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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Finding God

Light and shade

This morning, I was walking in our neighbourhood biodiversity park with my mother-in-law. It’s a partially man-made forest close to my house, and we go there daily. We have fallen into an interesting rhythm, she and I. So we have long moments of banter and then long silences when we dwell on our surroundings and get lost in our own thoughts. She’s a former scientist and zoology professor, and she loves observing the flora and fauna. I too love talking to trees, and relish those moments of silence when I can really connect with Mother Nature.

Today, we talked about how parts of the path had trees and shade, and other parts had no cover. My mother-in-law doesn’t like direct exposure to the sun, so when it became too sunny to handle, I comforted her saying, “There will be shade soon.” Then we were silent, as part of our usual pattern.

I noticed how the temperature dropped the moment we got to the shaded path. I noticed new leaves on some of the trees, white flowers on the tops of others. I noticed my mood getting better without the unforgiving sun beating down on me. I noticed a hundred other things, big and small. Then the shade cleared; we were in the sunlight again for another stretch.

Realisation dawned on me: “There will be shade soon.”

There are good times, and bad. But nothing lasts forever. If you are going through tough circumstances with the metaphorical sun burning you, remember and take heart: there will be shade soon.

And if you’re in the shade for now and life is going well, remember and be prepared: there will be trials and tribulations at some point. Use the relative calm to arm yourself with wisdom, courage and a network of real friends so that you can face any situation in future.

That’s how life is: light and shade, light and shade. You cannot predict what will happen next but you CAN control how you deal with it. Wear sunscreen.

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.

Finding God

Finding truth in bliss

(I missed writing a post this Monday. My excuse is that I was following my bliss.)

I came across this definition of ‘a calling’ by Max Weber: a task set by God. It is something that is beyond you, above you and within you, something you cannot change even if you wanted to (and you don’t want to). Something that your heart would say if it could speak. In Hinduism, we call it dharma.

Then I came upon this quote by Christian theologian Frederick Buechner: ‘The kind of work God usually calls you to do is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.’

And this one by David Brooks: ‘You don’t ask, What do I want from life? You ask a different set of questions: What does life want from me? What are my circumstances calling me to do?’

And this one by William Damon: ‘All individuals have their own particular callings, reflecting three realities: (1) their own God-given abilities; (2) the world’s need for the services their callings provide; and (3) their enjoyment in serving society and God in their own special ways.’

It all reminded me of the ancient Hindu philosophy of Sat-Chit-Ananda, that is truth-consciousness-bliss. My truth includes my circumstances, my dharma, my soul’s purpose. My consciousness includes that special gift only humans have, that of free will, choosing their actions and taking decisions based on awareness of past and present. And my bliss is, of course, that place of ‘deep gladness’.

The point where they all meet is your destiny. What you were born to do in this life – the point where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

It’s not easy to find one’s deeper purpose in life as long as one is caught in the maya-jaal of life, the rat-race, the meaningless actions and habits, the unnecessary attachments. Sometimes, one needs a little push, a tiny trigger, to set you off on your true path. Until then you are just groping in the dark, unsure of where you are going even though a part of you knows there’s something you need to do.

That brings me to me. I’ve just walked out of my third job in five years. The reasons for them all were different but a quieter space in my heart tells me I had outgrown my lesson in each of them, and it was time to move on. (I’m just a quick learner, I guess.) And so I have begun a new phase of my life, a new journey. There has been SO MUCH grace to help me along the way, so many blessings, an environment that is ripe for inspiration, a history and a story that is the perfect starting point for my future. I am completely content and completely fearless about what is to come, because if there is one thing, okay three things, that nature has taught me, they are (1) You are protected (2) You are deeply loved (3) Everything happens for a reason.

Oh, and here’s a fourth one: There are no coincidences. They are actually signals from the universe affirming that you are on the right path. Once you start following your bliss, finding that place of deep gladness inside you, you are suddenly swamped by coincidences – yesterday I was typing out a message to my brother when he suddenly called to say hi; I was thinking of following up on an old outstanding amount when my bank account pinged a credit transaction; I was wondering if my phone plan had been updated when the inbox beeped, it was the bill, and yes, it had been updated.

