For months now, as the coronavirus pandemic has been unraveling globally, life’s unpredictability and fragility has been staring right at all of us. This crisis is exposing serious issues, many that have long been festering but are now coming to light more than ever before. Adding to this, my Minneapolis community recently witnessed the senseless, brutal death of George Floyd, a Black citizen, at the hands of racist cops – engulfing my city, the nation and the world into waves of protests and violence.
We are confronting a collective struggle to cope with these difficult issues. Weeks of external uncertainty, an escalating death toll and isolation from our “normal” lives is bringing up many emotions — fear, anger, pain, sadness, grief and even numbness. We are struggling to feel centered and grounded. Alarming statistics show rapidly growing anxiety, stress, depression, domestic violence and risk of suicide. This is a wake-up call to not only heal the crisis at hand, but also to address the roots of this human agony that has been ignored for too long.
We see national and organizational leaders pressed daily to make hard decisions affecting human lives and livelihoods, amidst unprecedented uncertainty — emphasizing the significant and urgent need for agile, intelligent leaders who can combine strength and compassion.
We also see that the challenges faced by the world today call for breakthrough creativity and innovation, tapping into the best potential of humans and technology. We must pay attention and take action upon what has gone largely ignored for too long — the untapped potential of a human being. How will a human being bring new value? Can they do it from the same mind that created the problem?
The issues highlighted above have one aspect in common — how well-resourced we each feel to cope and interact with our inner and outer worlds. It is true that human ingenuity has created immense richness and comforts in the world. It is also evident that most of us have struggled to create a joyful life within. This is despite widespread knowledge that the most basic need of a human is joy.
So, this brings forth the big question: Is it possible to create joy, abundance and richness in both our inner and outer worlds? Undoubtedly, yes. Not only is it possible to create, but it is also urgently necessary to do so, now more than ever. The recent pandemic and racial injustices are Nature’s jolt for us to wake up and invoke our individual and collective Shakti for change. Goddess Shakti is the Ultimate Divine Feminine Energy in Hindu mythology, an equal counterpart to Shiva, the Ultimate Divine Masculine Energy. She represents the powerful cosmic force of transformation, the creation of new and the destruction of old, unconscious ways. To me, Shakti represents the perfect archetype for the transformation needed for our times. It will come through each one of us. Invoking and activating Shakti’s energy will awaken inside us the longing and courage to grow to our full human potential.
Humans are multidimensional beings, more than just their minds. The body has three major centers: The Mind is the source of intellect which we know too well; The Heart is the house of our emotions which make us feel alive, loving and joyous; and The Spirit is the source of our life energy, presence, silence and intuition. Until now, society has valued, formally trained and mostly used only one of these – the Mind. However, the current societal challenges provide a ripe context for growing our untapped, unused capabilities. By cultivating more of our full potential, we can access joy, relaxation, compassion and grounding inside. This manifests on the outside as an alert, integrated intelligence — a capacity to lead with both the mind and heart and infuse solutions with breakthrough creativity, innovation and reverence for life. This is what I call Shakti in Action, transforming us to create a life of inner and outer abundance.
To understand my point of view more, I would like to invite you into my personal life journey, with its challenges and learnings.
I was born in India. I was the second child of my parents and a girl … again. My mom’s parents held me with a mix of joy and tears. My paternal grandmother cried, lamenting the arrival of another girl, and this was quite customary for where she lived. My parents, however, were welcoming and accepting of me. When I think of my childhood, it is full of two contrasting sets of memories. The first ones are of sweet, loving, playful times with my parents, sisters and friends — free to be, free to explore and free to play. From many others outside and from society in general, I picked up a sense of pity for my parents. With four girls, what ill luck had befallen them! I started to feel an ache, a pain for what I imagined was my parent’s burden. This motivated me to take on a strong persona, hiding any vulnerability or “weakness”. It became my unconsciously-adopted survival strategy to feel respected and accepted in a society that was changing, but still preferred boys.
These societal attitudes that I had to shield myself against continued as I grew up as well, making my teenage years especially challenging as a female. To begin with, the streets were unsafe. I experienced my first attack at the age of twelve, when two boys on a cycle shoved a kind of powder into my face that stung for hours. Such incidents continued throughout my teenage years. At seventeen, I joined a state school to study engineering, which was still fairly uncommon for girls in India. I was among five girls in a class of 150. The attention was overwhelming and it turned oppressive when I became the target of harassment for four to five boys. Those eight months were a terrorizing experience — I lived in uncertainty, not knowing when I would leave our university building to find my scooter damaged, and everyday I would be subject to derogatory, sexual comments about my body. I felt enraged and humiliated. Some days I would just wish that I could vanish. Protesting would likely worsen things, I was told by many, as the situation was already unsafe. This all happened during my first year at engineering school. I have carried unspeakable trauma from this episode for decades. It is only in the last three years that I have done intensive work to release and heal the trauma — to let go of the outrage, pain, shame and humiliation.
