Tag Archives: different

The Rise of the Sensitives

I have known that I’m different for a long time. When the whole world is going east I would be looking west. I gave up meat when I was in 12th grade and also became a Reiki Level II practitioner. I dabbled in yoga and spent Saturday mornings at a home for the mentally challenged. Yes I was different. I felt everything more intensely than everyone else. I just thought I was sensitive and being sensitive of course is considered a bad thing. It is associated with weakness and the inability to cope. Sensitive people would rather be at peace than be right. So often times we keep quiet to keep the peace. It doesn’t mean that we are in agreement with you – it just means that we don’t want to soak up the toxic energy created by an argument. I had to learn to be assertive even though it meant ruffling a few feathers.

Earlier I had to deal with just my emotions but these days I find that I’m picking up on everyone’s vibes and it is very unsettling. For no apparent reason my mood fluctuates. Then I look around me and I see people acting out, depressed, lonely, sad and hopeless. Some who can’t take it any more are ending their lives. There has been a rise in our level of sensitivity as a race. We are no longer living utterly selfish lives filled with apathy. Don’t read the prophecies of doom and gloom that the media is publicizing. Read stories of real people reaching out and helping – fellow humans, animals, trees and other distressed souls. Being tough and street smart aint getting anyone anywhere. Natural disasters, death and disease – humble levelers of us all – have taught us that we need each other and we can’t live in isolation, oblivious to the suffering of others. One day we might be in their shoes and all the money and intellect in the world couldn’t help us. Only another human can. Another sensitive human.

So I wear my sensitivity proudly as if it were a prized possession. Yes it is hard to manage all the emotions swirling around me and sometimes I feel overwhelmed and helplessly at the mercy of my feelings. But over the years I have learned to manage them and divert them for a better cause.

If you are sensitive you understand what another person is going through. You feel their emotions like they are your own. People feel soothed in your presence because you can empathize with them without any exchange of words. You are probably the person who takes all their distress calls.

Being sensitive is a blessing but could be a curse if you don’t know how to manage it. Of course you can manage it! Didn’t you know? You should know when to cut back and retreat so you don’t take on too much of other people’s energies. In Reiki they teach you this. Protect your aura before you start healing another and it applies to all of us even if we are not healers. Certain people can drain you of your energy and you need to identify these energy vampires and stay away from them. Some will be naturally drawn to you but you need to say no because no one benefits when you give at your own expense.

So how do we protect ourselves from being dragged down by the toxic energy around us? One way is obvious – pray and ask for protection. Another way is to stay away from news, media and not so loving people. Spiritual practices like meditation, yoga, tai chi and qi gong help center us and keep our emotions in balance. Lastly, get away, go on a vacation or simply retreat and rest. Affirm to yourself daily that you will at no cost be pulled into the drama because your nature is peace! Even when people spew out their negativity at you, stay centered and mentally negate the energy so it has no power over you. If it happens too often then try and get away from this person.

Being consciously sensitive is empowering and is in no way a sign of weakness. It is in fact the way to lead this world into a day when loving kindness and peace will prevail. Because loving kindness starts with you.

Vegan or Vegetarian?

I turned vegetarian when I was 16. I saw a goat being slaughtered on television. I saw chickens with their feet tied to the handlebars of bicycles, their beaks grazing the wheels. My taste buds kinda died that day. I lost my taste for mutton and chicken and even seafood. I went a bit extreme and gave up leather footwear and handbags. Handbags I wore well but my feet blistered the moment I wore PVC shoes. Jute shoes and online shopping were not popular back then. Heck! I had no credit card. So I reluctantly went back to leather. I reckoned they used the hides of cows that are slaughtered for beef anyways! Wrong! The beef and leather industry haven’t made the connection. I thought until recently that all dairy products are manufactured humanely. After all no animals get killed right? Wrong again! Cows have their calves taken away from them so they can be milked solely for human consumption. Some calves are shut away in cages to make them veal entrees at fancy restaurants! So last month I decided to become vegan and then I realized how hard it is. It meant giving up eggs, milk and yogurt which is about the only protein I get apart from lentils. So I started by giving up milk and then I realized I don’t drink black tea. So a little milk trickled back into my diet. Then I was making pancakes and eggs were included in the recipe. So I had that as well. Being South Indian means yogurt is a big part of my diet. So I couldn’t suddenly stop eating yogurt.

