Punctuate Life

Pause Breathe Relax


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On Gratitude and Giving

This is one of my favorite topics, so forgive me if I keep rehashing it and presenting it in yet another blog to you. Drawing from my earlier post on nature versus nurture, I had the good fortune of knowing three very generous ladies. Two of them were my grandmothers and one was my ‘adopted’ grandmother. My Dadima (dad’s mom) was a businesswoman and she did really well selling cooking gas to households and hotels. Ganga (my adopted grandmother) lived with her and took care of the home, the dogs, the garden and cooking. My Mutasshi (my mom’s mom) lived in the quiet village of Viakkom in Kerala with my grandpa, who was retired. They lived off his small pension and some money they made by selling coconuts, cashews and other things that my grandpa grew in his huge backyard.

Although they all had different incomes, they were infinitely compassionate. People would come to them, steeped in debt or unable to shoulder an unexpected expense and the money was given. My Mutasshi has gone as far as pledging her gold chain to help a maid. Ganga denied herself a home and paid a huge sum towards a loved one’s home. Dadima has married off some of the younger maids and provided utensils and other things they needed to set up a home. This blog is too small to share their acts of generosity. Suffice to say that at both my grandmas’ funerals, strangers came to us weeping and relating stories of their compassion and altruism.

Give to receive. I learnt this lesson when I was still a schoolgirl. Riding a bus back home one day, I sat next to a gray-haired lady of somewhat frugal means. She was short of 25 paisa (equivalent to a quarter) and the rude conductor was yelling at her. I quickly fished out some change and thrust it into the conductor’s hand. He muttered and withdrew to his seat.

A few days later, I didn’t have change for five rupees and the conductor (not the same one) refused to take it and give me change. I pleaded with him but he told me to get off at the next stop. I was nearly in tears. One lady overheard the whole thing and asked me how much the fare was. I told her and she quietly extracted the coins from her purse and gave it to the conductor. Karma or pay back! What else can I say!

When I was still in school I would look for ways to help and had a mental checklist. If I helped someone I said to myself – you have done your good deed for today! Growing up meant burying all of this in the whole money-making, getting ahead in life and succeeding craziness that we all buy into. How right we are as kids, with our hearts in the right place. And then we unlearn all of heaven’s wisdom and replace it with a worldliness so nonsensical to become grown -ups! Our intellects expand but our hearts shrink.

Gratitude means different things in different cultures. In some cultures a simple thank you is enough. In Japan, one way of expressing gratitude is to say that you are indebted to the other person and owe them a favor. They don’t stop at just lip service. They actually go out of their way to help the other person – sometimes more than once. In some cultures this kind of generosity may be taken advantage of.

Acts of kindness have a ripple effect beyond the giver and receiver. The gift of gratitude keeps on giving. It all adds up in your karmic record and comes bounding back in heaps and loads, when you least expect it.

If life is not going well for you right now and you are not receiving all that you are wishing for, stop and find ways to give. Give exactly what you need to receive and watch the magic happen. Just the act of selfless giving creates joy in your life. And being in a state of joy helps. It attracts good things to you and possibly the very thing you were missing will show up.

Another way of doing it, is to be grateful for what you have every single day instead of harping on what’s missing. Gratitude was the one thing that turned my life around, followed by giving. So when I wasn’t getting any calls for interviews, I jumped back into volunteering. After my first meeting with other volunteers, I came home and found an e-mail from the school district asking if I was still interested in the job I had applied for! Later someone from a staffing company called me and told me she was interested in hiring me. What more proof can I give you? Gratitude and giving open the flood doors to great gifts. Give and you shall receive. And when you receive, don’t forget to send a thank you note. I highly recommend keeping a stash of thank you notes in your stationery drawer. You never know when you will need one.

Have you experienced the boomerang effect of giving in your life? Do share your stories.


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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!


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The End of a Lazy Summer

I am ready to throw a tantrum. Summer is over. Kids are back in school. I’m still home and unemployed. Feels like I just retreated back into my shell. The kids didn’t complain though. They got up at 6.30 instead of 8.30 like it was the most natural thing to do!

But every year I’m miserable when the kids go back to school. I’m antsy, bored and feel like I have too much time on my hands. It’s not like I haven’t looked for work. I have. All summer long. But I haven’t got a single call or an interview.

Sometimes it makes me doubt my faith. If God knows I want something and can hear my prayers why doesn’t he give me what I want? Like a child asking its parent over and over again, I keep beseeching this God in a faraway place. But he keeps me right where I am. Why would a parent deny their child something? Why?

I had to put myself in a parent’s shoes to answer this mindboggling question. As a mom I find myself saying no to my kids several times. If my children want something but I see it as a distraction or a clash of values I end up saying no. Do my kids understand? Do they think I’m being fair? Maybe not. Do they give up on me? Absolutely not! And so it is with God.

We came here to learn, grow and evolve. We made arrangements, chose our environments, our paths, our families and even our obstacles. Of course we fall into deep amnesia once we are born into this world. We bumble around like babies, falling and making mistakes, totally oblivious to our true calling which can be heard in the whispers of our soul. We go down winding paths leading to nowhere. We strive and struggle, pray and fast to achieve something that is not in our destiny. Something we never signed up for. Maybe not getting what we want is God’s way of nudging us closer to what we really want but cannot put into words as we continue living a dream.

When following the course of a religion (or anything for that matter) over many centuries it becomes obvious that good times and bad times come and go in waves. Temples are built and civilizations flourish for many years and then one day everything burns down and something new takes its place. Yet we place so much importance on acquiring transient things like money, property and fame. None of these are lasting. None of them can give us lasting happiness.

I need something to do to keep me occupied. You need money to pay the bills. Somebody else needs a place to call home. But if my entire existence is focused on getting a job and a job that ‘I’ think is good enough for me then it consumes me and I end up miserable. So it is with money or trying to get a bigger or better place to live. I read somewhere that pain is inevitable but suffering we create.

God does not make us suffer by denying us what we ask for. We reject the gifts we have because we think they are not good enough and we need more of this or less of that to be happier. And when we don’t get it we allow our minds to lead us into suffering. Sometimes getting what you want may not be a good thing after all. For instance, I wanted to move to Florida for the weather. To enjoy good weather we gave up our spacious home and lovely neighbors. Good weather with no friends to enjoy it with was no fun at all. Now in Seattle I’m tempted to make the same mistake. The house is too small. The weather is gloomy. I don’t have a job!

But we’re on the ground floor with a playground for the kids. We have good neighbors who will chase the winter blues away! I can always volunteer in my kids’ school. You can’t change what is but you can change your attitude to it. Then every thing becomes a gift. Even the darkest winter becomes bearable. Years become days and life flows effortlessly. God doesn’t give you exactly what you want but he provides the best circumstances for your life to flourish.