Tag Archives: balance

Nature or Nurture: My Genes Revealed

I was recently writing an article about genetics and came across the nature versus nurture theory. I’ve heard of it before but never applied it to my life, until now. You see I have been fighting nature and possibly nurture all my life.

My Dad and I have a lot in common. We are both quiet bookworms with a small group of friends and prefer silence to small talk. Did I mention my Dad was a writer? My Mom on the other hand has what you call the gift of the gab. She can strike up conversations with total strangers. She was a teacher and so are two of her sisters. Teaching genes are strongly expressed in her generation. My Dad was probably the only writer in his generation. And in their relationship Mom is clearly the dominant one. I probably have a lot of the ‘dominant’ teaching genes. If you happen to be a friend of mine you know what I am talking about. I love giving sermons, counselling and advising people (much to their annoyance)!

My mom’s personality and mine are so different that teaching never featured in my career choices. Big mistake! I would have pursued a teaching degree instead of journalism if I had know I’d be teaching in my mid-thirties.

My teaching genes also benefitted from a nurturing environment. I’ve had some awesome teachers who have brought out the best in me and evoked a deep respect for this profession. My mother often spoke of how much she loved kids and how emotionally fulfilling her job was. Like her, I love kids and job satisfaction is high on my list of priorities. If I ain’t happy I ain’t doing a good job. I have to love the work and the people I work with.

Sometimes I think I inherited both writing and teaching genes in equal measure. Both seem to want to dominate my life at one time or another. If I had been privy to this knowledge ten years ago, it would have been easy to chart the course of my career. I remember how confused I was after doing my bachelors in science and realizing I didn’t want to go into teaching or research. I opted for journalism because my Dad suggested it after I took another wrong turn toward an M.S. in ecology. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed journalism. Even before I finished my thesis I was offered a job. I also worked part-time during my final semester.

My first real job was editing and I loved it for the most part. Deep down I sorely missed creative writing. Sometimes I wish I had followed my friends career paths into technical writing or computer graphics. But then again the wordsmith gene in me rebels and sulks over not being able to express itself.

Both teaching and writing are jobs that give me a good work-life balance. My kids and their lives are equally important to me. I want to be there every day when they get back from school. I want to sit at the kitchen table and feed them home-cooked meals, while they share funny stories about school.

So after much deliberation I have finally arrived at the conclusion that it’s ok to branch out. It’s ok not to follow the beaten (career) path. We as individuals are such dynamic creatures that one career cannot do justice to our many talents. That is probably the reason for such large-scale dissatisfaction as far as one’s career goes. If you have to stick to your job to pay the bills, that’s ok. Pursue other talents as hobbies or simply volunteer whenever you can. You will be happier and won’t resent your day job so much.

So here I am – a writer, a blogger, a substitute teacher, communications VP at the PTSA and wannabe yoga teacher! Unofficial jobs? Well, let’s not go there. God help me!

Unleash the Goddess Within

Whenever I think of Goddesses incarnating on earth I fondly remember my grandma. She was a powerful matriarch with an iron staff (or should I say sword?) She was fearless and stood up to most anyone – die-hard patriarchs included – who saw her as a hapless widow. She owned her power. She was kind, generous, loving and very shrewd. She saw through facades and flagrant unctuousness although she appeared to revel in it. She was like a fierce lioness with a brood of cubs that she guarded vehemently. She was definitely a Durga. There is this picture of her taken on her birthday. She is dressed immaculately in white, brandishing a sword (thanks to her indulgent brother) while sitting on her bed with her dogs languishing in the background. On her nightstand she had a picture of the Goddess Durga slaying Mahishasura with his decapitated buffalo’s head and body lying under the goddess astride a lion. The lion is mauling the remains of the demon while blood drips off her trident.

I was reading the book, “Awakening Shakti” by Sally Kempton and it was all about the different goddesses and their powers. It even had a fun quiz at the end – Which Goddess are You? The author didn’t want the readers to take it too seriously and just wanted everyone to have some fun. I took the quiz in that very same spirit but slowly it took on a serious turn. I related to different Goddesses with very contrasting qualities. Of course everyone is a mix of qualities and it’s not always possible to fit in one particular category. In my case however, I saw how I was dominated by one Goddess during one part of my life and others during other parts of my life.

