God is Within Me – Anusha Mehta

When I was a little kid, my mom would have to drag my sister and I to put on our itchy, uncomfortable, but beautiful Salwaar Kameez (traditional Indian wear) to go to the temple. I didn’t want to, but I was forced to. I never knew what to do there. Every time, we would go stand before one of the deities, put our hands together and close our eyes, copying what my mom would do; she would tell us to pray, yet I stood there with a blank mind. I couldn’t understand the importance of faith and religion; to me all it meant was celebrating holidays with a party, going to the temple during our religious observances and going through the motions of praying without a connection to god. It wasn’t till high school through my Hindu youth group, Balvihar, that inspired me to think of religion in a way that made sense to me, enabling me to find that connection.

During my sophomore year, it was time to think about some of the most pressing decisions of my life, like what and where I wanted to study for college, and what career I wanted to pursue. It was a lot of pressure, and I felt completely lost. I thought back to something that my youth group emphasized, that god is within each and every one of us, and we should use that not only to better ourselves, but also to benefit the greater world and communities around us. I was able to apply that to my own life, understand my faith at a personal level, and add meaning to the prayers my mom made me learn.

Now when I would go to the temple, or even at home with the mini shrine in my bedroom, I could put my hands together, close my eyes and my mind wasn’t blank anymore. It was filled with prayers asking god to give me hope and confidence in the face of the obstacles of that day, week or month. This new-found realization gave me the tools to take god with me wherever I go. To me god isn’t distant, but something I have within me, and can reach wherever I am. Even being miles away from home, I can sit either in my college apartment or in a cramped lecture hall, close my eyes, and have a quick conversation with god.

Those Sunday mornings spent with my youth group taught me more about myself and this world than I’d ever expected. God, religion, and faith are there to have something to believe in, because everyone needs and deserves these to push them to strive for their goals, face their fears and make sense of the world. I believe that it is this common goal of finding something to believe in that can unite us. As Americans, we focus so much on the ways we are different, and though that is important, it is vital that we find ways to connect and bring unity to our communities. This is the importance of interfaith, and the reason I was inspired to get involved in it throughout high school and now again in college. Each and every religion, faith and culture is there to give people something to believe in; the specifics are unique to each group or individual but why we believe in it is for the same reasons, and that is what should be emphasized to help bring communities closer together.

Have there been practices or traditions you learned as a kid, but which didn’t make sense until you were older? How have you found the strength to strive for your goals and face your fears?

9 thoughts on “God is Within Me – Anusha Mehta”

  1. Hi Anusha,

    When I was little, I was always somewhat confused about why my whole extended family would meet up for Christmas. “We aren’t even Christians,” I’d think to myself, “and neither are they!” It took me a while to realize that what seemed like empty rituals, a whole family of atheists and secular Jews meeting up to celebrate Christmas, was actually for us more about the social bonds that connected us and giving my brother and I the experiences of a ‘typical’ American childhood. It didn’t matter that the carols we sang weren’t things in which we really believed. This was a very comforting realization for me, even if the ‘secular Christmas’ idea seemed a bit odd and still seems somewhat so even now.

  2. Hi Anusha,

    I really resonated with your blog post on so many levels! When I was little, my parents took my sister and I to the gurdawara (Sikh Temple) every Sunday and sometimes even during the week as well. Every single time, we also wore salwaar kameez suits until we grew out of them but more were eventually always ordered from India. A part of the Sikh service is called “Katha” which means story – a priest will take about an hour to go over history of the Sikh Gurus (spiritual guiders who developed Sikhi) and then discuss how we can apply the history and teachings to our own lives. Frankly, I did not enjoy this at all as a child – in fact, I snuck books into my mom’s purse and would go somewhere inside the temple to try and read my book instead. I would come back when Kirtan began (Shabads or prayers sung and accompanied by drums and harmonium); I loved Kirtan – while I didn’t really understand the meaning of all of the verses, I did feel calm and peaceful. For those 40 minutes on Sunday, I could take time to think and reflect on my actions and what I wanted from life – this became especially important as I grew older. As I grew up, I began to understand the verses and would try to make sense of them and question how their ideas fit into my life. Now that I understand the prayers and their meanings a whole lot more, I am no longer going through the motions. I have also developed an interest in the Katha portion as well and try to understand how history that happened centuries ago impacts us now! I have also realized that the Gurdwara is only a medium to reflect and feel connected to something bigger than myself – COVID-19 has shown me that I can meditate and reflect at home as well. Great post Anusha!

