Tag Archives: #life

Sweet And Sour

When I lived in London, I was introduced to a multitude of dishes and most of them I was open to trying and loved for the most part. The one sort of meal that I could not digest was the one that had both sweet and spicy flavors. I could not understand why you would put honey on chili chicken or the sweet and spicy sauces or addition of pineapple in spiciest thai dishes.

Recently, I have started to understand that the flavors enhance each other – still, not a big fan but at least gained an appreciation for two competing flavors to enhance the other one.

Green Mangoes are sweet and sour at the same time, and they are a big hit in India. Sweet and sour are also two completely different flavors, but they do add a zing – just like many of the memories or experiences in our lives.

First Love, Leaving Home, Long Distance Relationship, Ending Of An Experience or a holiday. The list is never-ending. That’s why some memories are called bittersweet. And it is the bittersweetness of the memories that make them unique because we learn from them – more from just either bitter or sweet because life is not black or white, it comes with shades of grey.

It took me forever to come to terms with the fact that my first love was never meant to be – especially given the Type A in me. It was probably my first life lesson which I took forever to learn. It was the bane of my existence ages ago, but now I recall the aftertaste fondly and recall the memories both bitter and sweet and enjoy the taste. I guess my taste in life experiences evolved with my taste in food.

Any experience in life is sprinkled with both black and white memories like two sides of a coin. Due to conditioning, we tend to focus on either the black or the white, but in reality, it is both black and white that makes our life. Just like life – people have shades of grey. That is what makes life more interesting. Imagine if we were all robots where would the joy in life be.

As humans, we have the choice to experience life in its full glory. Be open and aware of every thought that comes by but act on the one that feels alive in us. We do not have to judge ourselves by the thought that comes to our mind but by our actions. We are not defined by the thoughts we have but the actions we do and most importantly our intention. Our intention might be pure but the initial thoughts might not be – and this bittersweet combination is what makes life interesting for us. All you can do is marvel at the fact that we can have conflicting items and have the choice to pick between the two. It might be easier if it was all black or all white, but then it would not help us grow or discover who we are. The question, the choice is what makes us human.

How will you exercise your choice to be human, today?

View from the Terrace

Humankind has made tremendous progress in the last century than ever before. In our lifetimes, we have seen the journey of the internet from its birth to becoming the digital oxygen. Connecting across borders is easier than ever – we have come a long way from letters/steamer ships to instant messaging and Skype. With Google information is literally at our fingertips. Google has become a verb now.

With all these advances then why are we losing the sense of connection? Why are the suicide rates increasing? Why is depression becoming common?

Let me take you on my trip back to India. India has a population of 1.35 billion with the square footage of 1,269,219 sq miles which means that every person gets roughly 0.00094016222 square miles. Don’t get hung up on numbers – India is just crowded, you cannot step anywhere without running into people. I used to join my parents for a walk on the terrace, and I would look around. I could see kids playing skipping rope on a building terrace couple of blocks away. I could see two young men sitting on the water tank smoking cigarettes (probably hiding from their parents). I could see a woman picking off the clothes of the clothesline. And if I looked down the streets were teeming with life. I could empathize with the young lady coming back from work. I could see the old lady struggling to carry a heavy bag. I could see kids cycling off to someplace very urgently.

Even if you don’t go on the terrace, it is impossible to miss the sounds of life around you in your house because of the proximity of the homes. You can hear the kids upstairs playing marbles or something similar on the floor. You can listen to your neighbor’s tv. You could listen to the milkman and vegetable man in the morning. It is challenging to forget that you are a human and live among other humans. The maid comes in every day. The watchman brings you the newspaper every day.

When I came back to Columbus, there are a few people around on the street. You might see a few people running or walking their dogs. The houses are so apart that you could forget that you have neighbors once you get inside the house. We all sit in our cars – go to work and come back. Most families are nuclear these days, so the interaction is limited to family members these days when we get a break from the digital world. The sense of connection is not very easy – you have to seek it out.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that overpopulation is the only way to feel connected. I am stressing on the importance of human connection. We are social animals who crave some connection, warmth. And there are many ways to connect – with nature, with candles, with people, with self. Having contact is important. If you do not get a daily dose of connection, then put yourself in situations where you cannot avoid feeling the oneness with the rest of the humankind. And of course, once you realize the unity with the self and others, then the need for connection goes away as you are always in a state of oneness.

