Punctuate Life

Pause Breathe Relax


8 Comments

New Year and New Hopes

I don’t know what it is about a new year that makes us all so optimistic. It is just another year, like the many others that have gone by, leaving behind dreams, aspirations and resolutions that never really took off. And yet every year is vividly different from the one before and the one after it. I believe it is what we make it. For in the present moment we are planting seeds for our future.

With so many people taking time to celebrate and ring in the new year, the energy and excitement is palpable even if you are home and celebrating in front of the television. Many of us can simply ride the wave of excitement coursing through the world. Here in Cary it was a rainy day – ALL DAY! That would have been enough to dampen my spirits but I was on a high for no apparent reason.

And so it continues. Even after the kids left for school yesterday, there was this mounting excitement. Again I had no clue what was causing it. It wasn’t some outside event or circumstance. Sometimes when something bad is about to happen our soul senses it and we feel uneasy. I guess the same is true when something good is about to happen.

In contrast, December had a very different energy to it. The end of an unsatisfying year and all the trials it brought with it. One day I was just done with it. I’d had enough and wished that if 2017 was going to be the same old, same old, then I didn’t want to go on.

The next day I woke up with this song in my head – Don’t Let Go, You Got The Music In You. And it kept playing in my head all day. On the way to my kids’ eye appointments I switched radio channels and this song started playing. I was blown away. The lyrics if you haven’t heard it goes like this – Don’t give up, you have a reason to live. When the night is falling and you cannot find the light, If you feel your dream is dying, Hold tight. You got the music in you.

It kind of set the trend for 2017 for me. And somehow the way you feel on the 1st of the year sets the energy for the rest of the year. I felt carefree, light and happy and hope to cruise through the year.

I spent the last few months of the year in sober solitude and I vowed to make more friends in 2017. Let’s see how that reSOULution goes. Made a tiny step in that direction by enrolling ourselves in a spiritual group that meets every week. Things take time and perseverance. My motto is to not give up too soon, before the results show up.

Wishing all my readers a very happy 2017 filled with all good things, world peace and abundance in every corner of the world. Do share your resolutions when you comment and let’s all support each other.


2 Comments

Along Came Lucky

My daughter rushed into the room, “Amma! There is a kitten outside and it has been abandoned by its mother. It was hungry and we fed it some milk and Acha named it Lucky,” she said. It was 8 in the morning and I was still in bed contemplating another miserable day spent languishing on the couch. But my curiosity got the better of me and I got up and went downstairs. My daughter beamed proudly as she pointed to the kitten crouched behind some cardboard boxes. I hadn’t seen her this happy in a long time. I peered behind the box and two little grey eyes with a black and white face looked back at me and mewed pleadingly. Something melted deep inside of me and all my defenses came crumbling down. All my sadness stood meaningless in front of this poor helpless creature.

“Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you. We’ll feed you. We love you,” I found myself saying these words. I was offering the very comfort I was seeking and in that moment my life changed. If I could have named the kitten I would have gone with Joy because in a trice it had pulled me out of my sorrow.

Lucky was very wary of us on the first day, darting quickly behind the boxes whenever we made any quick movements or loud noises. The kids were relentless in attending to its needs. They made sure that it felt safe and it was fed. Now feeding Lucky was a challenge because both my husband and I had only had dogs for pets. Its diet on the first day was milk, curd rice and biscuits. When I went to sleep I prayed that Lucky would be around the next morning. The kitten had opened up a part of my heart that only pets can – by being vulnerable and by loving us unconditionally despite our flaws.

The next day Lucky seemed to be more at ease with the kids and allowed them to come close and touch it. It didn’t eat as much as it did on the first day. We replaced its coconut shell bowls with a plastic tray, now that Lucky was a part of our household. As we were playing with Lucky after dinner, a cat jumped onto the compound wall. My husband beamed the flash light in its direction and it slunk away into the dark. Could it be the mother cat? Will she whisk Lucky away in the dead of the night? Fears of losing him clouded our minds as we retired for the night. I prayed that he would be waiting for us in the morning.

My son gave Lucky an old ball to play with. In two days the frightened, helpless kitten had transformed into a sprightly fly-chasing fur ball! It let us stroke it and rub its belly. It ran to my son when he called his name and enjoyed playing with the kids. It tried to follow us inside but we decided to let Lucky be an outdoor cat. I remember how the neighbor’s cats used to steal fish from my grandma’s kitchen and I didn’t want any of that.

The kids had wanted a dog for a long time but life gave us a cat. In a moment of deep understanding I uttered these sage words, “We didn’t choose Lucky, Lucky chose us.”

Today we figured out ‘it’ is a male kitten. He showed up when we most needed it and it turned my focus outward. He touched my maternal chord. Triggered the flow of selfless love. If he wasn’t already named Lucky I’d probably have named it Miracle.

