Punctuate Life

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Disconnecting From the Matrix

Years ago I watched the movie “The Matrix” (several times for Keanu Reeves) and it seemed like a fantasy with no element of truth in it. But when I watched it when I was older (and wiser – ahem!) it seemed not too far fetched from the reality we wake up to every day. The daily grind. Put your nose to the grindstone and chug away. Work hard to pay the bills, provide for your family, save for retirement, buy that big house or fancy car, pay for that destination wedding or island getaway. The whole time losing yourself to chaos and missing out on the miracle that is life. Losing health and happiness over needless dramas that play out endlessly. Feed your body junk and fail to feed your soul. Live a boring, passionless life full of drama and unhappiness. And then teach another generation to do just that because you cannot get your blindfolds off and see what life really is about until you make an exit.

Life is freedom, happiness and choices made from a place of joy and love. Fear drives us to hold on tight to jobs that make us miserable or relationships that don’t nurture us. Fear tells us that we are not good enough or strong enough to take care of ourselves and that we have to give our power away to authority figures.  And then when it all becomes too much, something snaps and our whole world of illusion comes crashing down. The days that follow are filled with fear and a mad frenzy to get things back to where they were – rebuilding the same old house of cards because it feels familiar and comfortable. The prison with no windows – where the light cannot obliterate the fear.

Sometimes the divine hand intervenes and stalls the progress just long enough for the shades to fall off. Just long enough to wake up from the dream and see the world for what it is. A big lie. A fantasy. An alternate reality put in place to keep us from waking up to the true power that lies within. The power that can set us free and help us soar above the drama and chaos.

For some that one wake-up call is enough and they can never go back to their old selves and old lives. For some it is a constant back and forth between illusion and crystal-clear clarity. Between bliss and drudgery. Between the ego and the wisdom of the soul. Between what is expected of you and what you truly desire. At some point the whole exercise seems futile and one dumps the world or one’s inner journey all together. But some emerge triumphant and shine the way for others.

Disconnect from living life in a trance, going through the same motions over and over again. Cramming so much into your life that you have no time to pause and ruminate. Awareness requires space and the more space you create the more aware you are. Turn off the TV, computer and phone. Listen rather than talk. Quiet the chatter in your head. Get outside in nature. Live your life unscheduled. With lots of free time thrown in every day. Then what really matters will become clear to you. The illusive world melts away and you are left with only the brightness of your soul illuminating the way to a life full of joy, creativity and love.


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Who Stole my Childhood?

 

Running carefree with naked feet,

Reaching for mangoes up in the trees,

Endless summer days of fun,

Spent in the lap of the sun.

 

Hours spent in glee with friends both imaginary and real,

Board games, hopscotch, badminton and dolls,

Trips to the beach on moonlit nights,

And ice cream treats to beat the heat.

 

Walks in the evening with pleasant friends,

Vacation at grandma’s comes to an end,

Back to school and back to the grind,

Churning homework day and night.

 

Weekends come and weekends go,

But the churning never ceases,

Cooped up indoors under a light,

Write, write, write, write!

 

Then come the tests that are pointless,

And activities that are no fun,

Slowly they suck out the vital force,

Falling ill is no excuse, the homework must be done still.

 

Summers pass by without a trace,

Holiday homework takes its place,

No where to go and nothing to do,

But homework through and through.

 

Chugging along school and college,

Silencing the child inside,

Work, responsibility, commute, stress,

Replace school work and projects.

 

Working hard, working long,

Surely has taken its toll,

Popping pills and skimping on sleep,

Need to make sure you never skip a beat.

 

Bigger, bigger, better, better,

That’s the mantra of a go-getter,

Going where and getting what?

We all end up in a six-foot plot.

 

 


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Coming Full Circle

“Almost all your blogs talk about work,” my daughter declared a few weeks ago. I mildly protested but then it struck me that she was right. The years since I started blogging have been devoted to finding work, finding my passion, quitting jobs, moving and trying to find work again. At times I was under employed, stressed out at work or totally unprepared for the job. I persevered because for me it was work (with all its problems) or no work at all. It wasn’t exactly raining interviews and offer letters.

When we moved, Seattle definitely had more opportunities than Florida but that didn’t equate to a job for me. Frustrated, I applied for a substitute position at the school district. Several months of subbing did not fetch me a regular job. The new year came and went with the promise of regular writing work that pays. It lasted a month and then I heard nothing. The first few weeks of February saw me grappling with issues of self-worth and it all came out in my blog – In the Brink of a Mid-life Crisis.

