Reluctantly I traded in my pearl necklace, a symbol of power of the ego to a scooter, a symbol of freedom for the journey ahead.
A lot has happened since I ejected myself from the high-flying corporate world to riding my scooter in Auroville, my soul home and spiritual community in the south of India. My life transformed. Was it easy? No…
Leaving the corporate world should have been giving me a sense of liberation – to no longer only consider the material world to be real and of priority but an ephemeral ‘other dimension’ – but only seemed to bring me pain. I went through a tough time, feeling rejected, and almost ejected out of the system.
As long as it was possible I even hid my newly found spiritual interest to avoid losing connections and friends. During business trips, no matter where I was or who I was entertaining (or entertained by), I’d excuse myself and return to my room by 10pm (amongst my direct reports it became a cause for amusement!). I’d find myself sitting in meditation in the most luxurious hotels. My priority for that hour of the day became connecting to and conversing with a force so much greater than myself, and yet an intimate part of myself, I was searching for a meaning to my life, feeling that all that I had done so far was already paling in comparison. I was oscillating between two lives.
I am not alone (far from it)
Before heading to India I attended a conference Beyond the Brain 2019 in London. Neuroscientist Prof. Marjorie Woollacott delivered a speech titled Consciousness and Healing – Experiential Perspectives. It was fascinating to hear her talk on awareness without brain activity. Her story touched me and awakened dormant painful emotions.
I was intrigued by her personal experience of coming to terms with her spirituality, in spite of being a scientist.
Her words made me relive my own experience of being a seasoned executive having to admit that I had (suddenly, it seemed!) become ‘spiritually inclined’. Emotionally transported back to those days I could even feel the same pain in my heart region as I had back then. Sitting in that conference room in London I knew that, like Marjorie, I had gone from being a well-fitting peg to feeling completely out-of-sync with society. I questioned my sanity, almost as much as my husband and some friends did!
Beyond the Brain
Professor Marjorie Woollacott used to think that our thoughts, movements and awareness or consciousness are all products of the neurons of our brains. However, she came to adopt an entirely different view, one where ‘the non-physical’ (the spiritual as opposed to the material) forms the basis, rather than the other way around. And with it, she felt the acceptance that her many colleagues had long afforded her dwindle. Marjorie felt that she was being shunned, but continued her research nevertheless, as if prompted by that ‘Beyond the Brain’ force.
So what about my own experience? Initially, I felt lonely and sad at being ‘the odd one out’. I felt judged by my luxury hospitality tribe and unsure what was coming next. Nowadays, a newfound sense of peace in my heart and the fact that previous colleagues are getting in touch requesting my reassurance – taking their own first steps on the spiritual path – I have accepted that my purpose might just be to act as a bridge between the spiritual and the business communities.
Fresh out of the spiritual closet, I then felt extremely vulnerable.
Without any prior experience of low self-esteem, I was flooded by it. Bewildered, I felt that I was standing all alone in the wilderness. Fast-forward and everything has changed. The struggle has been worth it. Especially in Auroville, without the need to pretend that I am merely a body and a brain, I feel free.
If mainstream is the material, then the spiritual is the inner landscape as well as seeing that all is in fact connected; inner-outer, me-the world. Cradled by the plethora of Auroville’s soul-warming events and experiences (from free flow dancing, body treatments via sound baths to the OM choir and so much more), I understand that, most importantly, there the spiritual worldview is the mainstream. There, I’m accepted as I am. The whole of Auroville is a space free from spiritual closets.
Reflecting on the difference between before and after, I can see that it was mainly meeting a man in the forest called Vijay who catapulted me out of a deep sleep state. How?
He made clear to me that the idea that I had about who I was, was nothing but a bunch of images in my mind, all shaped by conditioning – expectations from my upbringing and what society expects – a kind of follow-the-herd mentality.
Find your tribe
Staying in Auroville, I bask in the feeling that life is no longer seen as having a finishing line where the winner is the one with the most success or financial strength. Rather, it’s a journey – a journey centred on a continuously opening heart. As I navigate the lush Auroville forest on my scooter I marvel at the thought that I do not see other persons moving around, but rather pure souls.
Whether we know it or not, we are all on our way towards liberation. Some are further along on the journey than others. Some are still in the spiritual closet. And others are not even aware that such a thing exists. All is fine as it is.
Enjoying the breeze of fresh forest air touching my face, I feel free and connected to the Infinite. With a deeply felt gratitude for all that life has thrown, and keeps throwing in my path, I am proud to have helped birth the 180 degree turn around from my previous goal-oriented way of being.
Everything is continuously changing and I sense that individuals and businesses will increasingly look for guidance as they seek what is “beyond the brain”. They too will feel lost, finding themselves (irrationally!) wanting to “get out of the spiritual closet” or be already chucked out of it.
As Vijay puts it, “liberation is not for the self but from the self – not for Claudia but from Claudia”. My rides on my scooter through Auroville continue … living without (self) judgment, to give without expecting, and to open my heart to love for no reason.
Beyond the Brain
Beyond the Brain is the world’s premier conference series exploring research on whether and how consciousness and mind extend beyond the physical brain and body.
Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creed, all politics and nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity.
Spiritualityis a broad concept with room for many perspectives. In general, it includes a sense of connection to something bigger than us, and it typically involves a search for meaning in life. As such, it is a universal human experience—something that touches us all.
Interested to read more? Food for your Soul is a regular column featuring short articles for moments of reflection to look at life from a different perspective (should you choose to!). Invest 3 minutes and allow your thoughts to ponder. Awareness creates choice.