Starting Over

Discovering myself, my family and friends in a foreign land, second time around


A Mom who meditates


My favorite story about my childhood is one that my mom told me. Not really a story, just a visual. Me as a three year old, running in circles in the living room, twirling, dizzy, blissfully oblivious to those around me. I would shriek with the sheer thrill of watching my frock billow around my body.

If a picture could describe me perfectly, it would be that one. A busybee, a dervish, a spinning top. I like doing things. Life is movement, action. I am always caught doing something, even if it appears to be a passive activity such as reading. The mind is engaged; the body is alert. As a child, I was known as the girl who was easily bored. As an adult, I became the busy one. I considered myself the quintessential “karmayogi”. My brand of spirituality involved action. I was attracted to yoga for the dynamic asanas. I equated sitting still with dullness, lethargy, monotony. Life ever so obliging, threw me challenges that involved movement, action, drama and lots of opportunities to keep me busy. Every moment spent “doing” meant a moment away from introspection. Being around people meant less time for silence.

Silence scares me. Loneliness too. Growing up in a small apartment in a big loud city set the precedent for seeking out things to do, people to be with. Going inwards was as frightening as being lost in the woods. Hidden thoughts lurked there, guilt, blame, self-pity would come out in the quiet; those dark shadows that I had pushed to the back recesses of my mind. Meditation? Not for me.

Yoga came into my life soon after DQ was born, initially as a coping mechanism, a fitness strategy. I would get a happy buzz after each yoga class. Injected with a burst of fresh energy that propelled me towards more physical activity, material goals and personal development. It resonated with my basic nature. I integrated yoga smoothly into my life.

Meditation was another story altogether.

It took more than motherhood to move me towards meditation. It took loss and life changing decisions. It took significant shifts in life as I knew it, on the work front, marital front and major midlife events in quick succession before I moved step by step into the unknown inner world. Hesitatingly. Skeptically. Slowly.

The early sessions of silent attention to my breath to still the butterfly mind showed me glimpses of all that I feared. I cried when I relived my mother’s death. I choked at the return of hurtful words that had been exchanged during the divorce, I felt a fresh stab of pain when I realized I could never get a chance to recover those unhappy years and to live them once more. Meditation made me sick, made me mad, made me sad. A part of me knew that I needed this internal churning to push out my anger and release my resentment, to settle scores at the energy level, to heal wounds, not just seal them with time, as I had been doing until then. So I persisted. I sat on my yoga mat each morning for longer periods of time. Some days I felt light, other days a little disoriented. I learnt to feel comfortable in my own company. I spoke less. I listened. I sensed others, I understood myself. My eyes sparkled and my face glowed. Work that I loved flowed into my life without much effort. DQ and I moved closer as she entered her teens. I made peace with my single mom status.

Meditation didn’t work any miracles. Miracles happen in an instant of faith. For the scientific, logical, skeptic in me, I needed proof.

One week my printer suffered from a recurring paper jam. I hated the thought of having to lug the heavy equipment to the service center. I opened the front and back of the device each dayand pried out the little pieces of paper that I could see. But it still wouldn’t work. One night I went to bed knowing that I needed to attend to the dreaded task of getting it fixed. I woke the next morning with one single crystal clear thought – read the manual. I found the manual and within a few minutes of going through the troubleshooting section, I was able to get it working again. OK, perhaps this had nothing to do with meditation. But there was reasonable doubt that where the logical mind had not presented me with the obvious solution of studying the manual, the intuitive one had come to my rescue just in time.

Meditation gave me a peek into the future. A few hours before my father died in another city, I heard my dead mother’s voice responding to my pain at facing the inevitable. “We can’t be around forever, you know. It’s time. He has suffered enough.” “You don’t know anything” I replied, like I had done many times before, peeved and unreasonable in my ignorance. And then the news of his death came.

Meditation gave me hope. In my silence, I saw HH as a person with whom I wanted to share my life long before I met him. Not knowing how or when, I knew that I would experience a happy relationship. When the time came to decide, I was a little girl once more. I needed to know my parents reaction to my decision to remarry. I decide to sleep over it. I woke up feeling a loving presence in the room, I felt a gentle hug and a pat. I was sure it was my mother, endorsing my decision.