 


4 Comments

What Do I Want?

Today I find myself at the park again but this time I brought a pen and some paper so I don’t need to struggle with the tiny keyboard on my phone. So many emotions. So many thoughts. So many things that I want to put down on paper. They keep swimming around in my consciousness making me confused and clueless. Sometimes putting it down on paper gives me some clarity.

So what is it that I want? It is what everybody wants. Happiness, peace, love. Where can you find it? Within. Although I know these things hypothetically, when life happens I falter and wrestle with conflicting emotions. But tell me this – if your immediate needs are not met will you look within for peace and happiness? Not really! Spirituality on an empty stomach may not be attractive to everyone. Which explains why the Masters addressed suffering and tried to alleviate pain, hunger and disease.

If you don’t know where your next meal is going to come from would you care to sit down and find inner peace? It is those who have everything and find that they are still empty that go seeking happiness and God. The rest of us believe that some goal in the future can get us there. If I can just make this much more money. If I can just find the right job. If I can just marry the perfect person for me. And the list goes on and on.

From where I stand, I know all of these things but try as I may I can’t find the peace that comes with the security of having a good job, a roof over your head and happy children. And I can’t seem to find it here while others transpose their will on my wishes and dreams. It feels as if the reins of my life are slipping away from me. So much so that I have turned into another version of myself – one I can’t recognize in the mirror.

The burden of others wishes have become my manacles – keeping me from living my life to the fullest. Keeping me from shining my brightest. Manacles or duties, call them what you like but the truth is that they keep you bound. Yes everyone has responsibilities, I know. But when these responsibilities keep you from doing what is best for you or prevents you from fulfilling other responsibilities that is when it becomes onerous and heavy. And try as you might no one benefits from it, least of all you. It results in a sort of co-dependency that keeps you trapped in the belief that you are actually helping the other person. The fact of the matter is that you are tying them down and making them more helpless. It is like giving a crutch to a man who can walk and convincing him that he cannot do without it.

Everyday I wake up to a world where I have to choose between my happiness and the happiness of others and I wish it wasn’t that way at all.


1 Comment

The Escape Artist

Avoid. Delay. Procrastinate. Distract. Quit. Run. This is what I do when things don’t go my way. It’s always easier than confronting the problems. Or so I thought till I learned it the hard way. I ran away to Pondicherry to do my M.S. thinking that my problems would stay behind in Chennai. But they followed me like dark shadows, haunting me and threatening to suck all the joy out of me. Soon all these emotions got transferred to Pondicherry and it became equally unbearable for me. I wanted to quit. I wanted to go home. I ran back into the arms of my family. For a while things were ok but soon the same issues raised their ugly heads again and mocked me.

This time there was no where to run and no place to hide. I withdrew and my thoughts began to consume me. As my thoughts grew darker it blotted out all the light and I pushed away all the people I used to care about. I also had nothing to do. It was mid-year and I had to wait another six months before I could enroll in any college or university. The only way to escape the pain and misery was to quit this life. As though another better one would be offered to me on a silver platter the moment I exited! If I had waited it out I would have realized that all was not over and that I would indeed go on to do my Masters and get married to a good man.

With wedding bells came another chance to get out of Chennai and go to the U.S. Life out there is hard especially if you don’t know anyone and don’t have a career to drown yourself in. So the urge to escape back to India and to the life I knew grew stronger in me. But the thought of whisking away my kids from the comforts of the U.S. kept me from acting on it. Also my husband was not ready to move back – yet. So I gritted my teeth and went on.

But old habits have a way of resurfacing and soon I wanted to escape the cold in Boston and go to a warmer place. Like say Florida. But again in Florida things were not exactly as I wanted them to be. My obsession with having a perfect life kept me unhappy no matter where I was or what the circumstances were. It was only in Seattle that I finally made peace with the fact that nobody has it perfect (even though they appear to be so).

Life in Chennai is very challenging given that we lived a pretty easy life in the U.S. Yes, there were no maids but I had appliances to do everything. The house never got this dusty or messy. The weather was good as opposed to the blistering heat here. Some days I want to run away to the U.S. like the escape artist that I am, but I can’t. Because deep inside I know that it is not the outside environment that matters but the one inside. Easier said than done especially if you are living in Chennai!

If there is one thing about the U.S. that I really admire, it is the never-say-die attitude of the people. They don’t quit very easily no matter how tough things get. They don’t ignore problems but actively seek solutions. So I feebly hold on to those lofty ideals.

