Starting Over

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


2 Comments

A Mom who meditates

Image

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.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Keeping the glass half-full. Always

DQ plays a song on her phone. “Remember we used to listen to this in the car” she questions. I do remember – a sunny day in Hyderabad with just DQ and me in my new car. The music wafts in the air-conditioned interior that has a distinct new-car smell. The car is quiet, the road is clear. I am free, like a bird just released from captivity. I was happy then. Does happiness arise from ownership?

Two months ago I successfully received a Singapore driving license, after preparing for and completing a fairly intense written test. The license enables me to drive a car. I don’t own a car here. But I was happy. Is happiness an outcome of effectively completing a prescribed course of study?

In a few weeks, I will meet some of my girlfriends when I visit India after many months in Singapore. The prospect of hanging out with people who know me well, who have been my anchor and stress-relief system fills me with pleasant anticipation. Is happiness derived from future plans?

The one good friend who used to accompany me on mid-week shopping trips and afternoon movies has taken up a full time job. I miss her company but I am glad she is finally doing what she loves. I am happy for her. Is my happiness a side effect of the happiness of others?

The statement “pursuit of happiness” inspired me once upon a time. Is happiness a treasure to be found? Or a wayward exotic horse that must be chased fervently?

You live in a beautiful house – does it make you happy? Is happiness a response to a hotel survey that asks you to rate the room in which you spent a day?

Your children are smart and well-behaved, do you feel happy about it? Is happiness a hard-earned grade in the examination of life?

When people ask – are you happy, what is the right answer? If happiness was a temporary phase of euphoria akin to the period after a dental extraction and before the anesthesia wears off, the answer probably depends greatly on the timing of the question.

Much of our obsession with feeling happy, being happy, making ourselves happy causes us to be anything but happy.

“Happiness is a state of mind” proclaims the bumper sticker. But the mind is more fickle than a butterfly, called “monkey mind” for not holding still (although I would guess that a monkey that stands still is not a very happy one). And therefore happiness is hard to grasp, literally and figuratively. Happiness has been defined, studied, dissected, pursued and even measured by a metric as Gross National Happiness in Bhutan.

Am I happy? I generally am. Except when I am not.

What I am is, an optimist. I am often accused of always viewing the glass half-full. As if it’s a crime. Not equal to manslaughter but definitely a misdemeanor at times. I am not the always-smiling bubbly optimist. I seldom shout from rooftops. I prefer to quietly point out the silver lining in the looming clouds that gather around. I am wired to be an optimist. I don’t control it just as I don’t control my heartbeat. For me optimism is a state of being. Although being an optimist doesn’t automatically translate to being happy.

A vital step, a giant leap actually, is required to move from optimist to happy, to transform the permanent state of being to the temporarily elevated state of mind of happiness. That critical step, one I can and do control, is enthusiasm.

Each day we live, we have things to do, chores, deadlines, appointments, errands. Some we like doing and do so effortlessly. Others are a drag, but essential nevertheless. Going through a day with enthusiasm is the only way I know to breeze through the tasks at hand.

I whole-heartedly (and enthusiastically) support Gretchen Rubin’s thoughts –

Enthusiasm is a terrific quality. The more I think about happiness, the more I value enthusiasm. It can seem cooler and smarter to be ironic, detached, or critical, and it’s certainly much easier and safer to adopt that sort of stance. But enthusiasm is more fun. Enthusiasm is generous, positive, energetic, and social. It’s outward-turning and engaged. It’s unselfconscious, warm-hearted, and kind of goofy.

Happiness is a moving target, hit or miss, depending on the kind of day I am having. Optimism allows me the liberty of missing without being to critical for doing so. But enthusiasm is what makes me try again. You can’t gauge a person’s happiness but you can’t ignore enthusiasm. I would pick an enthusiastic but inexperienced player on my team any day over a dour expert.

On the days I feel blue, I choose to confront it the same way I approach everything, with enthusiasm. So if I see a glass less than full, I am that optimist who enthusiastically fills it, not always completely, but definitely until it is half-full.


Leave a comment

Why I need a daily dose of inspiration

Image

It behooves us, as humans, to make some effort to be inspired each day.

Watch the sun rise shyly through clouds, tentatively peeking with errant rays like naughty children, unable to hide their light as they slip out unwittingly, eager to explore beyond the curtain of clouds.

Listen to some music, allowing the notes to drown out mere sounds in the ether with a cadence that makes you listen keenly, through the cacophony of clutter that marks the day.

Read a meaningful passage, a powerful quote, a sensational story that jolts you out of the lethargy that arises from the depressing reports brought to you by newspaper on your doorstep or inbox.

Why?

Because we can.

A human life is many things – a gift, an opportunity, a journey, an adventure.

It may be a series of mishaps for some, a litany of tragedies for another; some privileged by birth and others immensely talented.

The human condition that connects us all is the ability to observe and introspect. Beyond the focus on food and fashion, on achievements and acquisitions, there lies a question dormant within our psyche.

Why am I here?

The answer may seem easy to find; obvious even, in the packaged text that appears on Facebook posts and corporate office walls, posters with pithy text in fancy fonts across breathtaking photographs. It is a trick question; a rhetorical one. What we are looking for is a reason to keep going. Reading the answer is not enough. It needs to be felt. What we truly need is inspiration.

Like any worthwhile endeavor, inspiration requires focus and attention. Just as respect and self-esteem cannot be passively handed over like possessions, being inspired is a personal experience. It requires looking below the superficial to find the sublime.

Inspiration may not answer the existential question but pauses the daily drama for a moment.

In her memoir, Seeking Peace, Mary Pipher defines “moments” as

“discrete time, complete in themselves and utterly distinct from the habit-bound wave time in which we all live much of our lives. While minutes are earthbound and can be measured, moments both merge with eternal time and exist outside time altogether.”

Its that point in the movie when the camera holds steady and slows down the background noise and you can see every tear, every wince, every wrinkle on the actors face. Just as in the movies, you blink and the moments of inspiration morph into the high speed chase that life represents for most of us.

In the fog of a busy life, moments are hard to catch. Slippery as mist, ephemeral. But think back to a special memory you have of a friend who is far away, or a parent who is no more, and you will remember not the days or years, but specific moments of togetherness, tenderness, laughter, joy. Stopping to see the wonder makes me younger and older simultaneously – younger because it takes innocence to be awed, older because I get to count these moments when I get nostalgic.

The depth of a life well-lived is measured in the storehouse of such moments. And the way to amass this treasure is simple. Devote some time to be inspired each day.

In a lifetime where the end is certain, the path is what holds promise. Great discoveries are made not in solitude on a mountaintop but in a moment of surrender.

Surrender to those small mercies that dot our existence. In the guileless smile of an infant, in the concern of a stranger who offers you a seat, in the absent pat on your shoulder that your parent gives you, in the curious compliment that you receive from your kids. The trick is to capture that moment and treasure it.

So hold that asana for a minute longer, that place where you find yourself rock-steady while standing on one foot, when the mind is focused on the body and your breath flows to keep it steady.

Savor the perfect balance of flavors when you taste what you have lovingly created, a meal for your family which will nourish more than just the body.

Share the beautiful pictures that you came across on a blog this morning that spoke to you wordlessly.

Like fireflies in your jar, for every moment you capture, there are many more out there. Get inspired.