Meditation shows me the way. As I learn to blend our families to form a harmonious whole, there are challenges. I lack sufficient data to apply the scientific method to all situations. When logic fails, I sit and close my eyes. Without exception, I am guided towards a loving solution, one that is free of misgivings. As I still my mind, the answer flows gently, like a ripple over a clear lake. When I open my mind, I have no doubt about what I need to do.

As a toddler, DQ used to watch me do my asanas. Quite often she would come and sit on me as I tried to hold the upward dog pose. Now she has taken to yoga as a fitness activity.

Princess watches me now while I meditate. Curious about the stillness, she tries to make me open my eyes. I look at her and smile. She walks away, surprised.

I wonder what is in store for my girls. Life will throw challenges at them as they go about their journey. What can I tell them to help, I wonder? Children don’t do what you say but do what you do. When my girls need it, I know they will meditate, like me.

All I need to do for now, is meditate.


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Letting go

“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body” – Elizabeth Stone.

I waved to DQ as she passed through immigration and security at the airport and walked towards the departure gate. She would soon board an international flight and return home in two weeks. I was quiet, mulling over this temporary separation from my child. It wasn’t the first time she was flying alone to another country, it was the second time in 6 months. I had been nervous then. This time I was cool. It was my calm acceptance of her ever-increasing steps towards independence that rankled more than the travel per se.

“Are you upset about DQ going away? It’s only for a few days” said HH, observing my silence.

“I am used to it” I replied. “These pangs began long ago. From the moment I delivered her” I snapped, a little too sharply.

The toughest part of mothering is letting go. It begins initially with physical separation.

On DQ’s first day at preschool, she held on to my legs and wailed “Don’t go, don’t leave me here.” I went through the workday with intermittent visions of her tear-stained face. A concerned coworker observed my plight and said “Enjoy this clingy phase while it lasts. My teenage boys don’t want to be seen anywhere near me.” I smiled, secure in the knowledge that my little girl would never do something like that. Now I know what parenting a teen means. My coworker was right. In the early years, whenever I traveled for work, I acutely missed DQ. She seemed perfectly happy subsisting on Dominos and Baskin Robbins without my nagging.

It hurt to acknowledge that my child can survive AND function fully without my constant inputs.

A friend tells the story of his 4 year old daughter who would say she didn’t like chicken, having been brought up in a vegetarian household. As she grew older, her response to “do you like to eat chicken?” changed to “I don’t know, I haven’t eaten it yet.” Slowly, ever so subtly, children inch away from being your echo to finding their own voice.

My child has her own opinion which is different from mine and she does not hesitate to say it. Should I admire her or be upset?

DQ and I were movie buddies for a long time, happy to watch romcoms and sitcoms together; until she became a teenager. Birthday parties, movie outings, mall crawls – Mom was no longer the first choice. Between phone, Facebook and face to face with friends, there were no details that needed to be shared with Mom. Unless there was a school-related emergency of course.

The young woman who shares some of my genes and quirks, no longer leans on me exclusively. How can I not feel abandoned?

Children can be our mirror, reflecting us completely, warts and all. Children are also a prism, splitting our thoughts like light beams into many colors. They illuminate our world; add meaning and depth. How does the little person who you care for and coach turn into a free-thinking planet, tethered to your gravity for a while but always in the process of generating the required escape velocity to pull away and launch whole-heartedly into her own orbit?

Life is a series of acquisitions – objects, information, skills, abilities. Life is also a list of losses – objects, innocence, relationships. With life comes the experience of having things move away from your control, voluntarily or otherwise. Logically, letting go should come easily. But it doesn’t. Specially for a mother. Not because we grasp too tightly, but because we remember. The warm baby breath on your neck as your infant falls asleep, the bruise from a fall on the playground, the smile when you cheer enthusiastically for your child, unaware of how embarrassing it looks. We linger on the sweet memories and the terrifying ones. We save the keepsakes for later. We savor the moments. And from this storehouse, we pull up recollections to compare, or to complain.

