Punctuate Life

Pause Breathe Relax


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The Blame Game

I was up watching the presidential debate on Monday and after a point I got weary. All they were doing was blaming. You did this. You didn’t do this. This country is in a mess because of you! You see people don’t want to take responsibility. When things are going great they will most willingly take credit for it. When things go downhill everyone wants to bail out and start pointing fingers.

It takes courage to own your successes and your failures. To bite your lip and stop yourself from blaming others. You are where you are in your life because of your choices. And by choices I mean your actions, your words and your thoughts. The three are not mutually exclusive. Its a package deal. You can choose to think, talk and act in a certain way and those patterns will produce a certain outcome. It’s when you live unconsciously that you end up in a mess and don’t see yourself responsible for the mess you are in. What do I mean by living unconsciously? Living in a state where you are not aware of the power vested in you to create the life of your dreams. Or if you prefer, a life straight out of your worst nightmares!

The part of our personality that hates being responsible when things go wrong, is the ego. It loves to gloat over its successes but runs from its failures and scrounges around for someone or something to blame. These days anything goes. You can even blame the President!

I blamed everything from the INS to my husband and parents when I was in a bad place in my life. It is a very dangerous game, this blame game. Because it keeps you stuck. It makes you powerless. You are in effect saying that you have no power to control your life. That you are a victim of the circumstances and the people who supposedly control you. Even if your circumstances change and the people who supposedly tortured you are long gone, you will remain stuck mentally and emotionally if you fail to take off that powerless victim hat.

It’s true that sometimes we get hit by unforeseen calamities for which we could never have been prepared. In such cases it’s good to accept the situation and move on. Blaming and grieving more than you need to keeps you from getting yourself out of that situation. Keeps you in a victim state of mind. But in most other cases as an adult you do have a choice. You can choose to stay in a bad marriage where you are abused. You can choose to be in a job where you are harassed by your colleagues and your boss. You can choose to stay on the couch all day and say it’s too hard to find a job.

Some of you think you are being saintly when you take all the blame. You walk around with a sign hanging around your neck – BLAME ME! This is the other extreme, where you are so spineless that you take responsibility for other people’s goof ups! It’s self destructive and other people feed off this by dumping blame on you. You walk around thinking you are a walking time bomb. Any time something random happens (usually bad stuff) to some random person you think it’s your fault! This one is hard to get out of because it is a mixture of low self esteem and powerlessness that keeps you from standing up and asking other people to take responsibility instead of doling out the blame!

Blaming is an excuse you make up to stay put. It prevents us from embracing our magnanimous selves. So I say it’s time to pack up all the blame and excuses in a big trunk and ship it off to Timbuktu. Enough already! Stop blaming and take responsibility. You are an adult. Act like one. Get clear about the life you want and go for it. One step at a time. Don’t wait for someone else to come rescue you or a voice from the heavens to tell you what to do. Be your own compass and if you make the wrong turn it’s ok. Ultimately you will get there and you can give yourself a pat on the back when you do. Because you made it happen. Like everything else before this – you made it happen. You’ve got the power. So take charge and stop playing the blame game.

 


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Of Anchors and Roots

I’ve been losing my footing. It’s like someone or something has loosened up the hardened clay around my root system. Like some unseen force of nature is trying to uproot me. Take me out of my comfort zone and catapult me into the unknown. And I most definitely don’t like it. I haven’t moved much most of my life. I was born and raised in the same city. It was only when I got married that I had to move. And it was no small move. I had to move halfway across the globe. I didn’t do it very gracefully. I dug my heels in the ground, threw tantrums and blamed it all on incompatibility. When actually I was just homesick. It was also my resistance to change.

I would most definitely have loved to have grown old and died in Chennai! But in retrospect I had wonderful experiences. Experiences that made me what I am today. So many wonders and beauty I would have missed had I stayed put. Yes, it ain’t fun to be uprooted and it ain’t fun to move from tropical sunshineyness to four seasoned splendor. But the richness that move added to my life I cannot even put into words.

I can smell it. It’s the smell of change. Not the change Obama and Romney are harping about (sorry I couldn’t help it!) But something bigger. To embrace the change we have to undock and sail into the dark and mysterious waters that are churning up surprises for us.

So imagine you are one of those people who have been uprooted, thrown into a boat, drifting in the vast ocean. What do you do when the churning ocean gets vicious, violent and stormy? You drop your anchor. I think everyone has an anchor. That something in your life that helps you get out of bed every morning. Brings a smile to your face. Keeps you energized. Keeps you going. For me it’s my kids. For others it’s their spouse. Their life purpose. Or their job.

I still remember the day after my grandmother died. I felt like I could not go on with my life. But I had to. I had to pull myself together for my kids. Be strong for them. Be there or them. Not as an emotional mess but as their mom.

It was “Super Flame” the gas agency that kept my grandma going. She faced insurmountable obstacles in her life but would wake up every day ready to go to work, ready to tackle whatever life threw at her.