How will you connect today?

A Whole New World

I am sure all of us have heard the Aladdin’s song – A Whole New World. And I am sure they could see a whole new world and a fantastic view from the carpet.

A few of us also believe in the parallel universe theory, where we might be doing different things – altogether a completely new world. And then we have people who believe in Aliens – that’s an altogether completely different world as well.

But, we don’t have to go that far to visit new worlds. They exist right here, right now. For example, my mom hangs the laundry on the terrace. One day it looked it like it was about to rain – so the maid asked if she should bring the clothes down. I was listening to the conversation, and I had just looked at the weather on my phone, and I let them know that it wasn’t going to rain – and the sun will be out in a few minutes. All of us went our ways.

In half an hour, the sun was shining brightly, and the maid noted to my mom, ‘Anu looked at the phone and said it wasn’t going to rain – a good thing, I did not bring the clothes down.’ Our maid does not know how to read or write – so for her what I did was from another world. 

This leads me to my topic – can you imagine the world that she lives in – where there are no letters, no alphabets. How do you make sense of a world if you are not literate? Her generation probably grew up in the era when the world was changing – when girls were sent to school and she probably just missed the window. [There are adult literacy classes offered for free by the government for this section of people]. I cannot imagine a world where I cannot read or write. See, we have two different worlds right here amidst us.

Similarly, our building watchman has no family, no possessions – he gets his salary as a watchman and doing ad-hoc laborer task. He does not own a single thing except maybe a few sets of clothes. And I believe that this is choice he has made. In this day and age, it is not difficult for an average man to work enough to get a roof to call his own and accumulate a few possession. Again, a very different world than mine. The minimalism that I am aiming for does not even come close to describing his lifestyle.

What this means is we might be living on the same planet earth, but, we all inhabit a different planet. We create our worlds in our mind and whether we realize it or not we all have individual mini planets that we live in, even on the planet called earth. Maybe, it is time to delve deeper and explore the world we live in before we start exploring the worlds beyond.

What will you explore today in your world?

Do We Realize?

Life as we know is very fleeting, but we live as we are immortals. Do we ever wake up in the morning feeling so grateful because we are alive, our dear ones are alive? No, we take it for granted that we will wake up in the morning every time we go to bed.

I am not proposing that we live in fear of death every second of our lives and as Goenka Ji says, ‘Cry on our birthdays because we are one year closer to death.’ All I want to do is to bring attention (however fleeting it might be) to the beautiful feeling of being alive which we seem to have permanent amnesia for.

Even if we do experience death of another person, we think about it for a few hours, few days and almost never in the context that we will also die but how we miss the other person. When in reality there is a lot of commonalties between death and birth.

In both instances, there is a magic that happens. In birth, a person suddenly starts existing and in death suddenly a person stops existing. In both cases we are naked and left only with ourselves – our family, well-earned grades, paid off loans – nothing we bring with us or take with us. We come with our body and leave with it.

Life and death are not opposites but two different sides of the same coin. If you know how to die well, that means you know how to live well. And if you know how to live well, then you are ready for death. What does living well or dying well mean to you? No simple answer to this question.

Why is that when we live we never give death a thought? We never live like we are going to die at any moment – Because we are disillusioned. The illusion has become a reality and we are so caught up in it that nothing is real for us. All the things we do in this life we think of it as permanent, real – something that we have control over. When in the blink of an eye we will willingly/unwillingly leave it all. And this is the reason why talking about death is a taboo because it reminds us of how fragile and delicate our lives are. And we don’t believe in that – it’s like emperor’s new clothes, nobody is willing to say that the emperor is naked.

Again, do not think that I am advocating that everybody you meet – you tell them, ‘you are going to die’ albeit a true statement. Given the immersion in our different realities in this Maya, at the very least ponder on the fact that if you are going to die then how will it change the way you live your life. If reading this blog has made you grateful that you are alive, even once that that is one time more than never. 

What will change in your life now that you have been reminded that death is inevitable?

