Egrets

Today was a bad day at work. The day started well. But after lunch there was a meeting, an important one, which lasted for more than three hours and was a total disappointment. People were not being objective, most people were unwilling to listen to logic and just wanted to have their ways. I expected a more productive and fruitful outcome but after wasting lot of time I realized that nothing is going to come of this meeting. I was disappointed and upset about it.

I drove home thinking about how my time got wasted, my mood got worsened,  because of some of my colleagues’ selfishness and stupidity. I had encountered so much negativity from others in that meeting, that I couldn’t find any happiness or sense of peace in my own mind anymore. I reached home and felt really tired, frustrated, let down, upset and angry. The anger was also partly directed at myself because I allowed these things to affect me so strongly. But I couldn’t help it. I was drained of all energy and decided to skip my evening walk. So there I was, sitting on my couch, perfectly miserable, mindlessly scrolling through my phone.

I needed a quick fix. I wanted to come out of this unhappy place and find my peace again. I tried first to keep my mind off these negative thoughts and started visiting some of my favorite bloggers’ sites of see if they have posted anything. Rather than receiving email notification, I actually prefer to look for new posts by visiting the sites. The joy of discovering a new post, after may be, looking everyday for ten days, is much more than a confirmed email notification. But today I was not lucky, I didn’t find anything new to read among those blogs I checked. Then I thought of reading some poems and Mary Oliver came to mind. And this time I was lucky, I quickly hit the jackpot. I found the poem Egrets.

https://www.poetseers.org/contemporary-poets/mary-oliver/mary-oliver-poems/egrets/

And that’s it. I needed nothing more. Like every single time, Mary Oliver lifted my spirit once more. Last few lines seem to be written just for me. I could almost see before my eyes those innocent egrets in their pure whiteness, putting their faith on mother nature that made them. They are  sure-footed, unruffled when they walk on water even with half closed eyes. In their complete trust, any other possibility does not exist. And just like their trust lifts them over every dark thing, this poem also lifted me over my dark thoughts….I was calm, centered, peaceful and light. I felt thankful that this innocence exists in nature. There’s no reason to lose hope, look at those egrets who are so sure nothing will go wrong. Their unwaivering faith somehow put things in perspective. My problem didn’t seem so big anymore. The smooth glide of those egrets gave me hope that there are far bigger things in nature, in this universe which we can trust and things will work out just fine, despite some problems and setbacks. I am ready for tomorrow.

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From a dark corner

How fragile my frame of mind is? If I say “I am happy” or “I am sad”, how robust that claim is, against the dynamic backdrop of my daily life? Of course a big event can completely change our lives. But even small small details in our daily life can have surprisingly strong effect on our outlook.

I had to face some disappointment at my work last week. To cut a long story short, I have been denied the credit for something I had done, and somebody else “stole” it from me. This made me reasonably disappointed and upset. Then last weekend I had a bit of a fight with my dear husband and the reason for the fight was as always, HIS MOTHER. And just like that, these two back-to-back incidents managed to put me in quite a dark place. None of these events are significant in the long run, I know. The workplace problem is unfortunate but it is not as if my life depends on it….I know I will move on. The tension with my husband will also dissipate out after few days. Right now we are giving each other the silent treatment but our interaction will eventually be normal again (I hope).

Yet, at the time I am going through this, I feel quite different from my usual self. My default modes have changed. To a specific comment, specific situation, I am responding differently than I normally do. And that difference is more towards the darker side. When someone says something jokingly, instead of reciprocating with a hearty laughter or another witty come back, which I normally do, I am now responding in a more grim way. A cheerful environment is making me uncomfortable and I feel like a misfit there. And one part of me is observing this difference and taking notes with interest!

In our daily life how much we take for granted? The way I interact with other people, the way I handle a given situation, is so closely connected to whether I had a happy chat with my husband last evening. In a normal day, after we come back home from work, we have dinner and tell each other how our day went….we share with each other our moments of joy, excitement, disappointment of that day. Our conversation stays casual, relaxed and sometimes even turns vague…..yet that bit is crucial to keep me going. When things go right, we sometimes fail to appreciate them. Only when something starts going wrong, we realize how important role it played in shaping our perspective.