Some anchors are not so obvious. Like prayer and a connection with God. It’s an anchor like none other. When you stand battered and the stormy seas swirl around you, you get recharged. An invisible force eggs you on when all you want to do is crumble and sink down to your watery grave.

When I started blogging I had no idea what I was doing. How would I come up with ideas? Would anyone even want to read what I had to say? I had no clue. I just plunged in and hoped to stay afloat. I have stayed afloat for 9 months. When I get tired of swimming against the tide or I feel like I’m going to drown someone throws me a life jacket! So I know I need to keep going.

Why is 9 months such an important milestone you ask? Because it takes 9 months from conception to birthing. I feel the time has come to creatively birth something new into the world. Something I have never done before and something I have not dared to do before. My fear of sinking overpowers me but I will have to ‘abandon the ship of fear’  and surrender to the womb of creativity.

Many of you may be feeling the same. Like your whole foundation is being shaken up. I urge you to trust the process. Being rudely uprooted and transplanted elsewhere may not be what you want but it sure will open up infinite possibilities for you. Stay open to change and see the myriad ways your life could be enhanced. Just trust and take a chance. Believe me it’s easier than digging your heels, gritting your teeth and staying put!

We are in this together. So have no fear. Like how this song goes – It’s always a good time. Everything will be all right.


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Guest Blog – My First Volunteeri​ng Event at Dream a Dream (by Dinesh Damodaran)

Sometimes I think about the life I’m living
I seem to take more than I’m giving
More vengeful than forgiving
More reluctant than willing
Cynical without believing
Need to start emptying the bad
So the goodness can start filling
The opposite of death is not life but birth,
And we make that journey to figure out what we’re worth.

As I embarked on my first namma metro ride and DaD (Dream a Dream) journey literally and figuratively I have come to realize why I wanted to be a volunteer in the first place. Even though we all lead very superficially successful lives there is this gross feeling of inadequacy that we all feel (I’ll be the first to put my hand up and admit this), and we can’t help but feel there is more to life than just being. I think the verse above that I wrote a few months back captures this sentiment perfectly.

I was among the 20 volunteers who had the privilege of undertaking a train ride in the Namma Metro with 80 very happy and excited school children of the Mt. Everest School.

Besides being my first metro ride it was also my first event as a volunteer. It was reminiscent of how one feels on his/her first day of school…play school! By the time I had joined the party at the Byapanahali the kids were already gathered around the DaD volunteers singing songs and doing roll calls. The energy was palpable with a heady mix of the positive vibes and playful banter coming from both child and volunteer alike with a nice warm draft of the afternoon breeze made the atmosphere warm and fuzzy. Puzzled onlookers in the form of commuters, station personnel and passersby completed this very happy picture.

2 Volunteers each were assigned to a group of 10 children for the remainder of the trip that started and ended at the Byapanahalli Metro train station.

Station personnel gave us a complete run down of how the metro functions and the advantages of commuting in them. The children were attentive and answered any questions that were asked of them during this talk.

We then lined up at the platform and waited with bated breath for our train to arrive. I tried to strike up a conversation with some of the kids while we waited. They were all looking at the escalator and were noticing how it slowed down to a stop when no one was using it. I used that moment to point out to them how the escalator had a sensor that was sensitive to weight. (Boring I know!).

The train arrived and we all poured in and the kids scrambled to get seated. One of the first things I observed once the train started its journey towards MG Road was how cold some of the children were feeling because of air conditioning. I felt bad for not having carried my jacket that day, could have given it to one of those kids.

The kids had their heads turned towards the window for most of the onward commute taking in the sights. I explained how one must go about reading the route displays and upcoming station information. My audience of 4-5 students understood and didn’t have any doubts or questions.

We alighted at MG Road and made our way to the other platform for the return commute. Many of the kids now turned their attention towards each other and us and started striking up conversations.

I too made an effort to speak to the kids on the return commute. I asked a few of the kids their names, which class they were studying in, why they were wearing canvas shoes on that particular day (I used to wear canvas shoes on days when we had PT periods). What their favourite sport was (I was surprised to hear cricket). And I asked them about the DaD football coaching programmes in their school and if they liked it. I also asked them if they were enjoying the outing.

These children are exceptionally well behaved and courteous. They kept addressing me as “sir” till I asked them to drop the “sir” and replace it with “anna” (big brother). They almost immediately complied with a very warm smile. One boy also let me know by what name I could call him. (That wasn’t so hard now was it?) I salute all their parents for having raised their children so well, I am sure you must all be very proud!

We arrived at Byapanahalli station shortly afterwards. And we assembled outside for the wrap up and experience sharing session. While I couldn’t follow what was spoken mostly because it was in Kannada, the look of content and happiness on the faces of the children spoke volumes.

Volunteers were asked to share the feedback, I was a little too tongue tied to say anything meaningful and hence passed up the chance then, but I am going to take the opportunity to do so now.

