Seeking God

Blending into the wallpaper

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There but not quite there

One of the most difficult parts of being a mother and wife (as I am sure my fellow mothers, and my own mother, will agree) is the thanklessness of it all. Much like a copy editor’s job in a magazine isn’t really noticed until it doesn’t get done (been there too), being there for one’s family is something no one really notices until you stop doing it.

There’s food on the table, groceries in the fridge and washed ironed clothes in the cupboard, but it isn’t there by magic. Someone (read: mom) has taken time out of a very interesting life to look after it. But we often forget the contributions of our mothers in the busy landscapes of our lives; we take their presence and work for granted. They’re like wallpaper. There but not quite there. In sight but out of mind.

I fill myself with positive thoughts like ‘I’ve chosen this’, and don’t allow myself to use the words ‘sacrifice’ or ‘duty’. I fill my days with good people, happy work and meaningful activities. Even so, despite such efforts, there are days and phases when I can’t help slipping into frustration and depression at the ‘unfairness’ of it all. Why must I be left holding the bills and the fort and the dog leash when everyone else is out having the time of their lives?

And then I go back to working on myself, my sense of fulfillment and self-worth, counselling myself to make peace with my circumstances. But it is difficult to be a saint. I mull over Thomas Merton’s lines, “Thinking about monastic ideals is not the same as living up to them, but at any rate such thinking has an important place in a monk’s life, because you cannot begin to do anything unless you have some idea what you are trying to do.”

I know what I am trying to do — take care of others while also taking care of myself. But it’s harder than it sounds, especially when one often comes at a cost to the other.

Maybe this very struggle was prescribed to me so that I could find a solution and rise above it all. In my challenge lies my mission. I must believe it, for my own sake.

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Seeking God

Lessons in love (from an older person to her younger colleagues)

My team at work is aged between 24 to 30 years, and (besides me) all are single. Some of them are looking for love, others are dating and confused, and a few are dating someone their families would never approve of. So my Monday tips (a ritual we began couple of months ago) today were all about love.

For those who are still seeking the right person: 

1. If you don’t have someone in your life, work on being so happy and self-contained that you never really miss having anyone in your life. When you achieve that level of self-comfort and self-love, the universe responds with an equal partner. And in any case, by then, you really don’t care either way but you’d be happy to share your happiness with someone.

2. Those who need to do something, go out and do it come what may. This is my experience from life — for instance, those who want to lose weight just do it. Those who want to be successful in their careers just do it. So if you haven’t yet ‘done it’ and got yourself a partner, chances are, you don’t really want it. You have built certain walls inside yourself against love. Maybe you’ve been hurt or maybe you’re afraid of being hurt. Maybe you feel love is dangerous and you’re guarding yourself out of protective instinct. In any case, the answer is going back to point 1 and learning to love yourself and being whole within yourself. And then singledom is as heavenly as any other state of life.

For those who are dating but confused if they’ve found the right person yet, these are the parameters to help you decide:

1. Are you good friends? Friendship is key for a long, committed relationship. If you can’t have long meaningful conversations (and silences) with one another, then it probably isn’t a great idea.

2. Do you have physical chemistry? In a context such as India where a lot of the kids in my team will end up in arranged marriages, it’s essential to make sure there is some physical attraction with the person they’re all set to marry. You have to share the bed of this person for the rest of your life. It better be a pleasant experience. Listen to your body; it knows what is right for you.

3. Trust and respect. Those are the other most important ingredients in any long-term relationship. You should want to call the other person ‘aap‘ (respectful Hindi term for ‘you’) even if you don’t do it in real life (many young people use the more familiar ‘tum‘ for their partners). And you should be able to trust each other; if there are causes or cases of infidelity or financial mistrust, either work on them or walk away. Don’t ignore it.

For those who are in love with someone their parents don’t approve of:

1. Since India is a multi-religious, multi-caste and multi-lingual nation, it’s common to find ‘mixed’ couples these days. But there’s often a lot of back-story before they make it to ‘happily ever after’. In most cases, the biggest and only hurdle are the parents. The first thing in such a situation is to have conviction — unless YOU are 100% sure that this is the right person for you, your parents will jump to find excuses and opposition to the relationship.

2. Parents are hardwired to protect you. So unless you can prove to them that you are strong enough to take care of yourself, they’ll do anything to protect you even if it means making you miserable. So having that conviction in your love story (point 1) will not only make you more determined to go ahead and help you appreciate your partner, it will also make your parents respect you a little more.