This little episode has once more opened my eyes towards mindfulness. Paying attention to every little blessing that comes our way, and also paying attention to the ripple our own actions are sending out to the universe. We are all connected and in a brief, seemingly insignificant interaction, we can alter another person’s state of mind. We need to always always keep this in mind and stay sensitive towards that connection. As I write this, a famous quote from Mary Oliver fills my head…..“over and over announcing your place in the family of things”.

While I make my slow journey back to my normal life, out of this dark place where I am living right now, I wish all of you bright days, filled with light and laughter and I hope the ripples you are sending out, are making positive differences in many many lives.

When grief comes…and then comes again

I don’t know her so well….just greet her when I pass her on the street. She stays in our apartment complex. She had a husband and two young children. She seemed like a really competent mom, taking good care of all needs of her children, and she seemed like a very good wife also. She was a housewife and was fulfilling each role with sincerity, authenticity, efficiency, hard work. Then suddenly she lost her husband. In a heart attack, while he was working at office. Her life turned upside down. The life she had built on love, trust, hard work, the life that she was so happily living, suddenly seemed so hard.

People visited the family, offering condolence, offering help. Everybody told her to be strong, everybody told her she has to raise two children all by herself now and she has to be strong for them. The children look confused, both are still at school. One is as young as 7…does he even understand death? Why does he have to understand that at this young age? This child who just learnt to ride a bicycle few days back, now stares at all these visitors with wide, scared eyes. He had never seen so many visitors at their house and he had also never seen the house so quiet and silent. The elder child, who is about 13 or 14, seems stressed, zipped up.

The woman has to be strong. She has to be strong for her kids. She has to now fulfil the role of both parents, and she has to be up for the challenge. She perhaps has to find a job now. A career she had already sacrificed for her family once, now she has to build a career again for her family. People begin to notice her getting out of the house for buying grocery, for dropping the kids at school, for waiting for the kids at the school bus stop. She seems to be getting stronger, she seems to be taking charge of her life again.

But did she grieve? Did she get enough time to process her pain, her loss? Right now she is being strong, everybody is also encouraging her to be that way. She has to work hard to make things as normal for the kids as possible. It seems she already has been making some progress in that direction. Weeks have already gone by, months will go by, years will start going by. The kids will adjust, their life will be going on again. The younger one will perhaps not even remember much of these days, few years down the line.

But does she know, when she least expects it, after few years may be, she will suddenly be paralysed with grief all over again? It can come in the form of a dream, or some small incident, or some seemingly insignificant association, and it will simply take her down in its sudden and raw attack. And after all those years, she will be completely alone with this flood of grief. Right now she is moving on, trying her best to move on, trying to find her new normal and this uphill task is just keeping her busy. She is holding the position of strength for the kids now. They need her, no time to be weak now. She is helping everyone to tide over their grief. But her own pain, she has to handle completely by herself, when the world around her has truely moved on.

I know this because I was that woman once. After losing a very close family member, I became the most able person to take care of everybody around me. I was a source of strength for them, they counted on me, they could not go on without my constant assurance. While everybody was processing the grief in their own way, my level-headed behavior, my objective thinking helped them to anchor their lives again. I did not allow myself to be broken down and I was actually appreciated, praised for that.

After many years, the dreams started coming. They were based on something small but unmistakably connected to that person. These dreams jolted me and raised emotions in me which were shockingly intense. I was not aware that I had so strong emotions stored inside me, I thought I had moved on, I thought I had overcome the pain, only to realise that my wound was still so raw. But the hardest part was dealing with it alone. All others have (seemingly) moved on, managed to come to terms with the loss, except me, who was peering into the raw open wound for the first time and realising nothing has healed. My surroundings had also changed a lot by this time, I had moved away from my hometown, and was not staying with my family any more. My new surroundings were not connected at all to this family member I lost. This also made me think that the whole world has moved on without that person and I became even more lonely and isolated in my grief.

It took me a very long time to understand this pain, to admit that it is not perhaps going to go away completely ever, and finally I was able to release part of this pain through those dreams, those moments of vivid and paralysing sorrow. I came to realise I was at last grieving, and allowed myself to do that. I was able to accept those nights when I would wake up from a dream in a flood of tears. Slowly I learnt to get through those moments, when out of the blue something would remind me of some small details from my past along with the thought that since this person left my life, this is the First Time I am thinking of that particular detail. One would expect that when enough time has passed, there won’t be such “first times” anymore….but apparently there is a non-ending sequence of such “first times” and each stabs you sharply in your heart. But I finally learnt to take these moments, these thoughts head on and while they remained painful, I became okay with that pain.

