Seeking God

A little bit of stress

I have a theory. It struck me after a month of leading a relatively stress-free life. I noticed that while I am definitely happier and calmer than earlier – more likely to break off into song or dance when good music plays, for instance – there is a downside to the whole situation.

I react with extreme stress when put in stressful conditions that I would have taken in my stride earlier.

I have been freelancing from home. I write for a couple of magazines at my own pace, I’ve been helping out the kids with their school / college work, and being my husband’s admin and PR assistant since his new book is going to be out soon. It’s a laid-back life, and some may say I am not performing to my top capacity (quick diversion: What defines top capacity? The most amount of money we make? The more hours we fill with paid work?) but I am enjoying it. I like being the mistress of my own time, finally, when I can afford to.

But then a couple of days ago, I suddenly found myself in a stressful situation. I had two article deadlines the next day, and my younger daughter needed my help on graphics and paperwork for a school project. The other daughter had a birthday party to plan. I suddenly felt as if I was overwhelmed with a task list with everything marked URGENT in big red letters.

A few months ago, this sort of situation was a regular part of my work routine. Now, however, it completely disrupted my idyllic, lovely existence and threw my body out of gear. I broke out in acne the next day – pretty much the way I did the past many years while working full-time in an office. I was also more hyper than usual, and my sense of relief the next day after I’d pushed everything out the door was beyond comparison.

I have become unaccustomed to stress and that is not necessarily healthy. I think a little bit of stress on a daily basis is beneficial for us. And apparently, I’m not the only one who is saying this. Researchers at Berkeley came to the same conclusion. “In studies on rats, they found that significant, but brief stressful events caused stem cells in their brains to proliferate into new nerve cells that, when mature two weeks later, improved the rats’ mental performance.”

At the same time, experience also tells me having stress ‘thrust’ on myself is doubly stressful. The ideal thing is to self-moderate your stress levels – give YOURSELF stress, so to speak. A self-regulated deadline or a strict personal target on a daily basis should perhaps do the trick. The idea is not to break out into acne but to keep the brain and body alert and ready to respond at any time.

I can’t believe that I’m actually looking to ‘amp up’ my stress levels. That’s hilarious. While a stress-free life is a good thing, too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing, I guess.

Seeking God

Wisdom tooth

Every now and then, you’ll find that God imposes a full stop in the running sentence you call life. It follows no grammatical norm — it can pop up at any time, even the most inconvenient times. It’s often to do with health, or sometimes a death in the family, or losing a job.

For instance, you’ll be in the middle of a busy work project and are slated to travel the next day but you’ll suddenly get laryngitis and can’t speak, and have to cancel the whole thing. Or you’re all set for a cousin’s wedding and then the groom’s father passes away, and it’s all called off for a year. Or you’re expecting a promotion and, instead, your company shuts down and you don’t have a Plan B.

These enforced full stops, however inconvenient they are at the time, are always huge blessings in retrospect. They force you to pause, listen, learn and reflect. They teach you to be still, humble, receptive. They take you deep within yourself so that when you surface to the hustle-bustle of the material world once again, you are cleansed, quieter in your heart, and more accepting.

I’m going through a full stop right now — the emergence of a wisdom tooth and its accompanying gum and throat infection. It has effectively put an end to both input (of food) and output (of words). I’ve realized that both are karma – food connects us to all other forms of life and the more we consume, the more we owe; and our words are as potent as our actions and thoughts when it comes to creating karma. I was forced to stop creating karma and to listen with my heart.

It reminded me of another lesson I had learnt 15 years ago on the top of a mountain, on a pilgrimage, when a realization had struck me: “It is very difficult to pay for one’s negative karma. Let me not create any more of it.” I had turned vegetarian then.

This week, the lesson took on a more refined, subtler nuance.

1. Let me not create negative karma not just by deeds but also by my thoughts and words.
2. Let me not consume more than I need.
3. Let me not speak unless it is kind, true and necessary.
4. Let me be still more often on a daily basis — so that God doesn’t have to resort to these drastic full stops to alert me.
5. Let me aim for a lighter state of being — lesser input, lesser output.

The pain will ebb. I hope the lesson stays.

Seeking God

5 benefits of having kids

A few days ago, I found myself driving the kids back and forth from their aerobics class after I’d come home from work. So there I was, all tired and in the mood to crash on the sofa, forced to play driver and ferry the kids, buy groceries, walk the dogs, and generally be ‘mom’.

In the car, I mused aloud to my younger one: “I wonder if there are any benefits of having children. I mean, humans do it every single day and it’s all about passing on the genes and taking the human race forward and all that, but tell me, really, is there any other benefit of having kids? There’s just work and pain and tension and heartache and expense… I can’t think of a single reason I’d recommend motherhood to anyone.”