The very next day after I published my blog, a long term subbing job became available. I decided to take it up. It was a full day assignment and the work was challenging at first, but I fell into a rhythm. The people I interacted with were wonderful. It was perfect. So when the assignment ended, they wanted to extend it and they wanted me back. All the years I struggled with feelings of worthlessness melted away. I did amount to something. Of course I knew that and I had learned that lesson sometime ago. But to finally have the outer world reflect that was like a resounding YES!

When you know your own worth you stop putting yourself last and you stop putting yourself down. You value everything you do even if the rest of the world doesn’t. I stopped being invisible and stopped hiding in the house thinking I had nothing to offer. I started loving myself more and making time for things I loved to do. Instead of always serving everybody else’s needs, I started serving my needs.

In the beginning it all seemed like a farce. It was as if I was putting on a show pretending to know what I was doing. When actually I was scared as hell, just waiting for someone to call out my bluff. I was a nobody strutting around all confident and knowledgeable. But that was just the ego in me that hated being pushed out of its comfort zone. My comfort zone was a bundle of low self-esteem that kept me stuck in a rut without the courage to chase my dreams. So I ignored that little voice and showed up and did the best I could. And it paid off. Time and again people acknowledged my presence or appreciated what I did. The tiny voice stopped trying to discourage me and I got bolder and bolder.

Once you step out of your comfort zone, you create another comfort zone where you can stay stuck unless you push yourself again. For me it was this feeling of discontent that kept pushing me. Some need inside that wanted to be filled. It just wouldn’t go away. No matter what I did. I volunteered – it didn’t go away. I blogged – it didn’t go away. I subbed – it didn’t go away. I wrote every day in January and got paid – and it didn’t go away.

This job I have now somehow filled that empty space inside of me. A space that had been aching from within. A space that marked the years of giving and giving of oneself till one became broke. A space that was open to receiving a kind word, appreciation or gratitude.

It is as if I have come full circle from a bedraggled housewife who spent her days serving her family while ignoring her own needs to a woman who is perfectly balanced and perfectly at ease at her workplace and perfectly at ease doing dishes (who am I kidding!). But jokes apart, I have come a long way. I know when and how much to give of my time and resources and when to receive. I know when to stop giving before I reach rock bottom and burn myself out. I have learned to honor myself as much as I honor others.

It is always tempting to do too much, give too much or take too much. And we are all walking a tightrope, flitting between balancing everything and falling flat on our faces. At some point we get it and our inner compass leads us to balance and happiness.

I would love to tell you that my work saga that started in 2012 has concluded, but such is not the case. Then again that is fodder for another blog.


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Advice for 20-somethings

I am aware that no two paths are alike and everyone is unique but human beings have this kind of herd mentality that they find hard to resist. And time and again we struggle with the same ideas and situations. This is especially true when one has graduated from high school and stepped out into the world. There is a burning desire to be independent and prove yourself to the world. To be successful and earn big bucks. To make your parents proud. To be better than your friends, even if you wouldn’t admit it to yourself.

There is nothing wrong with all these lofty goals except that they leave you unfulfilled. On the surface it seems like all these things would make you happy but on the contrary they just keep you trapped in a system that gives too much importance to appearances.

Some of us feel we owe something to our parents who have raised us and supported us. That warped sense of responsibility sometimes makes us blindly follow their bidding even though it is not what we want. We have a greater responsibility to ourselves. To be authentic and to follow our heart. Because that is the only way to happiness. And only if we are happy can we spread joy to others.

If you are miserable pursuing your parents failed ambitions and dreams, you get resentful. The poison spreads and ruins your relationship with your parents. You cannot succeed at something you don’t love. Maybe you can do it very well and get a lot of money for it and for some of you that is success. But really it goes deeper than that. It is a sense of fulfillment, belonging, something that makes you feel alive, a sense of joy that you share with all around you. When you find that, I want to say you have succeeded. But in my experience someone who follows their heart, knows that there is no destination, only milestones on this glorious path. We can’t do the same thing all our lives, we are much too talented and diverse. So be flexible and diversify. Embrace change and don’t get stuck in a rut.

Don’t blindly follow the timeline society has spelled out for you. Graduate, find a job, date, get married, have kids, send kids to college, retire, etc. Some flit from one stage to the other seamlessly and effortlessly. Others struggle and think something is wrong with them. Why can’t I find a job? Why can’t I find a mate? Why can’t I have kids? I can’t afford to retire! So on and so forth. Believe me I’ve been there and I’ve learnt that there is a time and a season for everything. If you find yourself working hard and having no social life, nothing is wrong with you. If you find yourself taking a break and raising your kids, it’s not the end of the world. If you can’t retire then there is so much more the world needs from you. None of it lasts forever. A dry spell is always followed by a torrential downpour, that leaves you gasping in disbelief at your good fortune. Some of us are late bloomers, some young geniuses, some mid-life career changers. Don’t fall into the one-size-fits-all myth that society keeps feeding you. Break free and follow your own timeline, knowing that the meandering paths lead you ultimately to where you want to be.

