It was over a decade ago.
I was on a search of deep inquiry, one that could help me understand the intrinsic purpose of my life.
The career achievements and money I made were in fact, not making me happier. I had a strong feeling of disappointment within my inner self. I felt at odds with the mental framework I grew up with, one that I believed would be the key to my happiness. Specifically, to make lots of money, have more things, and enjoy them.
I was raised by immigrant parents that could barely make ends meet, so having witnessed their struggle, I thought I was going to be the happiest person in the world with a secure job, career advancement and fancy things. However, as time passed on, the internal and external disconnect between my deeper sense of fulfillment and the model of happiness I had in my mind became greater. I was really confused. This came at a time when I was employed at one of the best global tech companies in the world. How could I not be happy?
I began my search for connection and happiness through the ancients. I reached into Buddhism, Christianity, Jainism, Judaism and Sikhism, yet I had not explored what my own community offered in terms of self discovery, one that I now understand has been around for centuries.
On the quest for truth, I reconnected with my roots and started the journey inward.
I recall re-engaging in my local community through our parish, otherwise known as a “Jama’at Khana.” It is a term used by some Muslim communities around the world, particularly Sufi ones, to denote a place of gathering, and in my case as a Nizari Ismaili, a place of worship and a community centre.
While it peaked my curiosity to attend the Jama’at Khana, I discovered that I could also engage in a daily meditation practice known as “Bhaitul Kayal” which was different from the mindfulness meditation I had learned. Even though I was open to exploring this process, it was unclear to me at the time how it would help.
Waking up at 4am is no easy feat. Yet, over time, I felt like I was getting used to the routine. I became deeply engaged with understanding my own internal struggle. I felt a sense of peace and also a connection to my community. It was almost as if I had arrived home. Most importantly for me, my Jama’at (a.k.a. community members) treated me like an extended family in support of one another – and I ended up doing the same.
For example, I saw others giving rides to the elderly. So, I’d give an elderly person a ride home too. I saw others smiling as they greeted one another. I did the same thing too. I actually began to feel less reserved about how I connected with others in my workplace as well.
All of these exchanges gave me a sense of connected happiness that went beyond my previous understanding, one that was derived from career achievements alone. In fact, those closest to me remarked that my mood was elevated, and that I looked rejuvenated. I actually did feel a sense of intrinsic happiness. But, it’s almost like I had a bit of imposter syndrome about it too. If this was real, how could I get more connection through my community?
Once, I bumped into a childhood friend who I hadn’t met in decades. We went for a coffee and we instantly caught up on our life journey, the ups and the downs. He shared his own personal experience as a volunteer, expressing how it gave him a sense of inner joy, fuelling his own personal transformation. Hearing his story, I became inspired and sought an opportunity to give back.
Eventually, I was called on to serve. It was with a voluntary based pilot program for underprivileged youth. The community was in need of mentors with corporate experience. So, I ended up engaging as a mentor, and what took place was magical.
I began to open up with my mentee over our sessions and shared my vulnerability having been raised in a low income area of the city. Over time, I spoke about the challenges that I faced in my teenage years. I shared about my struggle and the coping mechanisms I used while being employed part time and studying at school. Eventually, over the course of six months, we created a goal oriented plan for my mentee’s future development.
What started as an opportunity to serve ended up providing me with immense waves of happiness in return. More importantly, an epiphany took place in my heart and mind as my mentee shared his experiences from the program and in particular, with me.
A tear rolled down my cheek as he spoke.
What were these tears?
These were not tears of sadness.
These were tears of joy!
What my mentee shared on that day revealed the power of personal connection. At that moment, I released all doubt and acknowledged that I found my formula for happiness. The psychological joy and gratitude I experienced came to me from my own community – and it was in the form of selfless service.
Fast forward to today and the community ethos is a part of how I operate. As a coach, I’m in service to corporate executives, rising stars and an array of diverse clientele. Yet, I still engage in our mentorship program as a volunteer. I am counted on to open a door for someone in need. I truly love engaging with others, enlightening them about the power of human connection through these types of support programs.
Imagine how this personal connection transformed my life. What could participating in your community do for you?