It’s tempting to run away and be rid of mosquitoes, ants and heat waves. Seems like Chennai will be the ultimate test for me. Will I stay or will I escape? Only time can tell…


Leave a comment

Walking Amidst the Giants

'Advice from a Redwood tree :)'Early one Thursday morning in the middle of February I rose early to pack up for our big road trip. It was still dark outside and probably cold, but the prospect of going to some place warm and sunny perked me up. I woke up the kids, gulped down some coffee, had a hot shower and loaded up the car with food to feed an army. Something about road trips, always made us hungry. Even after a hearty breakfast, kids would be clamoring for something to munch hardly a mile into our trip!

We set the destination on our GPS for Salem, the capital of Oregon. As we hit the highway the sun was shining merrily without a single cloud to blot its radiance. We ate breakfast in the car as we sped south to the border of Oregon which was interestingly on a bridge. My daughter drew from her social studies lessons and told us how the Columbia River ran along the border of Washington and Oregon for miles together before it reached the Pacific Ocean. A couple of hours later we reached the historic city of Salem. We toured the Oregon State Capitol, a beautiful building with Grecian columns and murals of Lewis and Clark. Most of the building is made of marble with a gold statue of an Oregon pioneer at the top. The older capitol buildings were destroyed by fire but some of the columns were saved and can be seen on the grounds. The Capitol has some fine ceiling art, tall glass doors and wide stairways on either side, leading to the State Senate Chamber and the House of Representatives Chamber. Both chambers were deserted as they were not in session.

Lunch in the car was next, with egg and potato salad, broccoli and tofu stir fry and home-made cookies. Deepwood Estate was a short drive away from the Capitol. The 18th century Victorian home and gardens were open to the public. A silver-haired, pleasant lady greeted us and took us on a guided tour of the home. The home had stained glass windows, some furniture from that era and a solarium. Parts of the house had been renovated over the years, like the kitchen and the Porte Cochere or carriage port. Ornately carved door knobs and hinges and birds eye wood added a touch of style to the rooms upstairs. A player piano stood in the informal dining room and our tour guide played a merry song on it for us. Upstairs she wound up a rare music box called a euphonia, which sounded so melodious and could be heard all the way down in the living room.

Pictures of the families that lived in the house were sprinkled around the house. The guide showed us a copy of a book that was a favorite of two kids that lived in the house. One of them returned to the house years later and signed the book. The house had servants quarters, a dumb waiter, attic and basement. A door lead from the dining room to the outside, allowing guests to exit the house and board their carriages. A carriage house for the horses and a carriage port used to exist. The original owner had put many secret doors and openings all over the house but nobody knows where they are located. We strolled the gardens which held the promise of blossoms and beauty in the summer. The landscape artists for the gardens happened to be two ladies, something unusual in those days.

These days the Deepwood Estate hosts tea parties and outdoor weddings in its gorgeous gardens. It was time for us to see something more ancient that an old Victorian house. Southward we drove, towards Klamath, California. Along the way we watched in wonder as the shadows of the night revealed giant trees towering over us on either side of the road. We were in the land of ancient Redwoods. Some of these trees stood right here while dinosaurs roamed the earth. We craned our necks to see the top of the trees through the car windows but it was too dark. At 250 t0 300 feet, these trees are jaw-dropping amazing! We reached our hotel exhausted. But the kids planned to jump into the pool with their dad in tow. I decided to stay in the room, take a warm bath and heat up some dinner.

At the Prairie Creek State Park we took short hikes in the Redwood forests. We passed by trees whose trunks were so huge that when the four of us stood around the tree with our arms stretched out and barely touching, we couldn’t even cover half the trunk. We came across trickling streams, bridges and ferns. Some of the trees had fallen and lay on the forest floor. They were big enough to crush a car or truck. These trees loved to clump together and intertwine their roots like humans holding hands.

At one of the trail heads we found a hollowed out tree that was still standing upright. I named it “tree cave” and we all went inside and felt like we were being embraced by the tree. We stood in silent awe in front of “Big Tree” which was 1,500 years old, 68 feet in circumference and 304 feet tall. In another area of the park we drove through a tree. For some reason we could  not rent a mini-van for the trip and ended up getting a compact car. Guess what? If we had gotten the mini-van it wouldn’t have been able to go through the tree!

At the visitor center located further south the kids got their junior ranger badges and we were pleasantly surprised to see the beach right outside. The dancing waves beckoned to us. We rushed outside and walked on the sandy shore dotted with tree stumps. Rocks jutted out of the ocean and added to the drama of the waves. In the distance I could see a cloud of white basking on the beach. Harbor seals! My son and I trudged against the wind to get a closer look. We were disappointed to find a flock of sea gulls. But something else caught my eye and there right by the edge of a tide pool was a bunch of harbor seals huddling together. We kept our distance to avoid startling them. Some shimmied along and plunged into the water. One cute fella kept emerging from the water and playing peek-a-boo with us.