 

Dear Kids,

Thank you for

  • helping      me understand that the greatest gift one can ever give another person is      time and the greatest virtue undivided attention
  • reminding      me that no matter how grown up I am or appear to be, there is always a      little room and time to be a child
  • helping      me realize that the time I spend with you lighting up your life, you are      also lighting up mine, more so
  • being      underprivileged is a state of mind indoctrinated by social dogma and if      you peel away those layers you and I are not so different in what we want      and who we are
  • helping      me appreciate that the real joy of giving is when its unconditional and      without expectations

 

One particularly endearing incident for me during the ride was when this girl caught hold of the hand of a volunteer and pulled her towards her. “Are you having a good time”, she asked the volunteer. “Of course I am happy, I’m spending time with you and if you are happy I am also happy.” replied the volunteer.

Such a selfless gesture from a supposedly underprivileged kid. It was both a turning point of this event and a humbling moment for me. I realized that many aspects of our life are equally underprivileged and impoverished and it takes a kid like this to enrich it as much as we enrich theirs.

I would love to hear how volunteering added more meaning to your life. Do share your experiences below.

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About the Author

Dinesh is a mallu but culturally, a mish-mash of Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai, the cities he has lived in and fallen in love with. Poet, calligrapher, compulsive googler, self-proclaimed dogfather of the strays, ardent sports fan (Arsenal, CSK, Michael Jordan), foodie, anti-pop music curator (Underground & Alternative Hip Hop, Electric Blues & Jazz), world movies cinephile and classic car enthusiast, this left-hander tries hard to keep it right-brained (pun intended). By profession, Dinesh is a Marketing and Sales professional and a volunteer at dream a dream.

 

 


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The Happiness Prescription

As humans we seem to be constantly seeking something. A better job, a better relationship, better education, a better house and ultimately a better life. But it’s really not the job, relationship etc. that we are yearning for. It’s happiness. We think that the job or relationship will make us happy. And most of our lives it eludes us. Because we seek it from without. When actually it resides in every one of us.

Why do we seek happiness? Because it is our nature. It’s like this alarm system going off every time you do something that causes you grief. You want to quickly get out of that situation and be in a happy situation. It’s like you have a compass in your heart that is always seeking the direction that leads to the greatest joy. A craving for happiness if you will.

We have an ‘idea’ of happiness. A list of things that if acquired in this lifetime will make us happy. After years of studying we get a well-paying job that can buy us things that make us feel good. We accumulate a lot of things and then realize that the job and the things are no longer enough. We want someone to share it with. The quest for a perfect relationship begins. When we find that we’re happy for a while but then we want to add to our happiness by having kids. Then we go about getting the best school,  a bigger house, best activities for our kids so they grow up perfectly. We save up for their education and then we save up for our retirement. Then before we know it we are saving up for our funeral expenses! It’s never enough and we never really get to that pinnacle of happiness and stay there. We find something missing and hanker after more things in the hope that it will fill that gaping hole in our soul. That it will fill our cup of joy.

But happiness just is. It cannot be added to or taken away. Things cannot increase your happiness or decrease it for that matter. More things do not equal more happiness. More money does not equal more happiness. Then the rich and successful would be very very happy. The poor and impoverished would be very very unhappy. And you know that ain’t true!

The nature of the world is ephemeral. Things come and go. Beings are born, they grow and they die. Money comes, accumulates and then in a second it’s gone. So isn’t it foolish to seek happiness from fleeting things? Happiness can only come from things that never die or never leave you. Joy and bliss can only come from the deep recesses of your soul – the part of you that never dies and is connected to the source of all happiness.

I for one have struggled to find happiness all my life. I had everything on my ‘happy list’ and still was unhappy. Life has dealt me a lot of blows and I’ve had a lot of struggles. But one fine day it dawned on me that ‘I’ was in charge of my happiness. Not my family, not my friends, not my job or the lack of it. That is when I stopped blaming everything and everyone (including the government!) for my unhappiness.

When you let things and people be in charge of your happiness you end up powerless and at the mercy of the world. Constantly swayed by everything that is thrown at you. Bruised, battered and unable to carry on. It’s not like happy people do not have any problems or struggles. The difference is in their attitude and how they perceive problems. Your attitude can most definitely determine how happy you are.

Joy and breath is the very essence of life. It pulses through our veins. Often it is covered by layers of perception. Distracted by the constant stimulus of the outside world, we fail to see this joyful place within us. We are not always aware of our breath but when we slow down and move our attention to it – we find it’s there – it has always been there. Same with happiness. I don’t care how many horrible things have happened to you, I don’t care how broken you are, if you are alive and breathing, you have a well of happiness deep inside of you. You just might have to try harder than everyone else to find it.

Once you see the world for what it is and take time out to unwind and disconnect from it you reach that place of constant bliss, peace and love. When you connect with your inner joy on a regular basis, you slowly disconnect from the world and its false promises. Your idea of happiness is no longer the same. You seek happiness from only one person – YOU. And you seek happiness from within not without.

 


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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!