Punctuate Life

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Taming Your Mind, the Monkey

I did not go out seeking mind control. But was forced to do it after a severe bout of depression. I simply had to control the negative feelings that kept rising up every now and then. So powerful that they almost smothered me. I was afraid that if my predominantly negatively charged brain was given control that I would plunge back into the Black Hole. The Balck Hole that I swore never to return to.

So the first step to controlling your thoughts is to be AWARE of them. If you go through your day doing things and not paying attention to your mental chatter then you have no control. But then again it’s hard to pay attention to your thoughts when you have a million things to do and your mind is jumping from one task to the next. My suggestion? Take a few minutes every day to just sit down and listen to your thoughts. Write them down if you want. Now check to see if they are predominantly positive thoughts or negative thoughts. Are they thoughts that will set you free or keep you victimized? Will they help you in your life’s purpose or will they keep you stuck? Or are you just replaying the bad events of your life over and over?

Thoughts and feelings are bosom buddies in that, where one goes the other will follow. If your thoughts are blue, guess what?  You will be feeling blue. When I felt sad I would try very hard not to dwell on those thoughts that were making me sad. By not paying attention to them. By doing something to keep myself busy or by distracting myself. Little did I know then that I could totally shift the way I was feeling by simply force -feeding my mind some positive thoughts. So for many years I lived in this limbo of unhappiness, slipping in and out of near depression. Mind you a negatively charged brain will refuse to go on a positive thought diet. It will throw up, gag, retch and find myriad ways to let you know that it dislikes change! Over time and with practice I have made my mind a cheery little creature that speaks encouraging words, eggs me on and boosts my confidence. You can do it too – everytime you pay attention to your thoughts. If they are positive, good for you! If not, stop, drop the negative thought and keep the positive ones rolling.

Here is the danger with not replacing the negative with the positive. Like attracts like. So one negative thought leads to another, then another and then another. And before you know it you are wallowing in it, in your nightgown at 11.00 in the morning! So remember the fire drill. Stop! Drop! Roll!

After a point I needed more than just positive thinking to keep me centered no matter what. I was looking for peace, a serenity that enveloped me and everyone I came in contact with. For that I turned to meditation. I was always drawn to it but it took me years to find the right fit for my kind of mind. I started off with Reiki Chakra meditation. Then SOHAM meditation. None of them lasted for more than a few months. If you prefer a guided meditation tape or CD then you could try these. In my case it was during guided meditation that I lost all feeling from my body and felt blissful. That one experience egged me on to find the perfect meditation. There was this chant that I heard at a musical that I really liked. It was like a trance and it made me feel at peace. So I used to chant it a few times and then just enjoy the peace that came with it.

For someone who has never meditated before I would suggest sitting still for a few minutes and following the breath. Take deep breaths and focus on your breathing. If you mind is too active then you need to focus it on one thing. Try saying a mantra. Choose something meaningful to you and not something random. ‘Om’ is a good mantra but if you feel it’s too ‘Hindu’ for you go with ‘Aaaah’. Take a deep breath and say Ooooooooooooommmmmmm or Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh on the exhale. Say it slowly and remember to stay with the ending sound as well  – the mmmm hum or the hhhhh hum after your lips close. Feel the vibration, feel the mantra course through your body. Feel the rhythm. Say it as many times as you need to and then just sit still and listen to or feel the chant in your mind or body.

Eckhart Tolle describes another method in his book “A New Earth”. This is a must read for anyone searching for meaning amidst the chaos of the world. He says that the breath or prana or life force or spirit is the doorway to your soul and the peace and bliss that comes with it. I’ve heard of this concept before and I had tried to control my breath in order to control my mind. If you hold you breath your mind will be quiet. I just ended up breathless! Tolle however asks us to watch our breath. As in, breathe consciously as opposed to unconsciously. That will stop the mental chatter because you can only be fully aware of one thing at a time. I practised this type of meditation for a while and then I saw Deepak Chopra’s meditation on the Doctor Oz show. He asked the audience to feel their heartbeat without placing their hands over the heart. And then progressively feel various parts of your body by sending your attention or concentrating on that part. Start with bigger areas like your hands or your feet. Then try feeling your nose, ears and scalp. As you concentrate you will feel the life force as a pulsating sensation, fully alive. As you do this, your attention which is usually in your mind will begin to shift and you are no longer a prisoner of your mind.

Yoga again is meditation in motion, if done properly. You have to breathe into the pose, feel the stretch or in other words your awareness should be within your body, totally present, totally focused.  Shavasana (corpse pose) is a wonderful relaxation pose and when the body is relaxed, the mind relaxes too. Then if you just follow your breath, you go deeper into relaxation and deeper into meditation.

