Let the lights guide you home

If COVID-19 is the darkness that has challenged us all over the past few months, then Diwali comes with positive reinforcement on what life really is. And how blessings can come to us when we face the pandemic or feel alive.

We are creatures of habit, and comfort is about keeping things predictable, not being open to new learning and discovery. The story of Diwali teaches us to engage with ourselves and those we call family and friends, and to reach out to others. His lessons are not only face-to-face exchanges, but are also possible virtually. Whether we are broken by COVID or are discovering ourselves for the first time due to new challenges, Diwali gives us all a chance to bring forth an enlightened thought.

In my own COVID darkness, even when I was completely alone in quarantine, I knew my family was waiting and watching, and that I would come out the other end and feel their love and comfort in person again. But at the height of my pain, I was momentarily gripped by fear and loneliness, by emotions and mortality. I lost my connection with my real being, this soul inside of me, my consciousness, my breath, my sanctum sanctorum. And then I thought of the 15th day of Diwali – the night of Lakshmi Puja. That moment when we light lamps in the hope of driving out gloomy thoughts and replacing them with enlightenment. It is this memory and others of Diwali, and the lessons I have learned from my elders over the years, that brought me back to hope and life.

Firecrackers and noise makers – who would think that anything good could come from the pollution of the already polluted air? Faced with this question, my parents taught me that firecrackers and noise makers lead us to awaken and accept others and our place in this shared world. They taught me about long silences and cacophonous moments and that with both, we must learn to make our peace.
Of course, there isn’t much time that anyone with a thinking brain can spend outside on Delhi’s misty night, and being inside is where we all celebrate and with who we connect to during Diwali. Food, gossip, teasing, chanting, celebrations and card games seem to occupy our minds with happiness.

When I asked my grandfather what role gambling played during Diwali, she smiled, pulled me closer and said, “Smart, do you think I’ll be baffled by this question? Think again. Here too, our traditions are accompanied by a lesson in life. Win or lose, by playing you learn to take risks. You may have to bluff and tell a white lie; you have to do with what you have. With careful consideration and careful planning, you could expand your reach, but the best get there with a commitment to take action and change the environment around them.

On the 17th day of Diwali, once we have settled back into our lives and made peace with who we are and what our lot in life really is, we are called to action again. Bhai Dooj is the day when a brother visits his sister to make sure all is well in his world. When I asked my nani why our family was observing this festival with a one day celebration of sibling and parent bonding, she got poetic about how it is a lesson in sharing and caring, of life and love, and acceptance of our life no matter what. we might live at some point. As we come together we learn the protean act which is life. Good or bad harvest, rich or poor finances, happiness or sadness at any given time, our fortunes of luck and love are beyond our control. To be happy, we must find contentment – not the material thirst for more – and let that be our driving force.

Grandma and Nani gave me wide and lofty lessons for my young brain. Over three decades, after conversations with these grandmothers, I can reflect, appreciate and understand their narration. I am very grateful for their words, but it was the back porch that called me back then and in which I still find unparalleled joy. On this porch, my mother worked tirelessly to make an altar with cereals, candies, incense and oil lamps. She created beautiful, elaborate rangoli on the floor and placed countless candles and oil lamps in the pattern which enhanced the colors and made the shapes dance in the golden light. She placed multicolored plants and flower arrangements around the rangoli to make it even more festive. From its amazing, beautifully sinuous and repeating patterns, I learned the ups and downs of life, the complexity of our journey and our existence, and how these festivals and customs connect us to our family and individual past and our hopes for years to come. Diwali is about coming full circle while continuing to move forward.

When I remember these Diwali lessons, I remember that home is where the heart is, and the heart is at home when you are at peace with yourself. We are not separate from each other when we are connected. The house is deep within us, not anchored in a GPS position. It is a connection between the mind and the soul. If we have this connection that works and we nourish our soul with the food of mindfulness, then we are at home and at peace with ourselves and at peace with the world at large. When the plumbing between our brain and our soul has a smooth passage, this is when we live with a socio-emotional connection that is both useful and fulfilling. We feel at home wherever we are, and even when we are alone.

Diwali and its many stories shared by my family through our culture, traditions, rituals, took me beyond dogmas, illuminated my soul and brought me back to my privacy, to my home. A sometimes dark place, most of the time elusive and never completely understandable, it is this place where, when I am anchored, my life no longer has any questions. The answers abound, the possibilities seem endless. Hope is its motto, love its intrinsic nature, and confidence in oneself and in others is essential.

Whether it’s eating, praying, playing, lighting firecrackers or being sick with or from COVID, Diwali is the light and the path that brings us back to this place where we learn to become one with self and the world. What greater pleasure can we wish for?

Happy Diwali and enlightenment everyone!

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