Unlearning The Ways Of Our Mind

Recently I had the privilege of attending a professional education program at Harvard. I was there to engage in discussions about ‘Mindfulness For Educators’ but somewhere through the many conversations it transformed into ‘Mindfulness for myself’.  It is a stressful world out there and we tend to get lost in the blitz. Moments turn to days, then weeks, months and so on, and one fine day you catch yourself saying, ‘Life is going by too fast’.  Being mindful and bringing in a few variances to our art of living will go a long way in slowing down to relish life. The biggest weapon we can fight stress with is our own ability to choose one thought over the other. How we choose, dictates the next moment of our life. Always think before you speak, stop talking about problems and instead talk about the joys. Make that a habit you keep. So how do we unlearn the habits of the mind that we have been living with for so long? Here are the five habits of the mind we can doctor to start living a much fuller life.

How we allow the world to impact us: Many of us are very tough on ourselves. We don’t need anyone else to bring us down. We can successfully do that to ourselves very well! We allow negative experiences to have exponential impact on us, whereas we brush away any positive impact and deem it as ‘no big deal’.  We can be very unforgiving and hold ourselves to high expectations. What we need to unlearn is how to stop being so unforgiving and relish the good things that come our way. Let the negativity fall off like water off a duck and absorb the positivity like a sponge.

How we react to the stimuli around us: We live our lives mostly reacting to everything and everyone around us. These reactions, mostly knee-jerk, or emotional,  are not well thought out, educated decisions. They may not be the best course of action and we often end up regretting them. We need to unlearn reacting to situations and instead learn to respond. Pay attention to the stimuli which is forcing us to react. Take a moment to listen, be receptive and think about what your internal reactions are telling you to do. Know that we don’t have to act on every internal reaction we have. Instead, think about how you address the situation calmly. Now respond. Depending on the situation and how often you are mindful of your internal reactions, you can train yourself to respond quickly but thoughtfully.

How we interpret life: Everyone interprets life in the way that is most suitable to them. One might think honesty is the best policy and another might think it is okay to lie sometimes if it is to help someone. We become very defensive and attached to our interpretations of life. We can’t let go and we try very hard to convince everyone around, including ourself, how we are on the right path of life. We need to unlearn making our perfectly formed opinions, our facts of life. We need to be open to seeing life through different lenses to get a clearer, wholesome view of the world around us.

How we poison ourselves:  All the negativity that we hold on to is nothing but poison. Resentment towards others is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. The only person suffering here is you. Anger, jealousy, fear, anxiety, frustration, disappointment are all poisons that destroy us. Let’s be realistic here. We cannot have a life devoid of negative emotions but we can train ourselves to not allow it to linger for more than a few minutes. We should be able to reason with our mind and replace the negative emotions with something positive like hope, excitement, gratitude, joy and so on.

How we breathe: Yes! Many of us have been breathing wrong all through our life. Me included! I always thought we inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. But the nose is for breathing and mouth is for talking. Here are the top three reasons why nose breathing is good for you: 1) The nose hair acts as a natural air filter, keeping the pollutants and chemicals out. 2) The mucous lining your nose warms or cools the air to the right temperature so you don’t get sick. 3) The nostrils are designed to inhale and exhale the right amount of oxygen needed by your body.

A simple act of fixing how we breathe ensures the air contacts the olfactory nerves to stimulate your brain and put it into its natural rhythm. If you don’t breathe through your nose, in a sense you’re only half alive.

Allow yourself to live in the moment. Even if you are surrounded by problems, just lean in… and relax. Sometimes you just have to ‘let it be’; it’s not always the best choice to ‘let it go’. Focus on the moment you are in and savor it. Once you are in the moment, hold on to it. Make a connection with your spiritual side and commit to the values that you deem important. 

Credits & Thank you:
Metta McGarvey – Educational Co-Chair, Harvard
Joseph Zolner – Senior Director of Programs – Harvard                                                     Andres, Ali & Atman – Holistic Life Foundation                                                                       Lama Rod Owens  – IBme

 

 

 

 

 

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Learning To Say NO!