3. For girls in such situations, it’s vital to make sure the boy is TOTALLY committed to the relationship. He should be willing to move mountains for you. After all, it’s the woman who leaves her home and moves in with the man. Unless he is going to be there for you later, you’re asking for trouble – you may have forsaken your own family by then. If he shows even the slightest hesitation, buys time or makes excuses about commitment, run a mile.

4. Success is measured by what you have to give up in order to get it. Is this man or woman worth leaving your entire family / clan behind? Is this person worth standing up to 50 people for the rest of your life or changing your religion? If you have any doubt about that, stop. Don’t move ahead. There are other ways of being in a relationship besides marriage.

Rest assured, if the boy and girl are both convinced and committed to one another, if they have clarity and courage, then I promise you, the entire universe will conspire in your favour. Love is magic and love is also for real. Believe in it.

Hari Om.

Finding God

When we’re in heaven

When we’re in heaven
I’ll rub almond oil on your eyes and lips
And you will massage my feet (just out of curiosity)
And we’ll look into the mirror together
And see the other’s face glow

When we’re in heaven
We’ll cuddle under enormous blankets
And your warmth will melt me (and mine will put you to sleep)
And our limbs will possess the other’s
As if they are all extensions of the same being

When we’re in heaven
I will press my lips into your sleeping cheeks
And graze the corner of your lips (your stubble will gently scorch me)
And I will fall asleep to the rhythm of your breath
And our gods will sprinkle golden dreams

Did I tell you, beloved, the gods have made us a promise?
That when we’re in heaven
Things will be exactly as they were on earth.

Finding God

Choosing courage

“If you had to choose between courage and patience, I’d say, choose courage. With courage, the patience will come too but with just patience, you’ll never have the courage to live your life your own way and be happy.”

Wise words from a 26-year-old firebrand of a masseuse I’ve recently been associated with. We meet every Saturday when she gives me an Ayurvedic massage with much gusto, going all red in the face, leaving me energised and exhausted at the same time, so that I need to come home and sleep it off. And if the massage is stimulating, the conversation is even more so.

We talk about men and relationships. Falling in love with the wrong man. With the right man. With a married man. With one’s best friend. Being the daughter of a divorcee. Getting drunk on a bottle of beer. Breaking up with a man after three years because he is a sissy. Working hard and still not making enough. Fathers and husbands who aren’t worth it. Betrayal. Children. Commitment.

Today we talked about a friend who is in a bad marriage but continues to be there because she is afraid of slugging it out alone as a divorcee. “I find such people to be real *****,” she said, using a crass Hindi expletive. “Why do they wait to start living? Women are always told to have patience. To wait. To endure. To be stoic. Bullshit. I value courage above all qualities in life. Without courage, you can never be happy. All these other qualities are recipes not for happiness but for compromises, regret and sorrow.”

“Yes, there will be a bit of pain when you take a courageous step in life,” she went on, kneading my shoulders, “but that is short-lived. After the third, fourth, fifth day, you will find so much greater happiness and liberation.” I mumbled a muffled agreement into my neck-rest.

“God tests you. God puts you through situations when you have to show what you’re made of. If you act out of courage, you will win through all obstacles. And what obstacles? They will all fall away when you stand up with courage, anyway,” she announced as she flipped me over.

“Your friend needs to spend time with herself. Take a couple of months and sort herself out. Half her life has gone past in heartache and loneliness. If she can’t make herself happy now, what’s the use of finding happiness later in life? Tell her to be strong—not patient. Tell her to stop seeking happiness from others, from husbands or children. If a person can’t love herself, how can she ever love anyone else?” The young, spirited guru trundled me into the steam room.

The session was short today, and as always, I came home and slept, inspired.

I dreamt of angels with fiery wings.

Books

When one bookworm marries another

When one bookworm marries another, there are books peeking out of nooks and crannies and the unlikeliest of places all over the home, even behind the microwave where it may have fallen off when one of you was busy heating something and then, noting the lack of something to read, nonchalantly went on to another book.

When one bookworm marries another, there aren’t enough shelves in the house and those that were meant for the pretty photo frames and candle-stands must make peace jostling for space with impressive volumes about politics and peace.

When one bookworm marries another, you end up accepting that ungainly pile of books that grows every day on both your bedside tables as just another part of marriage, like snoring and socks on the floor.

When one bookworm marries another, there are arguments about who spent more on books that month and how irresponsible it is of the other to not consider the financial situation of the country and family while making these impulse purchases, until the other points out that the one making these accusations is guilty of the same.