I Wonder

As we were driving down the roads in India, my husband commented that he sometimes wonders what all these people on the road are doing or not doing? 

There are a lot of people in India who sit and wait or wonder or do something so complex that it is beyond a simple mind like mine which does not understand the concept of not doing anything or just plain simple wondering.

If you are going through the streets of villages you will see people sitting around a small tea shack and not doing anything. You will see people sleeping under trees. You will see people sitting outside their houses (Old houses had this inbuilt – a bench or a small verandah where you could sit and socialize).

If you are in the busy streets of a city, you will still see people sitting outside a tea shop on motorbikes. You will see them sit on piers or water fronts. You will see them sitting at bus stops, train stations. You will see them sitting in various shops, waiting or wondering.

If you didn’t know, India is the most populated country in the world with a whopping 1.3 billion and more coming by the second. And to add to the people let’s not forget all the cows and the dogs that roam as if they have equal rights to the road as any other Indian Citizen.

With so many people, one wonders how people have so much time. It is amazing that with so many people things still get done – with no order or organization. That is the beauty. You can impose control/order and laws only to a certain limit in a democracy. After that life takes over – it has its own order which works with the chaos – infact chaos is needed.

With so many people and limited infrastructure, we as humans are forced to resign to the fact that we are after all puppets in this whole drama called life. We want to move faster, but the traffic is not budging. We want to get an appointment as soon as we visit the doctor’s office, but there are like a dozen people in front of us. We want to zoom right through the traffic, but there are potholes, cows and dogs to avoid. In the face of such situations, the best thing to do is to accept it and use that time to wonder. I  believe that’s why there is so much just sitting and staring that happens. People have learnt that sometimes the best thing to do is to ‘just’ live. 

I had always rushed through life, even when I lived in India before. And even now I cannot stop running or doing. I admit that I used to look down on ‘not doing’ state as something of a lowly task. It’s only now that I am beginning to see the value and appreciate the state of wonder that many Indians tend to have automatically.

Do not get me wrong, this comes with its frustrations and issues but given the population and given the infrastructure, the happy medium is to keep calm and carry on and enjoy life for what it is – a super entertaining drama!

Acceptance

At our village market a cow got free and was trying to eat the vegetables off the stalls – the owners and the customers shooed the cow away, and then life went back to normal.

During the cyclone in Tamilnadu, a few of the trees just fell.

During winter the trees shed their leaves, and during spring the leaves grow again.

What do the three scenarios above have in common? Going with the flow. At the market, life went on as usual despite the cow sauntering in. Nobody gave it much thought – keep calm and carry on. Nature is the best example of going with the flow. Everything in nature goes with the flow as I have never seen a tree try to hold onto the leaves in winter because doing so would be foolishness and impossible. Imagine if a tree decided it was not going to grow any leaves in spring!

I am sure you are thinking what a ridiculous idea, right? Now, what if I told you that we not only entertain but even try to execute such ideas. For example, we do not get the partner of our choice, but we do try to do our best to make it happen. We might not get a job we like, but we strive against the verdict with all might and vain.

At some level, we know that life is flowing all around us and we are just little drops in that flow enjoying the ride. We get so busy in our human experience that we start to believe that we are like the banks of the ocean and we can contain and direct the water inside it. That is the human predicament – knowing that we are a drop in the ocean, but the drop includes everything that the ocean does.

We also like things the way they were and are resistant to change. The drops in the ocean change so rapidly that it is hard to distinguish it from the ocean. We, humans, try our best to cling to the shape and size which to put simply is a futile effort. But we still try. This is a human predicament.

We have to accept that we are in a human predicament. What we have is a choice – on how we view this human predicament – as a boon or a curse.

It will be a curse if we view the human predicament as a constraint. If we see it as a problem that shackles us from living our life because things do not happen as we want them to – the big ocean we are a part of refused to listen to the whims and fancies of this miniscule ocean drop – then it will be a problem.

It will be a boon if we see this as the freedom to experience life as a drop knowing that we are a part of the ocean then this is amazing. It’s like living life as an actor and experiencing the different scripts as we can play the characters to the fullest knowing that we are not the characters. This gives us the opportunity to live life fully.

What will your choice be?