Growing up there was a story that was read to me in school called; ‘The giving tree’. The book follows the lives of a female apple tree and a boy, who develop a relationship with one another. The tree is very “giving” and the boy evolves into a “taking” teenager, man, then elderly man. In the final pages, both the tree and the boy feel the sting of their respective “giving” and “taking” nature. When only a stump remains for the tree, she is not happy, at least at that moment. The boy does return as a tired elderly man to meet the tree once more and states that all he wants is “a quiet place to sit and rest,” which the tree could provide. With this final stage of giving, “the Tree was happy”. It was shared in various other Indian folklore forms, even by my grandmother and the moral was the same. The moral of the story glorified helping someone in need. It perpetuates the myth of sacrificing, selfless life as the only way to true happiness. The values were instilled in every listener that being selfless and to always ‘give’ is a good character trait to inculcate and we should all strive to be like that.

Well, THAT was the most insane advice I have ever received and unfortunate that I believed it and followed it for a long time.

Today, I sit back and think about the big question, “How much help is too much help?” and “Is it ok to say no?”. I struggled with both for a long time because I had a problem with saying ‘NO’ to people. On the rare circumstances that I did manage to say no, I would be ridden with guilt. I would think, rethink and work myself into a frenzy that I was this selfish person, who didn’t help a friend in need.

With time came self-awareness and with it came self-realization. Yes, giving is good but one should only give without hurting their own self. If you end up hurting yourself in the process, then you are not doing any good to either yourself or the other. You end up disrespecting your own individuality by saying no to your body, mind and soul, by saying yes consistently. Sometimes helping others is more of your own need than the need of others. People feel a sense of purpose, a sense of achievement by helping others. They feel valued.

Analyze the guilt that comes with saying ‘NO’. If you have done enough, or you are tired, or incapable of doing more, then there is nothing wrong in saying NO. There is no point in exhausting your body, mind or finances by going beyond your capacity to help. If your conscience is clear, you should not feel guilty. You are just taking care of yourself before you take care of another. Understanding one’s own capacity and limitations is very important. Let your conscience be your guide. This is not easy because sometimes, it’s hard to distinguish between ego and conscience. It takes time to differentiate between the two and if you are unable to do it, there is nothing wrong in seeking help from someone who can guide you well. Raise your self-awareness so you can discriminate between the two. This is the most valuable skill you can learn.

Today, I still find myself helping anyone in need but when I do say no, I don’t feel guilty. My conscience is clear and I have no reason to believe that I have somehow failed or abandoned the person in need. There are a million other people in the world that could help them and someone who is more capable than me will step up and take my place.

Life will go on for all even after I say NO.

Epilogue: I was googling a picture about ‘The giving tree’ to add to my blog and I came upon an article about the actual book. It went on to say that it is a very divisive book. TheScreen Shot 2017-11-07 at 9.51.22 AM controversy concerns whether the relationship between the ‘giver’ and the ‘taker’ is positive or not. It goes on to argue that the ‘giving tree’ is not really selfless and that the boy is actually ‘abusing’ the good nature of the tree.  Now they tell me!

 

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Italy – You may have the universe if I can have Italy

I had heard of the quote “Italy is a dream, that keeps returning for the rest of your life.” Only after visiting the country did I actually realize the true meaning. I know I will dream about Italy for the rest of my life because it’s so hard not to fall in love with the lifestyle and the place that makes it who it is.  Italy is all about the Italians, food, wine and history. It is the one place that will make you feel very very young, because everything else is so old in comparison. We covered Rome, Vatican, The Amalfi coast (Capri, Ravello, Positano, Serrano), Florence (Pisa), Naples (Pompeii), Tuscany, Siena, Cesenatico and Venice. Every place was as different as the other in character and spirit. Rome and Vatican was all about history, Amalfi was about the coastline and blue waters, Florence was a world of museums and art, Tuscany was the lush green valleys, Cesenatico was the most happening place and Venice screamed romance!

I will talk about each of these places in detail in my subsequent blogs but here I am just giving readers a preview of Italy in general, a birds eye-view to call it so.

