Just watched the Netflix movie, ‘The Two Popes’. Congratulations to Netflix, Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce, director Fernando Meirelles and the whole team… what a fantastic job, guys!!!
A tribute also to the Holy Fathers, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. What amazing and inspiring lives they lead and what powerful influence they can have on our spiritual lives!
This post is not a movie review, so if you’re looking for a movie review, you’ll find many great reviews on the internet. This is just my own tribute to these great people and institutions and a look at my own struggle with understanding prayer and developing a deeper connection with the divine!
In the movie, Pope Francis is shown in his younger days, standing in a Church, about to deliver a sermon. Addressing his audience, he says that the connection to God is like the signal the TV antenna gets. Some days the signal is strong, somedays there is no connection. He tells people that on that day he is feeling a lack of connection with God and is therefore not worthy of delivering the sermon. (I wish every pastor and spiritual teacher is like that.)
A lot of people talk about their conversations with God. I used to be sceptical about it till about a couple of years ago. Then, one day, as I was working, I came across a usual bout (as it was then for me) of anguish, disillusionment and doubt. I had recently made some enormous changes to my life. I gave up a very cozy and cushy job in the Middle East and moved to the US to be with my family. I decided to go into real estate, to become a writer and to work for the poor, homeless and needy.
Without going into details, let’s just say that life didn’t pan out as I had expected. We lost all our money. I started doing odd jobs. I became angry at myself. Financially, emotionally, psychologically, I was down in the dumps. While my understanding of God is different from the usual, I do feel that there is a universal creative force, a universal mind, a universal intelligence, call it whatever, working behind everything. One day, while driving to work, I lashed out at this universal intelligence, “What, what, what… what do you want me to do? I have no money, no resources, and I want to do so much! Tell me please! Tell me something! Just one thing!”
Unexpectedly and with unbelievable swiftness, the answer came, “Work with what you have, look after the homeless.” I remember the words so clearly. The clarity and the preciseness was unusual for me. It was not me. That is not even how I speak. And I have never been this clear and precise in my life. I felt like someone else inside me had said something.
I couldn’t believe it. I said, “What?” I expected the voice to explain. Actually, I just wanted to experience the voice again. I fully understood what it had already told me to do, but I just wanted to hear the voice again. I was not sure where the voice came from. Was it me telling myself something? Was I hallucinating? Was I imagining, based on accounts of other people claiming that God does exist and that it does talk to people at times? But that day the voice did not speak again. I stopped the car at the roadside and asked a few times again. But, nothing. Quiet! And I sort of knew that it would not speak again. I knew that it had told me exactly what I needed to do. It had given me the answer I needed. It was not the answer I was looking for, but it was an answer and it was a very clear answer!
A huge burden was lifted, I drove away feeling satisfied and grateful! I may have said, “Thank You!”, but I am not sure.
It happened again yesterday. After watching the movie, I remembered how the voice had spoken to me two years ago. I knelt down in front of the sofa, clasped my hands, putting my elbows on the sofa, and said, “Please talk to me”. I remained knelt down for half an hour. Nothing. I gave up at that moment, but I had a feeling that something was going to happen very soon. I opened my journal to write about it and created a dedicated space titled, ‘Dialogue’. I started writing. I asked questions. And then it happened. I received answers. Swift, no waiting. The answers were not always related to the questions. But they related to my whole life and my whole worldview and what I wanted to do in life. It was like someone knew all the details of what I had been thinking about and planning to do in the last few years (even things that I had forgotten about) and was throwing some of those things back at me. Things that I knew I had to do.
So, here’s what I really wanted to say today in this post:
Call it God, call it the Creator, call it Allah or Bhagwan or the Supreme Intelligence or the Universal Mind or the Eternal or the Divine or Nature or Life or The All or The One, it is there inside us and outside us. It knows exactly what we want to do even when we ourselves don’t know it. And if you know how to ask, it will answer all your questions… in very clear, precise, straightforward way, without wasting any time and without beating about the bush. If you know how to access it, you will get connected.
How to access it?
Be Open: Be open to the possibility that a supreme intelligence, a bigger mind than yours, exists and can help you sort out questions about life.
Silence: Remove yourself from the hustle and bustle. Go to a quiet place and just breathe. Thoughts will come and go. Do not try to stop them. See them as clouds coming and going over a clear blue sky. Let your mind be that sky that lets the clouds pass by, unperturbed, unattached, quiet, silent.