Necessity – Creation – Jugaad

India has started a new system where every Indian is required to get an Aadhaar card much like the Social Security Number (or SSN) in the US. Now, India has a population of 1 billion and the USA about 328 million. While I was in India, my parents suggested getting my Aadhaar card done as well. So, we go to the bank, and like all government offices in India after a little bit of back and forth across a few officers we got the form, got a token and sat down for our turn. The bank was like a regular bank – a cashier, three counters, two offices, and a receptionist. The only twist was a guy was sitting on a makeshift table with a lamp and a laptop with a webcam. I asked my dad – who is calling out the token numbers and just then the guy on the makeshift table called out our number – he was processing the applications for Aadhaar cards.

I go over to his ‘office,’ and he has to take a passport photo to complete the application. I sit on a stool – there is a white paper behind me stuck to the wall with sellotape (scotch tape for those who live in the US), and he uses the lamp as a flash and takes a photo using the webcam on this laptop. And we are done. This kind of a temporary ‘Make-do’ arrangement is what I love about India and Indians. It is the only way you can get done something on a large scale (rolling of the cards to 90% of the population) where most of the population is illiterate. It’s people like the guy sitting in his makeshift office across India that made it happen.

Such arrangements are so common in India that we have a word for it called ‘Jugaad’ – Jugaad (a word taken from Hindi which captures the meaning of finding a low-cost solution to any problem in an intelligent way) is a new way to think constructively and differently about innovation and strategy.

And that is why necessity is the mother of creation which we Indians are born with – we have limited resources, lots of constraints and stuff still needs to get done and does get done.

A lot of times we are hung up on having all the right tools, right resources to get work done and in some cases right mood or the right attitude when what needs to happen is to take the first step, fail fast and not worry about getting it perfect. For people who have the means to get all the right stuff before usually fall into this trap but for those who do not have the means – their focus is on getting it done, they don’t have distractions like having the right size pencil to start drawing. If you think in this fashion, then there is nothing that can stop you from doing anything. All you need is to want something badly, and you will find a way to make it happen.

What are we waiting for? Let’s make it happen.

Birthplace and Death

All of my paternal grandmothers have breathed their last in our ancestral village – the village where they were married into not the village where they were born. This topic was the talk of the town for quite a while. Even now somebody will say – it is very curious that all the daughter in laws of this family died in their husbands’ house. In Indian culture after a daughter is married, she is technically a part of her husband’s family, village and hence the significance that they died where they were married into – and also in the ancestral home not in the city they lived.

In India, these things are not just mere occurrences – there is some meaning behind everything – we might have forgotten the meaning, but the meaning still exists. For example, women in India wear bangles because the touch of the bangles on the forearm is supposed to calm you down and in olden days women folk all lived together, and hence patience was a much-needed quality.

The reason I bring up this topic is – I believe that you are born in a place for a reason, and your body inherently knows it as its home because that’s where it breathed its first breath and that’s where it’s most comfortable. For the last two years due to some reason or other, I could not visit India. And towards the end, I could feel it as a physical imbalance in my body. Now, I don’t know how true that is and how much it is in my head, but something was happening. When I landed in India – the minutes I stepped out the plane my body breathed freely even though it is hot and humid. The smells, familiar faces, accent makes me feel at home. It’s like I can be myself without thinking. If you have never lived in a different culture or a country, then it will be hard to comprehend what I mean by ‘being myself without thinking.’

Every culture has its norms some of them are explicit and some of it implicit. Like in England – talking about the weather is a way of saying Hello. In India, it is ok for a stranger to ask you how much is your salary. If you move to a different culture in some ways you are trying to fit in as you do not know what is accepted – what kind of clothing, food is accepted – so whether you realize it or not if you are thinking about these things which do take a toll on your body. And then some places are a lot more inviting to accepting other cultures, and some are not. For example, London invites different cultures, and that’s why I still feel at home in London. But not all places are as welcoming as London, and that means you, your mind, your body, and soul have to do extra work to fit in.

At the end of the day, you are where you need to be – there is no denying that, whether you believe it or not is not relevant. And it only makes ‘the’ you in you more defined.