Work to make a living but don’t let work consume your entire life. Don’t make the mistake of saving up all your money to enjoy your retired life. What if something big like a health condition or untimely death of your spouse leaves you in debt. What if you wait for your kids to leave home so you can see the world and your kid decides to go to a neighborhood college and stay home. So many things can upset your best laid plans. So remember to live in the now and enjoy every day. Money and success are not the only things worth pursuing.

Take care of your health because that is the one big thing that determines how well and how long you live. Young people tend to take their vibrant health for granted. They skip meals, eat junk, party, sleep late and seem to bounce out of it. It’s ok to do these things once in a while, but to make it your lifestyle is hazardous to your health and well-being. Cultivate moderation now and it will serve you well later in life. Don’t wait for your health to go south before you start a good exercise and diet regimen.

Dare to be you, even under the scrutiny of your peers. Resist the temptation to follow the herd even if they seem to be headed to greener pastures. Spend some time on personal development and quiet contemplation. Don’t always look outside for the answers, learn to look within. Don’t blame your circumstances when things go wrong, take the responsibility to change it. And stop trying to please everyone and to have it all and do it all. It only leaves you exhausted and frustrated. Prioritize and work toward meaningful goals, while you focus on health, happiness and well-being. Success simply has to follow.


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The Forgotten Art of Simplicity

I remember a time when I hated sitting around doing nothing. My days had to be packed with things to do, places to go, people to meet or I felt like I would go crazy. And somewhere along the way I had to make peace with having too much time and too little to do. I think it happened because I left the craziness of India for the eerie quiet of an American town. Uprooted from everything familiar, I had no one to meet and not much to do as I waited for my husband to come back home from work. I slept the hot afternoons away and watched mindless TV. I imagined that my brain was slowly turning into mush. Then came motherhood with its flurry of activity. I went from super bored to super busy. My brain benefitted from the constant repetition of nursery rhymes and games.

I stayed home and took care of my kids. I did not attempt to juggle a job, kids and the home. Many thought I was incapable, dumb, just a housewife and even felt sorry for my kids who had to stay home all day with boring mama instead of getting structured instruction from a group of teachers and learning social skills which can only be taught in schools! Anyways, long story short, one day I woke up and realized doing too much is not the answer to a fulfilling life. I always had time for the kids, time to cook a delicious meal, time to chat with friends on the phone. Time to care about stuff other than deadlines, meetings, shopping, athletics and social events. Simple is how I like it and I can’t for the life of me understand why people have to do a hundred things at once and then get all stressed out. Everyone wants to squeeze as much as they can from every single minute, every single day.

Even kids have to do extracurricular activities everyday of the week so they don’t end up watching TV or playing videogames all day. My kids do stuff outside of school but I only do stuff they like and enjoy and I keep it to one or two activities. More than that and I feel like I’m spending most of my time at practices or in the car driving them to performances and games.

Around the holidays you can just feel it in the air, the hustle, the bustle, the need to get things done, to follow traditions even if you don’t feel like it. It is so much pressure to cook, decorate, buy the best gifts and entertain that many miss the joy of the season – family, togetherness, love and giving from a full heart. Most holidays started off simple but over the years we have added so many layers of fluff to it. Underneath all the fluff is the real reason to celebrate and we each have to get to the bottom of it.

Simplifying my life meant changing my career goals, working from home so I can be there when the kids get home or doing part-time jobs. My priorities made it easy for me to choose what was important for me. My husband simplified his life by avoiding commute and working from home. My friend got her mom to come help her out as she transitioned from a full-time mom to a consultant.

Simplify your life, simplify everything you do. Being is more important than doing. So be there for your loved ones this holiday season. Spend quality time with them. Say no to events you really don’t care much about but feel obliged to go to. The end of the year is a good time to review your life and see what works and what doesn’t and pruning and simplifying things so you start off the new year refreshed and happy. Let your mantra be less is more and invite peace and stillness instead of activity and busyness into your life.