Every woman goes through a phase in her life when she feels like a goddess, oozes charisma and a dizzying fragrance that others find irresistible. In fact some men fear the power of such a woman and demonize her as the femme fatale. The evil one that seduces one and all. Some patriarchal societies don’t encourage women to flaunt their beauty. They want it kept under wraps and want women to feel ugly about their bodies. In extreme cases they mutilate women as a way of punishing them for embodying the beauty of a Goddess. Look around you and notice how people make you feel ugly or unworthy or encourage you to hide your inner beauty because they are afraid of it. To be a goddess you must see beauty within you and appreciate beauty around you.

At one time widows were expected to shave their heads and wear drab or white robes and no jewelry so they would not tempt other men into entering into a liaison with them. Which brings me back to my grandma. She wore white saris but was the epitome of style. Probably the years she spent in England made her realize that not everywhere are widows treated as outcastes. But she did not discard all of her Indian upbringing. She somehow molded the two and made white her fashion statement. How empowering is that?

Remember Sita? The beautiful goddess who married the handsome Prince Rama. The divine couple were a dazzling sight and people could barely take their eyes off the two of them. But later on in the story the beautiful Sita follows her husband to the forest, suffers untold miseries and then gets abducted by a demon king. She waits for her husband to come rescue her while ugly demons taunt and torture her. Ravana, the demon king waits for her to join his harem. She refuses until one day he can take it no more and attacks her with the intention of molesting her. Only then does the timid Sita take on a fiery persona and forbids Ravana from touching her lest he gets burnt by the intensity of her Shakti or power. Ravana backs off, sensing the intensity of her power and not wanting to risk his life.

To cut a long story short, Rama kills Ravana and rescues Sita but refuses to accept her since she has lived with another man (Sita suffered the changing seasons and was at the mercy of the elements in the Ashoka garden. She never stepped into Ravana’s palace nor did she wear any of the silks and jewels that he offered her.) She had to pass the test of fire to prove that she was chaste. Only then did Rama accept her as his queen.

So many women I know fall into the Sita category. They sacrifice their joys, ambitions and dreams in order to support their spouse and always put themselves last. Why even I am guilty of being a Sita during the early days of my married life. Isn’t that what every mother teaches her daughter consciously or unconsciously? I was reading my journal from many years ago and one of the entries struck me. I was told to “act submissive” during the wedding ceremony. It incensed me now, but my 23 year old self was willing to comply with that absurd request!

We are all taught to be Sitas. To be docile, in the shadows, ever serving our Lord (husband!) Made sense in Sita’s case because Rama was really the Divine incarnate. Now how many husbands treat you the way Rama treated Sita. And even Rama wasn’t perfect!

I was happy to play the domestic goddess. To cook, clean and care for the kids while my husband worked for a pay check. After a few years my domestic goddess felt disempowered. I could no longer play the role of a supportive, self-sacrificing Sita. The Durga in me emerged – fierce and seated on a lion – ready to pounce on anyone who doubted my power. I had to find a balance between nurturing others and myself and that came only from knowing where to draw the line and having the power to defend it.

When I don’t take good care of my needs the Kali comes out in me. Now Kali is the shadow side of the goddess. Dark and menacing with a necklace of skulls and a thirst for blood. Some call it PMS  which to me stands for Protesting Matriarchal Suppression! No one wants to be around Kali. She strikes terror in the hearts of men. And yet she is needed every now and then to restore the balance when it is too far gone to humanly restore.

Is the female of the species deadlier than the male? Occasionally yes, if you push her buttons too hard and too often!  But in a balanced state she nurtures one and all, imparting beauty, knowledge, protection and creativity. So which Goddess are you or which Goddess do you aspire to be?

The Other Side of Shiva…

Blue and pink. Fairies, princesses, ballet and gymnastics. Legos, pirates, superheroes, cars and trains. Even before they are born, our babies have their whole lives planned out – what color their rooms will be, what clothes they will wear, what toys they will play with and preferred activities and games. We put our babies in neat little boxes painted blue or pink and label them boy or girl. When they try to crawl out of the box and get into the other one we push them back into the box we think they should be in. Think about it. Do we truly honor our children and see them as unique marvels of creation? Nope. We thrust our preconceived sexist ideologies on them.