When one bookworm marries another, they both often get separate review copies of the same book.

When one bookworm marries another, one could be in the middle of a fast-paced crime thriller hiding in the loo to avoid distraction and come out shame-faced to see the other beseech, “You can read outside too, but I can only pee in there.”

When one bookworm marries another, one flits between both their reading lists so one ends up going from history to foreign affairs to spirituality to economics to fantasy teen fiction within a day.

When one bookworm marries another, the space on top of the cupboard is also full of books that one accuses the other of hoarding without any intention to read. And the pile is now so big that even the taller of the two cannot reach up to keep any more books on it.

When one bookworm marries another, the bedside light is on till late at night while both of you tuck into your individual reading material, and sometimes, when one turns one’s head at night, there’s a thick hardback poking its corner into one’s eye.

When one bookworm marries another, a bookshop voucher from the kid’s school leads to a bloodbath until both of you compromise and decide to use it together, and spend four times the value of the free voucher while redeeming it.

When one bookworm marries another, handbags and office briefcases and the pockets in the backseat of the car never run out of something nice to read.

When one bookworm marries another, there is total understanding at the eerie silences that greet every question because the other is absorbed in reading.

When one bookworm marries another, life appears to be a sweet, strange story that would be exotic if someone decided to write it down for people on other continents to read.

Yes, it is a good idea for one bookworm to marry another.

Seeking God

Sleepless in soul-searching

The day we moved into our new home over a month ago, I lost my sleep.

At first I figured it was the Vastu of the room – we shouldn’t be in the North-east of the house, and our heads shouldn’t be facing north. So we tried sleeping sideways. Then my brother wrote in about some Feng Shui rules in their new California house, and I learnt facing north was okay. (Unless it’s different for North America and Asia, I don’t know).

Then I figured it must be the mattress – I was probably uncomfortable in a new bed, and it was made of foam, which is really unhealthy, you know. So we got a cotton one, natural fiber and all. Worked marginally, but I was still awake.

Then I thought it was too much light in the room; so I covered up the window with chart paper and we painted over it. But no luck.

Then I developed a major allergy and figured it was the blocked nose and sneezing that was keeping me up. So I began taking an anti-histamine. It worked one night and then I was back to lying eyes open in the dark.

By now I had bags under my eyes and my fatigue was unbearable; I had to take a day off from work because I couldn’t keep my eyes open. So I went to an Ayurvedic doctor. They charged me Rs 3,500 and gave me an Abhyangam and Shirodhara, along with some medications. I felt relaxed but still couldn’t sleep at night.

Then I figured I was missing my kids after so many years of sharing their room. So I went to cuddle them and did the coochie-coo and bonding thing for a bit. Didn’t work.

Then I got another Shirodhara and a morning out at a fancy five-star hotel where I did nothing but read and nap, and I came home all very happy and renewed and laughing. But I was sleepless again at night.

In frustration I went to a real sleep specialist at a real hospital. He took Rs 1,000 to tell me that I needed a special diagnostic analysis of my sleep and I’d have to check into a hospital or they’d do it at my home. It would cost me Rs 12,000. He couldn’t give me any medication until then. And I didn’t have the courage to take sleeping pills without a prescription.

In the meantime, I changed my anti-histamine and my diet as per the naturopath in the five-star hotel, and shared my woes with my girlfriends on Whatsapp. One of them said something that struck me pretty hard: “Give yourself a break. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

It struck me hard because I realised I was unable to actually give myself a break and I was killing myself for my sleeplessness. I wanted to be in perfect health. I wanted to be superwoman. I wanted to be able to handle everything without a hitch. Being sleepless and allergic and tired was a blotch on my CV. I was ashamed of being caught human.

So three days ago, I decided to heed her advice. I decided to give myself a break and not be so hard on myself.

It meant giving myself a break to be sick. It meant not being so hard on myself if I was sick. It meant treating myself with some compassion and allowing myself the luxury to be sick. It meant looking at my own sickness the way I would look at one of my loved ones’: Going ‘awww’ and hugging myself, and cooing, ‘Everything will be okay’.

It meant being understanding with myself, and comforting myself saying, ‘You know sweetheart, you have been through a lot lately, marriage and moving and all, and it’s totally natural that your body is a little shaken up. See what Lea Carpenter says: “Certain events sure shift you from center. A wedding, for example.” Give it time, it will be alright in a while. You will find your balance. Time is the greatest healer.’

