Witnessing the devastation of 9/11 before his eyes and narrowly escaping death, Kushal’s life was never going to be the same again. Suddenly, all his pursuits felt meaningless and he felt a void within him like he had never felt before until one day when he reluctantly decided to spend an afternoon with a spiritual master in New York City.
From being a Wall Street trader immersed in the material world to embarking on a quest to find answers to life’s biggest questions, Kushal Choksi writes about his doubts, struggles and revelations on a spiritual path as a left-brained skeptic in On a Wing and a Prayer.
Read an excerpt from the book that emphasises the importance of finding peace within oneself instead of looking for it outside.
It had been a year since we had moved back to the US. My entrepreneurial struggles were showing no signs of slowing down. The previous week had been a period of intense inner turmoil. The sense of balance and security I had come to rely on had all but vanished. My body was fatigued, and my mind was in a complete funk. To take a break from our maddening routine, Alak and I had decided to visit the Art of Living Ashram in Quebec, Canada. I knew that Gurudev was going to be there. I always experienced a peculiar feeling of warmth and unconditional support around him. I could use some of that.
A Canadian autumn always starts with a tinge of melancholy, yet the crispness in the air and the hazy evenings add a unique texture to the surroundings. The autumn foliage in Quebec was at its peak. White birch, pine, and sugar maple trees were showing off their new wardrobe, and the entire countryside was breathtaking. But when the mind is not at ease, nothing gives joy.
Nestled amidst this setting, in the heart of one of the most beautiful forest regions of Mauricie National Park, rests the quaint Art of Living Ashram, sprawled across acres of natural surroundings.
Gurudev was at the front of the room, sitting on a small couch, deep in meditation. The lights in the room were subdued. I was sitting on the floor in a corner, and my view of him was partially blocked by a slender, white column. The soothing chants of kirtans filled the room, creating waves of uplifting energy. I keenly observed everyone. People in the room seemed to be happy and peaceful at the same time. This put me even more on edge. I badly wanted that feeling, but given my current mindset, it seemed out of reach.
The singing concluded, and Gurudev opened his eyes after a long meditation.
‘Hmmmm?!’ The familiar conjecture appeared again. ‘Are you all happy?’ He asked right out of the gate. The crowd responded affirmatively in a loud chorus.
‘Nooo!!!!’ I screamed in my head. ‘I am miserable. Help!’
I felt even more isolated.
‘Pierre, do we have any questions in the basket?’ he asked the person sitting next to his couch, who had been collecting questions from the audience. Although Pierre’s flowing white beard covered most of his face, his pleasant smile shone through.
‘Dear Guruji, how should I deal with a failure?’ Pierre read as soon as he uncurled a piece of paper from the question basket.
My ears perked up. Clearly, I was not the only ugly duckling in the barnyard. Somebody else was hurting just like me. I scanned the room in the hope that I could somehow identify this other misfit. Misery loves company after all.
‘Do you want to hear a Mullah Nasruddin story? I think I’ve already told this story before,’ Gurudev asked.
In his inimitable style, Gurudev began narrating the story of Mullah, who once got into a very bad accident. The poor guy had multiple fractures all over his body, and pretty much every part of his face was bandaged. A friend of his came to visit Mullah in the hospital, where he lay in pain.
‘How are you Mullah?’ the visitor asked.
‘Oh, I’m fine. It only hurts when I laugh,’ Gurudev asserted Mullah’s response with a smile on his face.
The perplexed visitor began to think that Mullah had completely lost it.
‘What is there to laugh, Mullah? Have you looked at yourself? How could you laugh in this condition?’ asked the concerned friend.
Gurudev paused. One could have heard a pin drop on the carpeted floor.
‘If I don’t laugh now, I have never laughed in my life,’ said Mullah.
More silence in the room.
‘Everyone can laugh when things are going well. It takes tremendous courage to smile through when the world around you comes crumbling down,’ Gurudev said with a level of conviction I had never seen before.
Gurudev ripped open this topic, talking about how the disappointment of failure is amplified by underlying desires.
‘Just before a desire arose in you and after a desire completes, where are you? Have you noticed?’ He asked the everyone in the room. By the look of his face, I could tell it was definitely a trick question.
‘The same place.’ He quipped. The answer had now created more questions in my mind.
How? I had really never thought about that. He continued. ‘And in the process of fulfilling the desire, one loses the sight of the self.’
‘You don’t lose the self . . . you just lose the sight of it, hence the restlessness and agony,’ he added.
My mind was always on the run. Desires arose. I started chasing them. In that chase I was sometimes happy, sometimes miserable. Most of the time, my desires were fulfilled. When that happened, it boosted my ego and brought some satisfaction. Then I went back to the same place that I was in before that desire had arisen in the first place. And repeat. I was beginning to appreciate the big picture that had just been revealed.
Was there any point in chasing desires? Did I really have a choice to not chase them?
‘It is like being on a merry-go-round. You start and get off at the exact same place, having gone nowhere.’
As the evening concluded, the waves of negativity in me had somewhat subsided. I wondered what had changed. The problem at hand remained the same. So did my circumstances. However, in that moment, I could detach from the thick wave of negativity that had enveloped me. I could see how easily I had lost sight of the self, the inner space that is always joyful and at peace.
On a Wing and a Prayer is a true account of one man finding himself on a fifteen-year-long journey shadowing the spiritual leader Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.