Try dressing your baby in blue even if she is a girl and take her out for a stroll. I did that! Everyone went on about what a beautiful baby boy I had. Keep your girl’s hair short and again she gets mistaken for a boy. Once in school, girls with short hair get bullied for keeping their locks cropped. When boys grow their hair long it is cool – except in India. Schools out there don’t like boys with long hair. I’ve heard that they send some of them with their hair tied up in rubber bands just to make a point.

I recently dug up some old tapes with footage of my kids as toddlers. My son was walking around with a pink baby doll and kept calling it “baby”. As much as I encouraged him to play dolls with his sister, somewhere along the way he got the message that dolls are girly. It makes me sad to see my kids drift apart and do their own thing when at one time they used to play together for hours.

But this kind of bias runs deeper than just the color pink or dolls. It is like a subliminal undercurrent that sometimes catches us by surprise. Like the time when I was talking to my kids about growing up and having families of their own. My daughter who decided pretty early in her life that she wants to be a doctor asked me, ” Ma, who will take care of my kids if I go to work?”. It never occurred to her that her future husband shared the responsibility of raising the kids. I was stumped by her question and instead of telling her that raising kids was not solely a woman’s job, I offered to babysit while she worked!

While women have been excluded from boxes labelled ” A Man’s Job”, even if they were worthy and competent, men seldom crawled into boxes that had roles specifically for women. Remember Ben Stiller who played the male nurse in “Meet the Parents”? He was constantly ridiculed for his career choice. In my own life I theoretically believed that I (being a foodie and all) would love being married to a chef. In real life I turned down an alliance from a chef who worked in a five star rated hotel. So somewhere deep in my psyche I felt women needed to do all the cooking, maybe?

Back in my grandmother’s days women were not allowed in the kitchen because they had male cooks. My great grandmother who shares my name must be tut-tutting – two generations down the line her infamous great granddaughter has surrendered to the patriarchal system.

Born in the 70s I must have imbibed some of the energy from the Women’s movement. I grew up with a brother and we got treated differently, especially in our youth. He got to stay out late, go to clubs and discos and New Year’s eve parties, while I had to stay home. Anytime this happened,  I would raise a red flag and rant and rave (till I was blue) about discrimination of the girl child and women’s rights. My parents married me off young lest I go rogue.

After I got married my husband and I took on traditional roles – he worked and I stayed home and cared for the kids. I didn’t mind it at first but over the years I felt like I was taking on more and more. I was resentful and constantly nagged him about doing more around the house. Fortunately we both realized that our relationship is constantly growing and changing and that to make it successful one needs to adapt. Now I get more help from my husband and sometimes I don’t even have to ask.

Things are far from equal when we compare the two genders but in an ideal world we’d be equally balanced. There is a story in Hindu scriptures of a time when the mother of the universe playfully closed the eyes of Shiva. The entire cosmos was shrouded in darkness and all living beings suffered and perished. When the mother removed her hands, Shiva chided her and pointed out the destruction that she had caused. It broke her heart to see the suffering that she had inadvertently inflicted on her children. She set off to do penance and obtain Shiva’s forgiveness. At the end of her severe penance, Shiva and the mother merged as one so they would never be separate. The story is symbolic of the oneness of the male and the female aspects of the universe but we find it hard to picture that as humans. So the result of the merging of the mother and father of the universe is depicted as below. All we can do is hope for a time when we would honor the male and female aspects of ourselves instead of suppressing one or the other. For one cannot flourish without the other and they are inseparable.

My Involuntary Retirement Years…

When do normal people retire? Typically after their kids leave the nest and they have hit a certain age. For me retirement came at the ripe old age of 30! Yes 30! After being a full time mom for several years and spending every breathing moment with my toddlers, they suddenly left me for prospective elementary schools. I went from needy toddlers hanging from my arms to totally jobless and unattached (to children). For six hours every day I wandered like a ghost from room to room in my empty house.

I spent the mornings surfing the web or watching talk shows. After lunch which was usually leftovers or something out of the freezer, a great weariness would come over me and I simply had to lay me down for a nap. Once a week I went for gentle yoga classes at the community center. Gentle yoga is a euphemism for I’m-too-old-to-bend-like-that! My instructor and all the other students were silver haired and had grandchildren. They were a jolly bunch and always commended me on being extremely bendy. Once a week I did grocery shopping and found that all other retired people liked to shop early in the morning on a weekday when the crowds were thin. Made perfect sense to me if you wanted to avoid running over toddlers and not have to deal with traffic jams in every aisle.

