Stepping Out of Rat Races – Material, Social, and Spiritual

I woke up to a sunny gorgeous sunday morning that had absolutely no to-do’s on my list – good or bad, wanted or unwanted! No chores, no duties, no calls, no dates, no parties. I did not even have my normal ‘mummy’ role to occupy me because my son was spending the weekend at his grandparents home. So what does one do on a gorgeous sunny morning like that?

I went to my garden with a bottle of oil, a yoga mat, an empty mind, and an open heart. I felt very ‘holidayish’ in my mind and I decided not to ‘do’ yoga or meditation as a necessary ritual but stay open to the possibility of letting anything happen. I rubbed oil on my body, played with ants, gazed at butterflies and watched squirrels dash around. A big brown bird came swooping on the ground in front of me to show off her feathers.

A nice lady who used to cook for me earlier came to chat and she offered to massage me with oil. I was tempted to take up the offer but the calling of solitude was far more alluring and so I told her I was going to do yoga. I closed my eyes and whispered heartfelt adorations to the sun and then thanked the universe for the many gorgeous people who are part of my life. Keeping with what I had told this lady, I then started doing some pranayama and was soon lost in the awareness of prana dancing inside of me. I broke my regular sequence of breathing exercises and gave way instead to following the call of the moment. Soon my yoga mat was spread out as well and I was mixing and alternating breathing exercises and asanas intuitively. I let my body take the lead in asking me which parts wanted stretching or relaxing.

Every now and then I would be transported into a trance and would spontaneously go into meditation. When it happened, I just let it happen. When another bird came hopping and rustling in the leaves nearby and I got distracted I just let myself get distracted. When an ant crawled up my arm, I let it crawl and I savoured the tickling sensation of its tiny feet on my skin. What absolute bliss to behold the subtle pressures of ant feet moving on human skin. At one point when I felt a surge of connection with all of creation, I chanted, ‘Poornamada…(a verse about infinite oneness and wholeness)’, and that then paved way for further heartfelt chanting of other prayers. Eventually when I felt hungry I got up and came inside to eat.

Was it my most efficient ‘yoga’ session?. Definitely not in measurable ways, for I did fewer asanas and only a small subset of the pranayama that I could have done in that time. However, if I stay true to the meaning of ‘yoga’ which is ‘union’, there was more yoga today than on most other days.

Why am I telling you all this? Well actually I am telling all this to a part of my own mind that is still trapped in the ‘rat-race culture’. What do I mean by the ‘rat-race-culture’? I understand it as a collective set of beliefs and frameworks that are built on pillars of lack, urgency, dissatisfaction, and inadequacy. Is there a useful side to the rat-race framework? Yes of course there is. The useful side is the motivation and propulsion that it can create towards improvement, growth, and progress (real or imaginary). Are there side effects of this framework at a societal level? Yes indeed. As long as people function within ‘rat-race-frameworks’ they are easy to control, dominate, and exploit. Most people will be so tired and occupied by trying to ensure that they hold on to their place in the race that it will be easy for leaders and institutions to keep them ‘controlled’. That said, I do not think that  leaders and institutions are creating the ‘rat-race-culture’ intentionally. In all probability they themselves are victims and creations (respectively) of the same ‘rat-race-culture’. In any case this essay is not intended to be a critique of the ‘rat-race-culture’ but rather an invitation to step out of it.

The rat races that we can get trapped into can be material rat races (more money, prettier clothes, faster cars, bigger houses, plusher offices etc..),  social rat races (ideal son/daughter, notable friend, popular person, facebook likes, good spouse etc.), or spiritual rat races (siddhi’s, virtues, realizations, and of course the ultimate nirvana). I do want to clarify here that I am not against any of these goals or aspirations per say. The material goals, the social goals, and the spiritual goals are all worthy goals and they lend amazing meaning and significance to our human experience. In all probability most of us would either go insane or get depressed if we did not have such goals to give us direction and purpose. Society itself could not have existed in absence of the significance we attach to these goals. My point in bringing attention to the rat-races is not to throw away the construct of these goals but to question the urgency and desperateness with which we pursue these goals.