It meant respecting my body and hitting the sack when I was tired, even if the laundry was yet to be folded and put away. Even if the kids needed me for homework. Even if everyone else was still up.

It’s been three days and I’m sleeping better. Maybe it’s the new mattress, or the new anti-allergy pill. Maybe it’s the new fruit-rich, caffeine-poor diet. Maybe it’s the effect of the Ayurvedic medication, finally.

Or maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s time, and maybe I have learnt what I needed to learn.

I don’t know what the answer is. But I think my God is glad I changed the question.

Finding God

Home and heart

Fitting into a new house is like settling into a new marriage.

You adjust to certain ways of the house. The house changes itself for you in others.

The bedroom door that doesn’t close properly — you learn to pull it in just the right way so as to solve your purpose with the least noise. Like dealing with tempers at the end of a long day.

The leaking geyser pipe — you throw it away and get another one. Because some things aren’t worth holding on to. Like egos and old habits.

The uncomfortable commode seat — you move it around, fix a few screws, till it’s just right. Like coming out open about one’s personal preferences.

The gas cylinder in the middle of the kitchen — you learn to move around it. Like touchy-feely issues with your better half.

The tonnes of boxes in your living room — you make peace with their presence, while dealing with them one at a time. Like understanding each other’s food habits, waking and sleep patterns.

The lack of space and cramped shoe drawers — you wriggle about and get used to it. Like sharing your daily routine with someone else’s, not even complaining when they make you late for work.

The house shines bright new, full of promise and affection, stubbornly holding on to some things and lovingly offering you the moon in others. It is a delicate, lovely phase. And there’s God, peeking out from the tulsi plant in the balcony, the one that Ronnie has already chewed up.

The process is the purpose. Settling in is itself the reward for the effort of settling in. I savour the ride.

Seeking God

Engaged to growth

A month ago, my partner and I decided to get engaged. Considering all the practical logistics – my daughter’s exams, my brother-in-law’s annual leave, my nephew-in-law’s Christmas holidays – we zoomed in on December 23 as our date. We had only our immediate family and very few close friends with us at the dinner held at my parents’ home. It was a simple affair, nothing ritualistic except an exchange of rings. The idea was mostly to get his family and mine to meet. We were both slightly abashed about it: I, because I’ve been married before and am a mother of two teens, for heaven’s sake. He, because he is generally not one for PDA, and even holding my hand to put the ring on was a matter of acute embarrassment for him. He didn’t even look at me in the eyes, and I have warned him that he has to repeat the whole thing properly one day when we are alone.

Most friends were happy for us, because somewhere our step reaffirmed their own faith in happy endings, and the triumph of kambakht ishq (‘damned romantic love’) over societal rules. Both our mothers’ eyes shone with a deep contentment that their children had found equal partners in this lifetime – mothers can see soul connections in ways that fathers never can. His father is no more, and my father was a bit sad – for reasons I will never know. And my children? Ah, those pieces of my heart were divided with both happiness and pain. Happiness for me, pain for themselves because they fear they will lose me.

(I think of them that night as fragile, slender roses made of smooth glass, tinges of red, blue and green for all their conflicting emotions. I have to hold them tenderly, tenderly even in my thoughts.)

A couple of wizened, worldly friends, though, asked: Why marry at all? Why not just stay together as a couple? Why do you need marriage now, at this stage, when you have already broken rules and survived?

For my partner, the answer is simple. He hasn’t been married before and he wants to be. He has a positive perception of marriage, unlike me.

For me, the answer is a question. If life is about taking on challenges, setting off on new adventures, then isn’t this as good an adventure as any? I can’t go hang-gliding over steep cliffs in Australia, or trekking up to Kailash Mansarovar, but I can plunge into the next big thing that frightens the hell out of me and leaves me tremulous with exhilaration: Marriage. I cannot confront sharks and tigers, but I can confront my own demons. I cannot set off into the forests of the Amazon but I can set off into an uncertain future, chart my own new path and deal with whatever happens using whatever resources I have developed over time. Life is too short to live in a comfort zone. I have to jump, soak myself in the doubts and delirium, and learn to fly.

It is an icky inner adventure, admittedly, not a glamorous external holiday. Nothing I can post Facebook pictures about, or share with anyone, even him. But the most difficult journeys – sometimes the most rewarding too – are the ones we must take inside us. Let the tears flow if they must, let the monsters and beasts come on out, let the ground fall away beneath my feet. I’m in this to the end.