Last summer, I decided to attend Kumbh Mela in Ujjain, India. The Kumbh is a massive pilgrimage, hosting individuals from all over the world who gather to bathe in the sacred Ganges River—a symbol of purification and celebration of seeking and experiencing liberation. This open gathering, which occurs once every 12 years, is popularly known as the largest gathering of human beings on planet earth, and some sources say it can even be seen from outer-space. This past May, 75 million women and men of all sorts flooded the area to attend the festival.
Every time the Kumbh happens, an entire “holy city” is built out of nothing (meaning, the land is deserted and uninhabited) just a few months prior to the arrival of the masses and is taken apart within the month following the end of the festival. I had the honor of staying in the camp of my Guru, Paramahamsa Sri Nithyananda, for 40 days along with around 3,000 other people coming from all over the world, literally. By the standards of the pilgrimage, the camp I stayed in was a luxury—we had western toilets, an air-conditioned meditation hall, and meals three times a day. Yet those standards were measured alongside millions of people who were literally sleeping on the streets or by the river. Even for us, water and electricity were a luxury (making the air-conditioning essentially irrelevant), the average weather was around 48°C everyday (around 118°F), and it was impossible to stay clean for more than half an hour. I got, on average, 3 hours of sleep per night, due to the nature of spontaneous happenings, but which constantly started with 5 a.m. yoga (I attended less classes towards the end when my body felt too weak). Some days I was too tired to digest food so I would forgo eating, resulting in major weight loss (don’t try this at home). There were also many challenges in the day-to-day life at the camp. Some of which included small things such as foot blisters from your multiple pairs of slippers getting borrowed or stolen and having to walk barefoot against your will; or bigger things such as the camp getting hit by two cyclones, resulting in flooding and breakdown of some infrastructure.
At the beginning of this very long and exciting month, I experienced a lot of conflict within me. I was frustrated with some of the conditions I was in, but at the same time, I knew I did not want to run away—I was craving adventure, and I loved my guru, the people I was surrounded with and the excitement of the festival. When I looked in I saw that the conflict I was creating essentially came down to one thing: opinions. What is an opinion? An opinion is a belief or judgement that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty.
I realised that I held subtle opinions on everything and nothing—from why it was unfair that my slippers were getting stolen to why I had to pull partial all-nighters to evacuate flood water (from the cyclones); to why it was not “appropriate” for me to be doing what felt like “too much.” The reason for those thoughts and feelings, I realised, was that I had too many ideas on how things were supposed to be, what I was supposed to be doing, and how I was supposed to be feeling—all of which rested on shaky grounds.
Here are 3 broad takeaways from this experience on “opinions” that I’d like to share:
- Opinions are like the cracks in your high-grade prescription lenses
My experience taught me that opinions are damaging to one’s growth because they cunningly make one’s perspective of the world narrower and narrower, thus suffocating us and limiting our ability to experience life for what it is. It then takes a certain awareness to identify those opinions because we get used to living with them, and a lot of will persistence to go beyond them. It’s like melting ice and becoming fluid again.
Using a simple example that I often come across: let’s say you’ve heard of the innumerable benefits practicing yoga and would like to try it out. Maybe your body is really tight or tense, you have bad posture, or you would like to calm your mind and reduce your thoughts. However, there’s a part of you does not attempt yoga because you think you do not have the flexibility, or you associate yoga with an upper-class demographic of females (often referred to as “basic” and that you do not relate with). You might also think yoga is just a local fad and a trend that will eventually lose it’s edge. Whatever thought current you have, until you have an experiential understanding of yoga, it’s just an opinion. The unfortunate part of the story is, if you’re strongly opinionated (or your opinions are stronger than you), you might prevent yourself from having the experience of engaging with a practice that has the power of bettering your quality of life.
- Opinions suffocate you & those around you
Have you ever changed or wanted to change something in your life, but felt suffocated by the existing yet outdated and limited understandings (opinions) of you by those around you? It’s like you’ve worked (or you’re working) towards a better version and understanding of yourself but you’re not supposed to because who really does anyway, right?
Yet most of us are also guilty of doing this to others: we create formulas and frameworks (based on insufficient grounds) for how our lives and relationships should be, and we get agitated when there’s any deviation. What’s the result? We limit ourselves and sometimes those around us from freely expressing, learning, and growing outside of those formulas and frameworks. What’s the solution? to be aware of our thoughts so we can identify the opinions and drop them. Be a breath of fresh air to yourself and those around you by holding space—space is created when we drop opinions (in metaphorical sense… or maybe also in a physical sense since thoughts affect matter? (See: Dr. Masura Emoto’s experiment on the effect of thought on water crystal formation).
I also realised that having opinions is a mental set up—it’s a habit that can be a vicious cycle. The more opinions we hold in general, the more opinions we hold about ourselves and others.
As a sidenote: consider spending more time with people who fuel rather than stifle your (conscious) change.
- Opinions make us vulnerable to the ups & downs in life
Returning to the Kumbh, to enable myself to breathe—to create space, my new mantra-to-self become: drop your opinions, be fresh every second. When I decided to drop my opinions, I began to let go of the negativity I held towards the discomfort I was experiencing; I realised that things such as my aversion towards the weather, feeling dirty all the time, and my anger towards my stolen items were only as good or bad as I made them. I also realised that the more we honor our opinions, the more power they have over us, but when we identify what our opinions are, and we understand their irrelevance, the weaker they become (and the stronger we are).
When I felt the space within me, I felt the strength to go about my daily life less affected by or subject to the ups and downs. It made my experience of the pilgrimage so much more raw and enriching, and I was more capable of absorbing it.
My Guru beautifully says, “In a wooden elephant carving, if you see the intricacies of the carving, and perceive it as an elephant, you forget it is wood. If you perceive it as a wood, you forget it is a carving… If you build an opinion about every person, every situation, every thing around your life, you will polarize the whole life.” “Opinions,” he continues, “—building opinions about everything, is taught to you as knowledge; understanding about the source material of everything is wisdom.” Polarising our life, meaning categorising everything into good or bad, eventually makes us subject to the perceived good and bad. We limit ourselves from looking more freshly, crisply, and inquisitively, into ourselves, our peers, and life as a whole.
And as Socrates once said: “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing,” so I encourage you—learn the way of the heart—the way it beats every heartbeat unfailingly, rejuvenating your body with fresh blood and fresh life, be fresh every second.