First published in The Jakarta Post Weekender – July 2011 Issue
Some years ago, I sat before the Kaa’bah in the Holy City of Mecca. I said to God, “Please show me how to I read the Koran. Because I do not believe that God The Compassionate The Merciful is as strict and punishing as they say You are.”
I think God has been responding ever since. Life has become a dialogue, a nice friendly conversation between us.
I was born and raised as a Muslim in Jakarta. But the left-brainer in me is always active. Everything intrigues me. I have a lot of questions about life. And I love it. Those questions have moved me through life. They have taken me to wonderful places and shaped my life in ways I could have never imagined.
Six years ago, I was working as a full-time consultant and had been for seven years. I was passionate about work and life. I worked long hours and spent more hours socializing. It was probably the typical life of a professional in Jakarta.
Until one day, I ran out of gas. It was an odd experience, which begged the question: I love my job, I love my company, and I love the people that I am with… so why do I feel so restless?
I knew I needed to jump out of this familiar circle of endless movement, at least temporarily. I decided to take some time off. I quit my job and went traveling.
During that period I learned something unfamiliar to me: I learned to slow down. As I slowed down, I started to listen more closely to my surroundings and, more importantly, to myself. I realized just how tired I had been and how relieved I was to have this break. I began to notice small things in and around me, the beautiful small things.
I started to pray, meditate and read classical spiritual texts from Al Ghazali and Rumi to Tao Te Ching and Madame Blavatsky more diligently. I continued to do so even after I returned from my break to work – as a freelancer where I could be more flexible with my time and make sure I had room to breathe.
Three years ago, I decided to go deeper: I enrolled in a six-month intensive program at an esoteric school in Scotland. I wanted to experience living these texts that I was reading.
The school I attended is founded upon the principle of unity of existence, that there is only one Being and each of us is a unique expression of it. To honor this is to allow the real Self to express itself through us – that is, for us to become our true self. It is an honest approach to life.
What I have encountered during those six months was unexpected. I met…myself. Even stripped of such external pressures as traffic jams, deadlines, and competition, and living in such a beautiful space, I found that I faced there the same challenges that I faced in Jakarta. I was experiencing the same familiar feelings, habits and emotions. These were layers of things that I have collected throughout my life to create this identity I called “me”.
There I learned to face those feelings and to recognize them, like peeling off the layers of an onion. I watched them transformed as I moved toward the center of this onion. I have grown to become more myself. It was an education in surrendering, in following, and in being. I was in love with life.
So when a friend posed a question on Twitter one day, “What is your spiritual practice and what is your spiritual experience?” I responded confidently, “My spiritual practice is meditation and my recent spiritual experience is a retreat in Scotland.”
When I returned to Jakarta, I continued my life as I had before. Same family, same work, same habit of hanging out with friends for coffee. But, with a twist: my way of being is different. I pay more attention to what is going on around me and in me. I listen to myself better, I acknowledge how I am at each moment and I behave accordingly. I am being more honest with myself. I am being more myself.
And it is fascinating. Often I watch the emotions and thoughts rising in me and think, oh wow, I did not know I am like that. Or I start noticing how differently I think from other people and how I respond to these differences.
Sometimes I do not see a problem as something to solve. It is how it is at the moment. Something wants to express itself. I need to allow it to be and witness how it evolves—and watch how I respond to it: Do I agree? Am I happy? Do I object? Am I angry? My response to the situation describes how I am at that moment. It is a process of me learning about myself.
Life is now that beautiful dialogue between God and myself. Yet I know I am only scratching the surface. There is so much more.
I continue to meditate, converse with friends, read spiritual texts, and go on retreats. I still need these oases to help me stay centered and to remind me of my journey. But my so-called spiritual journey has become more expansive, more encompassing, in that it covers my whole life.
That night when my friend posted the question about spiritual practice and experience, I could not sleep. The question had not left me even when I had answered it. I woke up the next morning with a response. I told him, “I have a different answer. My spiritual experience is life, and my spiritual practice is to live, to be.” There is no duality.
For more information on the school, please visit Beshara website.