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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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Unleash the Goddess Within

Whenever I think of Goddesses incarnating on earth I fondly remember my grandma. She was a powerful matriarch with an iron staff (or should I say sword?) She was fearless and stood up to most anyone – die-hard patriarchs included – who saw her as a hapless widow. She owned her power. She was kind, generous, loving and very shrewd. She saw through facades and flagrant unctuousness although she appeared to revel in it. She was like a fierce lioness with a brood of cubs that she guarded vehemently. She was definitely a Durga. There is this picture of her taken on her birthday. She is dressed immaculately in white, brandishing a sword (thanks to her indulgent brother) while sitting on her bed with her dogs languishing in the background. On her nightstand she had a picture of the Goddess Durga slaying Mahishasura with his decapitated buffalo’s head and body lying under the goddess astride a lion. The lion is mauling the remains of the demon while blood drips off her trident.

I was reading the book, “Awakening Shakti” by Sally Kempton and it was all about the different goddesses and their powers. It even had a fun quiz at the end – Which Goddess are You? The author didn’t want the readers to take it too seriously and just wanted everyone to have some fun. I took the quiz in that very same spirit but slowly it took on a serious turn. I related to different Goddesses with very contrasting qualities. Of course everyone is a mix of qualities and it’s not always possible to fit in one particular category. In my case however, I saw how I was dominated by one Goddess during one part of my life and others during other parts of my life.

Every woman goes through a phase in her life when she feels like a goddess, oozes charisma and a dizzying fragrance that others find irresistible. In fact some men fear the power of such a woman and demonize her as the femme fatale. The evil one that seduces one and all. Some patriarchal societies don’t encourage women to flaunt their beauty. They want it kept under wraps and want women to feel ugly about their bodies. In extreme cases they mutilate women as a way of punishing them for embodying the beauty of a Goddess. Look around you and notice how people make you feel ugly or unworthy or encourage you to hide your inner beauty because they are afraid of it. To be a goddess you must see beauty within you and appreciate beauty around you.

At one time widows were expected to shave their heads and wear drab or white robes and no jewelry so they would not tempt other men into entering into a liaison with them. Which brings me back to my grandma. She wore white saris but was the epitome of style. Probably the years she spent in England made her realize that not everywhere are widows treated as outcastes. But she did not discard all of her Indian upbringing. She somehow molded the two and made white her fashion statement. How empowering is that?

Remember Sita? The beautiful goddess who married the handsome Prince Rama. The divine couple were a dazzling sight and people could barely take their eyes off the two of them. But later on in the story the beautiful Sita follows her husband to the forest, suffers untold miseries and then gets abducted by a demon king. She waits for her husband to come rescue her while ugly demons taunt and torture her. Ravana, the demon king waits for her to join his harem. She refuses until one day he can take it no more and attacks her with the intention of molesting her. Only then does the timid Sita take on a fiery persona and forbids Ravana from touching her lest he gets burnt by the intensity of her Shakti or power. Ravana backs off, sensing the intensity of her power and not wanting to risk his life.

To cut a long story short, Rama kills Ravana and rescues Sita but refuses to accept her since she has lived with another man (Sita suffered the changing seasons and was at the mercy of the elements in the Ashoka garden. She never stepped into Ravana’s palace nor did she wear any of the silks and jewels that he offered her.) She had to pass the test of fire to prove that she was chaste. Only then did Rama accept her as his queen.

So many women I know fall into the Sita category. They sacrifice their joys, ambitions and dreams in order to support their spouse and always put themselves last. Why even I am guilty of being a Sita during the early days of my married life. Isn’t that what every mother teaches her daughter consciously or unconsciously? I was reading my journal from many years ago and one of the entries struck me. I was told to “act submissive” during the wedding ceremony. It incensed me now, but my 23 year old self was willing to comply with that absurd request!

We are all taught to be Sitas. To be docile, in the shadows, ever serving our Lord (husband!) Made sense in Sita’s case because Rama was really the Divine incarnate. Now how many husbands treat you the way Rama treated Sita. And even Rama wasn’t perfect!

I was happy to play the domestic goddess. To cook, clean and care for the kids while my husband worked for a pay check. After a few years my domestic goddess felt disempowered. I could no longer play the role of a supportive, self-sacrificing Sita. The Durga in me emerged – fierce and seated on a lion – ready to pounce on anyone who doubted my power. I had to find a balance between nurturing others and myself and that came only from knowing where to draw the line and having the power to defend it.

When I don’t take good care of my needs the Kali comes out in me. Now Kali is the shadow side of the goddess. Dark and menacing with a necklace of skulls and a thirst for blood. Some call it PMS  which to me stands for Protesting Matriarchal Suppression! No one wants to be around Kali. She strikes terror in the hearts of men. And yet she is needed every now and then to restore the balance when it is too far gone to humanly restore.

Is the female of the species deadlier than the male? Occasionally yes, if you push her buttons too hard and too often!  But in a balanced state she nurtures one and all, imparting beauty, knowledge, protection and creativity. So which Goddess are you or which Goddess do you aspire to be?