On a perfect day

On a perfect day I wake up early in the morning, refreshed after a good night’s sleep. My mind is calm because I am well-rested. I am eager to start my day’s work. I take a shower and drive to work. The traffic is smooth and I reach my office early….almost no body has arrived yet. The place is quiet. I enter my office, open the windows and fresh morning air fills the room. I never turn on the air-conditioner in the morning. I am focused and feel motivated to start my work. After checking emails, glancing at the news for few minutes I am all set. I am able to concentrate well and the day turns out to be quite productive. Every hour my fitbit signals me to take 250 steps and I walk around the corridor or go to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee and these breaks help me to stretch my muscles. I finish work and drive back home. Again traffic is peaceful. I call my parents to check on them and everything is fine. I get ready for my evening walk. One or two of my neighbor friends join me and we have animated conversation. We don’t even realize how one hour gets over. My fitbit count is significantly higher than 10,000…something around 12000 or 13000. It feels good. I come back to my apartment and cool off. I take a shower and there is still some time before it is time for my husband to return home (he has a long commute). I spend few minutes on meditation, I practice my music or read something. My husband comes back. We spend some time talking about our day. Just being in each other’s company is what we need to unwind and this has not changed even after eleven years of marriage. Finally it is time for bed. I read some more and drift to sleep.

Over the past few months I have not had a single perfect day. Is it too much to ask for?

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On love and empathy

 A perfect whirlwind…..that’s what it is. For the past few months, my life has been totally spinning out of control. I was not living, I was just rushing from one day to the next, one hour to the next. I don’t like this mode of fast paced existence where I don’t have time to pause, time to breathe. One after another thing kept on coming and simply overwhelmed me. There were times I felt desperate, lonely, inadequate, impatient, angry and some other times when I felt excited, proud, accomplished. Almost all the time I felt tired, stressed and rushed. Needless to say I had no time to blog, because I had no time to pause and reflect. I don’t want to go into details of what all transpired that threw me into this vortex, but I do want to share some lessons that I learned, out of first hand realizations that I had during this time.

1. Power of love. Love is the most important thing to feel, during this limited time we have in this wonderful world. It does not matter who loves you, and how much. What remains with you is how much love you feel in your heart for others. This love that resides in you, gives you strength and assurance. In some difficult times that I had to go through recently, I surprised myself with my own strength. In an emergency (in the true sense of the word) I just needed to realize that somebody I love, is in a difficult situation, and needs my support. Rather than getting paralyzed with worry (which would have been the common response of most people in similar situation), I stopped thinking ahead, stopped thinking “what if” and focussed on what was unfolding before my eyes and what needed to be done at that moment. On retrospect, it turned out that I made some pretty crucial decisions during that time which took things in the right direction. I shudder to think what would have happened other wise.

Was I stressed? Hell, yes. I felt a tight knot in my stomach (really I could put my hand on it and feel the tightness) and totally dried up throat pipe…..these are physical symptoms of stress. But my mind was working with precision and never for a moment my mind allowed me to feel confused or scared. In that emergency situation, I felt in control. It was possible because of love. Nothing else mattered at that moment, just the simple truth that this person I love is in distress, and I just have to rise to the occasion and take charge. Because I can not bear to see someone I love, beaten down…nope…no way…wait for me, I am coming to stand by you, shoulder to shoulder, and we will deal with it. This love urged me on, gave me courage even when I should have been scared, kept me focussed in the present moment. After all was over, I marvelled at the limit to which our abilities can be stretched by this powerful emotion called love.

2. Many people we see around us, appear to be too full of themselves. They seem to be always after their own interests, and completely insensitive to the needs of others. I know many such people among my colleagues, my neighbors, my relatives, my other acquaintances. These people are all the time preoccupied with their own lives and just do not bother about anyone else. I never wanted to live like that. I always want to keep one part of myself ready for listening, helping with, taking interest in things that others may want to tell me. But in this last few months, I was so overwhelmed with things that I realized I am not left with anything to offer to another person. On multiple occasions it happened that when somebody is telling me about their own problems, I am thinking “I don’t want to deal with your negative emotions right now. Stop bugging me.” I was being selfish I know, but I was also feeling helpless about it. One day I was taking my brisk walk in the evening and one neighbor joined me on my walk and soon she was talking about some issues she was facing in her family. I listened to her but was resenting that I have to listen to this after my own long and hard day. I felt she was (unknowingly) drowning me with her own negative thoughts, as if I did not already have enough on my plate. I am not proud of these thoughts but they did cross my mind.

