarlet on the horizon, and it was time to go home.
The city itself was a bewildering bazaar of the weird and wonderful. Scrofulous, smelly, dirty, crowded, it nevertheless brimmed over with color and beauty, the thwop of cricket played on the Maidan, the raucous conversations of crows, vignettes of love and beauty, cruelty and kindness in the slimy streets. And the shining sea all around. Bombay is an island.
Summers, school holidays, and weekends, we took the train high up into the mountains of the Western Ghats, where my aunt was the principal of a boarding school in a tiny village called Khandala. It was almost entirely wilderness then — dense jungles where panthers still prowled, and where I hiked and climbed and explored alone for hours each day without ever running into another human being. This was home. I loved it as we only ever love as children — with my whole, unfettered heart. It was the world’s first fingerprint on me, and it claimed me utterly.
The places we inhabit when we are very young inhabit us in turn, for we are newly incarnated then, and our souls are passionately present, brimming over with the love that brought us here in the first place. They shape who we are, as surely as the food we eat, the schools we go to, and the air we breathe.
My calling — though I didn’t know that’s what it was, back then — felt like a great river of love that flowed between me and my two worlds. It found its creative expression in the things I loved to do — hike, wander, commune with the Nature Devas and other subtle energy beings who filled my world. I’d write; draw; paint; read; climb trees, climb mountains. I loved to learn; daydream; map the night sky, with its stars that felt like home, onto my skin, in the whorled shells of my ears. I loved to stretch across the far horizon to the wide world beyond, which I knew only from books and my own soul’s immense reach. And yet, I knew someday it would be my home.
In Khandala, I experienced a kind of ecstatic union with the natural world and the Earth herself. I was as much a part of it as the sky, the mountains, the jungles and birds and waterfalls. It’s where I first met and loved the Nature Devas and other non-physical beings who were the architects and guardians of that wilderness landscape. Loving them, I wanted to be part of their activity, part of what they did to weave that magical place into being, to care for it and nurture it so it could be its exquisitely beautiful self.
In Bombay, the human world called me to a more complicated love. It shredded my heart in ways that the wilderness never did. My family was middle-class, not fabulously wealthy like the families of many of the girls I went to private school with. But we lived in a city in which entire families subsisted on little more than chappatis and chili peppers, where hungry children and their malnourished parents begged on the streets or labored in the punishing heat to fill their bellies with a fistful of rice.
When I was very young, before the Devas had shown me how to work with energy to alchemize suffering that I could not alleviate in any other way, my body was flooded every day with a wracked tide of love and despair.
I wanted to help, with the kind of desperate, helpless love that is a child’s spontaneous offering. On family outings, enroute to the market, or on the trolley bus to school, I stopped and talked with beggars. I held the hands of lepers, stroked their crumbling fingers. And I yelled in outrage at my family when they hauled me away bodily from these encounters. I felt ashamed, helpless, furious in the face of so much needless suffering.
Eventually, my soul told me it was time to say goodbye to India. To grow my capacity to serve, I needed to grow aspects of myself first, in a different culture and geography. I left India and moved, first to the U.S., and then to Canada, where I’ve lived all my adult life. Here, I’ve found home and belonging, raised my family. Here, I continue to do my life’s work.
The needs in this part of the world are culturally shaped, and different than they are in India. Yes, there is poverty and homelessness, income disparity and social injustice here too. But there is also a bedrock of provision and support. We are blessed with prosperity of the sort that most of the world can barely dream of.
The true poverty here is a poverty of connection, beginning with inner connection. Our lives are fragmented; we have forgotten our place in wholeness. Our focus has been so firmly fixed on the material world that we forget that our world is wholeness incarnate, a fractal of the Sacred — and we are too. We forget that our outer reality is a direct expression of a wholeness which we either contribute to or devolve with our thoughts and beliefs, our choices and actions. We are in thrall to things that can never fill us up. All the while, we are starved for that which matters most — our relationships with our souls, with our hearts, with our beloveds, with our communities, with our natural and human world.
We have the opportunity, as a culture, to work together to create a world that works for everyone. The problems of the world remain intractable, its patterns of violence and poverty, hunger and degradation, seem impossible to change. Yet I have immense hope for us, as a species, as members of the intricate ecology that is life on our planet. Devas and other allies in the subtle energy realms work tirelessly to do their part in the reweaving of the world. We have the capacity to do our part, in partnership with them, in partnership with each other.
Calling, to me, is a summons from the soul of the world to participate in the life of the world. Calling is my soul’s response to the world’s need, and to my own deepest love and desire. For me, that call has been, first, to be fully myself, to be whole. And then, to be an active agent of wholeness in my world.
This is what impels everything I do. This is my calling. To love what I love, to offer all that I am and all that I have in service to the perfect unfolding of everything and everyone I am in relationship with. So I continue to write. I continue to teach. I share what I know, what I’ve learned, created and developed through over 40 years of doing this work. I share what I continue to learn each and every day: How to be in right relationship with the ecologies in which we are embedded. How to be in relationship with our own souls, the souls of our businesses, the soul of humanity, the soul of the world. How to partner with the non-physical world to make heaven on earth. How to protect, strengthen and serve the essence at the heart of the people and places I love, so they can be more fully themselves.
As for what’s next: I don’t know. At this stage of my life, I’m seldom shown more than the landscape directly ahead of me. When I step into it in faith, miracles happen. What’s calling me next is greater relationship, collaboration, play. And more writing. All of it will show up in perfect timing, as it always does — in ways I almost never expect!
Thanks to lovely Renu Murik for asking me the questions about calling that inspired this post.