Then I decided I should just not buy milk and yogurt anymore. But then what about the kids? They need 2 glasses of milk everyday and yogurt to go with my spicy cooking! So I took my daughter grocery shopping with me and told her I was going to buy soy milk. She screwed up her face and said – please Ma! I don’t want it! Then my husband’s face flashed before me. He would not approve of soy milk tea – not in a million years! It’s a good thing I didn’t buy soy milk because a few days later I read about genetically modified products in the very same soy milk I was tempted to pick up. So right now I’m swimming in information that makes me feel guilty every time I have dairy! Sometimes I just wanna scream. As you may have guessed my stint as a vegan was short lived and very unsuccessful.

I remember someone I met long ago who was relating to me why he had turned vegetarian. When he was a kid he had a chick in his backyard that he raised as a pet. The chick soon grew into a hen and he was really attached to it. One day he came back home to find the chicken gone and guess what was for dinner? His uncle had come for a visit and was craving chicken. The boy was crushed, mad, angry. Of course he would have rather starved than eat his own pet chicken. So that day he swore off meat.

I know many people who love animals but still eat meat. It’s like they would never dream of hurting their pets but as long they don’t kill the animals they eat, it’s fine. Some say if we don’t eat fish the oceans will have too many fish. Actually the opposite is true. Over fishing is rampant everywhere and if we don’t stop we’ll run out of fish soon. Some think the vegetarian diet is not wholesome. Again we are not true carnivores. We cannot eat raw meat and survive. Our teeth and our intestines are designed for plant based diets.

Sometimes I wish I never knew any of this. Ignorance is truly bliss and peace of mind and easier times at the grocery stores. I  think it’s up to people to decide what they put into their mouths. So for years I have been a passive vegetarian – I don’t go around trying to get people to stop eating meat. But the problem is not about what you put into your mouth. There are bigger issues than that. It’s about being humane, saving our oceans, saving species from extinction and in turn saving ourselves. There is too much information out there and in the end no one can force you to make the decision. Read about fishing and the meat industry and dairy and make a conscious choice. Even if you don’t become vegetarian or vegan at least support farms that treat animals well. If we have a choice when it comes to what we eat I think they have a choice too. A choice to live, be treated well and die a natural death!

The Road Less Taken…

It has been hard for me to follow my dreams because they did not match the dreams others had for me. I know that is a very disempowering notion but when you are child in a adults-know-best world that’s how it is. They wanted me to be a doctor and I really liked the idea until I realized that I hated dissection. If cutting up frogs in the zoology lab made me throw up, how on earth could I cut up corpses? Being a fan of horror movies didn’t help either! Nor did my new found interest in Reiki and other alternative therapies. Everyone was ok with me getting initiated in Reiki or doing an acupressure course or Pranic Healing. Everyone was ok with it being just a hobby. But to me it was more than a hobby. I felt passionate about alternative therapies. This was way back in school when I was still figuring myself out. And I’m still figuring myself out now because I felt others knew better. I thought the road I was taking was not so cool. The stats weren’t that good either. How many Reiki practitioners did I know? Just one. Just one sane one that is. I had very few role models to look up to. Very little support.

So I just buried everything because most of my friends frowned upon the idea of a Reiki therapist or an Acupuncture practitioner. I also felt a great connection with nature and thought ecology was the subject that would land me in a fulfilling career. I had the right idea but ended up in the wrong place. I felt so strongly that I was doing the right thing that when it didn’t work out and I had to quit I blamed myself. And worst of all I stopped trusting my own judgement. That started my downhill spiral to living an unauthentic life.

Reiki and yoga went into hiding. I was almost ashamed to admit that I knew Reiki or did yoga and the friends around me again validated this for me. Any talk about energy would make them visibly uncomfortable. So I buried all of that deeper. But it was such a burden on my psyche. And all that burying took its toll. It was like a shroud of unhappiness that I could never shake off, which clung to me like the mask I was wearing.

So after years of trying to fit in with what the world thought a respectable woman should do I finally realized that I always knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a healer or a teacher of healing arts. I wanted to help people feel better and live better lives. Help them work through their issues both physical and mental and emerge the best person they could possibly be. But I still didn’t have the courage to go for it. I still am surrounded by naysayers, brow beaters and soul stuffers. Now don’t get me wrong.  My friends and family mean well. They are trying to protect me from what they perceive as failure or danger or whatever else their limited perceptions allow them to believe. They are doing the best they can with the knowledge they have. But I can longer live with my people-pleasing unauthentic self.

And this blog which I started has been an eye-opener for me. First, it took courage to start the blog and put all my feelings out there. Second, writing put me in touch with my deepest fears and wildest dreams. In the last 8 months I’ve discovered more about myself than I have all my life. I’ve finally become comfortable with who I am even if it means that I’m a social outcast. Even if it means that my friends don’t approve. My dearest friend J (I love you very much!) and I were having a heated discussion the other day about my writing. She was telling me not to write about sensitive issues (See United Nations of the World). I simply refused to back down and said that I would write whatever it is I felt the need to write about. I know she was trying to protect me and if this had happened a few years ago I would have agreed with her.