No Wish-lists: Try not to bring your wish-list to the table. Do not come as a beggar. Do not beg for things. Come as a listener, ready to listen and understand. If there is a God, if there is a supreme intelligence, if there is a universal mind, then it already knows what you ‘want’. It knows what is included in your wish-list. More importantly, it also knows what you ‘need’. It is not going to grant you your wish-list. It is going to guide you to what you need. What you need can be totally different from what you want. And this is the most important thing about praying. We pray as beggars. We pray like children prepare their list of presents for Santa Claus.
No, just sit and listen. Ask for guidance and assume that the guide knows what you want, what you need and where you want to go. Let the guide decide what is best for you. Defer to its knowledge and intelligence and wisdom. We all think that we are the wisest. But, sometimes, it may be helpful to bring our self-importance down a few notches.
Surrender: Surrender to the supreme intelligence. Yes, of course you can ask for stuff, money, relationships, good health, a job, whatever. But there is the old saying, ‘man proposes, God disposes’. I used to take this saying very lightly, but I have understood now what it actually means. I can ask the supreme intelligence a million times for something and get disappointed every time if I do not understand the principle. God is not Santa Claus. The supreme intelligence is not waiting for us to post a wish-list to it. It is waiting for us to ask for guidance. It can only guide. It can show us the path. The rest will be up to us. Surrender is key. Without surrender, there will be no guidance. Any amount of doubt will restrict access to the supreme intelligence. It will open up only when you will open up.
Understand And Remember Your Origins: God or the supreme intelligence or the universal mind can only guide you to itself. It can only take you to wholeness. It can only take you towards itself, i.e., your origin, the place from where you came. It will not take you anywhere else, cry as you may. Your two options are: either keep relying on your limited mind (the ego) and keep struggling for the small things that you have been struggling for all your life OR expand your understanding of life and your origins and seek a way to connect to the bigger picture. It is only on the latter path that the divine will respond to you. On the former, you will be on your own. You can choose either. And God or the supreme intelligence will not be angry if you choose the former. It will be quiet.
In the movie, Pope Benedict XVI tells that for some time after he became Pope he couldn’t hear God and it was not because God was withdrawing from him, but because God was saying something he didn’t want to hear. That is what happens to everyone of us who try to ask God for something. We come with preconceived notions of what we need. We bring our wish-lists. We fail to understand life and where we have come from and where we might be headed. We become short-sighted and just look at the immediate desires. That short-sightedness blurs the bigger picture. We lose sight of the divine, the eternal, the universal.
And that is OK, if the short-term, the immediate, is all that we want to focus on, then so be it!
Pick Your Guide Wisely: Jesus was at his perceptive best when he said that no one can serve two masters, you can either serve God or money.
You can either surrender to the world of money or you can surrender to the divine, the eternal, the universal mind. You cannot surrender to both. You cannot seek guidance from both. So, pick your guide wisely.
Choosing money will mean that you let your ego decide how you want to live your life. Life will be limited to material things, your vision will be limited, your love will be limited, selfish and conditional, your concept of ‘family’ will be limited. Death will not be an option. Fear and pleasure will drive your everyday life. You will live in the world of images and attachments. You will be like a cloud in the sky, here now, gone in the next moment.
Choosing the divine means choosing an eternal, unending life. You will love unconditionally. The whole world will be your family. Death will be a myth. You will live in a fearless, unattached, unbounded, blissfulness. You will be like the sky itself, limitless, eternal.
Neither of the choices is right or wrong. It is a matter of personal decision of how you want to live your life and how you want to connect to the world.
Pope Benedict XVI gave up the office of Pope when he felt he could not hear God’s voice. This is how important that connection was for him.
Pope Francis, when he was a young priest at a church, stopped himself from delivering the sermon when he could not feel the connection with God.
These two individuals rose to one of the highest offices in the world and the two incidents show how much value they put on the connection to the divine and what they could give up when that connection was missing.
What value do we place to that connection in our lives?
What is the meaning of prayer in our lives?
Do we want to live like beggars holding up a wish-list to God or are we willing to remain open and let the supreme intelligence guide us on our next steps?
Let us meditate on these questions… and if we can learn from the examples set by these two amazing individuals, what a great start that would be to this new year!
Thanks again to Netflix!