And all I had to do was follow my bliss, answer my calling – in my case, writing. Yes, I have been writing a story that needs to be told, writing close to eight hours a day.

Maybe this is the point, the space where my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

Finding God

Monday tips: Starting off with imperfection

I’ve quit my job, and what I am going to miss most is the opportunity to be a mentor (not just a boss). I have cherished my ‘Monday tips’ sessions with the boys and girls at my office, and they’ve made me promise to write them down if not speak them out every week. So here’s my first of the lot, my Monday tips to my former team across the Internet, instead of real life.

  1. A good plan implemented today is better than a perfect plan implemented tomorrow. – George Patton

A dear friend of mine was sharing her ideas for scaling up her enterprise, which is just a year old but has been getting great feedback from her clients. She was worried about the amateur quality of the videos and photos she has clicked, and the lack of a professional marketer to handle her social media. She said she needed lakhs of rupees to achieve that level of perfection before she could begin to scale up.

I shared this quote with her, and told her: “If you wait for perfection, you will wait forever.” Besides, I said, there’s nothing wrong with being a little imperfect in today’s fluid economy. The vendor who can give you a human touch is increasingly a rarity at a time when everything you read on your timeline appears hyped, polished, fake. Our imperfections are our strengths. Your non-Photoshopped promos will be far more appealing to genuine clients, and you don’t want the other kind anyway. Start with whatever resources you have – your internet-savvy kids, your knowledge, your skills, your friends – and just do it. The best time to begin anything is today. (Which is why even though I haven’t put much thought into how I want to structure these Monday tips, I decided to just go ahead and post whatever I had today, instead of waiting till next week.)

  1. You build a new body every eleven months. Change your body by changing your thoughts and keeping them changed. – Dr Joseph Murphy in ‘The Power of Your Subconscious Mind’

Our bodies are the matter of our minds. Ancient wisdom and modern science tell us that we become what we constantly think about. In this book, the author says our body is made up of lots of individual cells, which reproduce by passing on the knowledge, so to speak. The genetic material that is passed on includes our ‘habitual thinking patterns’. So we have a great opportunity at any given time to look, feel and become whatever we want by literally brainwashing ourselves that we are already there. Keep saying ‘I am happy and complete’ and you will be so. Keep saying ‘I am useless and sad’ and you will be so too.

And it’s not just psychological states of mind. You can even change your body with consistent thought patterns; everything moves in the direction of the intention. Some physical changes can take longer than others, but they will happen if you are firm about it, if you believe that it is true. Haven’t we heard stories of people who were healed overnight by a saint’s miracle? What is that all about? It’s about the direction of the intention, the strength of the belief and the consistent, new thought pattern. It’s not that I cannot become slim in real life – I just haven’t thought myself into it yet!

  1. Everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end. – character in the film ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’

John Lennon said something similar, and we also have a variation of this quote in Hindi. It’s a universal belief – that life is meant to have a happy ending, and if things aren’t looking so hot, don’t worry, a twist in the tale is around the corner and things will brighten up soon. I know we’ve all been through a lot lately and life seems to be upside down for most of us. But remember, ‘this too shall pass’. What does the heart-monitor look like when a person is alive? The graph jumps up and down. That’s life – it’s meant to go up and down, that is the beauty of it. Don’t expect every day to be consistent, for everything to look the same. The only time the monitor of our lives will be a straight line is when we’re dead!

Keep the faith and repeat this quote to yourself daily; things will begin to look up. I promise.

Picture abhi baaki hai, mere dost.

Finding God

Driving through life

I drive an average of 90 minutes every day, give or take 20 minutes. I’ve realised that driving in New Delhi is a lot like life:

A stitch in time saves nine: If I get out of the door at 8.45 am, I will be in office by 9.15 including parking and the journey up the lift. Since we do 8-hour shifts, I can then leave at 5.15 in the evening, which ensures I am home well before 6 pm. However, if I leave home even 10 minutes later in the morning, the traffic builds up on the roads both ways, and I reach home at 7 pm or much later that evening, extending my travelling time more than an hour. So being disciplined in the morning leads to a smoother, shorter work day. Isn’t that exactly what financial planning, time management, preventive health and stress management all about? Short-term effort leads to long-term gain.