Writing about this has been a very intense experience for me. I have asked myself again and again – what made me take the abuse for so long? Why did I not feel safe to show my outrage then? Why did I repress the trauma for so long? Would my life have been different, if I had the support and resources to deal with the trauma then? It seems paradoxical that Shakti is worshipped as a Goddess in India, yet the feminine in the human body is burdened with so much hardship.
Moving to the United States at 21 opened up a new door for me. It brought in a breath of fresh air, a sense of freedom and safety that was lacking before. I started a Master’s program in Electrical Engineering, loving the challenge of exploring answers with technology — a passion which led to intriguing Research & Development work in a Fortune 200 company. However, while my professional life continued to grow, I was struggling personally in a challenging marriage. At twenty-nine, I finally filed for divorce — the first ever in my family far and near. In Indian culture, divorces were still frowned upon, especially for women. I made a hard decision, preceded by a lot of weighing and soul searching not only for myself but also my family. I am fortunate to have a supportive family, so post-divorce, the only pressure from them was to re-marry. So far I haven't, and they have given up. During my visits to India, reactions from the more conservative relatives ranged from ignoring the divorce completely to frowning on my inclusion in certain rituals of family weddings and celebrations. The implicit message, driven by long-held beliefs and superstitions, was that I should have made the marriage work somehow as that is what good Indian “girls” do. I would mostly laugh them off or ignore them, and other times my parents and sisters stood up for me — but a few times it really did hurt. While I understand the situation in India is now improving, living in the United States and being financially independent made it much easier being a divorced woman.
Untethered and with a new lease on life, I traveled the world, developed new interests, and kept climbing the corporate ladder. As a female engineer of South Asian heritage, I also experienced challenges – a big one was navigating the organizational culture and politics in Corporate America. Another aspect of this culture that puzzled me was how I couldn’t seem to hit that elusive balance between “too soft” and “too aggressive,” a common experience for women. With grit and resourcefulness, I succeeded in making it high up and worked for top technical leaders in a significant role. However, during this time, I experienced racial harassment at work. Reporting it and dealing with the aftermath turned out to be quite a difficult experience for me. I came face-to-face with toxic biases, many unconscious and deeply entrenched in organizations that seek to defend the perpetrator instead of the victim. It is interesting to note the common thread between what I underwent in the United States and in India. Both instances revealed prejudice, whether because of my gender or race or other characteristics. In my experience, what was blatant in India was more subtle here, but existed nevertheless.
After completing a full time MBA, I started work at an innovation-driven Fortune 100 company. Six years later, I was shaken to my roots when my business unit leader, my mentor and guide, passed away at fifty-one. This sudden loss became the catalyst for me to look deeper within myself and truly cherish the gift of life and its fragility. Meditation became the resource for me to feel grounded and experience peace. I experimented with different methods and found the Active Meditations created by the Enlightened Mystic Osho to be incredibly powerful for releasing stuck emotions and feeling vitality. I have now been meditating regularly for close to 10 years, along with pursuing other means of personal growth. I have learned to tune into my body, relax my mind, open my heart and access my spirit. This has expanded my capacity to access my inner joy, peace and creativity. It has opened my heart to healing, compassion, and the wisdom that we all carry our unique burdens – a lesson very pertinent for current times. This sense of wellbeing has spilled over into my work, expanding my perception and world-view, my leadership as well as my collaboration and innovation abilities.
I have also come to realize that I am not alone in facing significant life challenges. There is a deep sense of shared resonance and connection with other human beings. The specifics of our external situations or backgrounds may vary, but at the core, our essence and needs are similar.
It is against this backdrop that I have felt propelled to share my learnings by creating a new platform to inspire and support such a transformation for abundance. To me, Abundance is an overflowing richness and connectedness — a sense of plenty and nourishment, as opposed to one of scarcity, isolation, exhaustion and depletion.
Each of you is a potential catalyst for this transformation. You are the generation of youth whose lives have seen major disruption by the current crises. You are investigating the alarming impact of the coronavirus crises on various spheres of life — be they social, academic, economic, scientific or political — and are beginning to understand the urgency to develop new approaches and solutions to confront problems in both the short-term and the long-term. You are resonating with the outrage and pain of your fellow Black Americans and are supporting the protests, rallies, and activist efforts in mindblowing numbers. The great pain that you are undergoing can bring tremendous growth when channeled. Each of you can be powerful agents of change — for yourselves, for the world you want to live in and for the world you want to create. You will, without doubt, bring about this change in your communities, in your schools and in your workplaces.
Each of your efforts is akin to a candle: bringing more light into darkness. Your own Shakti is your candle flame. Even a small candle makes a big difference in the dark, enough to take a step forward. Soon more candles will be lit and more steps taken together to move into greater Abundance. Our collective Shakti is a true force of nature – a force to be reckoned with.
Niv Sharma is a business leader and founder of IN-OUTAbundance, a "trailblazing platform to inspire and support creating a life of abundance" (@IOAbundance on Facebook).