Watching your child grow up and away is hard because it involves a conscious process of detachment. Letting go involves selectively forgetting what once was. Letting go requires effort to let things be. Letting go is an exercise in discipline. Letting go, paradoxically, is a form of control. I control my instinctive impulse to hold on, I control the flood of memories each step towards independence brings, I control my fear for my child’s safety.

So I let go of my doubts. I set aside my anxiety. I focus instead on how far we have come, DQ and I, on a road that has not always been smooth. I wave her off with a smile, secure in the knowledge that she will travel the world with confidence. There will always be a part of me with her, the part that steadies her hand as she takes off on this adventure called life.


Embracing change


“Change is one thing. Acceptance is another.” – Arundhati Roy in The God of Small Things.

Once upon a time, I was happy to define myself within the context of my relationship to others – a daughter, a sister, a wife. I knew my place in the world. I did things as well – for a long time I was a student, then a research assistant and later employed as a scientist. Doing things filled my hours, kept me engaged and intellectually stimulated. I learnt new skills – to drive, to sing, to write, to teach. Learning brought me joy, opened avenues of freedom, of expression. I had experiences that shaped me – becoming a mother, starting my own business. These adventures added depth and meaning to my life. I experienced loss – of my first marriage, of both my parents. I fell. I pulled myself up again. I acquired things – a home, a car, gadgets. Life was easy.

Somewhere along the way, I felt complete. Content. Stable.

Stability is good. Addictive too. As I stood poised in that bubble like a tiny ballerina in a snow globe, I knew that any movement could tip me over, drop me over the edge of my comfort zone. So I did what a rational person would do in a similar situation – I look a leap. Away from the familiar into another country; to build a life with a new husband and family. I left behind the symbols of the independence that I had cultivated in order to pursue a fuller life. I am a trailing spouse now. Trying to establish an identity within a new context. Believe me, its no fun.

I chose change. Change is a strange beast – quiet and insidious at times, quick and cutting at others. Change doesn’t take on a starring role but is a quiet catalyst causing upheaval without much ado.

rock faceThe effects of change can be subtle, like the carved facades on rocks, hewn by invisible hands over centuries. And then there are changes brought about by cataclysmic events, sudden and momentous in occurrence and consequence. No matter the cause, change is inevitable, whether it crawls or crashes over you.

I stood on a soft sandy beach in Phuket, watching the sun dip lower in the purple sky. Clouds casually painted by a divine hand stood witness. Surfers rose on the swelling wave and fell unceremoniously a few seconds later. Sandcastles melted away with the tide, washing away a hard day’s work. A tiny island interrupted the infinite line of the horizon, a persistent blip, small but firm. Trees grew upwards and outwards from chiseled rock faces, against all odds. How many years did wind, water and air dance along these shores to get this done so perfectly?

I marveled at the unchanging but ever moving waves crashing against my feet knowing how this island paradise had borne the brunt of a tsunami a few years ago. Many tourists died. So did the island people who depend on tourism for their livelihood. Buildings collapsed. Entire stretches of beach disappeared. How quickly things had transformed with nature’s fury? The beauty of the coastline that lay before me was not the same a decade ago.

Human life imitates nature so closely. Change happens, whether we choose it or not. Where I am today is the culmination of a series of decisions, some initiated by me, others where I followed. When I lead, I am more willing to put up with the ups and downs of the transition, patient and tolerant as I wait for things to settle down as they invariably do. But when I follow, I am irritable and moody, alternatively passive and pushy. In a word, unhappy.

I watched the purple clouds engulf the sun in the soft twilight. A crab scurried away hurriedly as the water receded. Nature is not immune to change, she is just in tune with it. Her wisdom encompasses the daily ebb and flow. She accepts change in whatever form it shows up, gentle erosion, fiery explosion or instant inundation.

I walked in ankle deep water. A stray dog kept me company. It’s not the change that matters, it’s my response to it determines the tenor of my day. Change is inevitable. I am a product of all that has changed in my life. Having come thus far, I will ride each wave. With grace, just like Mother Nature.