We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Little Gidding, T.S. Eliot
I was talking to a friend recently. In all the ups and downs that seem to trouble the world at the moment, she finds it comforting to take refuge in what she knows to be true about herself. She finds solace in the inner calm, peace and quietude that mindfulness and meditation bring to her. These, she said, create a space which is far, as it were from ‘the madding crowd’, and which is real, solid and dependable. She said it was ‘like coming home to myself’.
I found her description arresting – ‘coming home to myself’. This is such a lovely way of expressing a universal yearning that we all have, to find our way to a place of peace within ourselves, and deep connection to other people and the world around us. This is often likened to a journey because it seems that we start from one place, one state of being, and we end up in another. Like the journey of the liberated prisoner in Plato’s allegory of the Cave, we journey from a state of limitation to one of freedom, from darkness to light.
This journey ‘home’ has been symbolically told again and again in many traditional stories and legends. Sometimes the journey is perilous, fraught with danger where the traveller needs to use their strength and their wits to overcome perils to arrive at their destination.
In The Odyssey, for example, Odysseus and his companions face both mortal dangers and beguiling temptations on their way home after ten years of fighting in the Trojan War. Even when he gets home Odysseus’s trials are not over. He still has to conquer the parasitic suitors who are competing for his wife Penelope’s hand.
The Prodigal Son is starving and has been reduced to stealing dry husks that are food for pigs when he ‘comes to himself’ and remembers that even the servants in his father’s house have abundant food. He arises and begins his journey home.
While the pilgrim in The Pilgrim’s Progress is not exactly heading to his home, he has a vision of a higher dwelling place that drives him on past perils similar to that of Odysseus – The City of Destruction, Doubting Castle and so on.
Even Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the myriad other characters lost in the dark forests conjured by the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales, are exiled from their homes and yearn to find the way back.
These stories are all our story. They are all allegories of our own journey through life. This is true even for those of us with warm, loving families and comfortable homes surrounded by a close community of friends. A niggling feeling that something is missing in our lives is the common experience of those who seek spiritual wisdom and fulfillment. That sense of there being something more to life, can strike those whose circumstances are, from a worldly point of view, pretty good.
Another friend, who had a happy upbringing with a close family and a wide circle of friends, told me how even as a boy he felt this lack. He told me that he always felt the need to find someone who could tell him how everything really worked, a source of wisdom who could explain the mysteries of why people behaved the way they did. He said, for example, that he felt intensely frustrated when words would slip from his mouth that he didn’t intend or want to say. Why, he wanted to know, did he do things he didn’t want to do and say things he didn’t want to say?
Others have spoken to me of a feeling that there just must be more to life.
When that feeling of there being a greater, richer, deeper place prompts enquiry, then the journey begins. Often there is an initial period of reading or study or questioning. Sometimes this can seem random and unfocussed, but every step, no matter how halting or vague, actually bears fruit. Krishna said, in The Bhagavad Geeta, that no effort on this path is ever lost. My teacher said that the student brings forth the teacher, the enquiry calls forth the answer. Jesus said: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” This is incredibly good news. It tells us that any enquiry and effort we make on the path to ultimate peace and freedom will bear fruit.
Notice, however, that we have to act first. We must ask, seek, and knock. That door won’t open unless we lift our hand and knock. Again, the good news is we don’t have to knock very loudly, and sometimes the door we knock on is an outer door which opens onto pathways that lead us to other doors. At each of these doors we knock.
The other good news is that the help and guidance on the journey home comes in a dizzying array of forms. The wise are eager to offer a helping hand, to share their wisdom with anyone who asks. Their style may differ. Some offer contemplative practices of meditation and mindfulness. Others lay out a system of devotion, prayer and worship. Still others offer systematic actions, ceremonies and regular measures of daily activities. There are some paths that are a combination of contemplation, devotion and action. All these paths are designed to overcome inertia and unhelpful habits, and to nurture new ways of living that are purifying and healthful.
A key element of all these paths is to awaken and strengthen memory.
My own experience was of receiving inspiring wisdom from wonderful teachers. I tried to imbibe their teaching. They set out simple practical exercises that supported the learning, and I found myself enthusiastic to incorporate these exercises in my life. Time and again, however, I found that the distractions of day to day living intruded, and I would simply forget to do what was asked. I tried tricks to remind myself – sticky notes on the bathroom mirror, regular alarms on my phone, setting certain times in the day to practice, or remembering to practice before certain daily events.
One simple practice was to stop before meals and come to myself and fall still. This is still part of my daily practice, and it not only focuses my attention and promotes memory, but it also elevates the meal from the ordinary to a special place.
The main point I want to make here is the strengthening of memory is a vital part of assimilating the teachings of the wise. All the efforts I made to strengthen my own memory have borne fruit. The access to inner stillness and focused attention are now almost habitual.
Without embarking on an infomercial, my husband and I discussed this issue and how we could help others to strengthen memory. We considered this conundrum – enthusiasm for the path laid out by a wise teacher, coupled with forgetfulness due to life’s distractions. We wanted to provide something that people could carry with them or wear, that would give them what one friend described as an ‘energetic reminder’.
I have a deep love of Sanskrit, for its beauty, its richness of meaning, the concepts it expresses. So I pondered how I could use Sanskrit to be that energetic reminder for people who want help along the path. I created the Damayanti brand to showcase jewellery, clothing and homewares all carrying a Sanskrit message of deep wisdom.
So far we have created eight product collections that showcase the Sanskrit letters for prema – universal love; prāna – the breath of life; satya – truth; abhayam – fearlessness; balam – strength; abhyāsa – resilience; shakti – divine energy; and kshamā – patience.
We have already received wonderful feedback from people who love these pieces that carry both a resonance of deep memory, and also a connection to the value expressed in the Sanskrit.
One young woman told me that the word balam – strength – called out to her. She wears the necklace all the time and finds that it reminds her of her beautiful inner nature as a strong powerful person. This is not, she told me, the strength of one who puts others down, but is the strength of one who lifts others up.
Another woman said she treasures her prema – universal love – wristband. One night she took it off and put it on her nightstand. As she was about to turn out the light she realised that the wristband was upside down. She told me that she couldn’t go to sleep until she had turned it over. She said the power and beauty of what she had received meant she had to show a measure of care and respect.
I love that this jewellery leads people to make their own discoveries about the power of Sanskrit as a doorway to deep wisdom. I also love that I can contribute to shining a light on the path to freedom and happiness and self-knowledge. If you have similar experiences from these beautiful products, I would love to hear from you: https://www.facebook.com/damayantiforyoursoul/
My vision was to help signpost the journey to our true home with uplifting and joyful memories and experiences. This is the way to “arrive where we started and know that place for the first time.”