Starting Over

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


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A Mom who meditates

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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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Listless and loving it

“Purpose of life is a life of purpose.”

I am not sure where I read this or even when, but as far as I can remember, I have been a busybody, always doing things. It has been a long quest, trying to find life’s purpose and to pursue it, there was always a list.

As a child, it was simple and unwritten, but followed dutifully.

  •  School
  •  Play
  •  Homework
  •  Read books (for pleasure)

As an adult in graduate school it was still fairly simple; nothing written but unwavering, all the same.

  •  Schoolwork
  •  Housework
  •  Read books (for pleasure)

As a working mother, written lists made an appearance.

  •  Drop and pickup kid from daycare
  •  Work
  •  Drive kid to activities, birthday parties, play-dates
  •  Doctor’s appointments
  •  Shopping – kids clothes, diapers, food, birthday party gifts
  •  Housework – cooking, cleaning, laundry
  •  Read book to fall asleep

As a single mom working from home, my list included

  •   Meet clients, work, send invoices
  •   Pay taxes
  •   Get car serviced
  •   Pay phone, utilities, maintenance bills
  •   Drop teenager to mall, birthday parties, movies
  •   Take Dad for doctor’s appointments
  •   Join girlfriends for lunch for birthdays, women’s day, movies
  •   Order takeout
  •   Read books

As a newly remarried woman in a new country, with a husband and two kids now, I have no list. My day begins when I send the family out to office and school respectively. I read the newspaper as I sip my morning cup of tea. The day stretches before me like pristine sand on a beach, waiting for footsteps to mark it. I have many hours in which I can do pretty much anything I like. I can lounge in front of the TV all day, hang out in air-conditioned shopping malls on Orchard Road, join a group of housewives for an impromptu lunch or just chill. How wonderful to have so much unstructured time on my hands! But I am stuck.

With no “must-do” lists to execute, I am lost; a lonely traveler without a map in a strange country. Well, not literally lost in Singapore, although it is still a fairly new country to me. I seem to have lost my inner compass. Having always prided myself for being a karma yogi, a period of inaction seems wasteful, criminal almost. Seems pretty rotten to whine about this wonderful time in my life where I can just “be”, without constantly having to “do”.

I think a part of my angst stems from the feeling that my life should have more meaning than checking off a daily timesheet, even if I score “excellent” on the routine tasks that fall in my wife/mother domain. I completely identified with the young Margaret Thatcher in Iron Lady – “I will not die washing up a teacup.”

It’s a question of identity. Whether I have lost mine, which was predominantly defined by my working woman/mother persona. Does being a stay-at-home mom take away from my core identity, the one not defined by my career? Does the fact that I am not earning a salary or regular income make me feel “less than”? These are superficial manifestations of a deeper concern, the one about the purpose of my life. My head has always been the dominant part of my personality –thriving in logic and organization, seeking control, looking for purpose in the lists I made (and executed sincerely). But now I am letting my heart lead. This new life feels strange but soothing, calm and carefree. There is a peaceful pattern to my days. There is less stress, fewer expectations and total freedom to explore other avenues and therefore a feeling of not doing enough.

How do I turn this feeling around and make it work for me? I put this question out during my meditation. I laughed at the response that came from the universe – make a list. How simple and intuitive! My head has been hurting, from all the disuse, now that the heart is leading. So my compassionate heart, is pulling my head into the game once again. Go ahead, make a list, it sends out a challenge.  Here it is.

–       Read books

–       Write!