One last type of meditation that might work for some of you, especially if you have an analytical mind is the Self- Enquiry method or the Who am I meditation. I have not had much success with it possibly because I’m not very analytical! So you sit still and ask the question – Who am I? Your mind will give you a thousand answers. Negate all those answers. Ask the question, be quiet and plunge deeper. In the end after you realize that you are not the body, the thoughts or the mind or the roles you play, you will only hear the ‘I’- ‘I’ beating of your soul.

It’s important that you use the same room/chair/place for your practice. After a while just entering the room or sitting on the chair will take you to that deep, sacred and peaceful place, almost instantly! If you try the last type of meditation and meet with success, please share your experience so others like me may learn and follow.






What Do You Do With Your Sweet Bundles of Joy?

Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.  – Khalil Gibran
I’ll be the first one to admit that I am not the world’s best parent and that I really shouldn’t have a say in how you bring up your kids. But I will tell you this, you are not alone. You aren’t just handed a baby without the adequate tools to take care of him/her. Some of it is instinct that you are born with and switches on the moment you hold your baby for the first time and some of it you have to acquire.
In the days that I was a young mother, blundering around, not knowing the first thing about parenting – I did get guidance. I simply did not know it then. I did not know it till I started writing this post. I cribbed about being far away from home and not having access to my Mom’s wisdom on raising babies. I think I was too busy cribbing to see that all I needed was being provided to me. I started getting a free issue of “Parenting” magazine every month. It covered everything from diaper rash to car seats. When the kids got older and behavioral issues started coming up I would watch the show “Super Nanny” on TV. Jo handled everything from bedtime troubles to sassy-mouthed babes. And after seeing those kids and the kinda hell they made their parents live in, I felt I was blessed with two little angels!
Smart Discipline
All said and done you can’t really apply everything you read in a magazine or see on TV to your specific scenario.  I didn’t agree with things like making your child cry herself to sleep so you could have your queen-sized bed all to yourself. Our kids slept with us until they were 2 and 4. Sometimes I broke the rules, spanked my kids. Sometimes I did something and I knew instantly that I was doing something that worked for my kids and me. Now when I look back I think most of what I learnt was by trial and error. It’s like feeding your baby a new food. When you start off you don’t know which one will end up being your baby’s favorite or which one your baby will spit out every time! Same goes with discipline. Some of it will work, some of it won’t. But that doesn’t mean you abandon discipline. You just try a new way. You know you are doing the right thing when your method is:
a. Easy to implement
b. Does not result in drama (from the kids or from you!)
c. Everybody is happy in the end. Kids don’t say – No fair! You don’t think they got off easily.
Some of you just want to love your children and leave the disciplining out of the picture. Bad idea! The earlier you teach your kids the law of cause and effect or the law of Karma the better. This law exists whether you believe in it or not. Like gravity. Kids need to know that what they say or do has an impact on someone or something. When you give time-outs or ground your child for bad behavior, you are letting him know that bad behavior will not be rewarded or tolerated.
I didn’t always use time-outs or grounding. I yelled, I screamed, I threatened and spanked. I cringe when I think of some of things I have done and I am deeply ashamed of them. One day it dawned on me that here I was telling them not to yell at someone, not to hit someone in a rage, not to threaten, when I was doing all of the above. I needed to be a good role model for my kids. I needed to be the person I wanted them to be. Some parents say – I want you to better than me – and try to justify some of the bad habits they are into. That just doesn’t work. Kids neeed you to be honest with yourself and honest in your dealings with them.
Set the expectation
Kids sometimes don’t know how to behave or don’t know what is expected of them. So why wait till your child starts running around in the parking lot or starts a scene in the library reference room. Before you step out of the house tell your child – the library is a place to be quiet. Remind them again in the car. Prevention is better than a wild child running loose!
Honor your child’s uniqueness
Every child comes with a blueprint to navigate life. We sometimes forget that. We want to live through our children and push them to achieve. It starts when they are babies. We put them on a clock and compare them to every other baby around. 4 months – solid food. 6 months – sit up.  8 months – crawl. 10 months -walk. God forbid your child doesn’t meet those deadlines – you panic, think something is wrong with them and rush them to the doctor. Believe me when I say I have been down that road. God gave me babies that missed most of the milestones by at least a month. Neither of them walked on their first birthday. Potty training did not happen on my schedule. All of it made me think I was not a good parent. Now at the ages of 7 and 9 both of them know how to use the bathroom and it doesn’t matter whether they got potty trained at 15 months or 3 years! Again the rule here is not to stress yourself and your baby. Your child will eventually walk, talk and do all the stuff they are supposed to do. Just enjoy the ride and don’t put childhood on a schedule. Don’t impose.
Be there
To be a good role model, to discipline your child and most of all love your child, you need to be there for him/her. When I say be there I mean be there without your cellphone and with the TV and laptop switched off. Your child needs you. The more one-on-one time you spend with them the happier they are. You are their sun, their world, their Milky Way, their everything. Let the phone keep ringing and go to voice mail, let the dishes soak. Just spend some time with your child. Totally present. Totally attentive. Your child will be happier. You will be happier. Cos they won’t be clinging to your legs while you are trying to cook or do the laundry.
It takes a village to raise a child
So true! So don’t sit around the house with your schedule revolving around you and your child. It always helps to connect with other moms and dads. Share your stories of triumph. Share knowledge that you have gained through experience. These days you even have support groups on Facebook. Something I didn’t have way back then. I had to go visit my friends so my babies didn’t get stranger anxiety (unheard of in India!). It also gave me a chance to vent.
I don’t want you to agree with me on this one, I want you to challenge what I have shared and share what has worked for you. What was your most challenging moment as a parent? If you don’t have kids, what bugs you the most about kids that just won’t behave?


