Be True to Yourself
A couple of years back, I’d just started at university. Surrounded by cool, sophisticated, well-spoken individuals in the design department, I couldn’t help but wonder what had led me to this place. Although I didn’t yet know it, I was about to experience for the first time, at a personal level, the clash between the spiritual values I hold dear and the dominating materialism of the world.
I considered myself quite a strong-willed character, rarely influenced much by others. But my strength was tested by the giddy youth culture of university. My commitment to the principles of Sant Mat was just getting into full swing, and at times this made university life extremely challenging. Surrounded by people whose behaviour was based on very different standards, I felt keenly the gap between my values and those of many students. And they noticed it too: I found myself often subject to teasing or questioning.
A common query was: “Why don’t you drink alcohol?” I found this hard to answer because I was unsure whether to explain that this was based on the teachings I believe in. I was worried that people might judge me, perhaps even see me as a religious extremist. On the other hand, if I didn’t state my beliefs clearly, I felt weak in not standing up for them. Things panned out so that eventually I followed my heart rather than my head, and I did tell people it was to do with my beliefs.
Although I felt more comfortable this way, I knew that my openness would come with a price. And it did. Revealing that I didn’t drink because it contradicted my beliefs did often seem to cause people to treat me as ‘different’. Some would even try to pressure me to join in with their behaviour.
The second big issue was the fact that I didn’t eat anything containing egg, fish, poultry or meat. Again, certain acquaintances would question this. And although the teasing was less than with the drinking, people still seemed to get in a few wisecracks: “Animals are here to be eaten, so why not enjoy life?” or “Have a taste, you’ll like it!”
Overall, I was increasingly aware of a lack of commonality and a growing sense of conflict. Outwardly, I laughed things off and ignored the digs, but inside me the opposite was happening. I suffered a profound feeling of not belonging and a diminishing sense of my own identity. I had become so focused on others’ behaviour towards me that my own life seemed somehow frozen.
If only I had followed the words of Maharaj Charan Singh in Quest for Light:
You should not mind what that person says to you.… When we know that we are on the right path we should not worry at all what others say.… We should silently ignore what they say and not answer back, to avoid unpleasant controversy.… Do not allow these things to disturb your mind.
I should have simply not cared what the world thought. I should not have taken everything to heart, or bothered to debate with others about my beliefs. On one level I did know this, but I failed miserably to put it into practice. I found myself repeatedly crying down the phone to my mother about what people had said: every single remark would stay with me. But although she gave me good advice, I felt the difference in age and experience made it hard for her to understand fully. Finally she prompted me to write the issues down and maybe send a letter to Dera. This I did, and received the following reply:
We have to use our sense of discrimination and determine what is worthwhile for us. We should ask ourselves: what is the goal of our life? Once we remind ourselves what this is, we can then ask ourselves: are we taking all possible practical steps to achieve our goal? Are we making sure that our daily life fully reflects this purpose? When there is no correlation between our actions and our desires in life, we cannot attain our cherished goal.… If one is convinced about the path, one should be prepared to make sacrifices. One should not worry about the opinion of others but should be true to oneself.
Extract from personal letter
This letter was like a beacon of light. For me, the most striking word was “goal”. Without a goal in life we don’t know where we are heading, and we cannot make the appropriate choices. Once we recognize that the aim of our life is to keep closely to this spiritual path, nothing should be able to touch us. But if we focus, as I did, on other people’s reactions, then we ourselves are giving them control over us.
I decided I needed to run a priority check. I asked myself: what is really more important to me – what am I focusing more of my energy on – other people and their opinions of me, or my chosen spiritual path? What I realized was that I only thought that spirituality was more important to me: in practice I was acting as if the world were more important. Contrary to what I had thought, my focus was not in fact the spiritual path. It was other people, and therefore the world. I had begun to lose my way. Recognizing this in the light of the letter, I redirected my focus with determination – and I never looked back.
In letting other people’s comments upset me, I had obviously been heading in the wrong direction. Although I didn’t argue with people, I had assumed that everyone ought to understand and respect my beliefs. Big mistake! Everyone is not the same, nor should we expect them to be. As Maharaj Charan Singh said in Divine Light:
The fact is that this world is full of all sorts of people.… It is very difficult to find everybody around us to accord to our liking. Nor can we reform everyone and shape all according to our choice, or make them act in accordance with our wishes and desires. The best policy is to adjust ourselves according to the circumstances and pass our time most happily.
It isn’t just young seekers at university that come up against such challenges. We can all sometimes face similarly awkward situations in which we don’t quite fit in with the rest of the world. But rather than let such moments shake us, we should recognize that it is simply illogical to expect to be a snug fit in this materialistic world. This is for the simple reason that spirituality and materialism are at opposite poles, like positive and negative. Moreover, situations in which our own values come up against those of the wider world can help strengthen us in character and commitment, making us more courageous and yet tolerant individuals.
Rather than dwelling on how other people think and behave towards us, our energy is better directed towards something positive and much more precious to us: our spiritual path. There will always be those in our lives who act and speak in ways we don’t like or perhaps find hard to understand, but does this mean that we are going to get upset and annoyed every time? No. As Maharaj Charan Singh said in Quest for Light:
Do not take too much to heart the behaviour of other people towards you.… Cease from men and look above thee.