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Forgiveness 101

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. That is a line from the Lord’s prayer or “Our Father” as we dubbed it as school girls studying in Good Shepherd Convent. I must have said that prayer a thousand times or more in the 14 years I spent in a school that is very close to my heart, with a bunch of girls and teachers who are still to this day closer than family. But the full purport of those words didn’t sink in then. It sunk in years later when I was trying very hard to get unstuck. Yes I was stuck. While I thought I was stuck in the present, I was actually stuck in the past. Holding on to some grudges that I didn’t even know I was holding on to. Being unforgiving without even knowing it. All the while being or thinking I was being this wonderful, spiritual human being.

Rude awakening! You can’t be spiritual and unforgiving. People hold grudges in different ways. Some just cut of  emotionally and physically from a person. They don’t talk to them, visit them etc. And in this case it is easy to figure out who you need to forgive.

Others like me don’t really cut off from people, at least not forever. I might not call someone who hurt me for maybe a few weeks or months. But if they initiate the call, I will answer and I will talk amiably. So it was hard for me to distinguish between people I needed to forgive and people I didn’t need to forgive. I acted normal around these so called hurtful people and did everything they expected of me. Talk about being a pushover!

But in my defense, I felt like life was short and forgiving and moving on seemed and felt better than the constant tension and pressure that goes into trying to hate someone and trying to avoid someone. When I was a child the adults around me held onto a lot of grudges and I always felt the tension and stress in that environment. So much so that in my adult life I chose to do the opposite. Only problem was I really wasn’t doing that.

So then we come to the question, how do you know you have not forgiven someone? Especially if you belong to category 2 like me. If you remember something the person has done in the past and it still has the power to upset you, or if you are constantly in the midst of unfolding drama in the presence of this person then you need to forgive. Forgiving doesn’t mean you condone the action and think that you deserved it. Of course you didn’t! It is simply the act of letting go of that experience and all the emotional memory attached to it – hurt, guilt, anger and shame. You really don’t need to walk around carrying it on your shoulders, all the way to your grave. Move on and stop punishing the person over and over again for what happened 17 years ago! That’s what happens by the way. Every time you interact with the person you are interacting through the filter of that awful thing they did to you.

There is another aspect to forgiveness and that is forgiving yourself. Most of us have such harsh standards for ourselves. Some of our expectations are unrealistic and when we don’t meet them we get frustrated and berate ourselves for not being perfect. We are constantly at war with ourselves and very very unforgiving of ourselves. This can really keep you stuck. It’s like having iron manacles binding both your feet. You feel chained to your emotions.

The first step in forgiveness is to accept that you and everyone around you are imperfect. Accept is the key word. The way God accepts you with all of your faults. It’s ok to be imperfect. Never have high expectations of others. You will be disappointed and you will launch yourself into a downward spiral of unforgiveness and resentment. You can train yourself to achieve and you can try to perfect yourself. But remember to do it in a loving, supportive way. Remember others have their own drives and own reasons for being here.

Unforgiveness and grudges have a kind of energy that creates the same pattern over and over. It’s as if the person is trying to hurt you over and over when you have done nothing. But you are actually triggering it by holding onto and fanning the flames of that age old awful incident.

If you are not talking to the person who needs to be forgiven, do this! Light a candle, visualize the person, write what you want to say to that person and speak it out. It helps to write how the person hurt you if you never really told the person to their face. End by saying this. _________(person’s name) I forgive you and I set you free. Also ask that the emotional cords connecting you to this person be cut forever. Repeat this exercise for as many days as you need to until you feel no emotional distress when you remember the incident and you have not one iota of resentment toward the person.

Sometimes even if you are talking to the person you may find it hard to bring up something that happened decades ago. You can use the above method and you will know you have forgiven that person when you feel a certain lightness around your relationship. You can joke with the person and feel like things are back to what they were before the unforgiving incident.

Forgiving frees you, lifts the weight off your shoulders and helps you quickly progress towards your goals. Expect miracles around your act of forgiveness. I know I have!

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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.



Living Fearlessly

Before I start I need you all to take a solemn oath that you will not laugh! You see, before talking about living fearlessly I have to talk about my fears. Some of my fears were really tiny. Like mustard seeds. No, really! Mustard seeds. Long long ago, so long ago that I don’t remember how old I was, I was in the kitchen helping my mom cook. She asked me to pour oil in a pan and add mustard seeds to it. And if you have ever put mustard seeds in hot oil you would know – they splutter and fly out of the pan and go crazy all over the stove. On that particular day the mustard seeds I dropped into the pan acted normally. They spluttered and flew and one went right up my nose. It burned a hole in my nose and made me lose my olfactory senses for a whole month! Nah, not really! If that had happened I could justify my fear of mustard seeds for years to come. But all it did, given that it is a tiny thing, this mustard seed, is hurt my nose for a few minutes. That’s it, I said to my mom. No more mustard-dropping-in-the-oil for me. You are on your own. So much so that whenever she would reach for the mustard seeds I would dart out of the kitchen. I never cooked with mustard seeds for years.

Well life has a way of showing you how foolhardy you are and you can’t live your life in fear forever. Not if someone hurts your pride anyway. Pride overrides fear. At least in my case it did. My husband’s parents were visiting and I had made ‘Sambar’ sans mustard seeds. And of course they noticed it. They decided to rectify it and perfect it. So when I was gone someplace they added mustard seeds to my sambar. It made me furious. No one improves on my sambar!  Well, that was the end of my mustardophobia. I am happy to inform you that I now cook with mustard seeds. Thanks to my in-laws!