Food For Soul

Have you ever had an experience where you had met a good friend(s) and left feeling more energized than when you entered the conversation?
Have you ever watched a movie or read a book which inspires you to be creative and leaves your mind buzzing?
Have you ever watched somebody speak and felt the energy change in the room – People came in angry but leave hugging one another?

These are all examples of soul food – that nourishes your soul, not your body or your intellect. So, what do we mean by soul food?

No Judgements or comparisons – instances where you are just yourself without the fear of being judged or being not loved or pressure of being a certain way because that is how it is supposed to be.

Laughter – not a superficial laugh but laughter that starts in your belly and resonates in your entire body. These moments become memories or mental screensavers that bring laughter to you whenever you think about it.

Nonsensical – there is something to be said about the times when it does not matter what utter nonsense comes out of your mind/mouth but it all makes sense because the sense of connection is much deeper than words.

Energy – instances where no matter how you felt at the beginning of the interaction, by the end of it there is a change for the better.

At Ease – we do not realize this because most of the time our bodies are not at ease – they are clenched in some area or the other, and sadly, we are so accustomed to it that it is our default state. However, when you have soul food your body is at ease – complete ease – there is no disease.

I am sure you could relate to one or more of the above instances. Why is the soul food important? Because this is what keeps us sane, keeps us who we are and not what others think who we are. If we lose touch with who we are then why do we even exist?. And just like your body which needs sustenance to continue your soul needs nourishment to maintain the life force which is inside all of us.

In an ideal world, all that we would consume would be soul food, unfortunately, or fortunately, the world we live in cares only about intellect and the outer skin and not about the deepest core which is what connects us all humankind with the planet earth. If we were really on soul food all the time we would be more connected with the planet earth – we will see the trees on this planet as the ‘lungs’ in our body and take more care of them. We will be kind to our fellow humans because we would see them as ourselves.

We are so distanced from each other that we are losing touch with ourselves – and if we cannot retain the bond with ourselves how will we ever connect with others. There are many ways to access soul food – the first step is being aware of the hunger for soul food. Are you hungry, now?

What the kale!?! #VeganLife

This year I become a Vegan. It has honestly been a journey. I gave up chicken because I stopped enjoying it, next year I gave up fish, last year I gave up milk and this year eggs. Before I go any further let me say that I believe in the Chinese proverb -“80% is perfect for me”. You will catch me eating the occasional cheese or drinking chai with regular milk, but it is not the norm.

A few people ask me why I became vegan. I have no clear answer except it was time – a part of it was for weight control, but I believe that most of it is because of the meditation practice (Vipassana) and my tuning with my body needs. I practice Vipassana and know that it is my path in my life. And as a part of Vipassana, you are encouraged to maintain the five precepts in your daily life if you are a serious meditator.

And one of the precepts is to refrain from killing any living beings – and that includes refraining from acts that encourage killing living beings as well. And I believe that if you take these precepts, they have to have an impact and maybe that is why I am on this journey or simply put I am more in tune with my body needs now than before as a part of my spiritual practice.

Now, why would my body needs shift towards Vegan? I follow what my body needed, but I recently saw a video by Sadhguru (A guru from Isha Yoga Center – one of the few yogis who meets people where they are) on eating meat. He explained that herbivore animals have molars for chewing, grinding and they also have a long alimentary canal to aid in digestion whereas carnivores have canines for tearing the meet and a short alimentary canal as they do not digest food for long. Now, which of these systems do you think we humans have? We have molars and a long alimentary canal – and the climate in our body is tropical – so can you imagine what happens to meat left outside (or inside our body) for long periods of time? [Especially when it takes meat 24-28 hours to process through our bodies]

He also has another reason for those of us who are spiritually inclined- that if we eat other beings who have emotional feelings, then it is a) like killing them b) we are just collecting their imprints which are not suitable for preparing our body for spiritual practice.

And he also says that if you live in areas with harsh climates like deserts where you have to eat meat – in that case eat meat which has the lowest emotional content like fish. This makes sense because fish was the last animal meat I gave up.

These are facts or beliefs depending on what you searched for in Google, but your body does not lie. Unfortunately, most of us have lost the ability to listen to our body.

What’s next for me? Eating Less and Eating Simple – Mindfully. I am on a journey and grateful to be on it. Will you be my fellow traveler?