Every being is important: A glance through a daily newspaper will lead you to believe Delhi roads are all about hit-and-runs and buses mowing over pedestrians. But those are the exceptions that make it to the newspapers. Ninety percent of the time, people stop, give way, make space, adjust, compromise and watch out for one another on the busy, congested, people-stuffed roads of the Indian capital. We even make way stoically for cows, dogs and other animals. I firmly believe in the innate goodness of human beings and perhaps that’s why I see such examples around me every day, revelatory moments that prove time and again that every being is important, no life is too little, and we must all make space for and respect every being out there.

There are no short cuts: Sometimes you get caught in a terrible traffic jam during rush hour on the highway and decide to take a ‘short cut’ down the alleys or smaller roads running alongside. Bad idea. In most cases, it will take you the same amount of time or even longer to reach home, and you will be far more frazzled after negotiating narrower terrain with worse jams. Lesson: Accept what has been given to you by the universe, and go with it. What you resist persists. Sink into the moment, turn on the music, and make the most of it.

Be in the moment: Driving is sometimes like meditation; you often drift into your own thoughts and lose track of vast stretches of miles or minutes you’ve covered. It’s like you go into a trance and let your subconscious do the driving. This can be dangerous. When we live our lives by default, we are prone to real and metaphorical accidents, and we miss hundreds of opportunities. Opportunities to make us better people or simply make us smile. When we are distracted, we aren’t focusing on our life’s purpose. Like meditation, the solution is to gently lead your thoughts back to the moment, on the road, on the car in front of you. Be aware of what’s going on. Pay attention. There is magic in every moment. Don’t miss it.

Driving is necessary, stress is optional: There are some things we just gotta do, driving, working, bring up our kids, making a living. We can either choose to do them stressfully, zipping between lanes, honking away, adding cortisol to our blood streams, trying to get ahead of everyone else, trying to save a few extra minutes at the traffic signal at the cost of our mental peace and health. Or we can do it calmly, sticking to one lane, chilled out, riding over bumps and turns with patience and grace. Guess what path leaves you happier and healthier in the long term?

Seeking God

Kinder than necessary and other Monday tips

I’ve been a lazy girl (old woman) and have been absconding from my blog. My soul sister J reminded me to at the very least put down my Monday tips every week, even if I write nothing else. So here goes. My 5 Monday tips (a ritual I have with my team at work).

  1. Be kinder than necessary: An old saying reminds us not to speak anything unless what we are about to say fulfils these three criteria, “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” I suggest going one step further — be kinder than necessary. Kindness is a spiritual practice in itself. Go out of your way to help someone, not just physically but also with words, and most importantly, with thoughts. Every kind thought goes a long way in generating positive vibes and creating a healthier world.
  2. The biggest success is the one who is willing to try, fail and learn: In an ad for Nike, Michael Jordan once talked about the thousands of times he had failed, and the 26 times he had been entrusted with the game-winning shot and had missed. When asked why he had chosen to focus on his failures rather than his successes, he said that a strong mind and heart were more important that physical strength for winners in life. It doesn’t matter if you try and fail — as long as you get up, dust it off and learn from it. You only fail when you stop trying.
  3. External enemies are nothing when compared with your internal enemies: Every time there is an event, you have a thought about it, and that thought leads to your feelings about it. Station a bouncer in the door of your thoughts. Every time you have a negative thought about an event, let the bouncer throw it out, and only allow in the good ones. For instance, if someone does not pick up the phone when you call, instead of thinking, “They hate me,” shut the door on that thought and let in another positive thought instead: “Maybe they’re busy”. Whenever you have a thought that says something to the tune of, “I’m a loser,” don’t ask yourself whether it’s a rational or irrational thought. Ask whether it serves you. If it doesn’t, call the bouncers in.
  4. Freedom and responsibility: Everyone wants freedom — freedom to work as we please, to live life on our own terms, in our own way — and no one wants responsibility, to be accountable, to have people depend on you, to own up when you’re wrong. Well, the truth is we cannot have one without the other. The only way to have more freedom is by taking on more responsibility, and the only way to reduce responsibility off your own shoulders is to give more freedom to those you are offloading to.
  5. Don’t panic. Prioritize: When we’re bogged down with too much on our plate, when we’re close to hitting peak capacity, there’s only one way to move forward: Prioritize. Learn from the human body and the animal kingdom. Shut down all unnecessary systems and processes, keep away the distractions, be selective about what you expend energy on. Ask for help before you snap, delegate before you break, choose your battles. You can only take home the hero’s trophy if you’re still alive.
Finding God

Beloved, hated

“What so great happiness as to be beloved, and to know that we deserve to be beloved? What so great misery as to be hated, and to know that we deserve to be hated?” -Adam Smith

Isn’t it a wonder that we have been, or are, both?

