The Journey of Illumination

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  • Photo by Ankit Shukla

    It’s summer, 2015. I gaze out over the bridge of the cargo ship at the horizon, where the gray-blue waters of the Gulf of Oman meet the waxing twilight of the dawn. All week I’ve felt uneasy. Something is just not right in my life. Here I am an officer on a ship, a dream I’d once worked hard to make a reality. Now it seems to have lost all its meaning. I sip my coffee, as the warm, salty air blows through my hair, and watch the massive, orange glow of light burn into the sky. 

    I’ve seen many remarkable sunrises at sea, but today’s holds a different depth, and I stand there, fixed to it, watching the light swell and lift from the horizon. The morning passes, as I attend to my duties as a Merchant Marine, and it’s now noon and something tells me to look at the sun again. I see that its morning beauty has faded into its own brightness. And suddenly, stunned, I feel something deeper move within me. I realize that at dawn, the sun was humble enough for me to bask in its beauty. But now, as the sun climbs higher in the sky, its beauty is blinded by its own, harsh rays. 


    Photo by Ankit Shukla

    Like the sun, since childhood I wanted to rise up and be something, be accepted by others, but I never was humble and innocent enough in my approach. I look back in my life for answers. 

    I was born in Amritsar, a small city in India. When I was two years old, my mother had to give me away to her sister, due to financial reasons. From age three, I spent several years in a boarding school for boys, the youngest kid there and often bullied. Then, raised in two families, my mother’s and my aunt’s, I was left in doubt as to who my real parents were. 

    Growing up, I struggled with feelings of abandonment, depression, low self-esteem and lots of other emotional problems. My depression grew stronger into my teens, carrying with it thoughts of suicide. I attempted it several times, but failed miserably, like the time I sprayed a whole bottle of deodorant into my mouth, which only left a very bad taste and not much else, except my own suffering. But that was a familiar feeling for me, as I was raised with the belief that suffering is the way of life. 

    After high school, I decided to get away from family and everything else about my sad world, pulled by the adventure of going to sea as a Merchant Marine. I spent the next eight years or more in training and sailing all over the globe on ships. Life as a Merchant Marine is nothing like what’s sold to young people. It’s hard, emotionless and it kills your soul. For me, I only excelled at being more depressed, with no self-esteem, and rewarded myself with multiple traumas. All I wanted was to prove my worth to myself through hard work. 


    Photo by Ankit Shukla

    That day on the ship with the sun, I feel that everything is losing its meaning. I return to my cabin in the evening and sit down with my legs crossed, palms on my knees and my eyes closed. I feel so tense, and in the tension I realize something: Tensed is what we want to be and relaxed is what we really are. And suddenly, simply by facing my fears, I relax. I don’t know it then that I am opening myself to the depths of meditation and what I have since come to understand as the first stage of it—relaxation.  

    I invest in myself from then on, and spend every evening sitting with myself, facing all my fears and looking within. I have no clue what meditation is. I am nowhere, in the middle of the ocean, with no guidance, no books, no teacher, nothing. I give up my uniform for a white terrycloth robe that I buy at the next port and let my beard grow, rebelling against my former ideologies. The ship captain is kind to let me work, anyway. 


    Photo by Ankit Shukla

    Within a few months, I finish my contract with the Merchant Marines and decide never to return to my old self. I jump into the unknown and renounce everything I once knew—family, friends, career. I’m wearing a robe traveling around India by myself, unknowingly exploring the second stage of meditation—observation. I become an observer of life, of the cosmos. I witness every moment that passes, and with it, my thoughts. Gradually, I enter the third state of meditation—silence. Here, language no longer has the same meaning as before. 

    I am having the time of my life in India with this newness I’ve found within myself, just watching and being quiet. Hakunama Tata!! I’m at this peak, like the sun at high noon, but once again, something does not feel right. I see it in the people I encounter, struggling being themselves, and I feel an immense love and compassion for them. I decide then that, if my own life has changed because of meditation, helping me overcome my challenges, I’m going to share my insights with others. And this is when I write my first book, on meditation, called The Seed of Nothingness


    Photo by Ankit Shukla

    Here in India writing the book, I am on the path of merging and surrendering into the oneness of the cosmos, immersed in the fourth stage of meditation—creativity. The Universe is always creating in love and joy. A delicate flower is born through love and care of nature so it can give life through more flowers. And it is during my own journey of creativity that I meet my wife and together we build our wonderful life, today blessed with two daughters. 

    Now in the US, it being 2016, I’m giving lectures on my newly discovered joy of going within, traveling city to city on the West Coast. Still, something is missing; the essence that I want to share is incomplete. I ask myself, “What made me first unleash my joy during my growth process with my meditation?” And then I remember the time I was in Goa, walking on the beach at sunset and I felt this vast joy looking at the sky. I start dancing as if it is my last day on Earth. I don’t care what others think, seeing me dancing with no music. As I finish my “cosmic dance,” I turn around and see there are people jumping and dancing with me! Then they smile at me and leave. 

    In meditation, one may eventually understand the freedom of flow. It is in Goa that I experience this, and the seed is planted for my Dance Meditation Transformation workshops. They take participants through all the stages of meditation, finally to the fifth—celebration. Celebration is the true essence of life, and you reach this only when you experience the other four stages. It requires that you first be responsible for yourself, with self-care and self-love. 


    Then you can dance freely, celebrating life moment to moment, with the mind unchained from thoughts.


    Photo by Julie Branson

    Like dancing with abandon, set yourself loose from what you have heard or known about meditation. Science may’ve proven that meditation promotes longevity by repairing and extending the telomeres in our chromosomes, and that it can help with anxiety and depression. But what is meditation, itself? Think about where you go when you are asleep. Your physical body is at rest, while your consciousness floats in the depths of the unknown. As with sleep, meditation is the journey into that unknown. But unlike sleep, it’s with the awareness of and awakening to the reality beyond our perception of life. 


    Photo by Julie Branson

    That sailor at sunrise? Little did I know then what awaited me beyond the horizon. It was where I felt most lost—not out at sea, but within myself—that I found myself, in the journey of meditation. I am still traveling. Through relaxation, observation, silence, creativity and celebration, meditation illuminates the path toward the truest, deepest place in yourself, the place that is always there, always ready to show you the way. 

    © 2020 by Shiv. All rights reserved.

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