Second on the list of silly things I was scared of was salons. For a long time when I was younger, people remembered me for one thing – my hair. My long, thick, black, silky hair. My whole family was proud of my hair. It was like it had a life of its own. Anyway one fine day I decided to chop it off. So I marched off to a salon with a friend in tow and chopped it all off. My family was furious. Nobody would speak to me. And what did I do? I decided that I would acquire a fear of salons. Classic case of misplaced emotions, don’t you think? The next time I went to the salon was before my wedding. I did not let them do anything drastic to my hair. Just a trim. They did facials and manicures, pedicures and waxing, threading and tweezing. After the wedding I broke out with millions of pimples all over my face and back. It was the worst acne attack of my entire life. It had to happen because of my fear of salons. The outbreak validated my fear of salons! And kept me out of them for another 10 years.

One thing you can’t escape when you are out giving advice to everyone (take risks, be bold, don’t be afraid) is that you become aware of your fears. There was a disconnect between what I was asking others to do and what I was doing in my life. So one fine day I decided to go to the salon. I was scared but I just went ahead and did it and it felt good. I felt like the shackles were broken and I was free again. Fear keeps you stuck, immobilized and keeps you from living life fully.

My biggest fear of course was my fear of driving. I feared that I would lose control and end up hurting myself and my kids. This fear had a strong hold on me. Took my husband, a distant grand aunt, a bunch of good friends and a funny driving instructor to shake it out of me. Now I keep wondering what I was afraid of!

Now again I’m at the crossroads. Not sure if I should start my own website or blog. What if it is a flop? What if no one reads it? What if I run out of ideas? And fear grips me at every turn. But I laugh in the face of danger and trudge ahead. I have decided to live fearlessly. Live fully and give fully. What will you do to live fearlessly today? Is it a mustard seed or a truck that is holding you back?


Journaling, Writing, Venting…

I almost didn’t write this post. Here’s what happened. I started writing about forgiveness (forgiving 101 was to be the title of this note) and then as I was writing so much anger welled up in me that I decided I’m not ready to write about forgiveness because ‘I’ have a lot of forgiving to do. Then, since I had so much anger I thought I should write a note – Anger 101. But guess what you end up writing when you are angry- trash! Anger channels your basest, most revolting, negative-times-three emotions. The reason I am sharing all this is to make it known to all who have been following my posts that I am far from perfect. I am still learning and growing everyday and I do try to live up to a certain standard. I succeed sometimes and I fail sometimes.

And since writing brought me to this realization I decided to write about journaling. I used to keep a daily journal when I was in school. Then I started one when I got married and stopped because I used to write everytime I was upset and reading that stuff later made me cringe! Then I started writing only the inspiring stuff and now I have a journal full of stuff I’ve read, heard or seen over the past decade and it’s just awesome. It’s like a pick-me-up.

So if you have never done this before, start by buying a journal. Decide how often you want to pen your thoughts. If you live a very active, hectic life, peppered with a lot of stress, I suggest you write everyday. Place the journal on your night stand and write for 5 minutes before you go to bed. Don’t force it, just write whatever comes to your mind. It should be relaxing. Let it all out. You can write about something good that happened in your day (gratitude journal). Or something bad that happened in your day. Can be very cathartic. But once you are done venting on paper, remember to write how you wished it had happened. Say you mucked up a presentation at work, imagine the opposite. Like you had done such a great job that the boss came and shook hands with you and commended your work and then write about it. So that way you shift your energy and focus on something good before you tuck in for the night.

Sometimes you can use a journal to write affirmations. Positive statements about things that you want to change in your life. Again, doing this  before bed time is good. Instead of affirmations you could communicate with God in a journal. Have all your prayers, all your thank you notes to God in one place. Some people are not good with saying prayers or their prayers are limited to religious texts. I think it really helps to write or say your own prayers too. It is a powerful exercise and that way you have a closer relationship with God.

There is one other way you can journal too and I do this. Some of you might think it’s weird but I feel compelled to write this because many of us have to deal with the death of a loved one in our lifetime. And although this sounds spooky, it really helps to write to them. I had a lot of things that went unsaid between my grandma and me before she passed away. I felt a lot of guilt. I wished I had spent more time with her. I wished I had told her how much she meant to me and how much I admired her. And many a day I spent crying and feeling utter loss. Almost like I was orphaned. Then I got a message on television from John Edward, the medium who can channel departed souls. He was asking people to write to their loved ones.

So I wrote to my grandma once and it felt good, although I was crying throughout the process. Then I wrote everytime I missed her. Birthdays. Anniversaries. Festivals. And slowly the guilt and pain disappeared and was replaced with gratitude. I highly recommend it if you have lost someone very close and feel like you can’t move on, miss their guidance in your life, or simply couldn’t say everything you wanted to say to them before they shed their mortal shells.

You can also write letters to people you need to forgive and whom you cannot confront now. But please don’t post the letter. The reason you are writing now is because the person has not asked for forgiveness. Is blissfully unaware that you are still hurting after 365 days. And also because they don’t think they have done anything wrong! More on this in forgiving 101 (if it ever gets published!)

So here is where I am…I think writing once a week is kind of tricky after what happened this weekend. So I’m going to write every day starting today…so I have more clarity when I’m writing something I’m going to share with all of you. When will you start and what will you write in your journal?