I don’t know this woman in my neighborhood so well……I certainly can’t share these deeply personal things with her. But I silently wish her all the strength she needs to tide over this delayed grief that she may have to experience many years from now.

At Blackwater Pond

At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have
settled
after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me, whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?

(Mary Oliver)

Every time I read this poem, the last two lines catch me off guard. I don’t even understand myself why they fill my heart with a profound sense of peace and joy. This poem brings a transformation in me which I simply can’t comprehend, I remain at a complete loss for words how to describe my state of mind each time I finish reading the poem. Truely my mind wonders: oh what is that beautiful thing, that just happened?

That connection I felt

Last night something woke me up. I realized it was some loud conversation right below my bedroom window. It seems in our apartment complex someone had a party and the guests were leaving. It was 2:30 a.m. and this group of people were not even trying to keep their voice down. They were saying goodbyes, they were making plans for the next gathering, chit-chatting, completely oblivious to the fact that it was late at night, that it was a residential complex and people are sleeping. My initial urge was to get up, walk in the balcony and sternly ask them to keep it down, reminding them the time of the night. And in most cases I would have done just that. But for some reason (may be because of the cold), last night I stayed in bed and tried to calm myself by actually listening to their conversation. Okay, I grant that these people are perhaps being inconsiderate right now, but how different they are actually from me? Turns out, not much. True, I can’t see myself making noise in the middle of the night like that but these people also are going about their lives, making plans with friends and family, urging people to visit again, accusing some others that they do not keep in touch often enough. The glimpses of their lives I could see (rather hear) is something so familiar, so wholesome, so lively, that it soothed me, it reassured me. It filled me with a sense of peace and love, with a sense of belonging. The thought came to me that I don’t need to be anywhere else right now, this is exactly where I am supposed to be at this moment, with this flow of life going on around me. The life that so many people have built on love, on companionship, on kindness, on eagerness to hold onto each other. I felt at peace with everything.

I wish I could write that I finally drifted back to sleep, my heart overflowing with love and gratitude but unfortunately that did not happen. I could not sleep at all afterwards and for the whole day at work today I was tired and miserable, could not concentrate at the task at hand.

But I wish to experience such moments again. When I am able to feel connected with everyone, when I am able to see how little difference is there between all of us….I wish I could put myself in this frame of mind more often. I wish I am able to do this when I feel angry at a driver who cuts be off in traffic, when I feel impatient with a colleague who complains about everything, when I feel annoyed with a stranger for taking enormous amount of time at the supermarket cash counter…i.e. in many situations in life when I feel “I deserve better than this” and hence immediately disconnect myself from the ‘living’ that is taking place around me. I wish I could fall back on this mindfulness, on this conscious choice of connected-ness at those moments.

Compliment gone wrong

I am far from my home now, attending some work-related meeting. I had to give a presentation here and I was slightly nervous about it. Because I have never gave a speech in front of this community, and I was not sure how they will take it. In particular, there was one person in my audience who is very well-known and highly regarded by everyone. I also heard that he is an amazing person, really kind and humble. Many people with his level of success and accomplishment would be too proud and arrogant. But this guy was super nice. Anyway, my presentation actually went well and afterwards this person approached me and made some supportive and encouraging comments. I was thrilled and happy about it. The next day morning he again told me he really liked my talk and he thought I was very smart. I was….well…glowing with pride. I even called my husband and told him how my hard work is being appreciated here.

After some time it hit me. Shit…..this guy was nice. How could I manage to forget THAT? He says nice things to everyone and that does not mean I was doing well or anything. He was just being NICE to me, nothing more than that. Oh god….how I made a total fool of myself. What everyone must be thinking. Everyone here must have noticed me carrying myself with my stupid head held high, and my stupid eyes shining bright with pride, and they must have been laughing behind my back….hey, look at that stupid woman who thinks she is really smart, she took some polite comments too seriously. I felt like crawling under the carpet and stay there for the rest of the meeting. Although everybody was really good at hiding their sarcasm and behaved very normally around me, but you can’t fool me twice in a span of just two days. Come on, I am not that stupid. Oh my god….am I topic of some joke now? Something like: be careful, don’t go and tell her ‘Hi, nice to meet you’ she will think ‘oh, everybody is thrilled to meet me, how popular I am’.