  3. Hi Anusha,

    I really liked what you said about how Gd is within each person. Judaism has a very similar belief and I agree, it’s always brought a sense of serenity and direction to me. I think there is some comfort to be found in thinking that if Gd is with me and I can’t be making that many mistakes (maybe this is just coming from me as a chronic second guesser of myself). At points in my life where I feel disconnected form Gd and my religion, it’s nice to know that I’m not that far away from it.

  4. Thank you for your comments, Anusha! I think many of the traditions or habits I developed in my childhood have become much more meaningful for me as I have matured and developed a deeper and more personal connection with God. That personal connection has also given me the strength to face hard things and keep striving towards my goals, even when the progress may be slow. 

  5. Anusha, thanks for highlighting a crucial aspect of religion that I, and I believe a lot of other atheists, forget about too often. When I talk to my friends about their faiths, I often struggle with the arbitrariness of certain traditions or practices. But, especially with age or introspection, these seemingly “arbitrary” practices take on a whole new life. My apologies if the word arbitrary seems off or misplaced in this context, but I use it as a place filler for traditions, guidelines, or morals that, using my logic, don’t have a consequence that would dictate the doing of it. Perhaps that description is even vaguer than the initial word, whoops. Anyways, thank you for reminding me of a very important lesson 🙂

  6. Hi, Anusha! I loved the way you described having a “quick conversation with God”. This is exactly how I feel. I will admit I’m still not 100% connected with the various rituals and specifics of my faith (though I’m trying to learn more and more), but one thing that has grown in me since I was a child is the certainty that I can access and connect with God internally, without a church or a ritual. Certainly, those things are important ways to demonstrate and strengthen a connection with God, but as I grow, I realize that there is always something intrinsic for me to call on.

  7. ANUSHA~
    Loved your post!! I find that I experienced the SAME confusion. Especially with Indian suits haha. For me, though, I think that something I didn’t understand was why we bowed to our Guru Granth Sahib when we’d enter the space (Darbar or Diwan Hall) where the services were being held. As a kid, I too would try to mimic my mom as we’d walk up to Guru Granth Sahib. We’d place our dollars on the embroidered clothing that covered the Guru’s throne (manji sahib), which is an elevated platform draped with bright, bejeweled embroidered cloths that sits beneath an also bejeweled canopy (chanani or palki), and then go onto our knees and bow our covered heads. I didn’t understand why our holy book had all of these clothes or a pedestal associated with it. It was a big, physical book. However, it wasn’t until we’d learn about how Guru Granth Sahib Ji became our 11th and eternal Guru. In the past, during the time of the living Gurus, they would sit on thrones and some would be dressed in the finest clothes they would receive as gifts from their followers. Since I realized that Guru Granth Sahib is the eternal embodiment of all the Gurus, I would try to imagine as if I were bowing to the living Gurus. I learned to see my Guru beyond the physical appearance of a book. This realization of seeing past beyond what my eyes show me has taught me to view the world in a deeper manner and try to interact with people more holistically. I trust what I see, but I don’t allow myself to remain stagnant in understanding the whole picture. It’s easier said than done but learning to see everything zoomed out while appreciating the tiny details is something I hope will help me face future obstacles. Thanks for the enjoyable post!

  8. Hey Anusha,
    I loved reading a little bit about your faith journey. I think it’s really cool that you were able to have an open mind about faith and allow your youth group to play an important role in your life. I think often as young people we have a tendency to close off and stay in our lanes. I had a similar experience, I’d gone to church my whole life and started attending youth group in high school, but it took until my senior year and a conscious decision to give faith a try and see what happened, that I finally made faith personal. Faith has been an important part of my life ever since.

  9. Hi Anusha! I loved your post, thank you very much for sharing your journey with us. When I was younger, I didn’t fully understand the purpose of the month of fasting, Ramadan. I didn’t understand why we had to starve ourselves. when God put food for us to eat. It wasn’t until later when I began to understand. The first factor is community. During Ramadan, I feel so close to my muslim brothers and sisters, and bonds between them get tighter. The second factor is being grateful. We are blessed with food, while others are not. It is a privilege for us to be able to eat so easily, and so during this time we experience what its like to not eat. We also donate during this month instead as well! Finally, we learn restraint. Holding back from temptation of sins like lying and cheating can be taught by holding back from other temptations, like food.

    Thank you again for your post!

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