It really didn’t help that I lived in the retirement state of Florida. My hair which was jet black up until my 30th year slowly started showing signs of graying. It was like my hair decided to catch up with my retired lifestyle. It wasn’t all bad. Being at the other end of the age spectrum prematurely, helped me gain a lot of wisdom and insight. Like the rat race was good for people who wanted to lose weight. If you have seen me you know that weight is not one of my problems! I was forced to slow down while everyone else was scurrying around being really busy. In fact they were all so busy that they had no time to spare. Me? I had all the time in the world. Time to idle. Time to read. Time to chat with friends. Time to play with my kids. Time to cook. Time to write. Time to simply let my mind wander.

When you have a million things to do your mind is on overdrive. Jumping from one task to another. I was standing still while the world around me was in constant motion. Time also stood still and mocked me. But in those still, quiet moments I found myself and healed parts of myself that were broken.

Then my life took a drastic turn and I was pushed out of my involuntary retirement into a life full of busyness. Quite like in the movies where the protagonist is running happily across a corn field (in slow motion) and then suddenly she is scurrying around hurriedly trying to do a million things (in fast forward). Pretty comical!

I’m no longer bored and can’t sit around idling. My mornings I devote to household chores and cooking and then go to work in the afternoon. The thing I miss the most is my afternoon siesta. I also miss staying in my pajamas all day or having inspiration strike when I’m folding laundry or packing lunches.

Now I know why writers shut themselves up in their rooms or run off to some exotic and totally remote location to get away from it all. My mind is always racing these days and my creativity has taken a beating. That Frost guy really knew what he was talking about. I really don’t have the time to stand and stare. On more than one occasion I have begged my family to go on shopping trips without me simply because I yearned for some quiet time with myself. Yes, the ghostly ghoul side of me feels neglected. Haunting rooms is much simpler than trying to juggle everything and trying to be a superwoman. Simple but mildly unsatisfying. Not to mention the dire consequences that your brain has to endure from too much sleep, too little activity and hardly any stimulation.

Anyways in another decade or so the kids will be really gone (not just gone all day). Maybe I’ll have a career. Maybe I’ll be a best selling author with a vacation home in the mountains somewhere. Or maybe I’ll just be retired and living in an empty house full of memories. But I know I’ll be prepared. I know I will enjoy spending time with myself. My involuntary retirement years taught me that there is a time to be busy and a time to slow down. So Life, bring it on!

The Rose that Couldn’t Bloom

     rose

  In our small balcony we have several flowering plants. Some have been with us for years and others we have collected during our travels and here in Florida. Amongst them is a rose plant that blooms bountifully, yielding sometimes 15 blossoms. Cold weather in my part of the world has stymied this proliferous plant. It has one lone rose bud and knowing how tender they can be I half expected it to shrivel up and die. Not this bud! It stands there stolidly pointing its head up.

The bud seems to be saying – I’ll be patient for as long as it takes. I will fulfil my purpose as a bud. I will blossom one day to reveal the deepest and most beautiful part of me. So every morning I wake up and look outside to see the bud as it was – big and rosy, waiting to burst into bloom. I don’t want to rush it. I don’t want to push it. I know that could have a disastrous effect. So I wait with it.

I remember going to a temple once and getting a lotus bud. It is a sacred symbol in many religions and spiritual practices. So I hold onto it reverently until I get home. I put it in a tall vase filled with water. I watch it every day, waiting for it to open up. But it simply refuses to bloom. Me in my impatience (so characteristic of youth) tried to pry it open. I pull the petals apart but the result is not pretty. It ended up being neither a bud nor a flower. I discard it with a heavy heart.

When I look at my brave little rose bud outside, I marvel at its quiet strength. I would wish that kind of strength on my former self. The young 20 something, full of potential and raring to go only to be stalled by less than optimum circumstances.  Circumstances over which I had no control whatsoever. But for which I took all the blame. Unlike the rose I felt crushed, defeated and hung my head in shame. I even forgot that inside of me was this radiance that would never dim. Unlike the rose I forgot to put on a brave face, stand tall and wait it out until the heavens smiled down on me.

So valiant bud I bow to thee. Ever so silently you have shown me a lesson worthy of emulation. As things get tough as they are wont to, let me remember you, your graceful beauty and strength to stand up against all odds and triumph. I see today that you have bloomed and fulfilled your destiny as a perfect flower in perfect weather.