I really wanted to see elk, so we thought the elk meadow would be a good spot to see them in their natural habitat. On that day we found plenty of deer grazing in the meadow but not one elk. It was time to head back north to Crescent City to see the Battery Point Lighthouse. The lighthouse closed at dusk but the rocky beach and tide pool was the perfect setting for a gorgeous sunset. A narrow bridge made of pebbles connected the lighthouse on top of a hill to the beach. As the tide came in the bridge started slowly submerging. I was on the beach and my husband and kids were near the lighthouse. I waved frantically asking them to hurry lest they get stranded. We stood there in the cold windy beach, watching the waves crash on the rocks, push around them and between them, finding some way to go forward. The skies were a startling orange, with the pale pink mountains yonder and the lights flashing from the lighthouse intermittently. There is something about the salty air and rhythmic waves that washes away a year’s worth of fatigue from the soul. Soothing like the very womb of mother earth. Beautiful, mysterious and ever so temperamental. Full of wonder, all-engulfing and oh-so powerful.

In reverent silence we drove to Portland, Oregon, grateful that we had witnessed another grand spectacle of nature. As we neared the city, a thick fog enveloped us and remained well into the next day. It slowly lifted as we made our way to the Columbia River Gorge area. The very same place that Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea had traversed nearly 200 years ago to explore the west. Between the Cascade Mountains and the Columbia River is the 2nd largest falls in the U.S. – the Multnomah Falls at a staggering height of 611 feet. It was a Saturday and Valentines Day, so the crowds were thick and the parking situation was grim. It was hard to capture the entire falls, consisting of the upper falls and the smaller falls that tumbled into the river, in one shot. A little bridge somewhere below the upper falls offered a breathtaking view of the falls. We hiked up to the bridge and felt the cool spray from the water fall on our skin. The trek to the top of the falls seemed long and arduous. Considering the long drive ahead of us, we opted out. We picked up some Chinese-take out and headed back home. I was reluctant to go back to the city bustling with activity, an uninviting urban jungle.

My son warned us – we are going to find the evergreen trees around our home really small. And he was right. We laughed at how tiny they were!


2 Comments

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.


Leave a comment

Be Careful What You Wish For…

Anyone who knows me knows this, I love to cook but hate doing dishes. Thirteen years of doing dishes hasn’t changed anything. I’m still not in a state of acceptance – this is something I have to do (as long I cook and eat) and I need to make peace with it. I secretly wish that someone else (husband or kids) would do it for me on a daily basis, or I would stumble on a magic wand that I could swish over the dirty sink and it would be transformed into a sparkling pile of dishes neatly arranged on a dish rack! This wish grew stronger in the beginning of last year when I found myself working and trying to cook and do dishes every night. Guess what? A year later my wish came true but not exactly in the best way.

Everyone who knows me also knows how much I hate the cold and after a five-year hiatus in sunny Florida I’m back in a place where the temperature hovers around zero degrees. What you don’t know about me is that I have this strange affliction that makes my feet and hands get really cold, blue and in extreme cases swollen, numb, red, itchy and flaky. After seeing the state of my hands, my husband took over the task of cleaning dishes. He used to help with dishes over the weekend but not on weekdays when he’s bogged down with work. Now after a long day, he finds himself in front of a sink full of dirty dishes.

Part of me felt good about it but part of me felt bad for not being able to do something as simple as washing dishes. Able to do dishes and other chores around the house is a sign of good health and energy. How many people find it hard to get through everyday chores because of poor health? And here I was perfectly healthy and capable, but so blind, discontent and royally spoilt to wish for something so idiotic!

So my wish has been granted but instead of feeling elated I feel like a complete moron. Thankfully, the universe doesn’t mind do-overs. Although a do-over of my pea brain may be impossible, I can do over my wish list. So here goes…I wish for vibrant health and vitality and a diligent spirit that doesn’t shirk from everyday chores. A spirit that welcomes a helping hand if one is offered or simply carries on happily when no help is forthcoming. A sound mind that can discern and wish for things that are not shallow and selfish.

Hopefully this will be the year that it all finally sinks in – that I have it good and should stop comparing myself to others. That I should wish more for others who are suffering instead of wanting more for myself. To put the needy little ‘I’ in an iron casket, bolt it and let it sink to the bottom of the sea.

Maybe you made wishes for the new year. Be sure to examine those wishes to see if there are any selfish motives or agendas hidden in it. A good idea would be to count your blessings before you start making a wish list. Feel deeply grateful for what you have – whether it’s health, family, a fulfilling career or friends. Then from there look forward to see if you can add to your bounty. If you start making wishes from a place of lack, your wishes are deprived of the magic of a grateful heart. No matter how bad you have it, someone has it worse than you. So try really hard to be thankful and be careful what you wish for because it just may come true!