Punctuate Life

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From Darkness to Light

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I don’t know how many of you are fortunate enough to have taken an early morning flight from Orlando to New York (totally worth getting up at 3 a.m. for!). This poem is for those of you who haven’t. Nature speaks to us and it’s no wonder that great saints sat under trees or preached from the mountain tops. The beauty around you is a testament of God’s love for you. So next time you feel a cool breeze or see an amazing sunset don’t take it for granted. See it for what it is and receive it with reverence.

I was floating above the clouds and fog

The night sky with its blanket of stars

Stretched endlessly before me

The moon shyly reflecting

The morning rays of the sun

Its orange beams breaking through

The black ocean of clouds

Piercing through the darkness

Transforming the clouds

Into a frozen ocean with peaks and ebbs

The golden horizon lies beyond

Which was but a second ago

Dotted with infinite stars

A jet whizzes past my window

Above the milky ocean

With its white smoky tail

Now there, then gone

The sun broke through the clouds

Beaming gently and taking in the view

The top of the clouds tinged in orange

Every wave in the milky ocean highlighted in gold

Who might be the artist

Of such glorious paintings

That change every second

As I watch in awe?

 

The sun emerges from the prison of clouds

Shining with all its might

Bidding adieu to the starry night

I have to close my eyes now

For His resplendence is too much to bear

With the sun outside my window

And my heart singing with joy

For the wonderful treat I got

While up in the sky!


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Peace Anyone?

The World cries War! War! War! and my tiny heart weeps and cries for Peace. Peace and brotherhood beyond the confines of nations, religions and race. Isn’t it high time? Do we want the 21st century to be named the Darkest Ages Ever? Seriously! Have we progressed? Look back at history and you see the same pattern. Yes we had kings and queens and dictators but they all did the same thing. Religious persecution. Political supremacy. The same old nonsense.

And we are at it again. Our democracies are a joke…leaders go for war even when the people are turning out in huge numbers for peace rallies. Are we truly civilized? Does any other species hunt down and kill its own kind? Or even better, call the murderers ‘heroes’ and shower them with medals. Sometimes I think I’m part of a minority that believes all life is sacred and no one has the right to kill! But the people in power and the misguided media loves breeding intolerance. Why do you think something as personal as religion and spirituality is a topic for debate?

Then again my ‘righteous’ anger serves no purpose and my intention is not to set you afire. My intention is to help you hold onto peace amidst all the turmoil. To not get pulled into the drama and lies. Killing cannot be justified. Period! Let judgement be left to the higher ups and I don’t mean mortals! We are incompetent as human beings to judge our brothers or sisters.

A few years ago I wrote about the Peace Pilgrim – a woman who had dedicated her life to peace. Much like Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi did not resort to violence when the British did. The freedom he won for India did not involve any killing or blood shed. That is the power of peace. It’s like how in the Tao, Lao Tzu talks about water and how it is soft and weak and yet it has the power to carve canyons and erode rocks. Both Gandhi and Peace had inner peace and believed that if a majority of us choose peace, then violence will have to burn out because there wouldn’t be anyone to fuel it. When you react to violence with violence, you multiply it, make it stronger and it turns into a monster that consumes all. Not only the unjust and evil but also the righteous and good.

If you are married or in a relationship you know what I mean. If your partner is in a bad mood and says something they don’t really mean it’s better not to react or the whole thing blows out of proportion and before you know it you are serving your spouse divorce papers! Well, we all learn it the hard way. After years of tears, heartache and harsh words both me and my husband know when to bite our tongues and when to fight our battles. And in a our own small way we preserve the peace and our marriage!

If God is love and God is peace, how can there be room for war, hatred and strife? If God were this judgemental and wrathful he would have sent a million lightning bolts to strike all of us every time we did something wrong! Chances are He wouldn’t have missed and humans would be an endangered species!

Remember God or the forces of good (if you prefer) are with you as far as your attempts to find common ground, forgive and compromise, prevail. The moment you think you are better than ‘them’ and set out to defeat and destroy your opponent, God has left your heart and something else has taken over. And however much you justify your actions you are not coming from a place of love, a place of peace and definitely not from that place in God.

You and I sit in our living rooms and watch the madness unfold on television. Sometimes it’s easy to feel totally removed from what is happening in the world. But know this. Peace is cumulative. If you find peace in your heart and if you make peace with all the people who have wronged you, YOU are making a HUGE contribution to peace. The world needs every tiny heart that cries peace to join in the chorus. We will be heard eventually. But I need you to spread the word and embrace peace in your life everyday. Soon our deafening cries will be heard and truth & peace will definitely triumph. This insanity has gone on far too long. Enough is enough. Rise and shine on all you peace mongers!