Letting Go…

Ever heard of clingy Cancerians? Well, I’m one of them although I’m loath to admit it. I even go around advising others to let go!  But Life caught up with me one day and shook its finger at me. And I had to admit that I was far from walking the talk, practising what I preach.I did not see the log in my eye but most definitely noticed the speck in my brothers’ eyes!

You see ever since I moved to Florida, one area of my life has been bleak, stagnant, with not much action going on. Now before you get the wrong picture, I’m talking about making friends. I know it takes time to make friends but when I realized it had almost been three years since I moved, I knew something was wrong. I hung onto my old friends from Boston for too long – still hanging on a little maybe. So all the people I met didn’t have space to enter into my life. I did not know this then and so I kept wondering what is wrong with me? But you know me and how much I love positive thinking. So I turned it around and said nothing is wrong with me. Damayanti, you are wonderful and beautiful and friendly. Something is wrong with the other folks! And so it was. End result? No friends and a nagging doubt if my theory had any truth to it.

Then after trying very hard to socialize and meeting with almost zero success, I gave up. I just withdrew. Enough is enough. It’s better to be lonely than in the midst of bad company. Now there was nothing wrong with these people. Just that we did not have anything in common. And then the most magical thing happened. S moved to our community and we became friends. Our boys played together while we happily chatted away. She loves to cook and eat and share recipes (foodie is on the top of my friend list!). What’s more, she follows my blog and gives me instant reviews without me even asking! Now if only S would have a baby girl. No scratch that. If only she had a 9 year old girl to play with my daughter!

I really didn’t know what I did to invite such wonderful friends into my life and again the answer came in a book. Henrietta Anne Klauser says that you must let go of old clothes in your closet to make room for new ones. She however hated the idea of having to give something in order to get something. I on the other hand have no trouble letting go of things that have served their purpose, but people, especially friends are hard to let go. I’m a new-friends-are-silver-old-friends-are-gold type of person. I have to be really miserable with someone to actually let go!

Like an epiphany the same idea showed up in another book – this time fiction. In the “Peach Keeper” one of the characters lived in a big house all by himself. His girlfriend thought he didn’t need such a big place. To which he replied – Everyone needs space to let something good come in. That somehow struck a chord with me. I had withdrawn from all the wrong kind of people and made room for the right kind of people to enter my life.

The same idea is conveyed in the book “The Secret”. There was this single woman looking for love. She did all the right affirmations, used positive thinking, visualized having her soul mate in her life. But nothing happened. That’s when she realized she had no room in her home for her soul mate. She started making room in her closet, in her garage and even slept on one side of her bed. And guess what? A few weeks later he waltzed into her life.

So if something hasn’t showed up in your life, start letting go. It could be physical stuff or emotional stuff. Sometimes even people. Whatever is not working in your life right now – let it go. Make space. Make space for something good to come into your life. Then trust that the Universe will deliver what you have asked for or something better.

You don’t need to hold onto the bad job or bad relationship thinking “if not this then what?” The fear of not getting another job or not wanting to live alone keeps you stuck in that bad situation. So let go and allow your highest good to enter into your life.