My otherwise bright teen had no response. “I dunno, mom. You’ll have to figure this out yourself. I want kids when I grow up, though.”

So I’ve spent some of my spare time (increasingly rare these days) figuring out if there is any reason to recommend motherhood to anyone. I finally had a eureka moment today and thought I’d write it down while on a flight back home from a conference.

1. Having kids keeps you updated on everything that’s trending in the world – from music to fashion to technology. It is through our kids that we stay updated. Now, you’ll say one doesn’t need to go to the drastic extreme of having kids to do that, but I say, any learning is far more effective when you live both the pros and cons of it, day in and day out.

2. Having kids keeps you young. This sounds paradoxical but it isn’t. If I didn’t have kids, I’d avoid a lot of adventurous, spontaneous things in life and would be an old fuddy-duddy sooner. Because of them, I am forced to do new things on a regular basis and that keeps me young at heart.

3. Having kids helps you in your career. Again this sounds contrary to common sense, but hear me out. I work in an industry (online media) that targets young adults. Knowing their behaviour patterns and life choices helps me tremendously in understanding my target audience. I am able to make better informed decisions when it comes to creating my product for them. They also actively give me feedback, which I then act on. So having them around is good for my career.

4. Having kids makes you get up early in the morning. Now, everyone knows the benefits of this, but I’m a lazy person and if I didn’t have kids, I’d be in bed till 10 in the morning. Due to their school schedule, I now rise with the sun and it’s been over a decade that this excellent habit has been forced on me.

5. Having kids keeps you busy and alive. No matter how much I grumble about the back-breaking labour and the chores that are my burden as a mother, the fact is, all this is keeping me occupied and living life to the fullest. There is never a dull moment. It is a crazy, maddening, even exasperating existence but somewhere I think it makes life worth living far more than not having anything to do.

I once read somewhere that having kids does not increase the parents’ happiness quotient (it may even lower it) but people continue having kids because it gives meaning to their lives. And meaning is more important than happiness, it appears. Perhaps this is true.

In any case, I have made peace with my lot today and have thanked God for planning a better existence for me than I would done for myself. They’re hard work but I’m better off with children than without them. So hey, if you want a review on motherhood, here it is:

It works for me.

Seeking God

We got a drooling kinda love

I have been reading a lot lately, and one of the books I read extolled the virtues of meditation (not that I was difficult to convince). So I sat down the very next morning at 4.30 am to enjoy 30 minutes of silence while everyone was asleep.

Surprise, surprise. It was a cacophony in my head. Doesn’t matter how quiet the house is, I realised, when the space between the ears is noisy.

Still, I forgave myself since it was day one of meditation after a very long time, and tried again the next morning. This time, I didn’t make it past even a few minutes, so difficult was it to sit still. I became so disillusioned, in fact, that I gave up meditation completely.

Today, though, my perspective shifted.

Doggy love: When it comes to living in the moment, you gotta hand it to dogs. They probably pioneered the concept. If I leave home even for 30 seconds to go get something from the car, they jump all over me as if they’re seeing me after years. When I come out of the shower every morning, they drool all over my feet in happiness to have me back after a mighty long time, unconcerned that — hello?! — I’ve just washed myself squeaky clean. If I scold them for barking too much from the balcony at the neighbourhood strays, they put their heads down for precisely three seconds before they’re wagging their tails and expecting me to do something exciting (like tickling their ears) instead.

They’re never sad for long; they never hold grudges; they are quick to forgive and always ready to receive adoration. There’s no ego or shame or pride in their relationships. It’s just pure, unadulterated, unconditional LOVE ME RIGHT THERE BABY.

Why yoga: Then today, at my Gita class, the topic came up about Krishna extolling yoga as the path to achieving Him (or enlightenment). The teacher elaborated that one of the key lessons in the tome is: “All of life is yoga. There is no part of it that is more or less important than others. Everything that happens, all activities, all relationships, all events, can be used for yoga.”

In other words, yes, yoga is the path. But whatever path you are on is also yoga.

I considered my sweet dogs and their mindfulness meditation of being 100 per cent present in every moment of their lives. I considered my restlessness as I sat down to meditate in the silent darkness a few days ago. I looked at my cravings, my habits, my fears that drew me in directions I didn’t really want to go any more. I dwelt on the changing landscape of my desires, always wanting something more, always seeking something new, always in a state of flux.

And I thought to Krishna, “This, too, is my path, isn’t it?” All these colours, too, are what life wants to paint through me.

My dreams, at the moment, have got drool all over them. I can mourn the mess, or I can use this opportunity to turn yikes to yoga, and tickle Life’s ears back.

Love me right there baby.