Why did I even decide to attend this meeting? What was I thinking? And that famous person, who is behind all these, who is solely responsible for misleading me with his kindness? Well, let me just go back to my comfort zone once again. After this mortifying experience passes, and I am back home again, I am going to tell everyone what he did to me. I will need to be careful though, because many people think of him as some kind of saint…but this warning must go across. Otherwise there will be other victims like me, who are so naive that they believe when they hear what they want to hear. And I can’t let that happen. I have some responsibility towards my colleagues, towards my community, towards human kind. I need some plan though how to go about this. Because most people will totally fail to get the point and will dismiss my ordeal as something like “you are being over-sensitive about it all. This guy was indeed nice and cordial to you. And no body made fun of you….it is all in your head.” So I need to carefully design my plot.

This is how an amazing person with his nice behavior and kind comments ruined this trip for me.

That elite group

I mean that elite circle, group of our peers who are highly successful and smart, the people we all look up to. At school, college or university, these are the people who top every exams and look like they are set to go somewhere with their lives. At workplaces, these are the people who are known as the best hires, they excel at every projects they undertake, and very quickly climb up the ladder using their talent. More often than not, they also form an elite group, where they compete with each other, and measure themselves against other elite members of that circle. This rivalry is demonstrated in different ways at different stages of life. At school level these young bright students are trying to outsmart each other at exams, at assignments, they challenge each other with some particularly difficult math problem….at university level they keep an eye for who is going to bag the most lucrative job offer, and so on. In some form or other this rivalry stays on in their lives. I personally know many such people who were part of the same elite group during their school days, but even in their mid lives, they still keep tab on each other. It sounds ridiculous, and they would often deny that they do so. But if you happen to know them well, and know their ways well, then you can spot it, no problem.

Needless to say, other people look up to this super smart group, they long to be part of that circle. If you are part of this group, it can really push you towards excellence, it can keep you motivated to work harder and smarter. This peer pressure, if processed in a healthy way, can really take your motivation to a new high. However, success and accomplishments can also sometimes bring in arrogance. These elites know they are smart, they know they are talented, they are intellectually superior and this often makes them arrogant, snob and sometimes outright nasty.

Recently, I got a visit from a dear friend of mine. This friend is one such member of the elite group. True, he is super super smart and has been immensely successful in his career, but like many other of his peers he was also quite arrogant. He has been part of my life for so long now, and I have been awfully fond of him for so many years now, that although I know these limitations he has, it has never affected my love for him. For that matter, he also is familiar with so many shortcomings I have, and never bothered to stop loving me. That is what good friends are for, right? They are too well aware of our limitations and love us nevertheless. So while I love this friend, I know that sometimes he can be really arrogant and cutting in his behavior towards others.

But this time I noticed a difference. Something has shifted inside him. He has become more grounded, more rounded, lot of sharp edges have gone away. I could perceive it within an hour of his visit. My old friend has changed and in a good way. Slowly, as we began talking, catching up with what is happening in our lives, I came to know that he has been facing some problems at work. His promotion has been delayed, delayed and then denied. It seems somebody higher up did not like him for some reason and decided to play some nasty office politics. Now, this is certainly not a unique problem and many people face similar issues at their workplaces frequently. But for my friend, who has always moved in elite circles, such things are unexpected, unacceptable and simply something that happened to “other people”. He has always received escalated promotion for outstanding performance. Promotion being delayed or denied is not something he can stomach easily. This experience has shaken him and humbled him. While my friend had many other adorable qualities, modesty or humility was not one of them.

When we were talking, I naturally felt sorry and angry that despite doing very well, his promotion was unfairly denied to him. But I was also pleasantly surprised to have my old friend changed in such a beautiful way. And to me this totally feels like a bonus. I mean, I already had this person in my life and liked him so very much. Now the same person became even better…..does it not feel like a totally unexpected gift? I felt such a sense of deep gratitude welling up inside me, I didn’t know whom to thank. Thanking that vicious guy at his office who caused all this, sounds like a very wrong and ‘disloyal’ thing to do my friend. But I do feel thankful for the changes I see in my friend. And it does not look like a temporary change, it seems he has changed his way of life for good. He now responds to life in a more tolerant, patient and kind way, which shows in every single of his interactions.

Has it ever happened to you? Somebody whom you love anyway, despite some aspects of their nature, suddenly shake those disturbing traits off and you just don’t know what did you do to deserve this gift? Would love to know your comments on this.