It’s not that I don’t care about my family or my friends anymore. It’s just that I care about ‘me’ more. Being your version of ‘me’ brings me no joy and I’d rather travel on the road less taken than follow the crowd. Even if it means walking alone. Cos I know in my heart of hearts that it will take me home. I also know that not far along the path I’ll discover that I’m not alone. All I need is the courage to go down that lonely road.

The United Nations of the World

This post was meant to be on segregation and casteism and all the ugly covers we use to judge and divide us. But my wonderful husband told me this – your blog is about the positive, not about the negative. So I did not publish that post. Instead I have taken just the good points from it with the intention of sharing them with you.

Growing up, we were never really pukka Malayalees because we lived in Chennai and spoke mostly English at home. Part of it had to do with the fact that my parents never grew up in Kerala either. My mom had attended Benares Hindu University and was very fluent in Hindi. In fact she went on to be a very good Hindi teacher. My Dad grew up in Bombay and went to a school in Yercaud. I was born Hindu, went to a Christian school and said the Lord’s prayer everyday and lived in a neighborhood where everyone was Muslim.

Our Muslim neighbors burst crackers during Diwali and we shared sweets with them. During Ramzan they would send plates full of biriyani for us to enjoy. I don’t recall having any Malayalee friends in school. Lots of cousins, yes, but no friends. My best friends were Punjabi, Tamil, Telegu, Kannadiga and Bengali. It didn’t matter. No one made me feel like I was different. We all wore the same uniform, had the same rules to follow in school and our parents were friends. Some of the wonderful friends I made in college are Malayalees but that was not the reason I was friends with them!

I never really understood the impact of this kind of environment and upbringing until much later. Somewhere deep inside I knew that religion was just the way and that God was one indivisible being. I didn’t understand it even when 9/11 happened. Some of the best girls I know are Muslim and they are so gentle, loving and accepting. It didn’t hit me when I moved to the U.S. and the friends I made hailed from all over India.

But then slowly the hatred and bias that had been building up over the years started to spill over and I started hearing and seeing things that shocked me.

What really spurred me to write this article is something that came up in the news this week. It was about a boy who was one of the first responders when the 9/11 attacks happened. He lost his life trying to save the people trapped in the tower. His name was not mentioned along with the first responders. Why? Because he was a Pakistani Muslim. My good Indian friend L who lives in the Middle East told me that her best friend is Pakistani and I remember Benazir Bhutto’s last interview before she was assassinated. She talked of a deep love for her country and its beautiful people painted black by the media. She said that is why I fight for my country. That one sentence changed the way I as an Indian saw Pakistan. It is a country full of people like you and me, with families, with hopes and dreams. The real enemies are the politicians with their murky agendas, not the people of Pakistan.

I was also saddened by the news about the people from the North Eastern states having to flee Bangalore in the wake of threats of violence against them. What have we come to? Maybe the states should not have been divided based on language. But why should that divide us. What is wrong with speaking Hindi in Tamilnadu and why should every South Indian be called a Madrasi? I never grew up with those biases and so they seem really pointless and petty to me. I urge all of you to do the same. Get out of the narrow space that you have carved out for yourself. Explore the possibility of befriending someone outside of your limited religious or linguistic circle. My life is richer because of that. I learn so much about food and culture from my friends. And I almost always find so much similarity disguised as differences.

My kids now grow up in America and most of their friends are not Indians. I had to drop my bias against Westerners as well. I should have dropped it when I saw my friend S’s  husband who was German eat rice and curry with his hands. Or when G’s European fiance travelled all the way to India to meet her family and ask for her hand.  You see bias is a dangerous thing. Once you let it in, it colors your vision of the world and your life will never be the same again.

Don’t believe all that you see on television. The divide and rule policy is alive and well in every country’s government! Use your own experience to guide you.

I urge you to drop your veils and see the oneness that is us. It is what you have been seeking all your life…

Daring and Different…My Dadima

This post is long overdue. I meant to write this is 2009 and get it published in a newspaper or magazine in Chennai, India. Since that didn’t happen I guess I’ll have to be happy with this. M asked me the other day – who is your idol? I mentioned the name of my deceased guru. But as I thought about it I realized I have several people on that list. And my grandmother is somewhere on the top of that list.