The people: Whatever you have heard about italians, is true! They are very good looking, fit, hot and happy people. I don’t think I saw many obese or bald people, and if I did see, they were probably tourists! The people were also extremely friendly and helpful. They seemed very relaxed and full of life. Most Italians are very well dressed and conscious of how they look. On the flip side, if you anger an Italian; just run for the covers!

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There was this one incident that happened during our trip that gave us a brief intro to that side of an Italian. It was late at night and we were in a taxi, driving back towards our hotel with a very friendly driver, who was giving us a verbal tour of Florence as we drove past the city. Suddenly, another car just cut him off and sped ahead. We were lucky that our driver acted quickly and averted scraping the other car. Nevertheless, our driver was no longer Mr. Congeniality! For the next 5-7 minutes we became part of a high speed car chase, which included an audio litany of the choicest Italian expletives and a visual of other screeching, honking cars as he tried to catch up with the driver who cut him off. Meanwhile, the kids were having a ball watching all this unfold in front of their eyes. Finally he was able to speed up in front of him, parks the car,  engages the brakes, and flies out of the car and walks up to the other drivers’  car. He asks him to roll his window down, gives him a good screaming and bangs on the hood and walks back to our car. He then profusely apologizes to us and asks us to give him less money for the inconvenience he caused us but that no one does that to him or his car! It was the most hilarious experience we had 🙂

Food & Drink: I understood food after going to Italy. I understood freshness. I understood the debate about small portions. I understood the importance of just enjoying what you work for; a good meal! In Italy they add work and life to food and wine, not the other way around. People seem to live to eat and they eat in a very relaxed manner. Drive thru eating must be an alien concept there. Every meal in Italy is a 2 to 3 hour affair. It’s slow and relaxing. It was very hard at first getting used to the slow pace of life in Italy. We would get very impatient when our food didn’t arrive in 15 minutes, but slowly we got the hang of it. We would just sit there sipping wine, eating bread and making conversations. The meals in Italy are recommended to be divided in 4 parts, the appetizers, first course, second course and desserts. The first course is some kind of pasta or pizza and the second part is some kind of meat or seafood.  The hot delicious, freshly made food would then arrive and you savor every bit of the mouth watering dish, as you wash it down with some delicious wine. The sauces they use are freshly made and cooked to perfection; just enough that you can taste every ingredient in it. Most importantly, we learned that an Italian kitchen carries very few spices and they rely mostly on fresh herbs and vegetables to get the flavor into the food. Finally the last part of the meal is the ‘dolci’; the desserts. We ate a lot of tiramisu and gelato, and we have to say that every one of them was delicious and different.

Coming to drinks, Italy is all about wine, wine and more wine. People drink from mid day to the end of the day. Food is paired with wine and wine is paired with food. Don’t be afraid to ask your waitress to suggest a good wine to go with your food. Do ask the price too before she uncorks because a good bottle of wine could cost anywhere from 40 dollars and up. The house wines are good and cheap, so take a chance and ask for a taste.

People don’t drink water in Italy. They just drink wine. So if you want water, you have to buy and you have to specify if you want still or sparkling. Asking for tap water at a restaurant will be frowned upon.

If you are outside, make sure you carry a bottle with you as there are drinking water fountains all over and the water is clean and tastes much better than the pricey bottled water.

Some tips:

  1. Once your food arrives and you try to enhance it with added salt, spice or cheese and it was not offered to you; just know that your chef will be offended.
  2. If it’s a restaurant that makes freshly made pasta, then know that your only options are spaghetti, ravioli, pappardelle, taglierini and rigatoni. If you ask for any other kind like penne, rotini, farfalle, etc then they will either say they don’t understand what you are saying or they will tell you they don’t serve packaged pasta.
  3. Scallops and scalops do not mean the same thing!
  4. Try the mussels in every restaurant. Each has a different flavor and they are all good.
  5. If you don’t understand a dish, google it before you order, so you atleast have an idea what you will be digging into.
  6. Try the Limoncello! It’s a must. Try to get your hands on some limoncello from Capri or Sorrento as they are considered to be the best. Better still, try to get some home-made limoncello for the true, crisp taste of Italy.
  7. If you want something spicy, ask for ‘Arrabiata sauce’. It’s the closest to spice that you will get in italy.