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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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The Road Less Taken…

It has been hard for me to follow my dreams because they did not match the dreams others had for me. I know that is a very disempowering notion but when you are child in a adults-know-best world that’s how it is. They wanted me to be a doctor and I really liked the idea until I realized that I hated dissection. If cutting up frogs in the zoology lab made me throw up, how on earth could I cut up corpses? Being a fan of horror movies didn’t help either! Nor did my new found interest in Reiki and other alternative therapies. Everyone was ok with me getting initiated in Reiki or doing an acupressure course or Pranic Healing. Everyone was ok with it being just a hobby. But to me it was more than a hobby. I felt passionate about alternative therapies. This was way back in school when I was still figuring myself out. And I’m still figuring myself out now because I felt others knew better. I thought the road I was taking was not so cool. The stats weren’t that good either. How many Reiki practitioners did I know? Just one. Just one sane one that is. I had very few role models to look up to. Very little support.

So I just buried everything because most of my friends frowned upon the idea of a Reiki therapist or an Acupuncture practitioner. I also felt a great connection with nature and thought ecology was the subject that would land me in a fulfilling career. I had the right idea but ended up in the wrong place. I felt so strongly that I was doing the right thing that when it didn’t work out and I had to quit I blamed myself. And worst of all I stopped trusting my own judgement. That started my downhill spiral to living an unauthentic life.

Reiki and yoga went into hiding. I was almost ashamed to admit that I knew Reiki or did yoga and the friends around me again validated this for me. Any talk about energy would make them visibly uncomfortable. So I buried all of that deeper. But it was such a burden on my psyche. And all that burying took its toll. It was like a shroud of unhappiness that I could never shake off, which clung to me like the mask I was wearing.

So after years of trying to fit in with what the world thought a respectable woman should do I finally realized that I always knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a healer or a teacher of healing arts. I wanted to help people feel better and live better lives. Help them work through their issues both physical and mental and emerge the best person they could possibly be. But I still didn’t have the courage to go for it. I still am surrounded by naysayers, brow beaters and soul stuffers. Now don’t get me wrong.  My friends and family mean well. They are trying to protect me from what they perceive as failure or danger or whatever else their limited perceptions allow them to believe. They are doing the best they can with the knowledge they have. But I can longer live with my people-pleasing unauthentic self.

And this blog which I started has been an eye-opener for me. First, it took courage to start the blog and put all my feelings out there. Second, writing put me in touch with my deepest fears and wildest dreams. In the last 8 months I’ve discovered more about myself than I have all my life. I’ve finally become comfortable with who I am even if it means that I’m a social outcast. Even if it means that my friends don’t approve. My dearest friend J (I love you very much!) and I were having a heated discussion the other day about my writing. She was telling me not to write about sensitive issues (See United Nations of the World). I simply refused to back down and said that I would write whatever it is I felt the need to write about. I know she was trying to protect me and if this had happened a few years ago I would have agreed with her.

It’s not that I don’t care about my family or my friends anymore. It’s just that I care about ‘me’ more. Being your version of ‘me’ brings me no joy and I’d rather travel on the road less taken than follow the crowd. Even if it means walking alone. Cos I know in my heart of hearts that it will take me home. I also know that not far along the path I’ll discover that I’m not alone. All I need is the courage to go down that lonely road.


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The United Nations of the World

This post was meant to be on segregation and casteism and all the ugly covers we use to judge and divide us. But my wonderful husband told me this – your blog is about the positive, not about the negative. So I did not publish that post. Instead I have taken just the good points from it with the intention of sharing them with you.

Growing up, we were never really pukka Malayalees because we lived in Chennai and spoke mostly English at home. Part of it had to do with the fact that my parents never grew up in Kerala either. My mom had attended Benares Hindu University and was very fluent in Hindi. In fact she went on to be a very good Hindi teacher. My Dad grew up in Bombay and went to a school in Yercaud. I was born Hindu, went to a Christian school and said the Lord’s prayer everyday and lived in a neighborhood where everyone was Muslim.

Our Muslim neighbors burst crackers during Diwali and we shared sweets with them. During Ramzan they would send plates full of biriyani for us to enjoy. I don’t recall having any Malayalee friends in school. Lots of cousins, yes, but no friends. My best friends were Punjabi, Tamil, Telegu, Kannadiga and Bengali. It didn’t matter. No one made me feel like I was different. We all wore the same uniform, had the same rules to follow in school and our parents were friends. Some of the wonderful friends I made in college are Malayalees but that was not the reason I was friends with them!

I never really understood the impact of this kind of environment and upbringing until much later. Somewhere deep inside I knew that religion was just the way and that God was one indivisible being. I didn’t understand it even when 9/11 happened. Some of the best girls I know are Muslim and they are so gentle, loving and accepting. It didn’t hit me when I moved to the U.S. and the friends I made hailed from all over India.

But then slowly the hatred and bias that had been building up over the years started to spill over and I started hearing and seeing things that shocked me.