Finding God

Momentary magic

My blog dashboard informs me it’s been two months since I last wrote. And so I am showing up. But I am also here because a moment of magic happened today and I must — must, must — share it.

It was around half an hour ago. I am home with my family, putting away the ironed clothes in my bedroom. My husband sits in the same room, checking out Facebook on his phone. My elder daughter in the next room is telling her young tuition teacher that our dogs Ronnie and Miyake are the nicest dogs she’s ever known, and it’s probably because they are much loved. In another room, my younger daughter and her best friend are singing songs (very beautifully, I must say). The TV is on in the drawing room; there’s no one there but it is a comforting sound. The dogs have gone for a walk with our housekeeper.

I sit down on the chair next to my husband, the folded clothes in my arms, my eyes wide in wonder. “Look at this moment,” I say in a reverent whisper. “Look around. Hear the sounds. Hear them talking, singing, the TV. This moment, it is just PERFECT.” I take a breath. I have goosebumps. There is nothing more perfect in the world except this very moment. Oh my dear Krishna. Thank you.

The extraordinary magic of an ordinary moment.

Someone asked me my life’s goal a few days ago, and I said, “To be of good use”. And so I am being sent people who need to hear from me. It has been a week of unexpected new connections. It has been fun. I feel like wagging my tail like the pug in the advertisement: “happy to help”.

I can never give back as much as I have got, but I can show up.

Seeking God

Israel, singing and the twins

These are three tips I shared with my colleagues last Monday.

1. I was reading a book called ‘Start-up Nation‘, which takes a look at the social, economic, historical and political culture that makes Israel such a super-achiever in terms of business and technological innovation. Israel, a country of 7.1 million people, has 350% more venture capitalist investment than India, a country of 1.2 billion people. The writers ascribe this success to Israeli ‘informality’ and chutzpah. Junior workers call their bosses by pet names; army juniors can — and sometimes do — get their seniors ousted; failure is socially acceptable as much as success is. I encouraged my colleagues to be confident, insolent and innovative at the workplace and to challenge me as much as possible. (Later, after this talk, we had an earthquake, and on the way down the stairs, I came across the Israel visa office on one of the floors. Perhaps I should plan my next holiday there. I am obsessed with this little nation now.)

2. Sing a song and see what you focus on. Is your attention on your lyrics and exhalation, or are you worried about taking the next breath in? It’s the former (unless you’re a bad singer). When we sing naturally, we don’t concern ourselves with inhalation; we just sing. The intake happens on its own at just the right spots, without any effort on our part. Some breathing meditations and pranayam exercises follow the same pattern: Focus on your breathing-out, not the breathing-in. And so let’s apply the same rule to life; let us focus on what we can GIVE, DO and EXTEND OUT to the world — whether it is our time, money or knowledge — and let us not worry about the intake of resources, energy, or material gains. It will happen at just the right spots, without any effort on our part.

3. Joy and sorrow are twins; they are two sides of the same coin. When we increase one, we also increase our capacity for the other. Sorrow, when it comes, leaves us with a huge hole in our hearts, which then makes our experience of joy all the more meaningful. When we have lived through great sorrow, we are able to appreciate every single nuance of our joys; we do not take them for granted; we are more grateful for the little pleasures life has to offer. If things were always rosy and joyful, we would become jaded; we wouldn’t enjoy them as much. Joy would be our default state (read: boring) and we would, in fact, turn it into a reason for sorrow.

So sorrow is cleansing and uplifting in its own way. Its importance should not be underestimated. Sorrow is required so that we can enjoy joy. But seeking either is unnecessary. Nature knows best when it comes to some things. We encounter our share of both in due time.