In my own life I seem to have followed a stepwise approach in recognizing the gripping (and crippling effects) of these three types of rat races. The dysfunctional effects of the material rat race exploded in my face about 10 years ago. However, given, my philosophical leanings, it was quite easy for me to step out of this race. With regard to the social rat race though I did not even recognize it as a another form of ‘rat-race’ until a few years ago. Until then I had mostly been unaware of my haunting needs for appreciation and approval. I had not realized how desperately I had been bending backwards and cutting portions of myself away in order to earn more and more badges of ‘ideal daughter’, ‘good mother’, popular person etc. Thankfully, awareness always starts setting us free and I have relatively smaller parts of myself invested in the social rat race now.

My own biggest trapping these days is the ‘spiritual rat-race’. Yes this is a race I’m running in as well. A race towards virtuous perfection, a race towards enhanced awareness and wellbeing, a race towards higher levels of self mastery, a race towards experiences of other-worldly bliss and a race towards greater knowing, enlightenment and liberation. Ironically this desperate race towards ‘liberation’ seems to have me enslaved within the very framework of the race itself!

To me stepping out of the spiritual-rat-race would mean to no longer ‘force’ myself to attend yoga class and no longer chide myself for not meditating regularly. It would mean being okay to miss getting darshan of that amazing mahatma who is visiting Bangalore. It would mean being okay to be slower in washing off old karmic debts than I would have been had I attended the grand Navaratari homas. It would mean being okay to say no even if I know that saying ‘yes’ to an initiation by a master might speed me along my spiritual path. It would mean being okay with choosing to go play basketball when I felt like it (and earn lesser spiritual credits) than sit cross legged and chant (and earn more spiritual credits). It would mean giving myself the permission to travel on the spiritual path, but to do it in my way and at my pace, even if that’s not the most effective and efficient way.

In my experience it can be quite fun and relaxing to let go of frameworks, rules, patterned algorithms and ‘best practices’ and give way to spontaneity and presence. Perhaps it will not be the fasted approach or the most efficient one. Perhaps it may even take one off course and off-track. But then the tracks and courses are just constructs defined by the already existing algorithms. So in stepping out of the Rat race framework, we are, in effect, also choosing to define our own unique paths and courses. We can do this in our business, in our education, in our spiritual practices, in our art, in our relationships and in our living itself.

I think that we will get more courage to step out of the rat race when we can embrace the imperfections and ‘so called flaws’ that are part of where we are at present. I am not asking to justify the imperfections or to say ‘no’ to growth and improvement. I am just asking if we can be okay with the way we now be -imperfect, incomplete and unique. This is not about saying that we should not change or become better – it is about giving up the ‘hurry’ and ‘panic’ associated with doing so.

_MG_0241_Seema Swami
Photo by Seema Swami

It is the sense of urgency and desperateness to be somewhere rather than where we are at present which I have felt as the most debilitating part of the rat race – be it the material rat race, the social rat race or spiritual rat race. Another very crippling aspect of the rat race is the strong emphasis on the goal or destination which has potential to hijack our attention from the richness and joy of the journey itself. When the goal overshadows the journey to become the most important thing, then no matter where I am in my journey, by default I am still not good enough. The journey of self-improvement can be an awesome journey but it can become a big burden when we are plagued with a constant sense of inadequacy about our current state.

What if we consciously choose to do what we like and to do what holds meaning for us? What if we are courageous enough to try to do it the way we like and the way it works best for us? What if we choose to do only as much as we want to do, irrespective of how that might compare with what others (or we ourselves) think we should be capable of doing?

There really is NO race! The race (and it’s underlying foundations of urgency and lack) are only psychological and social constructs of our times. They can affect us only to the extent we choose to buy into them and operate within their frameworks. So why not step outside the race and taste the magical and multi-hued experiences of no-race-land?


Published by Ramya Ranganathan

My identity is crafted around four Ps - Poetess-Philosopher-Parent-Professor. You can read more about my journey here (http://craftingourlives.com/ramya/)

4 thoughts on “Stepping Out of Rat Races – Material, Social, and Spiritual

  1. Did you ever try to think, what is going wrong!! Have not you taken the wrong meaning of being Spiritual, just think once.

  2. Dear Ramya, you express beautifully. It is uplifting. Please keep up the good work. You touch many lives through your poetry. God bless you.

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