What really spurred me to write this article is something that came up in the news this week. It was about a boy who was one of the first responders when the 9/11 attacks happened. He lost his life trying to save the people trapped in the tower. His name was not mentioned along with the first responders. Why? Because he was a Pakistani Muslim. My good Indian friend L who lives in the Middle East told me that her best friend is Pakistani and I remember Benazir Bhutto’s last interview before she was assassinated. She talked of a deep love for her country and its beautiful people painted black by the media. She said that is why I fight for my country. That one sentence changed the way I as an Indian saw Pakistan. It is a country full of people like you and me, with families, with hopes and dreams. The real enemies are the politicians with their murky agendas, not the people of Pakistan.

I was also saddened by the news about the people from the North Eastern states having to flee Bangalore in the wake of threats of violence against them. What have we come to? Maybe the states should not have been divided based on language. But why should that divide us. What is wrong with speaking Hindi in Tamilnadu and why should every South Indian be called a Madrasi? I never grew up with those biases and so they seem really pointless and petty to me. I urge all of you to do the same. Get out of the narrow space that you have carved out for yourself. Explore the possibility of befriending someone outside of your limited religious or linguistic circle. My life is richer because of that. I learn so much about food and culture from my friends. And I almost always find so much similarity disguised as differences.

My kids now grow up in America and most of their friends are not Indians. I had to drop my bias against Westerners as well. I should have dropped it when I saw my friend S’s  husband who was German eat rice and curry with his hands. Or when G’s European fiance travelled all the way to India to meet her family and ask for her hand.  You see bias is a dangerous thing. Once you let it in, it colors your vision of the world and your life will never be the same again.

Don’t believe all that you see on television. The divide and rule policy is alive and well in every country’s government! Use your own experience to guide you.

I urge you to drop your veils and see the oneness that is us. It is what you have been seeking all your 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.

 

 

 

 


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Balancing This Tight Rope Act We Call Life…

Balance is something I absolutely love to talk about. Maybe because it reminds me of the tree pose or Vrikshasana in Yoga. When I started doing yoga I couldn’t do the tree pose. I kept toppling over. I was out of balance. Had some dull aches and pains which I thought were ‘normal’ after childbirth and ‘normal’ as you grow ‘older’. But I remembered the time I was young and fresh out of school with a supple and flexible body that could contort into unimaginable yoga poses. I remember having the general feeling of well being that ebbed and flowed throughout the day. My emotions were equable and under ‘my’ control. I sorely missed yoga and the amazing sense of peace and health that went with it. So during the long dreary winters in Boston I started doing yoga in my living room with Wai Lana and my little yogis. My body resisted when coaxed into poses I was pretty sure I could do. I quickly gave up but by then my kids developed a liking for the kid-friendly yoga videos. They wanted to be lions and cobras and do the cat and dog stretch. So I did it with them but with little enthusiasm. Deep down inside I’m thinking – I can never be as supple as them.

Then the PBS channel did a special on Peggy Cappy of Kripalu Yoga in the beautiful Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. All her students are seniors. Some of them joined yoga class after years of crippling pain that interfered with their normal life. Her oldest student was 90 (I think). And here I was not even 30 and complaining about not being ‘bendy’ enough! So I threw myself into yoga with a renewed spirit but lacked the discipline I had before kids, marriage and responsibilities. I yearned for some structure and discipline and to study under a good yoga teacher like Peggy. Well, that wish of mine was granted soon. I found a yoga teacher after I moved to Florida  (seems like Fl is the land where dreams come true…at least for me!)  She had a morning class at the recreation center right across the street from my home (how convenient!) I ended up being her first and only student. Lucky me got to have several one-on-one sessions with her.

She is probably my grandmother’s age, silver-haired, always smiling with a soothing voice that can get you into Shavasana (deep relaxation) in a trice. After doing the sun breath she would say – bring your hands together in prayer position over the heart chakra – MIND, BODY and SPIRIT are one. She also did something called the breath of joy which helps release stress and lightens you up. I simply loved her and Yoga was the highlight of my week for almost a year. My aches and pains vanished. The back pain that used to show up at the end of a long day on my feet – GONE and has never returned. My malady of being cold always (yes, even in Florida!) magically disappeared even without me realizing it. I also had a lot more tolerance and did not lose my cool easily. People said I exuded peace. My body and mind were restored to a balanced state. But what amazes me the most is that I did not know I was out of balance. That, by the way is everyone’s story. People ignore signs their bodies send their way. You think pain is normal, diabetes is normal, heart disease is heriditary, arthritis is incurable. I have to live with it you say. No you don’t! Most diseases are caused by wrong thinking, wrong diet, lack of exercise etc. Why is stress everyone’s favorite word today? I admit that we have an undue amount of stress to deal with, living in the world as it is today…but we also have the tools to bust stress and live a balanced and peaceful life.

Everything in life is a choice. You can choose to think positively or spiral down the black hole of negativity. You can choose to live a healthy stress-free life or fill your life with meaningless things that stress you out and slowly but surely suck the life out of you. You have the power to transform your body into a powerhouse of strength which in turn transforms your work, your relationships and your impact on the world at large. Don’t put it off. Start today. Honor your body, strike a balance and stay centered always.

What will you do to bring balance into your life? Please share below.