I know I don’t want to be like this. I want to step out of my own little world and actively communicate with other people. I want to actively feel what another fellow human being is going through, I want to listen with sympathy and kindness when someone is narrating me their problems. The impatience or irritation I felt was hopefully temporary and I am now consciously trying to get over it. I believe if a suddenly increased stress level has caused this response, then it is really temporary. I also believe that if I am thrown into this crazy whirlpool too often, again and again, then I will soon get the hang of it. I will learn to deal with this one-after-another-after-another… chain of stressful situations and still live my life where I am able to save a part of myself to respond in a meaningful way to what others are telling me. Most importantly, I realized that I have no right to judge those people who I think are “just too full of themselves”. I don’t know enough about their lives and what they are going through. May be they are so overwhelmed that they are unable to look beyond themselves.

3. I strongly believe that universe has a way of teaching us what we need to know. May be over the time I was slipping into a mode of being too judgemental? Then my own life started this crazy dance and I caught myself doing the exactly same thing as what I resent in others. I harshly judged some people as selfish, callous, insensitive and here I was, behaving exactly like them. I hope I never forget this.

A short trip to Stockholm

Last week I was in Stockholm, on a business trip. This was my first time in Sweden and so I tried to look around the city as much as I could, although time was short. Ideally I should have added few more days to my trip, but for many reasons that was not possible.

Whenever I go to a new country, there is one particular moment that I relish. It is when I exit the airport terminal and smell the air, hear the sound and see the sight of the brand new place for the first time in my life. Just before the exit, my mind goes blank…..I don’t know what to expect, and then the full thrust of the new land hits me. I always prefer to make the journey from the airport to the main city by road, not by metro. In the airport coach I stare outside the window as the new country passes me by. I almost feel like a child in those moments. The sight, sound and smell that I receive in first few minutes of setting my foot in a new country, always gets stored in my brain as characteristic to that place. Every time in future I encounter a similar sensation, I think of that country.

No exception this time. My flight from New Delhi to Stockholm was pretty long, almost 8 hours, and I had to travel from my home town to Delhi via a connecting flight in the same morning. So when I reached Stockholm, I was physically quite exhausted. But after passport control, when I got out of the airport terminal and boarded the airport coach that will take me from Arlanda airport to Stockholm central station, all my senses were heightened and I was feeling very very alert. My fatigue, exhaustion completely gone (only to come back ten fold after few hours), I was keenly processing all the inputs that my eyes, my ears and my olfactory nerves were receiving. I think it is fair to say that I could effortlessly achieve mindfulness in those moments. Every time I enter a new country, mindfulness comes easily to me. And every time I realize how liberating that experience is.

Unfortunately I am not in the habit of taking pictures with my mobile. Most of the time I forget to even take my phone out unlike many people who automatically click or record everything. And when I do remember to take some snaps, they are often not good, not worth-sharing really. So this blog remains without pretty pictures, and I am not sure if a travelogue in pure text, without a single photograph, is even legal these days. But I do want to mention few things which I found special to Stockholm.

1. The silence. Right after deplaning, when we were waiting for passport control, there was not a single sound. Even we Indians who are habitually loud, were talking in hushed tone. A large hall, packed with more than 300 people, and so quiet….I found it amazing. Later I noticed the same thing, on streets, inside super markets, at railway platforms….the noise level is far below what I have encountered at other places.

2. It is expensive, even the food. Unlike many other places in Europe, food is quite expensive in Stockholm, if you want to eat out. I stayed in a hotel apartment which had a fully equipped kitchen and this helped. Although I did sample the local cuisine, I did not have to rely on outside food for my every meal. I bought some simple ingredients from the local grocery store and used the kitchen. Saved me quite a bit of money.

3. The food is too good. I tried some of the famous restaurants there: Meatballs for the people, Kajsas Fisk, and their very own Max burgers. Loved them all.

Back to my own place now. Trying to get back to my daily routine, to bring my sleep schedule to normal hours again (thanks to the time difference, my sleep pattern has gone haywire), to restart my exercise (I am not going near any weighing scale for next few weeks, all eat and no play has surely taken its toll). And I am staying grateful through it all. I enjoyed this short visit, although it was hectic and I could see only little bit of the place, but I loved it all, and I am happy to be back, in my own place, among my own people whom I love. People who miss me when I am gone, who worry about me when I travel, who get unsettled when they do not get a phone call from me that I have reached safely, who count days till I am back, who are happy and relieved after I am back. I take none of these for granted, not anymore. This love that surrounds my life here, I am grateful for this everyday.

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.

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?