Summer Escapes in God’s Own Country…

As the endless summer days come to a close and the stark reality of school, routine and classes loom large, I fondly remember the summer vacations of my childhood days. Every year around May, my Mom’s face would brighten with eager anticipation. Even before school was out for the summer, she’d have our tickets booked and trunks packed. After an overnight train journey, we’d reach Cochin and then board a bus for a 2-hour ride to Vaikkom. To Mutasshi and Mutasshan’s house with its sprawling garden full of fruit-filled trees and exotic flowers, and ponds with lilies and hyacinths.

In Chennai the only river/water body we knew was the Cooum  which (did not flow) behind our house and could be smelled from a mile away. So my brother, my cousin Rohit and I would want to jump into the pond for a swim the moment we entered the house. Since we did not know how to swim, my dear grandma, Mutasshi, would hoist up her mundu and get in the water with us. We would hang onto her arms and legs and kick our legs wildly, laughing in glee. After thoroughly exhausting ourselves and drenching Mutasshi to her bones we would jump out to eat red rice, shrimp and coconut curry and sambar. Mutasshan would pick a pineapple or mangoes from the garden for dessert. We would watch in awe as he cut it with the precision of a sculptor. After gulping down the juicy fruit, we’d jump into the pond for another round of ‘swimming and sinking’ with Mutasshi in tow. Pathetic little water-starved kids from Chennai we were!

We’d then raid the kitchen for Mutasshi’s cinnamon-spiced cake, butter biscuits or Mysore Pak specially made by the Maami from across the street.  And then we’d be back in the pond for our last round of thrashing around before it got dark. In the darkness lurked snakes and frogs and other not-so-friendly creatures. So we stayed indoors and listened to stories from the Books of Knowledge that adorned Mutasshan’s  shelves.

One night I remember staying up till midnight to see the Flower of Bethlehem bloom. Something that happens once in 12 years and at midnight. The flower closed up by morning. Mutasshan also had jack fruit trees, lemon and cashew trees, guava trees and even a cocoa tree. We once made chocolate from our very own cocoa nuts. The tart and juicy fruits of the Jambyaka tree were such a treat. I haven’t eaten a jambyaka, which I believe is a water apple, in years and I haven’t seen that ever-so-rare tree.

Memories of Sabu are sprinkled all over my summer vacations in Kerala. He was our maid Mary Kutty’s son and also our neighbor. She was a slim, small woman with olive skin and light enchanting eyes. It was hard to believe that she had borne three sons – Sabu, Babu and Maatachan. Sabu was the youngest of them and was my age. He walked around shirtless and his shorts were always falling off. This greatly distressed me and I would yell at him to hoist up his shorts and secure them with a safety pin. Somehow being the eldest amongst the cousins made me think I could boss around everybody.

When we wanted to go fishing in the pond, Sabu was the expert we turned to. He dug up worms with his bare hands while I tried not to puke. He found the perfect pole and even caught us a fish. I decided to keep the fish as a pet and brought a bucket of pond water. Sabu put the fish in the bucket and after a few minutes proceeded to take it out. I yelled at him to put it back but he didn’t. And I wasn’t about to snatch that writhing slimy thing out of his hands. So I watched in horror as Sabu let the poor creature thrash around, trying to take a breath of air but failing miserably. My screams fell on Sabu’s deaf ears. He let the fish die and watched me burst into tears and run into the house.

The famous Chakka  Kuru fight is definitely worth a mention. My valliamma (aunt) and my Dad were always at loggerheads. One day they were arguing in the backyard where my Mutasshi had left some innocent jack fruit seeds to dry. They are almond shaped but bigger. I’m not sure who threw the first chakka kuru but very soon they were flying all over the backyard. The rest of us were on the porch that ran along the side of the house near the backyard. We were yelling and cheering until all the chakka kurus were spent and both my Dad and my valliamma were thoroughly exhausted.

They say nothing lasts forever. And so my endless summer days spent in Vaikkom every year came to an end.  Right after Mutasshi passed away. Mutasshan was lost without his Sumathi by his side. He had to leave his retirement home and live with his daughters. First in Trivandrum and then in Chennai. I did go back to Vaikkom once after they had got a tenant for the house. The beautiful garden with its rows of hibiscus and fruit-bearing trees now lay desolate with neglect. The ponds of our childhood ‘swimming and sinking’ expeditions were full of weeds that covered the water. I sat by the pond that Mutasshan used to clean up for us every summer and cried. I cried for my Mutasshan and Mutasshi. I cried for my lost childhood and I cried for all the trees and ponds that would never be loved like they were loved before.