Shopping: Italy is fashion central and we all know that. It is known for its leather goods, glass factories and intricate lace work. Don’t be afraid to bargain, start from the half-way point and work your way up until you both agree on a price. If buying clothes, try them on before you buy them. Italian sizes are much smaller than regular USA sizes, so make sure they fit you right. I loved shopping in Rome. If you walk around the streets and get yourself into those little boutique shops, you might just get lucky and get some good deals. We bought some clothes (mostly good chiffon) in Rome and some leather goods in Florence. Most stores take credit cards and all street vendors take cash, so be prepared. I found some really good clothes at great prices at Balloon (Rome) and Zara (Florence).

The only things that could have made our trip better was the weather. Unfortunately, this was Europe’s worst summer and the heat during the day was unbearable. Some places were very crowded and there are long lines to visit the attractions, so book ahead of time as it will help you skip the lines and the crowd. There are many people trying to take advantage of your tourist status, so be careful and decide where you exactly want to go. Google maps is very helpful. Download the ‘Rick Stevens Europe’ app, his tours are very helpful and easy to listen to. Download it ahead of time and listen to them as you walk around the monuments or museums, it makes it all so much more interesting when you know the story behind what you are looking at.

Overall, it was a wonderful trip and I hope to revisit a few places leisurely and redo them at a slow pace. The quote below, sums it all up!

Erica_Jong_1

 

Regrets, Mistakes and More

Another school year has ended and as part of my yearly ritual, I sat down to reflect upon the year gone by in general, the mistakes, the lessons and regrets. But before I could answer that question to myself, I was stumped at the question itself. How does one define a mistake or a regret? I did what any hardworking researcher would do. I asked around! I got various replies and here is a summary of the responses.

Mistakes are actions done in haste, or  an error made in judgement, poor reasoning, calculations or plain carelessness. It is something you would not repeat if you had the maturity and growth you do today.

Regrets make you sad. They could be something you did or didn’t do because of a decision you made. It’s a disappointment, a sorrow, a yearning or remorse.

Lessons are what contribute to growth and maturity. It’s the learning that happens over time and what you carry with you as you move on.

All these three can stand alone on it’s own or be intertwined with each other. It depends on the situation and the issue.

Over the last few days, I have had many exciting conversations with family and friends about their thoughts on regrets and mistakes and surprisingly, most found it very difficult to answer the question. It is one of those things that just sits at the back of your head, you never think about but important enough to revisit every decade or so. A self-assessment if you can call it so. Talking to people about this topic, gave me a deeper understanding of most of them, and in some cases helped people understand their own selves better.

When I look back at my own life, there are many mistakes I have made and I have learned from every single one of them but I don’t think I truly regret all of them. They have all contributed to making me who I am today. Yes, I am blessed that none of the mistakes were scarring but they definitely changed me for the better. Regrets are few and I have always tried not to have regrets in life. It is just my personal motto. Even if it is as simple as regretting walking away from that beautiful dress on the mannequin which was priced too high… or as complicated as wanting to choose a different education path, it is something I have tried to minimize in life.

In my own assessment I would say, it was a mistake to get into engineering when my interests were more creative. It did nothing to me other than give me a college experience and be a springboard for my future masters and career. It was a mistake getting married at a young age and I wish I had a few more years behind me before I took that big plunge. I would have definitely had a much smoother landing into wifehood and motherhood if I had some more maturity.

I do regret not working for a couple of years before I got married. That experience would have done wonders to my confidence and I would have been more responsible for my own actions and decisions (now I just blame my mom for everything!). I regret not learning how to play a musical instrument, I feel I would have been good at it and it’s sad that I never attempted to do that. And then there are those smaller regrets that come from being immature, at how you handle people and life. These are regrets that have turned into lessons and now I know what not to do. Regrets of leaving people hurt or being insensitive to their stories. These are the sorrows you carry in your heart, hope for time to heal and a lesson to never do it again.

Regrets, mistakes, lessons and more are a part of growing up. The more you age, the more regrets and mistakes you have to talk about and you have just as many lessons learned from all of them. They are all just a bitter-sweet part of life!

So take some time to introspect and understand yourself. What do you consider as mistakes in your life? What regrets do you carry forward? And what are some million-dollar lessons you learned from life that has made you who you are today?