I called her Dadima even though we don’t speak Hindi at home. She was not your usual run-of-the-mill granny who told you stories, cooked for you and tucked you in bed. In fact, she has never cooked a single meal for me. Nor did she read the Ramayana or wear tulsi beads. You see Dadima had a career. And she worked right up until her dying day. She lost the love of her life, my grandfather at the age of 35 ( I shudder to think that I’m almost 35!) All the odds were against her. She had only passed 10th grade, had no college education, no work experience, no trust fund, no nest eggs…nothing! My grandma had to fend for herself and support my Dad, who was in college. She could have slumped down in a corner and cried for the rest of her life. Or lived off her relatives. No. Not my Dadima.

She went on to become the first lady distributor for LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas). The kind that comes in ‘cylinders’ and is used for cooking in India. As a business woman she was tough and put everyone in their place. Everyone who thought she was an old widow and can be pushed around learnt their lesson quickly. She was feisty and fearless. She did what she wanted and offered no explanations or justifications. People thought twice before messing with her. She could be an angel or she could be your worst nightmare.

To me she was an angel, dressed in white and always hovering around me and whispering words of endearment to me. She called me her ‘gem’. She was one person who really truly believed that I was precious. I practically grew up in Dadima’s house. My parents feared for my brother’s life. They were quite certain that I would get into a jealous rage and attack him with sharpened pencils! So I was packed off to Dadima’s house.

I used to sleep next to Dadima every night, sharing the bed with two overfed dogs, Diana and Priya. Dadima loved them as much as she loved me. They ate off her plate, drank from her glasses, dirtied her pristine white sheets and she would look the other way. I’ve heard people say, “Oh how I wish I could be Mrs. Damodaran’s dog!” Spoilt rotten they were. Used to ride the car to school everyday with me, with their tongues lolling out of the window.

All the dogs she had were female by the way. Did I mention Dadima had the words ‘GIRL POWER” etched in hot pink invisible ink all over her house? Oh yeah! There were pictures of goddesses wielding fierce weapons and trampling weak male villians. I remember playing dress up with her numerous white handbags and high heeled shoes and sandals, draping her sheer duppatas around my head, the way she used to when she was in the sun with matching white sunglasses. She was always well dressed. Hated the heat and used to complain about it and how she loved the cold when she was in Great Britian. She had so many funny anecdotes she used to share with me. Stories that gave me a glimpse of the carefree life she lived in the past when my granddad was around. All she used to do was dress up for parties and manage the scores of servants they had.

One of the reasons my grandad treated Dadima like the Queen of England was her poor health. She had several close calls. She almost died of a brain tumor and was so ill on a ship headed to India from England, that the captain of the ship said she’d have to be buried at sea if she didn’t make it. She made it and went on to have a granddaughter – me. But as far back as I can remember, she had been in and out of hospitals most of her life. Some visits were short and routine. Others were long and scary and I’ve been called many a time to her bedside where she lay with one foot in the grave. She had appendicitis, blood pressure, an enlarged heart, a hysterectomy and then diabetes in the latter years of her life. But everytime she’d make it out of the hospital stronger and more full of life. Never would she take a day off work or lie in bed all day complaining about her health.

She was very proud of her brain. She always said my heart gives me a lot of trouble but my brain was overhauled in England (during the brain tumor years I think). It was true. She never forgot a single birthday or anniversary. She personally selected and wrote birthday cards for everyone. She made sure we all got a card and a birthday cake every birthday. New clothes for New Year and Diwali. Black Forest Cake and Fruit Cake over the holidays with puffs. She loved entertaining and loved having people over for dinner. Even if someone turned up uninvited and it was lunch or dinner time she would ask them to stay and eat with her. She never wrote lists for groceries or anything. I’ve seen the servants tell her before she went to work that they needed soap or shampoo or rice and she would somehow remember everything and bring it home in the evening.

She had an opinion about everything. Her political and religious views were radical. Around the house she had pictures of Mother Mary and Jesus. Statues of Buddha. She had a copy of the Bhagavad Gita and the Bible. She loved the villian Ravana for being fearless even when fighting a God and hated Rama (who was the hero of Ramayana) for doubting Sita’s chastity and subjecting her to the test of fire (Agni Pariksha). Tinge of feminism there. She loved Saddam Hussain for having the ‘guts’ to stand up to a super power like the United States.

At her funeral several people read verses from the Bible while her family chanted Hare Rama and her Muslim neighbors of 40 years looked on. She truly embraced one and all. Put aside her troubles to help others. I was foolish to think she had touched but one life – mine. When people came to me with stories of her kindness and love, I cried copious tears. It felt like their pain was my pain. We had all lost someone special. Someone who thought we were special and treated us like royalty.

She was everything every woman would want to be. And in these years that I have had to live without her, this is my constant prayer – if ever I have to live on this earth again please let her be my grandmother for many lifetimes to come.