 

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STRANGER IN THE MIRROR

 

We passed each other at that twilight hour,

You seemed to know me and so did I,

But I walked away with lowered eyes,

Only to turn back and catch you looking at me,

Joy and beauty in my heart is all I see,

With you I reveal setting myself free,

 

You talk like me

You feel like me

You are my soul

You make me whole

You are that stranger in my mirror

 

Connecting over words and phrases

A fire deep inside that blazes

Separated by a world in between

Yet a love so obscene

Can I not love myself thus?

Cos I am the stranger and the stranger is me

 

The Power Of Staying In Control

 

I woke up this morning to a chat with a friend in Chennai about the magnum opus ‘Baahubali – The conclusion’ that was recently released. He started by telling me how magnificent the movie was. He then proceeded to tell me that there was some technical difficulties and they did not play the second half of the movie. Needless to say, riots broke out in the theatre, the screen was torn, seats were ripped and theatre trashed! I was truly shocked and disturbed.

How can educated people in this age and time behave like this? More alarming was the fact that he tried to convince me what he did was right. Reason being that they had paid for the movie, and the theatre owners did not inform them of what was going on. My only argument was; if the movie could have been played, wouldn’t they have? There is no reason why anyone in their right mind would stop a movie midway to incur the wrath of the patrons. Obviously there were technical difficulties which they were unable to resolve and they were working on it. There was also a lack of communication protocol that has to be followed in such emergency situations. But nothing can condone trashing a theatre for an unexpected error. The producers still made their money and got away but the theatre owners who have paid huge amounts of money to bring this piece of entertainment to you has been made to incur a huge loss that he may never recover from. The other hundreds of people employed by the theatre will also go jobless until the theatre is fixed and up on its feet again. Was the release of the anger worth this much of financial loss? Was there no real solution to this?

Yesterday, at my school, following the usual protocol we had a fire drill. The alarm was pulled, classrooms were evacuated, students counted, and the teachers were asked to take the students back to the classrooms. But there was a glitch. Much to our annoyance we couldn’t turn off the fire alarm. It was was still blaring all over the school! We tried every trick possible, called a bunch of technical people, and everyone worked fervently to get it fixed. Meanwhile, I asked the secretary if the phones were ringing off the hook from teachers demanding to know what was going on, especially since we had many special education students for whom the blaring sound would have been a problem. She said: None! I was truly surprised. After about 15 -20 minutes of no success, I shot out an email to staff, telling them we were working on fixing it. Eventually we did fix it, but that’s not my point. Later on the union leader stopped by and we asked her if the staff got restless about the alarm situation and if she got any complaints. She said, “Not at all, we knew you would be working on it. Why on earth would you put us through that pain?” Yes, it’s obvious but it made me happy that they were so patient.

Going back to the Chennai incident, I was truly shocked that people took it to that level. This a state that is constantly screaming that it is ignored by the centre and as much as they try to intervene, it is the people that impede the progress of the state. It is time people take charge of matters into their own hands and turn things around. People need to realize how much power they have, especially the youth. There are many countries wherein the youth have taken charge and are turning things around. India now has a prime minister who is so supportive of positive change and is a huge inspiration that one person can make difference. A few months back, it was the youth who showed their unity at Marina beach and put up a united front and forced people to give attention to some issues. Sadly, the message was again lost and misused.  Tamil Nadu is a state that has produced the most brilliant minds of the century and if they put their minds together, I am sure they can revolutionize the state of affairs much beyond a technical error at a movie screening. Chennai is an example of just one incident but people do need to wake up in general and start taking more responsibility and be aware of the decisions they make.  Exercise that power of control; sometimes it can make a bigger statement than actually losing it!

 

Solitude

Moments in life just slip away,

Some just stick and stay,

Falling slowly onto the earth,

Today is all we have at hearth,

Some words impress the heart,

Some just hurt till you fall apart,

Few tears express the joy in the soul,

Few smiles hide the sorrowful hole,

Solitudes are precious reminders of friends,

Sinful happiness and playful interludes,

Traveling on a path you look behind,

A solitary journey with nowhere to go.